NIV 2011: Denny Burk condemns it, most are lukewarm

Suzanne writes that her prophecy here at Gentle Wisdom has come true. I’m not so sure, especially as she has denied referring to John Hobbins. This is what she wrote here, in a comment on my post NIV 2011 Update: first impressions:

I predict that complementarians will completely reject the new NIV because of 1 Tim. 2:12, 1 Cor. 11:10, the paragraphing of Eph. 5:21-22, and Romans 16:7. John Piper has already spoken vociferously against the NIV 1984, perhaps to pave the way for a full rejetion of the NIV 2011.

But as far as I can tell John Piper and the other well known complementarians who intemperately rejected TNIV, such as Wayne Grudem, have had little or nothing to say about the NIV 2011 update. Vern Poythress has written a review, but he seems less concerned by its gender-related language than that

Overall, the NIV 2011 translation appears inconsistent or uneven

– a concern that I share. Even World Magazine, which led the condemnation of NIV Inclusive Language Edition by calling it the “Stealth Bible”, has offered only mild disapproval of the 2011 update.

It has been in the news recently that the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution against the NIV 2011 update and calling on its LifeWay bookshops to boycott it. But this was a last minute motion from the floor of the house, not supported by the convention organisers, which was voted on without the case in favour of the update even being presented. I expect that when LifeWay realises the financial implications of withdrawing one of its best selling Bible versions they will quietly ignore the resolution.

By contrast, as I reported at Better Bibles Blog, another very conservative group, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, looks likely to accept the NIV 2011 update. A WELS committee has considered the update very carefully and issued a long and detailed report recommending the Synod to formally accept the it.

Denny BurkThe only significant strong negative reaction to the NIV 2011 that I have seen has come from Denny Burk. But Suzanne cannot claim to be a prophet about this, as I had already linked to Burk’s initial complaint in my post. Since then he has written quite a lot more, including a paper in JBMW. In this he comes to similar conclusions to mine in that same post, that NIV 2011 has retained most of the gender-related language of TNIV but about 25% of what some people objected to has been revised.

Predictably Burk singles out for comment in this JBMW paper 1 Timothy 2:12, which he calls “The Most Contested Verse in the Gender Debate”. He bases his argument on Köstenberger’s highly dubious argument (which I discussed here in 2006) that the disputed Greek word here, authentein, cannot have negative connotations. He then completely ruins his case, in the eyes of scholars rather than of blind followers of “Reformed” heroes, by quoting and relying on an error of fact by Wayne Grudem. Grudem wrote that the TNIV and NIV 2011 rendering “assume authority” is “a highly suspect and novel translation”, when in fact, as Suzanne had shown (originally in 2009) and tried to point out to Burk, it comes straight from Calvin’s commentary, as translated by Pringle in the 19th century – and is clearly less negative in its connotations than “usurp authority” in KJV.

The autobiographical notes at the start of Burk’s paper recount how at the age of 17 he acquired an NIV Bible and started to read it avidly. He calls himself

one whose testimony has been inexorably shaped by the NIV translation.

So it is not surprising that he is attached to the 1984 version of NIV and has strong negative reactions to any changes to it. This kind of conservatism is a natural human reaction to change. But it is not the way of our God who makes all things new.

In the USA there is a strong KJV-only movement, which idolises this 400-year-old versions and will accept no Bible. I wonder, does Denny Burk want to lead an NIV-1984-only movement? I think he will find this much harder than his skateboarding tricks.

31 thoughts on “NIV 2011: Denny Burk condemns it, most are lukewarm

  1. Hi Peter!

    I want to believe the “lukewarm” reception, and I am glad to see the SBC resolution was not a major motion. But I do think it worth the time to point that, at least according to the CBT itself, the NIV 2011 has received more than what the CBT feels is “fair criticism.” They wrote two responses, one to the SBC and one to the CBMW, both of which are to the right side here:

    Take a read, ad perhaps you’ll agree that these responses are the reason why there’s not a whole lot of debate on it any more?

  2. Michael, thank you for linking to CBT’s responses. I’m sure these firm but simple and clear statements have helped to defuse much of the potential opposition to NIV 2011.

