April 28, 2015 3:22 pm
A strong controversy that dominates the field of religious translation in the US nowadays is the attempt to translate the Bible in a gender-neutral manner. This translation trend started over two decades ago and its aim was to eliminate all male-only references where this was possible. The latest such attempt was the 2011 version of the so-called New International Version Bible (NIV), which is used by many groups of Protestants throughout the American continent and has been heavily criticized by groups of conservatives, who claim that this new gender-neutral translation approach alters the initial theological message.
As the NIV is one of America’s most popular Bibles, the issue has drawn a lot of publicity during the last years, causing the division of the public opinion. Several are the points where the translation approach differs when one compares the latest 2011 version to the older ones, a fact which results from advances in biblical scholarship, as well as changes in English usage.
The group of scholars responsible for the 2011 NIV version opted to replace the gender-based verses of the previous Bible editions with gender-neutral ones, by using, for example, the word “people” instead of the word “men” that was traditionally used. Another significant change was the addition of the word “sister” to verses that mention “brother”, so that they now read “…brother AND sister”. Similarly, the word “them” in the verse “…I will come in and eat with them, and they with me” has been replaced by “that person”, so that the verse now reads “…I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me”. This specific point raised a great deal of criticism, as many are those who argue that “that person” sounds very cold and impersonal and fails to convey the feeling of warmth and intimacy that we have towards someone we know.
However, the latest version of the NIV Bible does not always make use of gender-neutral language. It avoids doing so in the case of the verses that are most familiar to the public, where such a translation strategy might seem utterly incongruous. For example, the verse Matthew 4:4 that reads “Man shall not live on bread alone” and was replaced in the previous 2005 version by “People do not live on bread alone”, has now returned again to its original translation. According to the translator Douglas Moo, the translators had hoped that the rephrasing of the 2011 NIV would pass off as completely natural and would go unnoticed by the average reader, but is that really the case?
Maria Konstantinou. Translator and student of the Master in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts of the University of Luxembourg. Terminology Trainee at TermCoord.
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Tags: Bible, gender-neutral, translation