NASHVILLE — In the old translation of the world's most popular Bible, John the Evangelist declares: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar." Make that "brother or sister" in a new translation that includes more gender-neutral language and is drawing criticism from some conservatives who argue the changes can alter the theological message.
The 2011 translation of the New International Version Bible, or NIV, does not change pronouns referring to God, who remains "He" and "the Father." But it does aim to avoid using "he" or "him" as the default reference to an unspecified person.
The NIV Bible's translation comes from an independent group of biblical scholars that has been meeting yearly since 1965 to discuss advances in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage.
Before the new translation even hit stores, it drew opposition from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an organization that believes women should submit to their husbands in the home and only men can hold some leadership roles in the church.
The council decided it would not endorse the new version because the changes alter "the theological direction and meaning of the text," according to a statement. Similar concerns led the Southern Baptist Convention to reject the NIV's previous translation in 2005.
At issue is how to translate pronouns that apply to both genders in the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts but have traditionally been translated using masculine forms in English.
The CBMW had complained in 2005 that making the subject of a verse plural to convey that it could refer equally to a man or a woman "potentially obscured an important aspect of biblical thought — that of the personal relationship between an individual and God."
The NIV 2011 seems to have taken that criticism into account and come up with a compromise: "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them."
It's not yet known if the Southern Baptist Convention will reject the new translation.