Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The 2011 NIV Bible

Q. Is the 2011 New International Version of the Bible a “politically correct” translation?

A. Yes and no.

The question, as asked, usually relates to the subject of gender inclusive language. The answer is “yes and no” because the NIV is inconsistent in this regard. One area where gender inclusiveness is seen is in the use of “singular they” – that is, “they” used as a pronoun answering to a singular subject rather than a plural one. This usage is found in the 2011 NIV, but generic “he” (used generically for all people rather than as masculine) is also used.[i]
Revelation 3:20 reveals what seems to me an awkward example of pandering to singular they:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Contrast the KJV and RSV:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
The use of they as singular – regardless of whether it is correct or incorrect – has long standing use in the English language. Dennis Baron, author and professor at University of Illinois, indicates its use has been documented back over 650 years.
Although frequently classified by purists as ungrammatical, its use seems undiminished, and it may even be on the rise because it fills an important linguistic niche. In recent years, more and more English speakers have sought a gender-neutral alternative to pronouns that express the traditional male/female binary, turning either to invented pronouns like xe and zie, or to that old stand-by, singular they.
Both English experts and the NIV translators recognize/recognized that the use of singular they has been embraced and has expanded in modern times. In The language of gender at Oxford English Dictionaries, we find:
Some people object to this use on the grounds that it’s ungrammatical. In fact, the use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn’t new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It’s increasingly common in current English and is now gaining wider acceptance in both writing and speech. (emphasis mine)
The translators say as much in their preface to the NIV:
This generic use of the “indefinite” or “singular” “they/them/their” has a venerable place in English idiom and has quickly become established as standard English, spoken and written, all over the world. (emphasis mine)
We, in our speech and writing, are affected by the changes in gender language. It is important to realize that the political correctness was mediated to us through the NIV translational philosophy of using modern updated language. The committee studied “the contemporary use of gender language.” They explain:
Working with some of the world’s leading experts in computational linguistics and using cutting-edge techniques developed specifically for this project, the committee gained an authoritative, and hitherto unavailable, perspective on the contemporary use of gender language—including terms for the human race and subgroups of the human race, pronoun selections following various words and phrases, the use of ‟man” as a singular generic and the use of ‟father(s)” and ‟forefather(s)” as compared to ancestor(s). The project tracked usage and acceptability for each word and phrase over a twenty-year period and also analyzed similarities and differences across different forms of English: for example, UK English, US English, written English, spoken English, and even the English used in a wide variety of evangelical books, sermons and internet sites. – Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation
The primary reason that the use of singular they has been widely embraced and accepted is because of the gender language wars.[ii]
It’s very important to make sure that you don’t offend people by inadvertently using language that might be considered sexist. In recent decades, some previously established words and expressions have come to be seen as discriminating against women – either because they are based on male terminology or because they appear to give women a status that is less important than the male equivalent...Nowadays, it’s often very important to use language which implicitly or explicitly includes both men and women, making no distinction between the two different genders...You can use the plural pronouns they, them, their, etc., despite the fact that they are referring back to a singular noun... – The language of gender
To speak of political correctness in the gender language choices of the NIV is not to charge that the committee came together aiming to deliberately insert a feminist-transgender-queer ideology into the Bible. Rather, they decided to translate (in some cases, not always consistently) into English uses where the language has already adopted gender inclusive views (which have come to the forefront for mostly politically correct reasons). Speaking for himself, NIV committee member Craig Blomberg wrote, “After over a decade since the NIVI Britain’s first stab at an evangelical, inclusive language translation was produced, I am convinced more than ever that it is the right way to go.”

Yes there is “political correctness” that bled into the 2011 NIV.  I see no reason for its supporters to deny it. If one agrees with the translational philosophy of the 2011 NIV, they should embrace it.

[i]Using plurals instead of singulars to deal with generic forms was avoided. Except for
some instances where all alternatives proved awkward or potentially misleading, singular
nouns or substantive participles in the biblical languages were translated with singular
nouns or noun equivalents in English.” – Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation
[ii] The use of invented gender-neutral pronouns seems to be a failure up to this point.

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