Psalm 8:4-5 in the NIV1984 (and most other translations) carries some gender specific language 'what is man that you are mindful of him...the son of man that you care for him? You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour'. The NIV2011 re-translates this verse, carefully taking a gender-neutral line with it, and phrasing it in strikingly different terms:
'What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour'.At first glance, one might tempted to ask 'well what's the big deal?', or 'how does this carry any more significance than the translation of Psalm 1?'. The answer lies in one key passage of the New Testament which uses Psalm 8 to speak of Christ, or at the very least uses it as an introduction to speaking of Christ. I am referring here to Hebrews 2:5-9. In translations such as the NIV1984 a certain ambiguity resides in the employment of this verse. Does the writer to the Hebrews speak of man in general in verses 6-8, before turning his attention to Jesus specifically in v9 'but we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels' etc, or does the whole section, including the quotation from Psalm 8 refer to Christ? Answers to this question are divided, with consensus lying with the fact that from verse 9 onward Jesus is the subject.
The problem with what the NIV2011 does with Psalm 8, with its quotation in Hebrews 2, and with the verses which follow ('in putting everything under them God left nothing that is not subject to them') is that the suggestiveness of the text is utterly reduced and flattened. A breathtaking interpretative decision is taken for the reader, which leaves no room for the alternative opinion that all of Hebrews 2:5-9 refers to Jesus. In other words any preacher who might attempt to preach on this passage in the belief that it is all about Jesus would have to un-translate the NIV2011's rendering, reconstruct it, and then preach it.
But an arguably more serious issue lies in the gender-neutral language here itself. Even if the quotation of Psalm 8:3-5 is referring to mankind rather than Christ, a vital, subtle link is lost. In using 'man', 'him' etc there is a direct comparison being drawn between man under Adam and the man Christ. There are rich allusions here to some of the federal headship which Paul so carefully delineates in Romans 5, which the NIV2011 utterly demolishes.
This is a disappointing feature in the NIV2011, and presents a serious problem for me in its use for preaching or teaching. Perhaps other features will make up for this as I make my way through, but this is the first real point of contention I have come across so far.