Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Neutered International Version

Over fifty years ago, before the rise of the second wave of feminism, before Betty Friedan got the mystique going, Richard Weaver warned about a kind of improper change of language he called "rhetorical prevarication." This involved imposing a change in language in order to further an ideology. This, he noted, was very different than the normal and almost imperceptible change of word meanings that always happens in time. "Language is a covenant among those who use it," and there are those who intentionally violate the covenant in order to manipulate people according to their agenda. ("Relativism and the Use of Language" in Language Is Sermonic)

Rhetorical prevarication has been one of modern feminism's standard weapons. The charge has been that the traditional generic masculine usage (words like "man," "mankind," "he," "him," or "his") are sexist and must be changed. Of course, this charge is baloney, but in our day tremendous pressure is put upon authors and scholars to conform to the feminist agenda.

In the latest issue of the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Louis Markos courageously says what needs to be said about this agenda and about the Bible translations that are co-opted by it.

The true goal of the gender-neutral agenda is not to reflect existing patterns of speech, writing, and thought, but to so radically alter those patterns that people will, in time, really come to think of the literal translation as unnatural. Even today, gender-neutral usage does not represent a natural evolution in the English language. It is a change that has been manufactured and enforced through academia, the media, and other outlets.

The newest version of the NIV has justified its widespread use of gender-neutral language on the basis of a massive computer survey that gauged the use of gendered language in thousands of books and journals. Since they found in this study a heavy use of gender-neutral language, they assumed that this proved that language had “changed” and that they must therefore use gender-neutral language in their updating of the NIV. But their logic here is faulty. Over the last three decades, increasing pressure has been put upon journalists, teachers, professors, pastors, politicians, and media people to accommodate their writing and speaking to gender-neutral language usage. In many universities (including Christian ones) students are told that they must use gender-neutral language in their essays and papers or risk having their grade dropped. Just so, the loudly touted argument that Intelligent Design (ID) cannot be considered scientific because its results have not been published in peer-reviewed journals skillfully obscures the fact that peer-reviewed journals have tightly closed their evolutionary ranks and refused to publish ID essays, no matter the quality of their research.

After sharing some personal experiences along this line, Markos writes,

I recount these incidents, not to gain sympathy, but to highlight that gender-neutral language does not represent a natural evolution but is the result of an enforced agenda.

He continues,

Let me say it once more: gender-neutral translations of the Bible do not reflect a natural change in the English language. Many of them seek to promote and help bring about a change that those on the translation board think should be universally accepted. And what that means, plain and simple, is that the Bible is being used to promote an agenda rooted in feminist propaganda and originally meant to obscure (if not eliminate) all essential, God-given distinctions between the sexes. Again, that is not to claim that all proponents of gender-neutral translations believe in that agenda—but the agenda is there nonetheless. 

 He closes with this question and challenge,

If we will allow the Bible to be so altered as to promote a change in language that is not natural but grew directly out of an anti-biblical agenda, then what will we swallow next?...Let us continue to fight for our language and for those wonderful, essential differences between men and women that God hard wired into us from the beginning.

Thank you, Professor Markos.

Read the whole thing here.

High Country Baptist Church of Colorado Springs


Bill Combs said...

First, I would note that the JBMW is hardly an impartial source. I spent months reading everything written in this journal on the issue, and in my opinion they have a clear agenda to destroy the NIV (as Piper himself admits).

I think that Markos is talking nonsense. The Collins study says: "The study was undertaken using parts of Collins’ 4.4 billion word corpus holdings and was facilitated by state-of-the-art computational tools described in section 3. The study draws from balanced sub-corpora of general written English, general spoken English, US written English and US spoken English, as well as an additional custom-built corpus of Evangelical English assembled from a wide variety of evangelical books, sermons and internet sites."

I get it that Markos does not like it that English has changed, but the truth is it has changed. Markos thinks it is just some big conspiracy, and that the shift to more gender-inclusive language is just some Orwellian "newspeak." In my opinion the Collins study is an accurate reflection of what has happened, and I doubt it is due to some change forced upon us by all powerful feminist forces.

Jason Parker said...

Hello Dr. Combs,

Thanks for your comment. Obviously you and I see this issue very differently, and there is no way to hash that all out here. So here are just a few thoughts in response.

You say the CBMW has an agenda. True enough…but we all have agendas. I had an agenda for publishing this post and you had an agenda for replying. The issue is whether the agenda is true, right, legitimate, and good. If the CBMW really believes that the NIV 2011 is downgrading the accuracy and integrity of the Scriptures, then why wouldn’t they fight against it?

You also say that the language has changed. Also true, to a degree…but once again this does not answer the real question of whether the change is for the better or for the worse.

Regarding the Collins study, I think Poythress has expressed an accurate view of the statistics it provides in his review of the NIV 2011.

But the CBT’s use of the Collins study points us to the deeper issues that need to be discussed. For example, when they state “All previous Bible translation efforts have been hampered by the lack of accurate, statistically significant data on the state of spoken and written English at a given time in its history,” I sense right away that I have philosophical differences with them. Why is that an impediment to good translation, unless one believes that the contemporary state of spoken and written English ought to be the norm for translation work? I would argue that great translations, of any literature, always push contemporary usage beyond its comfort zone toward a transcendent ideal. Therein lies part of their greatness.

Here would be a few of my concerns. There appears to be little to no sense in this translation philosophy that God’s character and God’s words sit in judgment upon the use of language. There appears to be little to no sense that generations of language users have an obligation to be faithful to one another in their language usage. There is little in the translation philosophy which recognizes transcendent norms and the indispensable characteristic of honor and love in order to know rightly. Rather, there is a decidedly ‘scientific’ or modernist approach to the translation which leaves it very susceptible to following ideological fads. The NIV is indeed in line with mainstream contemporary biblical scholarship, but, in my opinion, that leaves a lot to be desired.

Well, much more needs to be said, but hopefully this sheds a little light on why I oppose the NIV 2011 and why I’m glad Professor Markos wrote his opinion piece.

Bill Combs said...

Yes, too much to comment on, but let me respond to a couple of points. You say: "You also say that the language has changed. Also true, to a degree…but once again this does not answer the real question of whether the change is for the better or for the worse."

You capture my point exactly. It does not really matter whether one thinks it is for better or worse. It has changed and it is the goal, or should be the goal of translators to put the Word of God into current English. This is exactly what happened to the NT. It was not written in the more literary Attic Greek, but in the common everyday Greek of the 1st century--Koine. Later writers thought the Koine vulgar and tried to go back and revive the more literary Attic.

You say: "Why is that an impediment to good translation, unless one believes that the contemporary state of spoken and written English ought to be the norm for translation work?' Yes I do believe that current English should be the standard. The translators of the KJV said in their preface: "No cause therefore why the word translated should be denied to be the word, or forbidden to be current."

You say: "I would argue that great translations, of any literature, always push contemporary usage beyond its comfort zone toward a transcendent ideal." All I can say is I think this is absolutely the wrong approach to bring to the translation philosophy for the Bible.

No hard feelings, Jason. Just wanted to spell out my differences with your philosophy of translation, though I don't deny it is shared by many others.

The reason I pointed out the "agenda" of the CBMW is that they have always been against the NIV long before the gender-inclusive debate began. Grudem and Piper, the founders of CBMW, have opposed the functional equivalence philosophy of the NIV since it was first published.

Jason Parker said...

Thanks, again. No hard feelings at all. I sincerely appreciate your comments.