Gender-Neutral Translations: The Controversy Over the TNIV -- By: Michael D. Stallard

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 07:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Gender-Neutral Translations: The Controversy Over the TNIV
Author: Michael D. Stallard

Gender-Neutral Translations:
The Controversy Over the TNIV

Mike Stallard

Professor of Systematic Theology
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania


The recent release of Today’s New International Version (TNIV) of the New Testament, an update of the popular New International Version, has created a firestorm within the evangelical world that has affected both academic and popular discussions about translations.1 The immediate controversy is centered on the issue of so-called inclusive language, that is, language in our English translations that at times replaces the male nouns and pronouns (man, brother, he, him, etc.) with expressions that include women (person, he or she, they, etc.). Such an approach to translation is sometimes referred to as “gender-neutral” or “gender-inclusive.”2 It must be noted that at this point no evangelical is questioning whether God himself, especially in passages where he is called Father, should be designated by gender-neutral language such as Parent or He/She. The TNIV uses gender-neutral language only in some cases involving human beings.3

Wading into this debate requires quite a bit of careful thought spiced up with a little gumption. Tempers have flared in a way that is not altogether good for the reputation of Bible-believing Christianity:

Both sides, however, have erred in the way this has been handled. As is often the case in such debates, the process has not gone well. Some of those who have complained have done so in tones that do not advance or reflect the complex nature of the discussion at the level of translation theory. I have in mind not those who have honest questions about some of the renderings but some of the media reporting this debate that has unashamedly inflamed the discussion and created an environment in which instant judgment is made and dialogue has become difficult.4

One cannot attribute such controversy to simple ignorance. One can find quality scholars by reputation on both sides of the debate. A representative list on the side opposing the TNIV would be Vern Poythress, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, J. I. Packer, and John Piper. Organizations such as The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW)5 and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family have helped to disseminate complaints about the TNIV. Many of the protagonists in this group worked ...

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