The latest rendition of the world’s best-selling book is being criticized for taking a step backwards in terms of some of the language used. Those responsible for the latest translation – the committee for the New International Version of the Bible – have reverted to using more traditional terms in certain passages containing terms like “him”, “his”, “he”, “son”, “father” and “brother”. In the previous 2005 version of the TNIV (Today’s International Version) Bible, these pronouns and nouns were not gender-specific (“them”, “theirs”, “they”, etc.).
Even though the scholars maintain that 95% of the text has gone unchanged, this reversion to traditional patriarchal language has sparked controversy, especially amongst the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, though they are still happy to admit that the new NIV version (released online this month and in print next March) showed “significant improvements” over the TNIV.
The Council do acknowledge that using gender-specific terms such as “man” and “mankind” does give a greater accuracy of translation from the Hebrew and Greek texts, but are pushing for a more contemporary version, clearly reflecting today’s perceptions of gender equality.
Personally I find gender-specific terms to be awkward more often than not, and since there are few texts as traditional as the Bible, I think the message is more important than the language. Given that there have been countless versions of the Bible – all considered “new”, all revisionist – I think it’s more important that people ensure that the latest versions do not kowtow to specific ecclesiastical or cultural agendas (for example, the Westboro Baptist Church), rather than relatively smaller worries such as gender specific pronouns!