The TNIV is a Great, but often Misunderstood & Perhaps Unfairly Maligned Translation of the Bible

Zondervan Publishing has been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism in recent years over its attempt to address some long overdue issues in its most popular English translation of the Bible, the NIV. The Southern Baptist Convention called a special session in 20o2 just to publicly express and codify their rejection of it. It is also rumored that some angry Bible blasters fired a shotgun at a copy of the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) and sent the remnants to Zondervan in some sort of morbid, ransom-like message to the publisher. Not only is this immature, but it is downright embarrassing for the Christian community (PS: the world loves it when we fight).

For my part, I am confident that the team that has labored on the TNIV is full of passionate Jesus followers who only want to honor the text’s meaning by improving upon the unfortunate glosses of the previous, 1984 version of the NIV. In fact, it is difficult to relate how much I appreciate the well-done translation that is the TNIV. Like the NIV, the TNIV does not aim for a literal, word for word translation from the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek ancient texts, but rather tries to get at the heart of the meaning behind those words. Good translations that shoot for a more literal, word-for-word approach include the NASB (New American Standard Bible), and a very good compromise between the NASB and the TNIV is the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version). All three are quite excellent and trustworthy, but they take slightly different approaches in communicating these ancient texts to contemporary English readers.

That being said, the TNIV takes all of the scholarship and hard work that went into the regular NIV, and made it even more accurate in communicating the original texts’ meaning. This is most obvious in its use of gender inclusive language. For example, it oftentimes takes the gender-exclusive term like “men” and re-casts it as “people,” or interprets the Greek word for “brothers” as “brothers and sisters.” This would be a serious grievance if the original texts (in these instances) had specifically intended the male gender only, but that is not the case within the TNIV. This translation does quite well in keeping specific references to males as “men” or females as “women” when appropriate but takes great care to accurately communicate gender-inclusive terms when the biblical texts meant to include both genders. One specific example can be found in Genesis 1:27 “So God created HUMAN BEINGS in his own image…” Rather than the NIV’s “So God created MAN in his own image… .” If interpreting this as “human beings” is offensive, it’s because we aren’t paying enough attention (or worse).

Contrary to popular but misguided caricatures, the TNIV does NOT eviscerate biblical imagery for Jesus as a man, nor does it eliminate the anthropomorphism of God as “Father.” These images, literary devices and analogical representations are maintained and deeply respected by the TNIV. This translation was long overdue, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Thanks for reading,
-C. Lambeth


About C_Lambeth

I currently live in the Pacific Northwest. I graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelor's of Science and from George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary) with a Master's of Divinity. In addition to knowing Christ and helping others know him, I am passionate about peace, the environment, Christian feminism, justice for all (not just the wealthy) and being a lifelong learner. Please feel free to comment on any of the posts here or to suggest new posts altogether. Thank you for reading me! -CL
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46 Responses to The TNIV is a Great, but often Misunderstood & Perhaps Unfairly Maligned Translation of the Bible

  1. Jamie Dugger says:

    A good example of where the “new” NIV crosses the line:”“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Mt. 5:31-32). This reflects one of the views of the translators (David-Instone Brewer) that he has argued for in articles and commentaries. But he should NOT feel the freedom to adjust the text of Scripture to add support to his position!

    Another example: Nahum 3:13 “Look at your troops— they are all weaklings. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has consumed the bars of your gates. Instead of “Look, your troops are women among you; the gates of your land are wide open to your enemies. Fire will devour the bars [of your gates. The word “women” was removed even though that is what the Hebrew says because if is more in line with the agenda of this revision of the translation. There are many other “problem” areas with the translation. But, you wouldn’t know if you just go in and try to buy one. The fact is that it is essentially a “repackaged” TNIV which many bookstores refused to carry. Many of the critics are referring to it as being driven by a femininst position based on many of the translation choices. Willingness to break from traditional renderings for the sake of accuracy is an admirable trait for a translation commitee. Another example is the willingness to translate the word “doulos” as slave since “servant” doesn’t accurately capture the meaning of this word like in Luke 16:13. I would recommend anyone that knows someone looking to buy a new Bible make them aware of the concerns with the “new” NIV.

  2. C_Lambeth says:

    I appreciate your passion for a “correct” translation of our best sources for the biblical text. But what we must consider is that every translator and team of translators makes decisions on how to phrase things in English. The NIV (old, new and middle school) goes for the meaning rather than a strict literalism. If you want a more word for word approach, the NASB is probably as good as it gets, but none of them (and none of us) approach the text as blank slates. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, but WE all bring our baggage with us when we try to interpret the Bible too. So the question is not of which translation is “perfect” or not, but rather which one gets closer to the truth (or farther away from it) in a way that we can understand best.

