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)The TNIV and ESV teach headship of the husband identically in Eph. 5:23.
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)
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)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.
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)
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)The TNIV and ESV teach the same thing about submission.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (ESV)
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)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.
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)
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)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
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (ESV)
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.