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.