Saturday, June 2, 2007

complementarian TNIV

The TNIV has been criticized as being an egalitarian and/or feminist Bible. One wonders how closely those making this accusation have actually read the TNIV. If you are a complementarian and wish to teach about complementarianism from the Bible, you can teach that from the TNIV as you would from any other version of the Bible. (And if you are an egalitarian, be sure to read the final paragraphs of this post.) Following is a post (with minor modifications) that I blogged some time ago on the Better Bibles Blog. I will add a few comments at the end, referencing the complementarian writing of Doug Moo, the current chairman of the CBT. which revised the NIV to become the TNIV.

Complementarians believe that men and women are of equal value, but complement each other with different God-appointed roles in the home and church. (Egalitarians believe that women and men are of equal value and can have the same roles in the home and church.) Are you a complementarian? Did you know that you can teach complementarianism from the TNIV, just as you can from another Bible version such as the ESV? This may surprise some complementarians who have attacked the TNIV, calling it a feminist Bible, a Bible for "feminazis", a Bible "soft" on biblical manhood and womanhood, a Bible that "neuters" masculinity, and boycotting it in Christian bookstores.

Let's examine what the TNIV actually says to see if it can be used to teach complementarianism. We'll compare what the TNIV says to the ESV. Some complementarians claim that the ESV promotes a biblical view of manhood and womanhood while the TNIV does not. Following are some key tenets of complementarianism, with Bible passages typically used to support them:

1. A husband is the head of his wife (Eph. 5:23):
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. (TNIV)

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. (ESV)
The TNIV and ESV teach headship of the husband identically in Eph. 5:23.

In 1 Cor. 11:3 the TNIV actually translates about headship of a woman more strongly than does the ESV:
But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (TNIV)

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (ESV)
The TNIV translates the Greek words gunaikos and aner of this verse as "woman" and "man," respectively. This is more literal and a broader (stronger) translation than the ESV which translates these Greek words as "wife" and "husband," respectively. The more restrictive translation of "[the head] of the wife is her husband" is footnoted in the TNIV but not found in the translated text itself.

2. A wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22):
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. (TNIV)

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (ESV)
The TNIV and ESV teach the same thing about submission.

3. Woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7):
A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (TNIV)
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. (ESV)
The TNIV and ESV not only have identical teaching in this verse, but identical wordings of "but woman is the glory of man."

4. Women are to be silent in church (1 Cor. 14:34-35):
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (TNIV)

the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (ESV)
Again, the teaching is identical between the TNIV and ESV, and the wordings are nearly so. Neither is stronger than the other in what it states.

5. Women are not to exercise ecclesiastical authority over men or to teach men (1 Tim. 2:12):
I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (TNIV)

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (ESV)
Again, the meaning of the translation wordings from these two versions is identical, as far as I can tell. I don't sense a significant difference in meaning between the two wordings "assume authority" or "exercise authority." Dr. Wayne Grudem, however, does consider there to be a significant difference between these two wordings. He says that
the TNIV adopts a highly suspect and novel translation that gives the egalitarian side everything they have wanted for years in a Bible translation. It reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man” (italics added). If churches adopt this translation, the debate over women's roles in the church will be over, because women pastors and elders can just say, “I’m not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders.” Therefore any woman could be a pastor or elder so long as she does not take it upon herself to “assume authority.”
The TNIV and ESV both make it clear that Jesus was a male, not some androgynous human. Both versions refer to God with masculine pronouns. Both versions retain the biblical language text wording of God the Father, rather than as generic God the Parent.

As far as I know, those who accuse the TNIV of being a feminist translation or being influenced by feminism cannot support that claim from how passages traditionally used to teach complementarianism are worded. The TNIV is an accurate translation and does not deserve the criticism it has received from its opponents. It does not deserve to be boycotted by Christian booksellers who seem to believe its critics rather than being Bereans (Acts 17:11) who study the Bible (or any translation of it) carefully for themselves to find out if what people claim about it are true or not.

UPDATE: Dr. Wayne Grudem, probably the most vocal critic of the TNIV, has written:
The TNIV in particular has changed the translation of many of the key passages regarding women in the church, and I would find it almost impossible to teach a Biblical “complementarian” view of the role of women in the church from the TNIV.
But complementarianism can be taught from the TNIV just as egalitarianism can be. Both viewpoints can be taught from any English Bible version. I do not know what Dr. Grudem is referring to when he says that the "TNIV in particular has changed the translation of many of the key passages regarding women in the church." I would like to see a list of such verses and an explanation for how their translation has been changed from other Bible versions.

I disagree with Dr. Grudem's claim about the TNIV. I suspect that the complementarians on the TNIV translation committee would disagree also, starting with its chairman, Doug Moo, who has written an article defending complementarianism. It appears in the anthology Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which may be downloaded for free from the complementarian CBMW website. Other authors in the anthology include, among others, Dr. Grudem, his co-author, Dr. Poythress, with whom he has written a book against the TNIV, Thom Schreiner, and D.A. Carson.

Does the TNIV slant the teachings of the Bible toward egalitarianism or feminism, as its critics claim? No, it does not. But a claim of a feminist bias in the TNIV, repeated often enough, is believed by many who do not study something carefully enough themselves. This blog attempts to set the record straight and tell the truth about the TNIV.

