Day one, in chapter one of Genesis exposed me to the first obvious alteration made in the new NIV. In describing the separation of sea and sky in Genesis 1:6 the NIV1984 (along with other translations) describes the firmament as an 'expanse'. Strangely, the NIV2011 re-translates this to 'let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water'. Given that clarity and readability are watchwords for the Committee on Bible Translation, this translation choice is hard to fathom (pardon the pun). In normal English usage the term 'vault' is suggestive not of expansive sky scapes but of narrowly enclosed spaces, most commonly safe rooms or well secured cellars. Strange indeed.
I've also encountered my first instances of gender-neutral language, and it hasn't been too troubling so far. I want to return to the wording of Psalm 8 in another post in the near future, but apart from this instance the language is mostly clear and uncluttered. I frequently have to clarify the term 'man' when preaching, to make sure that those who are from a non-church background know that what they are reading applies to both genders. Psalm 1 is a good example of this gender-neutral language at its best, and I think it is a good rendering.
What is puzzling, however, is the seemingly arbitrary employment of gender neutral language. This is most evident in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Take for instance Jesus' teaching on murder and the need to settle disputes before offering service to God. Matthew 5:23 says 'therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you...' So here we have gender-neutral language at work, making sure that the reader knows that such teaching does not merely apply to brothers (men) but to brothers and sisters (men and women).
What then of the verses that follow, namely 5:27-28? Here we read Jesus' teaching on adultery, with the Lord stating 'I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart'. Regardless of your view of gender-neutral language this translation decision is mystifying. Surely if one is going to be consistent in making sure that everyone knows that teaching is for everyone, then all references should be evacuated of all gender-specific reference? Or is it only men who can look lustfully at members of the opposite sex?
To me this is where the gender-neutral agenda may wear thin. I'm not concerned here to debate the issue in terms of overall translation philosophy, but it seems that even the NIV2011 demonstrates an inability about where to draw the line when seeking to eradicate gender specificity. This is a major judgement call and one which is fraught with difficulty and dangers.
This will be seen more clearly when I post on Psalm 8.
If you're reading through, or have read through the NIV2011 I would love to hear your thoughts and discoveries also.