In (partial) defense of the CBMW statement on the NIV 2011

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) recently released a statement regarding their evaluation of the NIV 2011. And, although they indicate that the NIV 2011 is a marked improvement of the TNIV, they offer a number of reasons explaining why this still cannot recommend it.

Since that statement was released, I’ve seen a number of fairly critical and dismissive posts of the CBMW stance on the NIV 2011. And, I’m not convinced that such dismissals are entirely fair. At the very least I think people need to be more clear whether they are disagreeing with CBMW’s basic position (in which case, they are not going to like anything CBMS says), or whether they think there is something particularly egregious about this particular statement.

Setting aside that question of whether CBMW’s basic position is correct, I actually found the statement to be rather well done. The tone was charitable and they clearly identified those areas of continued disagreement that prevented them from recommending the NIV 2011 to their readers. They even offered a couple of very specific examples of the kind of translation theory that they find objectionable. (The only significant problem that I’ve seen, as TC points out, is their statement that the NIV 2011 is “based on the TNIV,” when it was actually based on both the TNIV and the NIV 1984.) So, unlike others, I found the statement to be a good example of charity and clarity in theological discourse and well within the stated mission and purpose of CBMW. (Note: I am not CBMW member – do they have members? – or supporter.)

Of course, none of that has anything to do with whether I agree with their conclusion. And, from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t.

First, I don’t agree that woodenly following the original language’s use of gender results in “greater accuracy” of translation. English is not the same language as does not follow the same rules as Greek and Hebrew. Accuracy in translation requires variation from the original language to the target language – that is simply unavoidable.

I’m also not convinced by the argument that generic, plural pronouns (e.g. they, them, their) necessary obscures the meaning of the relevant passages any more than any other translation would. And, I find it revealing that CBMW expresses significant concern over the possible depersonalizing affects of such translation, but evinces no such similar concern over the possible de-genderizing affects of the alternative possibilites.

So, in the end, I found the CBMW statement to be a well-crafted, clearly articulated, and charitable explanation of a position regarding the NIV 2011 that I personally find unconvincing. I haven’t decided yet whether I think the NIV 2011 is a good step forward, but the CBMW statement did not do anything to convince me otherwise.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on November 23, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Marc,

    Your conclusion negates what you term “partial defense.”

    You really haven’t offered any. Too bad for CBMW. 😀

  2. Oh bummer, the CBMW won’t recommend it. That really stings. 🙂

  3. Hey now, be nice you two. (Brian’s just grumpy because he had to show up for work today despite the snow/ice.)

    This is an exercise in appreciating a well-crafted argument/statement, even when you don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions. Sometimes it feels like that’s a lost art. And, it’s about being clear on what we’re critiquing. I felt like some people were bashing the statement, when they really just don’t like CBMW in general. Those are two very different issues.

  4. @Marc: I am grumpy about that! That being said, my issue is more with CBMW than their statement.

  5. Marc,

    Perhaps well-crafted but intentionally skewing material to bolster, I don’t know, their “credibility” as many evangelicals turn to them for “trusted critique.” The whole thing is laughable.

    • As to “intentionally skewing material,” I’m pretty hesitant to attribute false motives unless absolutely necessary. And, I’d personally be surprised if anything like that happened here. It wouldn’t have affected their argument at all to note that the NIV 2011 was based on both the TNIV and the NIV 1984. So, it seems unlikely to me that they would omitted reference to the latter on purpose. It’s at least as likely (if not more) that they mentioned only the TNIV because that is the one that they’re concerned with primarily. sure, it would have been more precise to mention both, but I’d be very hesitant to say that the omission resulted from some malicious intent.

      And, I would agree that it’s quite the stretch to say that “the evangelical community” turns to CBMW for counsel. But, it is true that a significant portion of the evangelical community does. So, I don’t see this as any different than similarly over-blown statements offered by Christian organizations all the time. (Just read the ads that many seminaries place in Christianity Today.)

      • Marc,

        Look at the corollary of boasting on how they sunk the TNIV.

        So by tying NIV2011 to the TNIV, and not the NIV84, they are essentially saying that the NIV2011 is expected to suffer a similar fate. My take.

  6. Whack, whack, whack.

    That is the sound of my banging my head against a brick wall for relief from such invincible stupidity! 😉

    • Well, I certainly hope that you were able to knock all of the stupidity out of your head so that you were better prepared to interact with my insightful comments 🙂

      • Marc, just to clarify…You did know I was whaking my head because of the CBMHWH and not your post right? 🙂

      • Yeah, I definitely picked up on that. But I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to give you a hard time.

  7. Such a lecturer! 😉

    I think it is hard for people to disagree when you meet face to face like Zondervan and the CBT did!

    I also wonder if you are being a little more lenient towards them than the release suggests but overall it had a far more positive tone about it. I took exception to their suggesting they speak for the Evangelical community.

    I think if they had said something like, “For those people who feel the need for a particular kind of approach to gender translations decisions then we cannot recommend the NIV (even though overall it is good – which they kind of say)” or perhaps something in which they admit their ideology does not allow them to accept the gender translation decisions.

    How is that Mr Cortez? 😀

    • It’s entirely possible that I’m being overly generous, but I’d rather mess up in that direction. And, something along the lines of what you’ve said would probably have worked better – though it would need some massaging by their PR people. 🙂

  8. TC, that’s certainly possible. But, I also don’t have a problem with it. CBMW is an organization with clearly stated goals/principles and they have acted consistently with those from the very beginning. They opposed the TNIV for what they saw as translation decisions inconsistent with their principles and they are doing the same here. And, that they would connect the NIV 2011 to the TNIV because they see both of them as reflections of the same translation errors makes perfect sense to me.

    I do wonder, though, how much of the reaction to CBMW now comes from the prior ruckus over the TNIV. I really didn’t follow that debate very closely, but it sounds like CBMW turned a lot of people off at that time and that this continues to shade how people see/hear what they are doing now.

  9. Marc,

    The NIV84 was intentionally omitted so that they could make their point. Exactly!

    I have no problem with their stated goals. But for someone like me who has been following this debate, tying the NIV2011 ONLY to the TNIV is a big deal!

    • I’ll have to defer to your greater experience with this debate. But, I’ll still say that from the perspective of a relative outsider, this doesn’t sound any different from me saying that Aquinas’ thinking is grounded in Aristotle’s philosophy, when I know full well that there are strong platonic elements as well. A statement does not need to be exhaustive to be accurate. And we all select those aspects that seem most pertinent to what we’re saying at any given time.

  1. Pingback: Translation is Interpretation: Calvin, CBMW, & Phillipians 2:6 | Political Jesus

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