Thursday, April 21, 2011


21 April 2011


This month, April 2011 both English and Xhosa speaking Christians face a crisis: Can we still trust our favourite Bible? Tomorrow, warehouses are set to release a revised 2011 translation of the popular New International Version.

Until this month, all Xhosa Bibles printed by the Bible society had a red edge. This morning, I watched a Xhosa man walk to the counter of a Christian bookshop and ask for a Bible. The shopkeeper offered him the new Xhosa Bible. He rejected it, asking for a red edged one. The shopkeeper showed him a red edged one to compare with - saying the two had the same text inside. The Xhosa man asked to buy the red one. When told it was not for sale, but only for comparison, the Xhosa man walked out of the shop. He trusted the red edged Bible he had always known and didn't trust the new plain one. The shopkeeper was angry with the Bible society at changing the rim colour, saying they had lost thousands of rands in sales this month.

We all want a Bible translation we can trust. Most of us are not Bible scholars, but we all want a translation we can both trust and understand. We want a translation that isn't biased with some particular groups theological opinion, but just simply translates what it says in the original. That was the reason why in the 1970s, the International Bible Society set about the project of the New International Version. By including scholars from countries all over the world and from the widest ever spectrum of denominations, they hoped to debate and agree on a translation that would remove cultural and theological translation bias. The resulting New International Version (NIV) became and remained the worlds most popular Bible among English speaking Evangelicals, also bringing enormous profits to its publisher Zondervan. Minor corrections were made to the translation in 1984. In 1987, Zondervan, the leading Evangelical publisher was bought by Harper Collins, a secular publisher. At first, nothing changed. At first, Zondervan continued to publish only orthodox conservative evangelical books.

In 1997, however, Christian leaders and theologians were distressed to hear that a politically correct/'gender neutral'/feminist update translation was being planned for the NIV. James Dobson, concerned about the implications for the family, convened a meeting between the team responsible for the NIV (the International Bible society, the Committee on Bible Translation, and Zondervan). Concerned theologians present included John Piper, Wayne Grudem and RC Sproul. At the meeting, the NIV team promised to scrap plans for a 'gender neutral' update to the NIV. (See The whole group then agreed to a set of principles called the 'Colorado Springs Guidelines' for translation of gender in the Bible. These principles were then endorsed by a further list of Christian leaders who read like a 'whos who' of American Christian leaders of the time. ( ) The principles in plain English are that we should translate what it says in the original and not try to change that.

Nevertheless, the NIV team then broke this promise by continuing to secretly re-translate the NIV into 'gender neutral' language. When they had finished, just before the publication of the update version called Todays New International Version (TNIV) in 2002, they then sent a letter to those in the original meeting to say that they had changed their minds. The Christian public were not impressed. Hardly anyone bought the TNIV and it flopped. The public continued to demand the original authentically translated 1984 NIV. Angry Christians posted back their copies of the NIV to Zondervan in protest.

At the same time, the neo-liberal postmodern Emerging Church movement rose to prominence. The new Zondervan leadership, lacking the spiritual and Biblical motivation of their pious founder Mr Zondervan, began publishing numerous postmodern books. Much of the evangelical public, trusting the Zondervan label bought these books and thought they were Biblical. But under secular ownership, Zondervan abandoned its faithfulness to the Bible and deceived hundreds of thousands of Christians by publishing postmodern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Dan Kimball, and Doug Pagitt under an evangelical imprint.

Theological scholars attacked the false-translations in the TNIV. One of the problems was that in many places singulars were changed to plurals to avoid giving the gender. For example,'him' became 'them'. This pluralisation detracted from the element of personal relationship of us and God. The NIV team, then responded to this criticism, by re-editing the TNIV to change many of the most offensive mis-translations in a new version called the '2011 NIV'. So now for example, with the well know verse Revelation 3:20, in the current (1984) NIV, Jesus says: "... If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."; in the 2011 NIV, Jesus says: "...If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me."

Anyone who reads the current NIV can see that this sentence is 'masculine general' i.e. meant to refer to both men and women. But in other cases it is debatable and the meanings are subtle. For example, in many places the masculine assumes male leadership in the church, something that feminists evidently don't like. So, for example in James 3, while the 1984 NIV says "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers...", 2011 NIV says "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers..."

In other places, the Old Testament refers to the 'Son of Man' or the 'righteous man' alluding to Christ. Surely the reader should be allowed to decide for himself what it means and not have this meaning edited out by a feminist translator? Theologian Wayne Grudem explains these issues in more detail in

Have you every been irritated with someone trying to 'politically correct' you? How does the NIV team find the audacity to try to 'politically correct' Jesus Christ? Should we not rather listen to Jesus words and on this basis question the whole ideology of political correctness? Should we not rather be outraged that the NIV team are trying to politically correct God's Word?

