The case, for and against, bible’s use of gender-inclusive language: TNIV vs. ESV

In evangelical circles, the debate between the Today’s NIV (TNIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV) is being fought by its translators and supporters. The ESV and the TNIV are the latest new translations created by Good News/Crossway and the Int’l Bible Society. Though the ESV is a literal translation, it does use some gender-inclusive language throughout but is not nearly as gender-inclusive as the TNIV. The ESV translators wanted to remain faithful to the intended meaning of the original biblical languages. Dr. Wayne Grudem, editor and a translator of the ESV, said on an interview with James Dobson (Focus on the Family), that the TNIV changed 3,600 male references into gender-inclusive references. On the other side of the debate, the supporters of the TNIV believe that references to he in the original Greek language was actually intended to refer to both genders. This could very well be true. It is reasonable to assume that during the time of New Testament writers, a male-dominated patriarchal society neglected to address women directly, even though they may have truly intended to be referring to both men and women. It would be hard pressed to think that the apostle Paul did not intend to speak to women. The TNIV’s rationale for using gender-inclusive language is to correct this imbalance so that scripture speaks to the originally intended audience, which would include both men and women. Today’s postmodern generation expects to be treated equally and respectfully. Either way, both rationales are legitimate. Both sides make a very good case either for, or against, their philosophy of translation. We should look past the differences to see that both sides are doing our bible reading community a favor. I am not polarizing the issue of gender-inclusivity; in fact, I am trying to depolarize it by recognizing the benefits of both philosophies regarding gender-inclusivity. One side is preserving and protecting the traditional meaning of the Holy Scriptures, and the other side, is making sure that the Holy Scriptures speak with relevance and is properly directed to an ignored sector of the writer’s intended audience.

On both sides of the debate, all translators do want to be true to scripture, whether to the originally intended meaning (i.e., ESV, NIV, NASB), or to the originally intended audience (i.e., TNIV, NRSV). While both sides fight it out, I will sit at home, and try to enjoy all my bible translations, the ESV, NIV, TNIV and NRSV. It is no secret that there is also the financial motivation to grab a bigger market share, which is why they are battling it out. Zondervan, now owned by HarperCollins, is a huge company that has deep pockets and can do hugely powerful marketing campaigns; they publish numerous other bible versions other than the TNIV/NIV. GoodNews/Crossway, on the other hand, is much smaller; the ESV seems to be the only translation they publish.

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

7 thoughts on “The case, for and against, bible’s use of gender-inclusive language: TNIV vs. ESV”

  1. Just to be pedantic, I need to point out that it’s not Zondervan who makes the NIV/TNIV translation of the Bible. The translation is actually done by the International Bible Society. The IBS specializes in making Bibles available at low cost for people trying to make more people knowledgeable about the contents of the Bible; you can buy cases of Bibles and even individual Bibles directly from them at wholesale prices. Zondervan is a publisher who makes the Bible available in traditional retail channels, such as bookstores and from Amazon.

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  2. Yes, you are most certainly correct about it being the IBS that makes the TNIV/NIV. I should know this because they sent me a copy of the TNIV directly. Zondervan is only a publisher. Thanks you Sam, I will make that correction on my blog’s posting.

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  3. Kevin, thanks for trying to be fair and balanced in your approach. Few seem to be so charitable in this debate.

    One point, though, regarding a statement in your final paragraph: “all translators do want to be true to scripture, whether to the originally intended meaning (i.e., ESV, NIV, NASB), or to the originally intended audience (i.e., TNIV, NRSV).”

    I would suggest that the translatators of the TNIV are attempting to reproduce the originally intended meaning just like the ESV, NIV or NASB. Thus, I think this is an unfair delineation to imply that the TNIV or NRSV doesn’t. The TNIV is much more conservative in its use of gender renderings than the NRSV.

    To translate ἀδελφοί in Rom 15:30 as “brothers” or “brethren” when the context of the very next chapter is clearly both sexes is poor translation. The TNIV’s use of “brothers and sisters” better and more accurately communicates the originally intended meaning than the ESV, NIV, or NASB.

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  4. Rick,
    You are correct. The TNIV does want to translate the correct meaning for the originally intended audience. I am not trying to imply that the TNIV or NRSV doesn’t translate the original text to its original meaning (even though that was what I said). IPerhaps I should have used the term “original definition”. That would be more accurate. Whether the “original definition” actually translates into its “originally intended meaning” or to its “originally intended audience” is another thing. Or am I just trying to skirt the issue here?

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  5. Kevin, for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re trying to skirt the issue.

    However, I’m not sure what “original definition” would mean in place of “original meaning.”

    The TNIV translators are certainly not trying to change the definitions of words. But translation is more complicated that looking up a definition in a Greek dictionary and constructing a literal word-for-word sentence. This is the inherent difficulty in trying to create a straightforward formal equivalent translation and no one is able to do it. Choices are always made even sometimes ignoring a word like the ESV translators do with γενομένου in Rom 1:3.

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  6. Translating is definitely difficult. I agree, formal translations do not always work. It works up to a certain point and so there are limitations. You have educated me on some of these translations. Thanks for pointing these things out for me.

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  7. In response to R. Mansfield, I believe that the translators may have
    been taking into consideration some of Paul’s other comments concerning
    women’s roles in relation to leadership in the church, when translating
    Romans 15:30. In addressing the brethren or brothers, it does not
    preclude women/sisters from being fellow workers, but rather the role of
    leadership in the church. He writes elsewhere (1 Cor 11:10 & 14:34)
    that he forbids them the position of authority over men/brothers. The
    difference appears to be leadership as opposed to servitude.

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