A new translation of the Bible is causing a stir is some evangelical circles, according to the Associated Press.
While the 2011 translation of the New International Version Bible (NIV) still uses masculine pronouns to refer to God, such as “he” and “Father,” it uses inclusive language when referring to an “unspecified person.”
In the old translation of the world’s most popular Bible, John the Evangelist declares: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” Make that “brother or sister” in a new translation that includes more gender-neutral language and is drawing criticism from some conservatives who argue the changes can alter the theological message.
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The 2011 translation of the New International Version Bible, or NIV, does not change pronouns referring to God, who remains “He” and “the Father.” But it does aim to avoid using “he” or “him” as the default reference to an unspecified person.
Many large Protestant churches use the NIV Bible and right now it’s uncertain whether the Southern Baptist Convention will reject the new translation as it did the 2005 version:
At issue is how to translate pronouns that apply to both genders in the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts but have traditionally been translated using masculine forms in English.
While the translators’ former grammar teachers may not like it, the translators offer a strong justification for their choice of “they” (instead of the clunky “he or she”) and “them” (instead of “him or her”) to refer back to the singular “whoever.”
They commissioned an extensive study of the way modern English writers and speakers convey gender inclusiveness. According to the translators’ notes on the Committee on Bible Translation’s website, “The gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ (‘them’/’their’) is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as ‘whoever,’ ‘anyone,’ ‘somebody,’ ‘a person,’ ‘no one,’ and the like.”
But as Randy Stinson, president of the CBMW and dean of the School of Church Ministries at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed out, evangelicals believe “in the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture”:
We believe every word is inspired by God, not just the broad thought,” he said.
So if the original text reads “brothers” — even if that word in the original language is known to mean “brothers and sisters” (such as the Hebrew “achim” or Spanish word “hermanos”) — many evangelicals believe the English translation should read “brothers.”
I’m still not sure why “brothers” in this case would be considered the “inspired” word. At the same time, it’s mighty difficult if you’re trying to create a translation that — in the words of the translators — “articulate(s) God’s unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it if they had been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today.”