    I see that CBT, in the response to CBMW, has highlighted Sue’s point:

    “assume authority” in 1 Tim. 2:12 is Calvin’s rendering.

    So, even if Burk managed to block Sue’s comments earlier, he now has no excuse for not taking this point.

    Sue, thanks for the links. Yes, I know CBMW has taken a stance against NIV 2011. But guess who is their journal editor? Denny Burk. I suspect he is currently their main activist, certainly on this issue. I do see some reported opposition by Patterson, Mohler and Focus on the Family, what I am calling “lukewarm”, but none of them have come out with specific strong negative statements.

    As for Piper, while showing his ignorance of translation principles, he is not talking about NIV 2011. If he builds a sermon on words which professional translators do not consider to be a significant part of the meaning of the text, then he is incompetent as a preacher.

    (And thanks, Sue, for showing me that YouTube videos can be embedded in comments, here as well as at BBB. You have learned something from John Hobbins!)

  3. No, this video had nothing to do with the comment about embedding videos on the BBB. Just because two events happen at the same time, does not mean they are causally related. Please!

  4. Okay, I went back and viewed the BBB thread. To tell the truth I had not seen the embedded video. Either it had not displayed when I commented, or I clicked into the comments directly without viewing the thread first. As it happens, all you need to do is paste in the URL of the video and it embeds automatically, so it was completely unintended on my part. I only pasted in the URL.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing attention to this issue.

  5. Interesting also to see this comment by Craig Blomberg, in which he writes that

    before the convention Al Mohler and Lifeway were solidly on board with the updated NIV.

    He also implies that the resolution will be ignored.

    Sue, thanks for the clarification about the YouTube video. But don’t take my comment mentioning John Hobbins too seriously. I guess he would have had a similar reaction if I had suggested he had learned something from you!

  6. I have been in SBC churches for most of my life. The SBC is not hierarchical and each church is independent and congregational (mostly) in how the church business is conducted. I have rarely seen any resolutions come from the annual meeting that churches felt bound by. One example is our Baptist Faith and Message, which is a statement of beliefs that basicly define what it means to be a SBC church. The latest update was made in 2000, yet the church I attend still subscribes to the one from 1963. The bottom line is that churches are free to associate and support the SBC whether or not we agree on everything. We pool our money as a group to support missions, seminaries, colleges, etc.

    I would not take this resolution from the SBC as something that everyone or even a majority of Baptists would adhere to. I personally have used the NIV since 1978 when it first came out, then started using the TNIV when it was released, and now use the updated 2011 NIV. I feel it is the best modern English translation available.

  7. John, thanks for your comment. This is more or less as I expected. It sounds like a small group hijacked the convention and passed a motion which almost everyone will ignore. People who like the NIV 2011 will continue to use it, and those who don’t won’t decide because of this resolution.

  8. Dear Peter Kirk: I was quite upset by our church getting the new 2011 NIV. Most of the congregation are totally unaware of this new pew version. What greatly bothered me was setting aside the ending verses of Mark’s Gospel as separate and italicizied. It makes it appear as if this is not part of Scripture. Our pastor would not read these verses from the pulpit as he too thinks this is not part of the original scriptures. The other comment I have is on Psalm 8 and how it has been completed de-gendered even taking away an apparent Messianic prophesy concerning our Lord. I really have no confidence in this version. Could you or some others please give me some advice on this matter. Thank you.

  9. Klaas, I’m sorry you were upset by your church getting the new version without keeping you properly informed.

    The two specific issues you mention are places where the translation has caught up with modern scholarship. Psalm 8 is not a Messianic prophecy, because “son of man” is simply a common Hebrew expression meaning “human being”, not a Messianic title – not even in Hebrews 2:6, although the author may have been using a word play there. And the ending of Mark’s gospel is not an original part of the gospel, although I would prefer to see it printed as normal text although separated as many people consider this part of Scripture. You can find more about this in the translators’ notes.

  10. Maybe one reason why Wayne Grudem not spoken out against NIV 2011 is related to his new book Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. See this interview with Grudem. As this book is published by Zondervan, and promoted on their Koinonia blog, there could have been contract conditions preventing Grudem from publicly condemning NIV 2011, another Zondervan product. And Grudem would certainly we wise not to cross the lawyers for News Corporation, owners of Zondervan.