    Take the Nahum passage that has been called into question above. It is likely that the word “women” used in the Hebrew here is not to be taken literally (no army in this era -or our own- would be composed entirely of women). The author of the passage uses the word as an insult to describe the people in question. It’s like when you call a grown adult a “child.” The literal word is “child”, but the meaning is an insult, not unlike “weakling.” So which translation does a better job of communicating what the author meant in Nahum? I think “weakling” is fair, and certainly less troublesome in our own context.

    For the women reading this passage (and my comment here), are you not mildly offended when a person calls someone a “woman” and means it only as an insult? I have problems with that, and I’m a dude. So I suspect the New NIV team is trying to avoid an unnecessary stumbling block so that readers can focus on the actual meaning while not getting hung-up on some cultural baggage.

  3. Jamie Dugger says:

    I’m well aware of the different approaches to translating. As far as the Nahum passage, the word there is “Ishshah” and yhis was an “interpretive” choice not necessary for clarification.

    Just for the record, i don’t have a problem with “mediating” translations. Formal equivalent (word for word) translations have their one set of problems at times with being “too literal” and missing the point of idioms and such when translating and renderings can become undiscernable . A translators job is to make the meanings as clear as possible without adding “unnecessary” ideas to the text.

  4. C_Lambeth says:

    I guess my point is that everything we read in an English Bible is an interpretive choice made by someone somewhere at some time. Lots of people quibble over what is necessary or not. You say “women”, they say “weakling.” Maybe one is better for you and another is better for someone else. Go with what you feel is best, but I know some people who find the TNIV’s inclusivism to be refreshing. But given that we do not have any of the “original autographs” (and haven’t for more than 1000 years), there is no guaranty that even our Hebrew and Greek texts have not been subject to various clarifications and interpretive choices. I’m not saying the Bible is unreliable in the least, but rather that there are limits to how “perfect” we should expect our Bibles to be. At the end of the day, even if we had a “perfect” Bible, it wouldn’t mean that any of us understand it “perfectly.” Does using “weakling” in the Nahum passage change the meaning at all? I have my doubts.

  5. Jamie Dugger says:

    Ishshah has two basic meanings:women and wife. Both ideas are present in the word’s first occurence (Genesis 2:22-25). It also connotes fiancee or bride (Deut. 22:24 & Deut. 24:5). It signifies women without implying marriage (Ecc. 7:28). Sometims “ishshah” describes a kind of woman, like a prophetess (Judges 4:4). It also functions as a feminine distributive meaning each, referring to women (Ruth 1:8), animals, or things.

    One additional point about this particular passage in Nahum: Mascular nouns can be inclusive of the feminine, but feminine nouns are never inclusive of the masculine.

    You are right there is no “perfect” bible, but the “new” NIV misrepresents the meaning in the text in a number of places (including some its inclusive choices). That is the point I am trying to make.

  6. C_Lambeth says:

    I am sorry that you don’t find the TNIV helpful. While I disagree with your assessment of its alleged misrepresentations, it is clear that you have given this some thought, and I think it would be great if more Christians did this.

  7. SHS says:

    Proverbs 30:5-6 “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

    The translators will have to answer to God for misrepresenting His Word.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Easy there. Is that every English word, every original (now lost) Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic word that’s “flawless”? Is it the words themselves or their meaning? Is it the Holy Spirit’s guidance of those words or our understanding of the words or is it the Living God who stands behind those words, or is it The Word (Christ) who writes his words, their meanings and our understanding(s) of them on our hearts, and what happens when sincere believers disagree on what those “words” say and mean? We shouldn’t vilify the TNIV’s translators or infer their judgment. It’s just not that simple.

  8. TG says:

    I just wonder how much of this is worth “fighting” over…which isn’t what Jamie and Corbin are doing. My dad is a pastor and believes that the bible is clear that a person can “sin away their day of grace” which is a big tenant of many denominations. I don’t believe that because I interpret that doctrine differently than my dad. I interpret it differently because I don’t want to limit God but my dad doesn’t see that doctrine as limiting. One thing that we need to focus on is that while God is perfect and unchanging, change is what humans are all about. We can’t let our cultural mores change the meaning of the Word any more than we can ignore that we have them. The bottom line is that we are all faced with this choice and must rely on prayer and the Holy Spirit for guidance.

  9. SHS says:

    Corbin, the verse says that God’s Word is flawless, not the English language. And yes it’s that simple. I wasn’t judging, only quoting scripture. We will all have to give an account for the things done in our earthly bodies, and if the translator is truly misrepresenting God’s Holy Word for the sake of promoting his own ideas rather than God’s Word, then this would be considered “adding” to His words.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Shelly, were you “quoting Scripture” when you said that “the translators will have to answer to God for misrepresenting His Word”? That seemed a bit harsh to me, but I appreciate your recent addition of the conditional word “If,” as in, “IF they are promoting an a-biblical perspective… .” That is the key, and I don’t think Zondervan has made that mistake with the TNIV. I also appreciate your recognition of the difference between God’s “word” and God’s “Word.” Your initial comment didn’t make that distinction, and even the context of the verse you quoted seems to indicate the common definition of “word” rather than the upper-case version (Christ). In this thread alone, the double meaning of “W/word” has proved to be anything but simple. I just think we should be aware of how we can too easily mix up the issues and defend the wrong things.

