NASHVILLE – Complaints that the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) is inaccurate and too gender-inclusive are not going to stop one of the world's largest Christian resource producers from selling it.
That translation was criticized at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix. Church representatives there approved a resolution asking Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources — owned by the denomination — to take it off its shelves.
Critics said the translation, which was updated in 2011, is filled with errors when it comes to language about gender, using "brothers and sisters" instead of "brothers" and "they" instead of "he" for a single pronoun. That kind of approach undermines the authority of the Bible, they said. LifeWay's trustees disagreed.
After having a committee review the 2011 NIV, they voted unanimously this week to keep selling it, while making clear they don't endorse it.
"We do not believe the 2011 NIV rises to the level to where it should be pulled or censored or not carried in our retail chain," said Adam Greenway, a trustee who is senior associate dean of the Billy Graham School at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a statement.
That decision disappointed the Rev. Tim Overton of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind. Overton wrote the resolution against the NIV that passed in Phoenix.
His resolution initially was rejected by the committee that vets resolutions before they are presented at the annual meeting. But he brought it to a floor vote, where it was approved.
Overton, like many other Southern Baptists, believes in verbal plenary inspiration — the idea that every word of the original texts of the Bible comes from God. Adding words to a translation undermines that belief, he said.
"If it says 'brother' and you say 'brothers and sisters,' you are adding to the Scriptures," he said.
Marty King, spokesman for LifeWay, said a committee of trustees reviewed the NIV to decide whether it was acceptable. Under Southern Baptist rules, he said, they were not required to comply with the resolution, and representatives at the annual meeting had inaccurate information about the translation.
"People thought this Bible used female language for God," he said. "It does not. We think that messengers voted without accurate information."
First published in 1978 and updated several times since, the NIV remains one of the best-selling Bibles in the United States.
A previous update that used inclusive language, known as the Today's New International Version, flopped after being published in 2002. That year, Southern Baptists passed a resolution asking LifeWay not to sell the Today's New International Version, and the retailer agreed.
The latest update is a better translation, said George Guthrie, Benjamin W. Perry Professor of the Bible at Union University, a Baptist school in Jackson, Tenn. Guthrie spoke to the LifeWay trustees at their meeting, saying that the NIV is a thought-for-thought translation, rather than a word-for-word translation. That's a common approach used by many translators.
Guthrie said that the Committee on Bible Translation, which produced the NIV, did a good job.
"The NIV is not perfect," he said. "But it is a good translation."
The LifeWay decision was welcome news to the NIV's translators. Douglas Moo, the Kenneth T. Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., said he was confident that LifeWay would do the right thing and keep the NIV on the shelves.
"I am grateful for the decision, but there is a part of me that regrets that the decision needed to be made," he said.