  11. Thanks Peter for your advice and for the translator’s notes website. It was very helpful. I still hope our church gets a more “secure” copy for the future rather than one which seems to need to change according to the times every few years.

  12. Klaas, the problem with your hope is that the English language is changing. It always has been, and is now changing faster than ever. So there will continue to be a need to update Bibles every 30 years or so.

  13. Peter. I don’t mind updating the Bible if new information comes along that is trustworthy but updating the Bible to fit into what the culture wants to hear (gender friendly, TNIV) and what the culture needs to hear (God’s Word) are two separate matters are they not?. It is God’s Word that is eternal and never changing. The translators notes do not seem to indicate much of the Spirit’s working among them.Nothing about seeking the face of the Lord! I have even heard that there are non-Christians in the CBT. Is this true? By the way, we here in Canada have really enjoyed have Kate and William come visit with us. God bless you.

  14. Klaas, no one wants to change God’s word which is indeed “eternal and never changing”. But if that message is to be understood by people today it needs to be in language which is understood today. If you don’t agree, you should use only the Hebrew and Greek. And our language is changing. For example, “conversation” means something quite different today from what it meant 400 years ago when this word was used in KJV. And “man”, in some contexts, means something quite different from what it meant 50 years ago when it was used in RSV as a gender generic word. That is the main reason why the Bible needs to be updated.

    You are not being fair to the CBT either. Translators’ notes are not the place to express dependence on God, but team members have expressed this elsewhere. The CBT translators are all evangelical Christians. It was another translation committee, I think the one for NRSV, that included Jewish scholars of the Hebrew Bible.

  15. Peter, please don’t think I am a KJV only person but I do believe that the Holy Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God. Getting back to my original post about the ending verses of Mark that you do not believe are in the original Gospel of Mark; will you not read them either as believing that they are not the Word of God? Perhaps Mark did not pen them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, yet that does not exclude the fact that then another writer was God-breathed into writing these words of Holy Scripture. What would happen, if say, Zondervan should publish a bible without the words entirely. Would the Church accept such a bible? I think not.
    Thanks for your patience with me. I have so much interest in God’s Word that I can hardly contain it at times. To me, they are the words of life itself. And it’s wonderful that I can share it with somebody like you who is willing to listen.

  16. Klaas, I’m glad to be able to help you. I would tentatively suggest for the ending of Mark that “another writer was God-breathed into writing these words of Holy Scripture”, but I am not sure.

  17. Dear Peter: Did Westcott and Hort belong to a ghost society and participate in communicating with the dead?
    Klaas Detmar

  18. Dear Peter: The reason I bring this up in this post is because we are talking about the 2011NIV and it’s trustworthiness and reliability to represent God’s word truthfully. Most new bible translations are based on the Greek interpretations of Westcott and Hort including the NIV.
    You are from England I believe and that is where Westcott and Hort lived and studied. You are much more knowledgeable on these matters than I and closer to the history so I am surprised that you would not have known this to be true or not.Perhaps you could ask some of your blogging friends? Thank you, Klaas Detmar

  19. Klaas, NIV 2011 is not based on the Westcott and Hort text. It is based on a text researched by many scholars over the last 150 years or so, of whom Westcott and Hort were just two.of the several pioneers. I think if there were any truth at all in the rumours about these two I would know it. But it seems far more likely to me that they are scurrilous inventions by people with an agenda of discrediting their work.

    If you really want to know about these two men, I suggest you read the Wikipedia articles on Westcott and on Hort. No mention of either of them communicating with the dead.

  20. I have looked a bit further into the allegations and have found what looks like a well balanced article describing some minor interest of the young Westcott in spiritualism, including the following:

    [The evidence] suggests that for a brief period, as a young man of twenty-six years old, Brooke Foss Westcott spent some time investigating, but not participating in, spiritualism. He soon concluded that such investigations led to no good and abandoned them. There is no evidence that he ever in anyway participated in spiritualism. There is no evidence that his investigations extended much beyond one year.

