At sundry times and in divers manners in the past few months I’ve alluded to my long-time preference for the ESV (including here on my blog) in relation to the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible. When I received a copy of this study Bible in July it was the first time I had picked up an NIV in about 8 years (of a total of “only” 10 as a Christian!). I’ve chosen not to write a review noting all the various features because 1) a lot of reviews are doing that and you can find one with a simple Google search and 2) the NIVZSB has a stunning website where you can explore it in detail. Futhermore, I wrote a bit about it on the Logos Academic blog a few weeks ago, highlighting its most unique feature (focus on biblical theology). Therefore, I would instead like to discuss the controversial issue surrounding the NIV 2011.
Last week our President Dr. David Dockery hosted a Q&A with Dr. D. A. Carson on the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible, and I decided to pose the question to Dr. Carson when the floor was open for questions. Specifically, I asked him how he would respond to complementarians who won’t give this new study Bible a chance because of the fact that it uses the NIV. Both in person and online I’ve seen fellow complementarians decry this new study Bible for its use of the gender neutral NIV, and there was a time when I would have done the same.
Carson noted the need to distinguish between changes in language that are culture-wide and don’t necessarily bring with it huge theological/cultural biases, and those changes driven by ideology (e.g. those on the far left who want to address God as “Our Father and Mother.” While there are feminine analogies for God in Scripture, He is never addressed as mother or described with feminine pronouns). In other words, complementarians need not worry over gender neutral pronouns as long as the pronouns for God are right. And this is because language is ever-changing and shaped by use. Whereas decades ago masculine pronouns were understood to be generic, they are now largely used/understood to refer to males. Carson drove home the point by saying that because today “men” connotes men only, it’s actually a better, more faithful translation in certain contexts (e.g. Acts 17:22) to say “men and women” as opposed to “men.” In other words, because of how English has changed, it’s better to use gender inclusive language when the original languages clearly refer to all people, male and female. Carson also mentioned that he and Doug Moo had stepped off the board of CBMW when they connected complementarianism to linguistic commitments, and that the council has since dropped that connection. I was not aware of either of these facts and found them both particularly enlightening.
The NIV 50th anniversary website has a very helpful piece chronicling the history of revisions of the translation, noting especially the research and data concerning the use of generic pronouns and identifiers in contemporary English. The issue is also noted in this brief video where a few members of the translation committee such as Doug Moo, Karen Jobe, and Mark Strauss discuss translation and linguistics. Carson himself wrote a very helpful book on this matter (The Inclusive-Language Debate: A Plea for Realism) nearly two decades ago, and it’s a great place to go for more in-depth treatment of this topic.
All that to say, I hope the fact that it uses the NIV does not deter complementarians from making use of this unique new study Bible. From the mature high school student all the way to the adult Bible study leader, all will find the NIV Zondervan Study Bible helpful for grasping the unfolding narrative of Scripture. Whereas many lay Christians see the Bible as a random collection of unconnected stories and moral prescriptions, this study Bible has a huge potential of making the average person in the pew a better reader and interpreter of Scripture, able to see the interconnectedness and development of the biblical storyline and able to trace the glorious themes that run from Genesis to Revelation. Check out the NIV Zondervan Study Bible website to explore the features!
Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!