The complete Bible will arrive in stores in mid-February. But when the TNIV New Testament was released in 2002, it was attacked by some scholars who said it didn’t just update language; it tampered with theology. And 118 critics signed a letter listing their complaints.
For Christians, every word change is measured against the Scripture’s purpose: to guide a reader’s life in this world by the light of God and to give readers the prospect of eternal life by bringing them, through Jesus, to salvation.
Because each verb, noun and pronoun shapes a vision of God and humanity, errors are like miscalculating the path of a rocket: One tiny navigational shift can send everything spiraling in the wrong direction.
Zondervan says the TNIV was essential for accuracy, clarity and accessibility, the same reasons it created the 1978 New International Version, translated by the International Bible Society.
Changes are not willy-nilly. Exodus still says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” Jesus still speaks of the prodigal son in Luke.
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But more archaic terms are ousted, and new usage is recognized. After all, Webster added 10,000 words and made 100,000 changes in dictionary definitions in a decade, says Ben Irwin, head of Zondervan’s publishing division aimed at the under 35-crowd.
In the TNIV, “inner parts” is now “internal organs.” Likewise, words were substituted if the old ones have acquired a new connotation. Once “alien” only meant “foreigner,” not an extraterrestrial, says John Stek, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation, who worked on both the NIV and the TNIV. “We were not at all interested in using language that will be here today, gone tomorrow, or adolescent colloquialisms. We wanted language we judged was durable.”
Stek points to Psalm 1:1 in NIV, which begins “Blessed is the man.”
In the TNIV, it’s “Blessed are those,” because it’s clearly meant for everyone, Stek says. But “Blessed” hangs on even though most modern translations shift that to say “happy.”
“Readers today think ‘happy’ is about a mood. The Psalm reference isn’t to mood, it’s to a state of well being, being blessed, just as it is in the Beatitudes, which echoes this language,” Stek says.
But theologians don’t go to war over such tweaks. They hear a call to arms over gender changes that whittle out masculine language. For example, in Hebrews, “God is treating you as sons” in earlier translations, but in the TNIV, it’s “children.”
The change is not only unnecessary, it undermines the most essential quality of a Bible translation — trustworthiness, says Wayne Grudem, author of The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy and a professor of the Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale.
“How would you like to read a Bible where you don’t know what words you can trust? People memorize the Bible. They pray on it. They want to trust every word,” says Grudem.
Grudem is wary of editing a Bible with young adults in mind.
“Every reader knows the Bible is an ancient document and that you have to translate it as it really is, even if you might have said something differently today. People easily figure out that this (content) is eternal. They get it. … It’s not that hard.”
But why not make it easy and appealing? asks Paul Caminiti, president of Bible publishing for Zondervan. “When Jesus was on the Earth, he came to people’s level. He didn’t say, ‘Come to my level.’ “