THE TNIV: A REVIEW
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, Today's New International VersionTM
Copyright © 2001 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.
NOTE: There are some differences between the 2001 TNIV text discussed here and the 2005 text.
PART ONE: WHAT MAKES THE TNIV DIFFERENT FROM THE NIV?
"Today's New International Version" is a new translation of the Bible (though only
the New Testament portion is currently available) which has already become surrounded
by controversy due to its "inclusive" or "gender-accurate" language. (It is also contro-
versial because two members of the group in charge of the TNIV signed a statement in
1997 which seemed to plainly indicate that they rejected gender-inclusive translation-
techniques, but that's another story.) The 13-member Committee on Bible Translation
(CBT) which produced the TNIV did not attempt a formal, word-for-word approach.
Instead, a sense-for-sense approach was used, with the goal of giving readers a
translation in natural, everyday English. That was the also the goal of the NIV.
You might be asking, "If the NIV achieved that goal, why was the TNIV made?" The
main reason given by the International Bible Society (which publishes the TNIV and a
variety of other versions, in cooperation with Zondervan/Harper-Collins) is that
translations ought to change as language changes, and English has changed so much
since 1984 that a new translation is required. Others have claimed that most gender-
related changes in the TNIV are not required by linguistics or by anything else, and that
the TNIV was made to fill a niche in the market to serve "egalitarians" (people who believe
that men and women should have equal access to all church-offices). Some well-known
egalitarians have already endorsed the TNIV.
It is, of course, impossible to prove the motives of the TNIV's translators and
publishers one way or the other. But it IS possible to show that the TNIV frequently
stretches and squeezes the original text when it refers to gender.
That is not done when God is the subject: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are
consistently referred to as "he" and "him." (One apparent exception, Hebrews 2:6-8, is
examined in Part Two.) However, the same Greek words that are translated as "Father"
and "Son" when they refer to God are often translated non-literally in passages where
they do not refer to God. This might make it difficult for a TNIV-user to object to a future
translation that would present the opening words of the Lord's Prayer as "Our Parent"
instead of "Our Father." The TNIV treats the same Greek words the same way; it just does
so at different places in the text.
Some passages in the Greek text really are gender-inclusive, and the TNIV does a
good job of translating them accurately. For example, the Greek text of the first part of
Mark 16:16 really does mean "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;" it does not
only mean that a male who believes and is baptized will be saved. And there is usually no
harm done in sensitively referring to humans in general as "people" or "human beings"
rather than as "man."
However, the inclusiveness in passages such as Mark 16:16 was already obvious:
few people would read Mark 16:16 in the KJV or NIV and seriously think that it does not
apply to females. The improvements at those points are not worth the loss of accuracy at
other points. (And, one might add, the loss of text: the TNIV puts the last 12 verses of
the Gospel of Mark -- and John 7:52-8:11 -- in italics. The TNIV New Testament's
introduction says that this was done "to indicate even more clearly their uncertain
status." However, these passages thus become unpreachable. With the TNIV in the
pulpit, it would be, to me, like telling the congregation, "The text for this morning's
sermon is the footnote on page 77.") In some passages, the TNIV uses gender-
inclusive language where the Greek text is gender-specific. At other places, where the
Greek text is capable of being understood as inclusive or as referring exclusively to males,
the translators consistently (but not invariably) chose the more inclusive option.
Throughout the New Testament, the words "he" and "his," when used abstractly,
have been replaced by "they" and "their." As a result, some singular nouns are
represented by plural pronouns in the same sentence, even in cases where the
underlying Greek pronoun is singular. For many people that is abnormal.
Before reviewing specific passages in Part Two, I wish to point out three more
things. First, the name "Today's New International Version," the opening of the TNIV's
introduction, and some advertisements for the TNIV have collectively conveyed the idea
that the TNIV was made by a group of scholars similar to the group which produced the
NIV. (For instance, a booklet that accompanied the TNIV "Preview Edition" stated that the
TNIV "incorporates the continuing work the translators of the NIV have done since its last
update in 1984.") However, while some TNIV-translators contributed to the NIV, others
did not. TNIV-readers should not automatically assume that all the scholars who
contributed to the NIV also support the TNIV. For example, Dr. Wes Gerig, who
contributed to the NIV, has stated about the TNIV, "I was not consulted about this at all.
In fact, I am radically opposed to what they are doing and have done."
Secondly, most of the New Testament specialists on the CBT have been associated
at one time or another with either Wheaton College (in Illinois), Westminster Theological
Seminary (in Philadelphia) or Regent College (in Vancouver, Canada). If New Testament
specialists did most of the New Testament translation, that would mean that the academic
spectrum among the translators of the TNIV New Testament is somewhat thin. Thus a
factor which helped prevent the innocent tilting of the NIV may have been less available
in the case of the TNIV.
Third, even if one completely overlooks the new gender-related changes, plenty of new
features remain which deserve attention and concern. For instance, 12 verses which are
included in the text of the New American Standard Bible in brackets, and which were
presented as textual variants in the NIV's footnotes, are not included in the TNIV. In
other words, the contents of Matthew 17:21, Matthew 18:11, Mark 7:16, Mark 9:44, Mark
9:46, Mark 11:26, Mark 15:28, most of Luke 9:55-56, Luke 17:36, Luke 23:17, Acts
15:34, and Acts 24:7 are not in the TNIV at all. Some other new features are examined
in Part Two.
PART THREE: CONCLUSION
The TNIV does not do everything which The Ultimate Egalitarian Version would do,
but it still manages to do quite a bit. It may (unintentionally) create a platform for further,
more drastic, gender-neutral alterations. Its imprecise language, new textual variants and
footnotes, its presentation of singular Greek words as plurals, and its representation of
male Greek words (especially andres and aner) as genderless, and its presentation of
feasibly inclusive words as if they are definitely inclusive words collectively produce a text
that is heavily pre-interpreted when it reaches the reader. I do not recommend the TNIV in
its current form.
Jim Snapp II
April 15, 2002 (expanded July 1, 2002)