Monday, February 21, 2005

TNIV - A Layman's 2¢

Zondervan has a new Bible translation, Today's New International Version (or TNIV). I've not read it yet - being on dialup, I'm not about to download the PDF version available at their website; however, I do have a TNIV New Testament that I'm planning on perusing in the near future. (Besides, I just found out that you can order a free paperback of the entire TNIV, so I'll wait for that to arrive.) So, at this point, my opinions are formed more by Zondervan's own promotion than from actual, personal experience.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I have absolutely no experience in Greek and Hebrew (although I would like to take a year or two of NT Greek someday when I have the time to do the class justice), so I can't really comment on the details about translation. I do, however, have some experience with languages, and consequently I understand firsthand that translation is far more than finding an equivalent word and plugging it into the translated sentence. Every language has its own set of idioms and expressions, and something that would make perfect sense in one language would, were it translated word-for-word into another language, make little or no sense, or be unwittingly hilarious, or even crude. Add to this mix anachronisms and obscure cultural/geographical references, and it's not that hard to imagine the thoughtful labor that goes into producing a new translation of the Bible.

However, I do have some questions as to the introduction of yet another English translation of the Bible, especially when there are still people groups that have only a portion of Scripture, or even no Bible at all in their own language. I understand, though, that there is a lot more money to be made in the publication of another English translation than there is in a "juba-juba" language translation of some obscure tribe somewhere.

Zondervan's justification of this new endeavor ostensibly boils down to an attempt to reach the postmodern generation. Speaking of the 18- to 34-year-olds, Zondervan writes,

Part of the reason for this mass exodus is that today's generation thinks differently than previous generation [sic]. For example, they're more likely to relate to stories and personal experiences than to traditional expressions of propositional truth. For them, authentic religion is a [sic] much about HOW they live as WHAT they believe.
Sounds like the same kind of stuff coming from the "emergent church" crowd. "Propositional truth" tends to be a disparaging buzzword used to identify us old farts who still believe in moral absolutes, making it sound like "truth" is just something that the old guard cooked up one day and decided to impose on everyone else. Just replace "propositional truth" with the "truth" of "personal experience" and then the postmoderns will feel right at home. (So would Timothy Leary, I bet.) "Revealed truth," however, is a more Biblically sound term. "Revealed truth" is the kind of truth that man himself would never come up with in a million years, because it's contrary to his sinful nature. It's also why atheists come up with stuff like "Irrefutable Bible contradictions" and why unregenerate people will never concede the authority of the Bible.

Zondervan's response also ignores the fact that WHAT a person believes determines HOW they're going to live. Nothing like putting the cart before the horse, I guess. This "authentic religion" sounds like a good way to produce plenty of people who think they're Christian just because they act like one.

While older forms of English may not present a problem for some readers, they can present barriers to understanding and fully engaging the Bible for today's generation because they've grown up using more contemporary English. In addition, the TNIV translators were mindful of what they were working on: Today's New International Version. It is intended for English-speaking readers no matter where they live.
Let's see - the NIV is a whopping THIRTY years old ("Never trust anyone over 30," right?), so we need "more contemporary English" so this Nintendo/Play Station/X-box generation can better understand the Bible. How about removing ALL barriers to understanding, and produce a fully-animated and/or graphical Bible? Japanese animation seems to be pretty popular, or maybe Pixar could be recruited for the task. The written word is so passe! Pardon my cynicism, but I find that line extremely hard to swallow. Even if this generation is cocooned, I doubt that they are so out of touch that the NIV is that incomprehensible to them. Even Zondervan admits that over 90% of the TNIV's NT parallels the NIV. So why is this new translation necessary, again? The differences must have been doozies to prompt a whole new Bible version.

One thing that I find interesting, however, is that Zondervan promotes the TNIV as a "gender-accurate" rather than "gender-neutral" translation.

Q: Is the TNIV gender neutral?

A: The TNIV is not gender neutral; it is in fact “gender accurate.” Gender neutrality suggests the removal of specific male or female attributes. The TNIV does not remove these attributes or “neuter” any passages of Scripture. The TNIV uses generic language only where the meaning of the text was intended to include both men and women. These changes reflect a more precise rendering of Greek and Hebrew words.
I have no problems with this, really. But then again, I have no problems with using "man" and the accompanying male pronouns to refer to people in general. You see, I managed to learn a long time ago that "man" doesn't exclusively refer to males, and so I don't get all bent out of shape over this issue, and I will happily continue using perfectly fine words such as "chairman," "congressman," and "mailman." (After all, we have "mailmen" who are "female men" as well as "male men." "Mailmen" covers both.)

So, when my free copy of the TNIV comes in the mail, I'll review it, and keep it on hand. There is value in having various translations available for comparison when doing personal Bible study. Sometimes it's helpful to view the different renderings of a particular passage, especially when one lacks the ability to read the original languages. (Similarly, those that know contemporary languages other than English can benefit in reading Scripture in those languages. It's not unlike viewing the same scene from a different perspective.) However, for personal devotions, I'll continue to read my "old" NKJV.

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