I'll admit that this is not one of my favorite subjects. I've both known and counseled individuals who struggled with homosexual tendencies and urges. It's not an easy issue, especially in today's culture. I've also known those who seemed to be freed completely from the lifestyle and went on to lead normal heterosexual lives, while at the same time, I've known others who professed Christian faith, yet continued to struggle with temptation.
Jesus associated with and had compassion on people engaged in all kinds of sin. We're called to do that, too. We're called to help others overcome their weaknesses through prayer, counsel, and support within a community of faith (Gal 6:1-10). Biblically, homosexuality is not made out to be a "worse" sin than others. In fact, in 1 Cor 6:9-10, Paul seems to put it on the same level as a host of other offenses, including greediness and slander. But that doesn't take away from the fact that active engagement with a homosexual lifestyle is not compatible with Christian discipleship.
And that brings me to this post. This blog, TNIV Truth, has as its tagline, "Telling the truth about Today's New International Version." Why this tagline? Well, it's no secret that the TNIV has been accused of being many things which are simply untrue. Today, I ran across one of them that has roots all the way back to the original NIV Bible.
Wayne referred me to a post at another blog that brought up the old tired issue that a lesbian was on the NIV translation committee. Now, if this is news to you, you should know right off that she was not on the actual translation committee, but was hired as an English stylist in the early days of the translation process. The committee members themselves did not know about her lifestyle as it did not become public for a number of years. I'm not going to quote from the blog I responded to at any length because there's no need to add one more page to the rest of the exaggerated nonsense that's already out there about this issue on the internet. But I have adapted below the response I wrote on the other site so that I have yet another opportunity to provide clarity on this issue.
First, it is no "dirty little secret" (as suggested by the original poster) that Virginia Mollenkott was both a lesbian and briefly worked with the NIV translators strictly as a stylistic consultant. While unfortunate, this has been known for quite a while. She had no control over any of the actual translation, but merely offered suggestions regarding English stylistic issues. The translators themselves were under no obligation to follow any of her suggestions.
To say that if the translation team did not know of her lesbianism, they did not want to know is absurd. Such things were kept very private in those days (and sadly they no longer are). Some of those who knew her closely or worked at the same institutions may have known, but it's nonsense to blame a group (i.e. the NIV CBT) who essentially hired her to check for stylistic issues. Would it reflect badly on a pastor if he hired someone to edit his sermons for grammatical issues and that person turned out to be homosexual? I don't think so. And closer to this issue, a few years ago Mel White who was a ghost writer for Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham and Pat Robertson came out of the closet as a homosexual, and even wrote a book about it. Do we want to say that Falwell, Graham and Robertson were casting a blind eye at White just because people close to him knew of his inclinations and they were clueless? Certainly not. Do we want to say that the ministries of these three men should be forever marred (or even marred at all!) because of this unfortunate association? To suggest that these ministers or that the NIV translation committee had to have some kind of omniscient awareness of their employees darkest secrets seems a bit unfair and certainly uncharitable.
And as I said, this is not new information--there's no "dirty little secret." Kenneth Barker addressed this issue publicly and in print 12 years ago in his book, Accuracy Defined and Illustrated: An NIV Translator Answers Your Questions. This book is available for free in PDF form.
But if I may, let me offer a quote from Barker on this issue on p. 67:
Some have claimed that the NIV condones sodomy (that is, homosexual sins). The alleged reason for this is that some NIV translators and editors were homosexuals or lesbians. These charges have no basis in fact.
Here are the facts. In the earliest stages of translation work on the NIV (in the early 1970s), Virginia Mollenkott was consulted briefly and only in a minor way on matters of English style. At that time she had the reputation of being a committed evangelical Christian with expertise in contemporary English idiom and usage. Nothing was known of her lesbian views. Those did not begin to surface until years later in some of her writings. If we had known in the early seventies what became public knowledge only years later, we would not have consulted her at all. But it must be stressed that she did not influence the NIV translators and editors in any of their final decisions.
I hope that this is cleared up. But here's the reality. Even if Mollenkott were known to be a lesbian, and even if she had been senior translator, the NIV would still have to be evaluated on how accurately it conveys the message of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts into modern English. But the fact that she was merely a stylist and for a short period of time, makes any assertions against the NIV even more egregious. This has NOTHING to do with the reliability of the NIV. Rather it is an argument based on the fallacy of guilt by association.
What about the change in wording in 1 Cor 6:9 between the NIV and TNIV? Is this a conspiracy on the part of the TNIV translators to make homosexuality more acceptable?
|Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.||Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.|
Does "practicing homosexuals" in the TNIV water down "homosexual offenders?" Why didn't the translators say "practicing idolaters" or "practicing thieves"?
The issue in 1 Cor 6:9 has to do with individuals actively involved in homosexual activity as opposed to simply a label like “homosexual.” Other recent translations have attempted to fine-tune the wording as well including the NLT and even the ESV: “neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality.”
Let’s all agree that same-sex relationships are being strongly condemned by Paul. These kinds of homosexual “offenders” (to use the NIV word) are included in the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Extremely strong language, no? Well, it’s the language that causes the problem, and it’s a bit more complex on the Greek side than the English side.
Remember how you’ve always heard that eskimos have eight words for snow while we only have one? Well the Greek language had more than one distinction for homosexual behavior. And the best way to translate two of the words in 1 Cor 6:9 has been a notoriously sticky issue for translators over the years.
The word translated “effeminate” in the NASB and “male prostitutes” in the NIV/TNIV is the plural of the Greek term, μαλακός/malakos. These are probably not the best translation of the word but it’s a tricky concept to move from the Greek to English. The Greeks, like many other ancient cultures, had separate words for the passive and active homosexual partners. The word, μαλακός/malakos is actually a very interesting term. When used in non-human contexts, it means “pertaining to being soft to the touch–’soft, delicate, luxurious.’” When referring to humans, it means “the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse–’homosexual.’” The second word, translated “homosexuals” in the NASB and “practicing homosexuals” in the TNIV is from the word ἀρσενοκοίτης/arsenokoitas. This word generally referred to the more dominant male partner of a homosexual relationship.
English translations have tried some very interesting combinations to bring these meanings across. In addition to the renderings mentioned above, other options include “male prostitutes and sodomites” (NRSV), and “male prostitutes and homosexual offenders” (NIV). The ESV probably makes the best compromise possible by combining the two terms to simply “men who practice homosexuality.” Regardless of how it’s translated, I don’t think there is any getting around Paul’s original intent.
Neither the TNIV translators nor the ESV translators are trying to soft peddle Paul’s words against homosexuality. But Paul is referring to those actively engaged in the practice and both of these translations reflect this.
Plus there should be no doubt that both the NIV and TNIV use strong language (reflecting that of the originals) in passages dealing with this subject:
|Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.||Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.|
|Notice that the TNIV is even more explicit than the NIV here.|
|If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.||If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.|
|Again, stronger language is used in the TNIV.|
|Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.||Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.|
|The versions are practically identical except for the last word. The NIV is stronger, but less accurate. TNIV’s use of “error” for the Greek word, πλάνη/plane, is more accurate.|
1 Tim 1:10
|for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine||for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers. And it is for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine|
|TNIV uses stronger and more accurate language here as well. Cf. the ESV’s similar rendering, “men who practice homosexuality.”|
I hope this helps dispel the myth that either the NIV or TNIV waters down the fact that active homosexuality is incompatible with Kingdom living. For a related post I wrote a couple of years ago at This Lamp, see "Is the Message Soft on Homosexuality?"