Monday 17 August 2015

Book Review: The NIV Proclamation Bible (Hodder & Stoughton, 2013).

The dust jacket of this newly updated NIV Bible asserts that this is “the clearest and most accurate modern English Bible translation”. The NIV was first published in 1978, updated in 1984, and again in 2011; therefore one may ask, “why are further significant revisions needed?”. It is assumed by the NIV translation team that there has been a shift in the English language, which apparently required (in 2011) a gender inclusive translation to reflect “common” English (p ix). Where necessary, it refers to “they/them/their” instead of “he”. However, in taking time to read this translation for review and while comparing it with the original biblical languages, I have asked myself this question many times: “Is the English language changing or are the theological views of the translators changing?”.

This project has now been taken up by Hodder & Stoughton, with the help of an editor Lee Gatiss (the director of the Anglican Church Society) and consultant editors. In addition, a cast of well known church leaders have written Bible notes to support this translation. There are three aspects to the NIV Proclamation Bible for serious and careful consideration. First is the accuracy of the translation itself; second are the summaries of the message of each Bible book (with notes on other major Bible themes) by a prominent pastor or scholar (men and women interestingly!); and third the extent of the wholehearted endorsements from within the English speaking evangelical world.

There is the need for further treatment of this subject, however this review understandably, can only “paint with broad brush strokes”. In reference to the gender inclusive nature of this translation, the most prominent shift is from the word “brothers” in the NT Epistles to “brothers and sisters” instead (1 Cor 1:10, 11, 26; 2:1; 3:1 as a sample). For consistency, this theme is “rolled out” across the NT, including the introduction of Galatians where Paul writes “and all the brothers and sisters with me” (1:1); thus implying Paul’s travelling team included men and women, which it did not. Similarly, while in prison with his male co-workers in writing to the Philippians, the NIV mistakenly reads at the end of the Epistle “the brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings” (Phil 4:21).

There is a subtle shift in theological intent in this translation. Let me cite a stark example. In 1 Timothy 2:12 we read: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man”. This nuanced thought now suggests doctrinally, that a woman must not “assume authority over a man”, but that it can be given her by men. Thereby opening the door for gender equality in ministry, the public reading of Scripture and church governance. I contend that such changes to the Scripture open the way for a doctrinal drift, rather than reflecting an English language shift.

An area of further concern was when I read 1 Timothy 3 and the qualifications for elders and deacons. With a “stroke of the pen”, the editors undermine the office of deacon by asserting in the footnotes that the “word deacon refers here to Christians designated to serve with overseers/elders” such as Romans 16:1, Philippians 1:1. The bold step is made to translate Romans 16:1 “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae”. The way is deliberately opened for a multiplicity of ways for women to exercise ministry and governance, while failing to uphold the biblical difference between the office of deacon and diaconal work.

While the summaries of each Bible book are quite helpful, the quality of contributions is uneven. There is a standard format required by the editors and this includes three commentary suggestions for each Bible book. The late John Stott appears as one of the most frequently cited, but questions arise when Mark Meynell recommends N. T. Wright on “Philemon” (p 1319). Is N. T. Wright really a safe and reliable evangelical teaching guide for the church?

I cannot write this review without noting that a number of women have been asked to write contributions to the Bible book introductions. The editors and endorsers of this NIV Proclamation Bible are clearly signalling their aim, one which is to give women the responsibility to teach “brothers and sisters” doctrine in the church. This drift is now upon us in the evangelical world.

Finally, the breadth of high profile evangelical endorsements means that this translation will quickly gain acceptance and be used by preachers, as well as become a popular pew Bible, most especially, but not exclusively in evangelical Anglican circles (and by The Proclamation Trust). The four primary endorsements (p ii) are from Timothy Keller of New York, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen, Wheaton College pastor Joshua W. Moody and Carrie Sandom, associate minister for women and pastoral care at St John’s Tonbridge Wells.

In conclusion, there is a great need for ministers to be equipped in the biblical languages to be able to scrutinise assertions that will be made in the years ahead, because this translation signals a subtle but seismic evangelical shift. The question to be contended is: “Is it a shift in a biblical direction or not?”. This reviewer is disappointed at the wide-scale “wind of change” towards an egalitarian model for church ministry and governance, one which does not have biblical, historic or theological warrant in my opinion. For churches seeking to use a new translation, I suggest that they look elsewhere, than to adopt this Bible.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well said, Kevin. It seems the "egalitarian" shift is always being pushed in certain reformed circles.