Now, if you are an egalitarian, I hope you were able to read all the way through this post without feeling betrayed by the TNIV. Because another truth about the TNIV, or any other Bible version for that matter, is that you can teach egalitarism from the Bible, if that is your belief, just as you can teach complementarianism from the Bible. The Bible is simply the Bible. We come to it, we read it, we attempt to understand it, we interpret it, often trying to be fair but sometimes bringing our own presuppositions to the sacred text, we draw conclusions from what we read in the Bible. And yet, throughout the centuries of Bible study and scholarship humans have drawn different conclusions from the Bible. This is normal. We are humans, trying to understand a text which was not written as a systematic theological textbook. It was not written to definitively solve all the difficult theological questions. We humans want definitive solutions. We crave systematic and categorical answers.

If you give the TNIV a fair hearing (or reading), you should find that it teaches biblical truth as well as any other Bible version, and more accurately and clearly than many.


Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am puzzled by a detail here. You say that

(Egalitarians believe that women and men are of equal value and can have the same roles in the home and church.)

I am not sure about that - I think most egalitarians have some pretty strong thoughts on gender differences. However, they believe that men and women function as equals. That is, they see that men and women are both equal in function and equal in nature. Not so far from the complementarian position. They would say that there is a conflict between setting up a headship - submission relationship between two humans who are equal in nature.

In the church, yes, I think that egalitarians believe that men and women can have the same roles although they may carry them out in a way that is slightly different depending on gender, but yes they can fulfill the same roles, both in the workplace and in the church, roles of leadership and management.

However, egalitarians do not, as far as I know, think that men and women are "the same". No, I find the concept of the feminine to be very strong among the egalitarian women I know. The main difference is that for egalitarian women, they identify the feminine with strength - the ability to foster and nurture and lead and care for out of their own strength. For example, several of the non-Christian female teachers in our school are foster mothers. They decide to do this out of a sense that they have something to give. They don't look to a male for leadership. They just do it!

That is how I see the difference - an egalitarian women has her eye on social justice and the gospel. She may be single or she interacts with her husband as an equal.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I appear to contradict myself, but I meant to include at the beginning, the phrase "in the home". That is, the roles in the home may be different even for egalitarians, but man and woman interact as equals, they function as equals, but not necessarily as "the same".
This is best represented by the book Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy.

I want to stress that egalitarians as a whole don't diminish the gender differences, they just don't extropolate from these differences to the notion that men and women live within a basically heriarchical relationship.

Wayne Leman said...

You're right, Suzanne. Egalitarians do not say that women and men are the same. The do not even say that men and women will necessarily have the same roles. But they do not believe that Scripture teaches that there is a hierarchy in which a man has a higher status than that of a woman.

I have been reading Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, also, and find it a helpful book, very thorough, carefully thought out. I appreciate their emphasizing that there truly is complementarity between women and men, husbands and wives, and even as men and women function in various roles in the church. But there is no hierarchy just as there is no eternal hierarchy within the Trinity.

Thanks for your words of clarification.

And now we return to our regular programming about the TNIV.


Psalmist said...

From what I can tell, so-called complementarians base everything about male-female "roles" on the hierarchy of husband and wife that they've read into "the husband is the head of the wife." This requires the initial error of building a "headship" doctrine out of a unity metaphor (husband as head/wife as body=one indivisible body) and then extending the headship doctrine beyond marriage to the entire church and, for many, to all of society. So the "roles" they've codified are integrally tied to the "men's headship" doctrine. By accepting the different "roles" in marriage or church (or society), one must buy into the whole doctrine, whether one realizes it or not. Conversely, we who reject the "roles" also reject the doctrine, usually with the full realization that we're doing so, because neither the doctrine nor the roles teachings line up with what we see Scripture actually saying/not saying.

The "roles" teaching is attractive to some who would not otherwise be willing to swallow the doctrine. I have to remind myself sometimes that just as I bristle when "complementarian" teachers paint biblical egalitarians with the same broad "feminist" brush they do secular feminists, I can't rightly assume that all "complementarians" are true pro-patriarchalists. Many do rightly repudiate much of what is being taught as "complementarian" principles, even though since some of the "roles" teachings match up with how they've ordered their marriages and churches, they accept and teach "roles" as biblical.

Psalmist said...

I also meant to concur with the distinction between not accepting "roles" and believing in "sameness" of men and women. That's another of those broad-brush false portrayals that's commonly made of egalitarians, without which a significant number of objections to biblical equality would, IMO, evaporate.

Peter Kirk said...

For once I agree with Wayne Grudem and not Wayne Leman, that there is a difference in meaning between "assume authority" and "exercise authority" in 1 Timothy 2:12. The former implies unauthorised exercise of authority. Grudem's error here is in claiming that TNIV's "assume authority" is novel and suspect. It is not novel, because it means the same as KJV's "usurp authority", or is in fact somewhat weaker. And it is not suspect because the evidence shows clearly that the rare Greek word here, authentein, was always used in a pejorative way of some kind of abuse of authority. Also TNIV by no means claims to end the debate here in an egalitarian direction, because "exercise (or have) authority" as an alternative in a footnote. Rather, it is ESV which attempts to close off debate by offering only one rendering, a much more novel and much more suspect one than the TNIV rendering, and offering no alternative and no room for a variety of views.