Systematic Pattern In TNIV -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: Systematic Pattern In TNIV
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Systematic Pattern In TNIV

Vern Sheridan Poythress*

[*Vern Sheridan Poythress is professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.]

The central problem with Today’s New International Version (TNIV)1 does not lie in this or that verse that has been translated in less than an ideal way. It lies in a pattern, a systematic policy, namely that it avoids using a male representative or example to communicate a general truth.2

We first consider four examples, then stand back to discuss the pattern.

I. Examples of Meaning Changes

First, consider 1 John 2:10.

NIV: Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
TNIV: Those who love their fellow believers live in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.

TNIV changes “his brother” to “their fellow believers,” avoiding the male-marking of both “his” and “brother.” “Fellow believers” loses some of the intimacy implied by “brother.” “Brother” indicates a family-like relation, implying family-like responsibilities to the other person. “Fellow believers” indicates only a common belief within a larger group. In addition, it replaces the family idea

of brotherhood with the idea of belief, which does not occur in the original. “His brother” takes its starting point in a single case, which the reader is then to generalize, so that in the end the generalization includes both men and women. In this sense, either wording includes the same people within the scope of the principle, but the meanings by which one achieves the inclusion are distinct and different.3

TNIV also changes the singulars “whoever,” “his,” “him” to plurals (“those,” “their,” “them”). First John 2:10 sets forth a general, or “generic” truth, as the word “whoever” makes clear. But in the NIV subsequent references to “whoever” take the form of the masculine pronoun “his/him.” The masculine may suggest that a male sample case is illustrating the general principle, but it leaves intact the inclusive scope of “whoever.”4 (This kind of use of “he/his/him” is called “generic he.”)

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