by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The biggest evangelical controversy this year centers on a revision of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. World magazine reported in March that Zondervan and the International Bible Society (IBS), publishers of the NIV, had plans to release in America an inclusive language version like one already on sale in Britain. In layman's terms, the new NIV would contain no language that could be offensive to either sex. Thus, it would be a gender-neutral version, pleasing to feminists. Supporters call it "gender-accurate."
Shakespeare wrote, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." In today's climate, such a line would never have sneaked past the feminists censors. However, on this Bible battle, he could have written, "Hell hath no fury like evangelicals protecting the NIV." After overwhelming criticism of such a new version, the publishers abandoned their plans on May 27. IBS spokesman Steve Johnson remarked, "It is clear that the evangelical church said, ‘Don't mess with our NIV.' IBS has said, ‘We hear you.'"
Most conservatives see this as a clear victory over the more liberal elements who allow cultural factors to influence biblical matters. Even the IBS considers this issue decided. "Because of the climate in the evangelical church, and because certain linguistic issues have not been settled, I doubt that you'll see this issue resurface anytime soon," said Johnson.
However, others are not so sure. They see the IBS decision as a mere truce or cooling-down period in a much larger war. New Testament professor David Scholer of Fuller Theological Seminary feels that gender-inclusive versions will be published anyway. "I think American English has genuinely changed. If I were an NIV publisher, I would start to realize that I'm going to begin losing my market in the next decade." Rather than truth being the determining factor, he believes economics and culture will turn the tide!
Still others have different reasons for believing this to be only a minor setback. Joel Belz, publisher of World, thinks that the IBS, Zondervan and the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT, an independent group of 15 scholars that has the authority to revise the NIV) have participated in the "feminist seduction of evangelicals." He accuses the NIV's sponsors of "going way too far to accommodate the enemy."
Changes More Accurate?
IBS and Zondervan were quick to assure the public that they were not in any way going to tinker with "the gender treatment given to members of the Godhead." IBS writes:
But in the Bible, God is called "He" and Christ is called "Son." Will these pronouns become inclusive, too? Of course not! Where the masculine or feminine was intended, no change will occur. . . . Only those changes which contribute to accuracy will be allowed.
Belz, however, begs to differ. He writes:
But in fact, the now famous British version of the NIV (authorized by the IBS) and the children's version of the NIV (authorized by the IBS and published last year by Zondervan) regularly ignore those commitments. Strict accuracy fell by the wayside in favor of a steady rejection of words like "man"—even when "man" refers to Jesus.
For instance, the current text of the NIV reads, "It is better for you that one man [anthropos] die for the people" (John 11:50). The changed text would read, "It is better for you that one person die for the people." The translators even make changes when the context obviously speaks of males. Numbers 8:17 currently says, "Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine"; but the new translation says, "Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine."
The CBT argues that the last time they made gender-related revisions no one complained. In 1983, the group made around 500 changes to the text, replacing "man" or "men" wherever the Greek or Hebrew text used a neutral noun. They also ask, "Why pick on the NIV? Where's all the hubbub over the other versions that use gender-inclusive language?"
Other translations are indeed gender inclusive. Such translations as the New Revised Standard Version, the New Century Bible, the International Children's Bible, the Contemporary English Version, the Odyssey Bible, the New Living Translation and God's Word all contain gender-neutral language. The reason these versions have not felt evangelical wrath is that none of them approaches the NIV's 45 percent of market share in the Christian book industry. When the NIV makes a drastic move like changing gender language, it is a big deal!
Just a Symptom
Most people in the church of God do not use the NIV as their primary Bible. That designation usually goes to the King James Version (KJV) or the New King James Version (NKJV). Unlike most modern translations, which use the Western Alexandrian Text, both of these two Bibles are translated from the Eastern Received Text, considered by most conservative scholars as more accurate and far more reliable.
Yet this controversy about the NIV affects us because it is just a symptom of a much deeper disease. In its broadest context, this disease is a liberal cultural approach to understanding the Bible and religion in general. In the narrow context of the NIV controversy, it is applying current feminist sensitivities to the absolute truths of God's Word.
This thinking begins with studies into women's place in the church, particularly as it affects ordination into the ministry. The argument is that New Testament teaching prohibiting female ordination is based on first-century cultural bias that considered women inferior to men, and thus, more easily led astray. This approach is gaining adherents worldwide, especially progressive Catholics who chafe against the traditional teaching of the Vatican. One supporter says, "Morally, the Church's duty is to decide women's ordination based on what is authentically Christian and to discard mere cultural baggage." This summer, the Catholic Theological Society of America was the first official group of Catholic theologians to disagree publicly with the pope's stand on women in the priesthood.
