A majority of the men at the Southern Baptist Convention today condemned the New International Version on the basis that it is not a faithful translation of the word of God.
At issue is whether men must translate with something like “goodwill to men” rather than “goodwill to people,” or whether men must translate that God wants all men to be saved rather than all people, or whether we must always refer to the Israelites as the “sons of Israel” instead of “children of Israel.”
In formal Greek linguistic categories, the nouns and pronouns in question are in the masculine, but nonetheless convey the inclusion of women. The NIV does not always render these nouns and pronouns with their corresponding masculine forms, but rather with English words which convey the same meaning as the Greek.
Because of NIV’s tendency to render the meaning of the Greek rather than slavishly reproducing formal masculine linguistic categories, certain influential men brought their case against the NIV before the Southern Baptist brethren. The resolution narrowly passed by the votes of a few men.
Ironically, the version most closely associated with Southern Baptist is the HCSB which translates many of these same passages similarly as NIV.
The fault lies with a handful of men, sometimes scholarly ones, who innocently say, “I prefer a more literal version such as the ESV.” Well intentioned laymen and pastors combine this innocent statement with their rightly placed belief in inerrancy, and conclude, mistakenly, that literal versions are theologically preferable, while anything less is liberal.
Let those men who study these issues be more cautious about how they promote certain Bible versions. There’s no such thing as the one best version. There is, however, such a thing as the best version for a particular need:
- literal versions are to be preferred for exact and detailed study involving vocabulary and syntax (ESV ASV NASU)
- dynamic equivalent versions are to be preferred for lengthy or protracted or speed reading, such as reading-the-Bible-in-a-year programs, or for evangelizing men (NLT TEV)
- middle-of-the-road translations for Bible memorization or for public reading (NIV NRSV)
We men who teach the Bible need to stop saying that “literal translations are best for those men who believe in inerrancy.”
Scholarly men need to stop providing fodder for the demagoguery of translation theory, because what they say will produce misguided resolutions such as what was passed at the Southern Baptist Convention today. This is so unfortunate because misguided resolutions trivialize other resolutions that good men might pass at the convention. For example, the men of the Southern Baptist Convention rightly reaffirmed their belief in hell, but they did so while condemning the NIV. How can men take one resolution seriously when the other is so unfounded?
Another unintended consequence of this misguided resolution is to reinforce the KJV-only laymen and churches in their suspicion against “untrustworthy” versions. The resolution sets back churches at least a year or two in the effort to get into the hands of our churchmen a more accurate translation than the 400 year old linguistically outdated KJV.
Just for clarification, all of my aforementioned references to “men” are meant to imply women as well and are included to illustrate that men don’t talk the way that the authors of the resolution expect men to translate.