“The use of inclusive language in NIV 2011 creates the potential for minimizing the particularity of biblical revelation and, more seriously, at times undermines the saving revelation of Christ as the promised Savior of humankind,” the Commission on Theology and Church Relations Executive Staff stated in an August report.
“Pastors and congregations of the LCMS should be aware of this serious weakness. In our judgment this makes it inappropriate for NIV 2011 to be used as a lectionary Bible or as a Bible to be generally recommended to the laity of our church.”
The New International Version is reported to be the world’s leading contemporary English Bible translation as it is known for being easy to understand. It was announced in 2009 by global ministry Biblica that the popular translation would be revised for the first time in 25 years.
The updated NIV (completed by members of the Committee on Bible Translation, an independent body of global biblical scholars that has the sole authority to update the text of the NIV) was released in 2011 and has drawn criticism largely over its revised gender language.
Critics include the Committee on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Southern Baptist Convention, which officially rejected the revised NIV last year, saying it “alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language.”
Conservative Lutherans are the latest to express caution against use of the 2011 NIV.
The Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the LCMS has long recognized that language evolves. It also acknowledged the intent of the Committee on Bible Translation to try to communicate the meaning of the Bible’s texts in English as it is used today.
But the commission took issue with some of the substitutions for masculine singular pronouns.
“While there may be many examples in which such substitution does not change the sense or inherent intent of the passage,” the commission reported, the approach is advised against because “of its potential to alter significantly the meaning of passages.”
Among the changes made in the updated NIV is the substitution of “he,” “him,” and “his” for “they,” “their,” and “them.”
The commission provided two significant examples where such a revision proved to affect the meaning of Scripture “adversely.”
Genesis 1:26-27 in NIV 2011 reads: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind [collective noun substitution for "man"] in our image, in our likeness, so that they [the plural pronoun is in the original] may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind [collective noun substitution for "man"] in his own image, in the image of God he created them [plural pronoun substitution for "him"]; male and female he created them.”
In the first substitution of “mankind” for “man,” the particularity of the first man is made unclear. The rationale for this would seem to be the desire to emphasize that all humanity is created in God’s image, but the original text itself had made that abundantly clear already by paralleling “man” in the first clause of verse 26 with “they” in the following clause. In verse 27, the second substitution of “mankind” for “man” again undermines the particularity of Adam’s creation. Moreover, when coupled with the substitution of “them” for “him” as the verse continues, the progression of the verse is obfuscated. The original verse itself progresses from the particular creation of Adam-the one man who is father of all creation, created in God’s image, and in whom all will die through his sin (Rom 5:12)-to the male and female, which is paralleled to him. The original text then preserves both the particularity and universality which NIV 2011 undermines.
Psalm 8:4-5 in NIV 2011 reads: “What is mankind [collective noun substitution for "man"] that you are mindful of them [plural substitution for "him"], Human beings [plural noun substitution for "son of man"] that you care for them [plural substitution for "him"]? You have made them [plural substitution for "him"] a little lower than the angels and crowned them [plural substitution for "him"] with glory and honor.”
Once again, the rationale for the translation changes seems to be the desire to emphasize a universal truth about all humanity-that humankind has received glory and honor as the crown of creation. The translation decisions, however, obfuscate other things. First, and most importantly, the decision to use plurals here vitiates the Messianic meaning of this psalm, its particular application to Christ. Hebrews 2:5-9 quotes Ps 8:4-5 and notes that these verses testify to our Lord Jesus. He is the Man to whom the Lord gives all glory and honor; the Son of Man to whom all creation is subject. He is the One who exceeds the angels in glory and honor, even though he was made to be lower than them for our salvation.
Second, we should note that the substitution of a generic term like “human being” or “human beings” for “son of man” (a consistent pattern in NIV 2011), impoverishes the understanding of “Son of Man” as the self-designation our Lord uses throughout the Gospels. Jesus uses a term (a particular idiom, “son of man”) from the Old Testament that indicates full humanity and refers it to himself. This is of great importance, especially when it is seen in the light of Daniel 7:13-14. There that same term, “son of man,” is used in a prophecy of our Savior’s incarnation, where “one like a son of man” is “given dominion and glory and a kingdom” in which all nations are included under a rule that shall never be destroyed.
Though critiquing the updated NIV for its “misguided attempt to make the truth of God’s Word more easily understood,” the Lutheran commission clarified that its judgment is not on “the entirety of NIV 2011 as a translation.” The commission would have to do a much more extensive study of the translation, it said.
LCMS describes itself as a mission-oriented, Bible-based, confessional Christian denomination. The Commission on Theology and Church Relations was established by the Synod in 1962 and it provides study documents, opinions and statements on theological issues.
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