Concerns arise, gender free verse

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Colorado Springs-based International Bible Society announced plans Monday for a new Bible translation with gender-neutral wording, a controversial development in a long-running debate about modernizing the Bible.

The update of the New International Version (NIV) Bible, the most popular modern translation among evangelical Christians, does not make all men “people.” Nor does it remove male references to God, as some new translations do.

What it does, the group says, is drop gender-specific terms when it’s clear the original text didn’t intend them. For example, “sons of God” becomes “children of God,” and “brothers” becomes “brothers and sisters.”

The gender question has split evangelical Christian leaders who usually are united.

Some who support the changes say the old language excludes women. Opponents call it political correctness or feminism gone awry, or say the Bible’s traditional male-female roles are under attack.

The new Bible, called Today’s New International Version, will not replace the NIV, which still will be published without revision.

About 93 percent of the old translation remains unchanged in the new Bible, said International Bible Society spokesman Larry Lincoln.

The new translation “features the clarity of modern language without compromising accuracy,” Lincoln said. For instance, Mary is no longer “with child.” She’s pregnant.

Lincoln called the Bible “gender accurate.”

He said the revision’s authors, scholars funded by IBS, “doesn’t pander to any agenda or pressure or any group.”

The debate over a gender-revised NIV erupted in the 1990s after IBS published a British version.

Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, which opposed the revision, hosted a 1997 summit on the issue.

The result: guidelines signed by IBS and others that in effect ruled out gender-updated Bible translations.

IBS broke with the agreement because it would have kept the group from meeting its mission, Lincoln said.

Focus on the Family president James Dobson said Monday that more analysis is needed before his ministry comments on the translation.

He called early analysis by theological and linguistic experts “encouraging.”

Among the evangelical leaders endorsing the new Bible is the Rev. Ted Haggard, pastor of 8,700-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

“The way a kid in 1975 would have read the NIV, which had language we used then, this just communicates the same idea to a high school or college student reading it in 2002,” Haggard said.

One of the revision’s critics, however, thinks the new version will be rejected.

“They’re saying (the revisions) are minimal, but if you change thousands of words that have to do with God and the individual believer, you’ve changed the tone and emphasis of the whole Bible,” said Wayne Grudem, ex-president of the Evangelical Theological Society, a scholarly group.

The New Testament version of the translation will be available in spring. The complete text is expected in 2005.