Once this hurdle is passed, feminist thinking permeates all areas of religion from theology to worship services to—believe it or not—idolatry. The Journal for Preachers recently advised ministers on "feminist biblical hermeneutics." (Hermeneutics is "the study of methodological principles of interpretation.") The author, Kathleen O'Connor, writes, "The biblical text cannot simply be repeated in modern contexts." For example, she says, "Because [God] engages in abusive behavior against His wives, the ancient and modern practices of wife abuse, physical and verbal, are not only left unchallenged but actually sanctioned by divine example." Thus, she suggests changing the gender of the characters or retelling it from the perspective of the wife!
"Spiritual" women especially desire to be "worship leaders" in mainline Protestant churches. These women feel their "spiritual gifts" give them unlimited opportunities to lead and serve in the church. One such worship leader in Pittsburgh believes that "women's vulnerability is a strength they bring to worship with the goal of drawing attention to the Lord rather than to the leader." Another, a recording artist, feels that "women's natural nurturing and tenderness allow others to trust and follow them more readily." She "encourages others to get beyond cultural restraints to see their gifts utilized."
Most alarming, however, is the upsurge in rank paganism known as "goddess worship." According to Mission America (Spring 1997, pp. 1-2), pagan feminist theology has found its way into seminaries, university religion classes, mainline churches and wicca covens. This "female spirituality movement" incorporates goddess worship and witchcraft into its practice, mocks biblical Christianity, affirms homosexuality, denounces Jesus' crucifixion as "too bloody," and boasts a pantheon of at least 33 goddesses (among them, Eve, Mary, Diana and Ishtar). In 1993, at their first Re-Imagining Conference in Minneapolis—which drew 1,700 women—they even renamed the Holy Spirit "Sophia," the Greek word for wisdom!
Goddess worship is founded on rage and rebellion. They say they are rebelling because they believe Eve, whom they claim as their "spiritual mother," was tricked into sin. Their actions are simply retaliation against the Bible's "patriarchal heritage" that has historically forced them to submit to men. They are even angry that God did not allow women to worship the "gentler" female idols of nearby cultures! In their wrath, they want to turn traditional Christianity upside-down.
As one writer put it, "The days of telling women to sit down and hush are over."
God Reveals Himself
Goddess worship is only one salvo among a myriad of other end-time religious falsehoods, but it is among the most influential because of feminism's power. Women—and even some men—"oppressed" by the biblically influenced patriarchal society, feel a sense of belonging and acceptance in such a religion. Goddess advocates stress their god's compassion, tolerance and benign nature—in opposition to the "harsh," "judgmental" and "angry" God of the Bible.
We know, however, that such a description of our God is highly unbalanced. Even in the "harsh" Old Testament, God reveals Himself as
The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)
The true God has a perfect balance of goodness and severity (Romans 11:22). As Moses says in verse 9, the problem is in us, "stiff-necked people," who try to make gods for ourselves in our own sinful image (see Exodus 32:1-10).
Besides this revelation of His nature, God has also revealed Himself in masculine terms. God is the Father, and Jesus Christ is the Son, Husband, Elder Brother and King. In no case do the Bible writers ever describe God or Christ in feminine terms. This idea of Almighty God being a goddess, then, is blatantly false, an idol, a weird mockery of the truth.
Satan would like nothing better than for God's people to begin to change their understanding of God's nature. Time and again, he turned Israel away from the true God to idols of wood, stone, clay and metal. Once the people begin to think of God in ways contrary to His revelation of Himself, their beliefs and practices change to reflect the new god. What people worship molds their religion. Thus, our understanding of God makes all the difference!
The gender-inclusive controversy has suffered a blow, but probably only a temporary one. Now that this overt bid to change God's nature has been rebuffed, liberal scholars and publishers will work more stealthily in the future to insert "politically correct," unisex terms into God's Word. This should come as no surprise, "for," as Paul writes in II Corinthians 2:11, "we are not ignorant of [Satan's] devices." He has worked this way in the past; he will hold true to his nature.
The "feminist seduction" of world religions is well underway. It is softening resistance to a future religious system that will embrace "all who dwell on the earth" (Revelation 13:8). This world religion will be set up by the Beast:
Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done. He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above them all. But in their place he shall honor a god of fortresses; and a god which his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and pleasant things. Thus he shall act against the strongest fortresses with a foreign god, which he shall acknowledge, and advance its glory. . . . (Daniel 11:36-39)
With religious deception ever increasing, that time cannot be too far away. We can expect similar and frequent attacks on the Bible and a push to consider all forms of religion to be valid and worthy of respect. As this happens, our duty is very simple: Remember the first commandment! As Isaiah writes:
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited: "I am the Lord, and there is no other." (Isaiah 45:18)