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January 29, 2002

Groups pan gender-neutral Bible
By Ellen Sorokin

     The country's best-selling modern Bible will be issued in a gender-neutral version this spring, despite criticism from conservative groups who call the changes a gross mistake.
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     The latest revision, called "Today's New International Version (TNIV)," will include generic phrases for instances in which the meaning of the original text was intended to include both men and women, say officials with the Colorado-based International Bible Society (IBS), which will publish the new version.
     For example, "sons of God" will become "children of God," "brothers" will be replaced by "brothers and sisters," and "He who believes" will become "Whoever believes." IBS officials say it is clear in such passages the original text never intended any specific reference to men.
     The latest version, however, will retain the masculine terminology when referring to God and Jesus Christ, IBS officials said.
     IBS officials said yesterday the latest revision will make the Bible more relevant for those who have a hard time understanding it in its current language.
     "We believe that to effect positive change in our world, we must communicate with today's generations in the English they are being taught and that they speak," said Peter Bradley, IBS president. "To accomplish this mission, we must make certain that Scripture is presented in a way that is unquestionably accurate and perfectly clear."
     The New Testament of the TNIV version will go on sale in April. The complete text with the Old Testament is expected to be issued in 2005. The original "New International Version (NIV)," which has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide since 1978, will remain on the market.
     Both versions, the works of evangelical translators, are popular among Protestants. Like the original NIV version, the new version will not appear in an edition with the extra biblical books recognized by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
     The new version also contains other word changes. Those changes are in paragraph structure, sentence structure, word order, punctuation, spelling and capitalization.
     The translation reflects the language changes that occur in everyday English, said Ronald Youngblood, chairman of the IBS board of directors and a member of a Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), the group that developed the TNIV version.
     "English is always changing," Mr. Youngblood said. "As a result, we must continue the work of translation to guarantee that the Bible is accurately communicated in the language of the day."
     But religious groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, criticized the new translation, suggesting it may be driven by motives of political correctness.
     "No one is authorized to treat the Bible like silly putty," said William Merrell, vice president for convention relations of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee.
     "Whenever a translation occurs, a document's integrity can be skewed as a result," Mr. Merrell said. "It's threatened by intrusion of hypersensitivity and political correctness. You cannot apply the changing cultural mores to determine what the word of God says."
     The Rev. Restine T. Jackson III, pastor of the Word of Grace church in Capitol Heights, a Pentecostal-style apostolic church, agreed with Mr. Merrell's sentiment. "By changing the language, you're removing all the great symbolisms the Bible is trying to portray," Mr. Jackson said.
     Mr. Merrell said the Southern Baptist Convention will reconsider using the NIV version of the Bible because of the publication of the TNIV.
     Zondervan, owned by HarperCollins Publishers, holds North American rights for both versions. To date, the Bible society and Zondervan have spent $2 million to develop the new translation. Zondervan, founded in 1931, is one of the top Christian publishers in the world. In 1988, it became a division of HarperCollins, one of the largest publishers in the world.
     The major U.S. sales competitor for the NIV has been the King James Version.
     Two other international versions appeared last year: "English Standard Version" from Crossway and "Holman Christian Standard Bible" from Broadman & Holman.
     • This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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