Scholars are still studying the 2011 NIV to see exactly how many translation errors have been retained from the TNIV and how many have been corrected, but it is clear that it is full of errors . Initial studies show the 2011 NIV is much more similar to the error filled TNIV than the authentic 1984 NIV. Statistically, about a third of the verses are identical to the TNIV, but different to the 1984 NIV.

You can compare the two yourself online at In places, such as Genesis 1:27, the 2011 NIV compromises by changing 'man' to 'mankind' which the feminists would probably still not like. In Psalm 1:1, it changes 'Blessed is the man...' to 'Blessed is the one...' On the term 'Son of man', the 2011 NIV compromises by translating sometimes correctly as 'Son of man' and sometimes incorrectly as 'human being'. But then the meaning of allusion to Christ is sometimes lost. So sometimes the 2011 version translates accurately and sometimes gender neutral. But why should Bible translators decide what gender references reach the public and what gets edited out? Surely we have a right to decide for ourselves how the meaning should be interpreted (i.e. is it masculine general or is it gender specific)?

But apart from being plain inaccurate translation, I argue this is another part of a broad scale attempt to remove gender distinctives from our society - as if gender was meaningless and didn't matter. That is the underlying logic behind foolish decisions like legalising same-sex marriage and sending women soldiers with men into military combat situations in Iraq. This feminist ideology is also undermining male leadership in the family and the church. The Word of God is the light and sword we have correct such foolishness. But now the 'gender-neutral' Bible translators are trying to darken the light of the Word of God with their 'political correctness'. Will the Word of God be a light to the world or will worldly ideology be allowed to edit the Word of God?

Now the counter-argument is that this helps understanding. For a long time we have accepted certain edits forced by cultural knowledge. For example, the Sudanese Bible translates 'white as snow' as 'white as cotton', since the Sudanse mostly don't know what snow is but do know what cotton is - and there is no known special meaning connected here with snow that is lost. But does this gender neutral translation actually help understanding or is this just pandering to feminism?

But political interference in Bible translation isn't new. In fact the much loved King James Version was also interfered with by the non-Christian, homosexual King James who wanted to promote hierachical authority which he felt would be easier to control than the decentralised Puritan congregations who used the Geneva Bible. "Further, the King gave the translators instructions designed to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology of the Church of England. Certain Greek and Hebrew words were to be translated in a manner that reflected the traditional usage of the church. For example, old ecclesiastical words such as the word "church" were to be retained and not to be translated as "congregation". The new translation would reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and traditional beliefs about ordained clergy."

Whatever the translation and the era, we ordinary readers want a version that faithfully translates what the original says and doesn't try to push a political agenda. That is what the original NIV set out to do but the 2011 NIV sadly fails to do.

Thankfully, the NIV team has not changed any of the references to God as masculine, but other postmodern translators are busy working on a mis-translation that would change that too. The arguments used to defend the gender neutral translation could be used to defend that too. Will the NIV follow in another decade or two?

When Zondervan brought out the TNIV, the continued to publish the 1984 NIV. The Christian public rejected the TNIV and kept buying the real 1984 NIV. But now Zondervan is planning to stop publishing the current NIV. That means those of us who like the translation won't be able to buy it any more.

Today, I went and bought an extra copy of the current 1984 NIV, in case I won't be able to get it in future. In South Africa, the NIV distributors are Lux Verbi. Again, the same problem with Zondervan. Lux Verbi, which used to be the publishing arm of the Dutch Reformed Church, is now part of Naspers, a secular publisher. This is a dangerous situation. Naspers also publishes soft porn magazines Mens Health and FHM and owns Multichoice which was not long ago wanting to offer a porn channel on DSTV. How can the same company be publishing both the Word of God and porn? It would be helpful if some wealthy Christians were to buy back these Christian publishers Lux Verbi and Zondervan and put control back in Christian hands.

So, South African Xhosa readers can be reassured, they can still trust the Bible Society's Xhosa Bible even though it doesn't have a red edge, but bad news for English readers, the 2011 NIV is not the same as the 1984 NIV. Pastors should warn their churches, that the 2011 NIV is not reliable as was the 1984 NIV but not as bad as the TNIV. If the NIV stops publishing the 1984 NIV, you can instead buy the New King James Version, the English Standard Version or the New American Standard Version which are also reliable translations. Hopefully, if the NIV loses market share to these versions, the loss of profit will motivate the now secular-owned Zondervan to start publishing the real 1984 NIV again.

But no, I am not anti-the NIV. I love the NIV. I recommend the 1984 NIV. I read it every day and plan to continue. I hope it will continue to be published.

Please write and complain to Zondervan and Lux Verbi saying we want them to keep publishing the 1984 NIV and drop the 2011 NIV.

Yours sincerely,

Philip Rosenthal