Saturday, September 05, 2009

NIV Revision: Zondervan Protects Brand, Cedes One Market

The announcement that Zondervan is revising the NIV is noteworthy, but the accompanying notice that it's discontinuing the TNIV is telling.

Gentle readers will recall that the TNIV appeared in the 1990s as the "gender neutral" edition of the NIV. A committee had revised the NT of the NIV to make more inclusive the translations of expressions that in the Greek New Testament referred to groups of mixed gender. For example, the expression adelphoi, literally meaning "brothers," was rendered "brothers and sisters" in the TNIV when in context it referred to a group that included males and females. Notably, the TNIV did nothing to God-language, adhering to the literal use of masculine language for the deity.

What followed was a brief but mighty Battle for the Bible. James Dobson, then functionally the Evangelical Pope, gave a strong endorsement to the position articulated most stridently by Wayne Grudem of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, who criticized the TNIV for distorting the meaning of the text with its inclusive language.

Grudem, a highly qualified New Testament scholar commonly noted for having the strength of his own opinions (not that there's anything wrong with that), was largely alone in his criticism of the TNIV. Multiple NT scholars who share Grudem's opposition to the eradication of gender differences in the church nevertheless took issue with his criticisms (e.g., Don Carson, Craig Blomberg, Mark Strauss and yours truly).

In particular, Grudem's notion that readers would be misled if they read the TNIV closely struck most in the evangelical scholarly community as bunk. The NIV and TNIV, as "dynamic equivalent" translations that seek to translate ideas with clarity instead of words with specificity, don't led themselves to teasing out meaning from individual words. Truly, no translation does; rigorous exegesis of words requires access to original languages (and knowledge of general linguistics, which regrettably is often in short supply, but we digress).

When Grudem alleged that the TNIV represented an erosion of confidence in biblical authority or would promote the same, the embarrassment of those of us who took once took a class or two from him was complete. Worldwide, we cringed.

But Dobson, no scholar of the Bible but no stranger to controversy on gender, backed Grudem. And Dobson's endorsement of Grudem's condemnation proved to be enough. The TNIV tanked.

So, this week's announcement means that as it goes forward with the NIV brand, Zondervan is ceding the gender-neutral market to other publishers. The New Revised Standard Version seems now to have the permanent loyalty and nearly exclusive franchise of readers who want the text's inclusion of women explicit, not just implicit. Zondervan can't afford another fight for that territory when it might lose the NIV's massive hold on mainstream evangelicalism, certainly the biggest segment of the American Bible market.

If gentle readers are dismayed to think that marketing considerations enter into decisions about Bible translation, we regret again having to shake them from their naivety. Those who wonder need only contemplate the plethora of translations and editions available to English speakers, versus those languages served by single translations--some unidiomatic and based on flawed readings of the original-language texts or with no reference to the originals at all--or no translation at all. Millions of dollars goes into generating new Bibles in English, but millions more come back to successful Bible publishers. Scholars, anxious to work on something that people will actually read, are more than ready to answer the call when a publisher invites them to work on a translation project for yet another English version.

If gentle readers wonder which English version of the Bible SWNID recommends reading, the answer is Just About Any Version. The idea that any common English translation can be seriously or consistently misleading for those who read thoughtfully is disproved simply by observing the results for most people who engage the English Bible thus. We are much less concerned with whether people read the Right Translation and much more concerned that they read at all. Best of all is to read with a basic understanding of the translators' aims and methods, commonly explained in laypeople's terms in the prefaces to English versions.

And we find it unlikely that anyone has or will become a radical-feminist Christian from having read the TNIV, though we can guess that at least some will be put off from reading the Bible if they discover it only in an English version that eschews the contemporary convention of explicitly including women in collective and indefinite expressions. So we favor the promulgation of gender-neutral versions, lightly mourning the TNIV's premature death but confident that there remains a surplus of English versions by which anyone who reads English can hear God's Word understandably and without unnecessary offense.

7 comments:

Micah said...

Is it really ceding the market? I've watched about half the announcement and missed the rest of the online commentary, but it seemed to be implied that the NIV 2011 would be gender-neutral.

Am I wrong in that?

Micah said...

Ah, should have read your link first. That's a real bummer.

I'm going to steal your line about the JAAV, though. Good stuff.

Matt Coulter said...

My 3-year-old daughter's Read With Me Bible keeps me pretty spiritual.

YouVersion (www.youversion.com) is also nice. Not really a version but a decent, if not fun, study tool.

christine said...

I think part of the problem was that they made such a big deal about going gender neutral to begin with. Most people wouldn't have cared that much, but Zondervan made this big deal about being more inclusive and so people like me, who think the whole gender inclusive thing is a massive waste of time, were put off.

Then the ESV came out and a lot of us switched. To tell the truth I'm not so sure which market Zondervan is ceding, because they have already lost people like me.

Sam the Eagle said...

Do scholars want readers or paychecks? English bible translation work generates a paycheck. Translating into an unreached people group's native tongue doesn't.

Micah said...

Hey Christine! The ESV is a fine translation, but be aware that it, like the TNIV, is a gender-neutral translation. It falls prey to some of the very same errors that Grudem criticizes in the TNIV.

For example, check Matt 5:15 in the KJV vs the ESV. Or Matt 16:24. There are hundreds of those. There's a list somewhere... a little googling will probably find it.

Perhaps you should switch back the the King James. If it was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me!

Christine said...

Micah,

I've long thought the answer to my problem would be to just learn Greek and Hebrew and be done with it. Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of time and won't until I'm 80 or so. In which case I won't have long to wait before I won't need such knowlege anymore, thus rendering it useless.

I never used the King James for study, but I do think that no translation we have today matches its beauty.

I never read the TNIV, because I had already switched. However, I think its marketing emphasized the gender inclusive aspects in a way that turned off many NIV readers. It was kind of like New Coke. If they hadn't made such a fuss about it, nobody would have noticed the difference.

I tend to only notice things like that when it makes the wording awkward, such as using "they" or "he or she," when "he" would do. But then I never got the need to be inclusive in the first place. I don't think terms like "sons of God" exclude me.

But the ESV has other aspects that appeal to a more conservative readership. I don't read it because of its treatment of gender, although I would have a hard time making it my translation of choice if it read, "Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God," and so on.