    Later Westcott decisively rejected this, writing:

    I cannot, therefore, but regard every voluntary approach to beings such as those who are supposed to hold communication with men through mediums as unlawful and perilous. I find in the fact of the Incarnation all that man (so far as I can see) requires for life and hope.

  21. John, thanks for the link and your interesting post. I think this just goes to prove what I have written to you elsewhere, that most people in churches, even most pastors, are ignorant of the real issues and simply follow the lead of a few demagogues like Denny Burk. It is sad when the pastors follow people like him rather than the experts within their own denomination.

  22. I think laypeople are smarter than you give them credit for, and I think experts are not necessarily to be trusted.

    A serious problem, for a church like WELS full of people who memorize scripture, is the way NIV11 messes with a verse like Rev 3:20 in the name of gender-inclusivity:

    Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

    A memorizable translation that is not afraid to use a mix of gender-neutral and generic masculine language might sound like this:

    Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me.

    “Sup’ goes all the way back to Wycliffe I believe. I know it’s old-fashioned but I can think of worse things.

  23. Dear Peter: I agree with John on this one. We laypeople may not have the academics behind us but some of us can smell the rotten egg the same.
    The moment I opened up the new 2011 NIV on that Lord’s Day and when my Pastor would not read the ending verses of Mark’s gospel a big red flag went up.

  24. John, I agree in not liking Revelation 3:20 in NIV 2011. It reads much better, and more like the traditional version so more memorably, in TNIV:

    Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

    I can’t understand why NIV 2011 allows one singular they in this verse but not two of them.

    But your proposed version is inaccurate and heretical in suggesting the false teaching that Jesus’ offer is for males only. NIV 2011 is rightly careful not to use generic masculine language where this kind of misunderstanding is possible. There is not the same problem with “mankind” and the occasional “man” as a collective term for the human race.

    Klaas, the ending of Mark’s gospel is a quite different issue. Don’t assume John will agree with you on that one.

  25. Hi Peter,

    The double “they” is only slightly less awkward . NRSV and NLT got that and therefore restructured the whole into direct address. The lengths to which persons like you will go to avoid generic masculine language are alarming.

    You say:

    “your proposed version is inaccurate and heretical in suggesting the false teaching that Jesus’ offer is for males only.”

    That is so funny. Why on earth you would utter such nonsense is beyond me. If the people who put together NIV11 thought as you do, they would have avoided generic masculine language altogether. But they did not, so they too are heretics like I am. Along with everyone else who feels that generic masculine language is not heretical, I feel as if I am in very good company.

    Translations of this verse with the generic masculine “him” and “he” have been and continue to be memorized by men and women alike. Probably hundreds of thousands if not millions of individuals are involved. .

    Generic masculine language is just not an issue for most people.

    Every year millions of Christians, even if they do not have it memorized, hear this verse spoken in church or Bible study, almost always in a form which you insist on calling heretical.

    But no one understands it in the way you do. As far as I can see, you are a willful misreader of generic masculine language.

  26. John, the CBT was under tremendous pressure from advocates of the heretical “male representation” theology which denies that women are fully the image of God. Nevertheless they carefully avoided gender specific language in places like this (although I would not endorse every one of their translation decisions) in the full realisation that many of their readers would misunderstand it as teaching this kind of heresy.

    Your “no one understands it in the way you do” is not only a deliberate lie but an offensive one, as a great deal of evidence has been produced that many women (and some men) do understand it in that way, but clearly for you women are “no one”.

  27. Gentlemen: A wife is a gift from God. She shares in her husband’s salvation. If she is the only believer in the marriage her husband is sanctified through her. A husband ought to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. There is a difference between a wife and a woman.
    When we use women to divide our earthly relationships(especially in the church)we diminish their worth. Christ died for all and thus we must love all.
    Using Scripture to elevate one gender over another is wrong. What Scripture says is true and ought to be believed. Nothing more, nothing less. God is not impartial nor should we.

  28. Indeed, Klaas. And a husband is a gift from God. He shares in his wife’s salvation. If he is the only believer in the marriage his wife is sanctified through him (1 Corinthians 7:14), whatever that means. But I thank God for a believing wife, who has more faith than I have.

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