  10. TG says:

    I guess my point is that we must always be on our guard. Our adversary will use anything to separate us. Do the translators of the TNIV have an agenda that is anti-Christ? Probably not. Could they be misguided in their all inclusive approach? I’d say yes. If the word for woman in the Nahum passage can only be translated as “woman, bride, etc.” then the translators are definitely changing the bible by putting their own word in “weakling”. But are they doing it to mislead people? I don’t think so. Don’t let this cause division; only discussion and choice.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Well done, TG. Tone is impossible to transmit in typed media, so I’d like to reiterate that I don’t consider discussions like these to be divisive, but healthy, and even necessary as part of our broader Christian community. Surely we can disagree without jeopardizing relationships.

    • Jamie Dugger says:

      TG, you are correct in that I am not attempting to “fight” with Corbin at all about this. Corbin is a friend dating all the way back to my Christian Campus House days and was even the leader of one of the family groups I was in. I have had concerns about the “new” NIV for a while now (as some closest to me know) and have started to look deeper at the issues. My only point has been to make others aware of the issues with the translation so that they can decide for themselves. I’m going to try to spend some time today clarifying some things I said earlier that may need some additional explaining.

  11. C_Lambeth says:

    What do you find “misguided” about inclusivity in the context of the TNIV?

  12. Jamie Dugger says:

    First off, I want to clarify I am not alone in my criticism of the translators choices. Besides Southern Baptists not recommending it and asking Lifeways stores not to sell it, Focus on the Family and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood do not recommend it either. Here are some facts to get a better idea of what this “new” NIV Bible looks like. First off, 75% of the text is the same as the much criticized TNIV. Now as far as individual translation choices with regard to gender: There were 328 choices made to avoid the word “father”. There were 63 changes to avoid the word “brother” or add the word “sisters.” There 278 changes made to avoid the word “man”; 33 changes to avoid the word “son”; 4 changes to avoid the word “women”; and 2,002 changes made from a “singular” to a “plural” to avoid to avoid the use of “he, him, his.” Those calculations were compiled by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Could some of those changes be “warranted” based on the meanings of the original Hebrew and Greek? Absolutely. But, in a lot of cases it results in a misrepresentation of what is in the original Greek or Hebrew.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Thanks, Jamie. But I have to admit that anytime Southern Baptists condemn something, it makes me want to check it out.

      Do you know if any of these changes eviscerate masculinity from THE Father or THE Son? In the TNIV, they left exclusive male language alone when the texts indicated the subject to be exclusively male (as far as I could tell).

      • Jamie Dugger says:

        I believe the male references to God have been left alone for the most part in the TNIV (but there is one passage the attempt to be inclusive creates a bit of a problem that I will share in a moment). I also completely understand where you are coming from about the Southern Baptist thing. I like to “check things out” for myself as well.

  13. Jamie Dugger says:

    One example is Proverbs 19:5: A fool spurns a parents discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence. The issue here is the use of the word “parents”. The Hebrew text has ‘ab which means “father” not “parent”.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      But does that change the meaning at all? Are mothers not also to discipline their children? Is it ok for a fool to spurn the mother’s discipline, but not the father’s? I think “parent” does a better job communicating the actual meaning, no?

  14. Jamie Dugger says:

    A problematic passage from 1 Corinthians 14:33-34: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace-as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says.” I don’t bring this up to debate what “remain silent in the churches” means with regard to women. That issue is much debated and difficult to be definitive on. The issue is elsewhere in the passage. To see it, we need to look at the NIV84 rendering: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches, they are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says.” The issue is the placement of the rendering “as in all the congregations of the saints”. The Greek word “ekklesia” (church, congregation) is repeated in both phrases, tying them together so to speak to show this is the case in ALL congregations; not just a local problem at Corinth. Whatever the writer meant there it was clear that it was that way in all churches not just a local problem. The rendering in the “new” NIV isn’t faithful to what is in the original and leaves open a possibility the writer did not intend.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      If the only difference here is in how the sentences are punctuated, we should remember that no punctuation existed in the original texts or oldest extant manuscripts. BOTH interpretations reflect interpretive choices. Given that women are indeed prophesying and praying and speaking in tongues in other churches indicates that the New NIV’s choice may well be the better one.

  15. Jamie Dugger says:

    CL, on the Proverbs 19:5 passage Mark Strauss who has been a defender for the TNIV has written something relevant to this issue. He has written “In short the translator must not betray the meaning of the text in its socio-historical context in the pursuit of contempory relevance.” God chose to reveal his word to us in a patriarchal, male dominated culture and the writer in Proverbs is using a male example to reveal a Biblical truth. Rendering it as “parent” is betraying the socio-historical context.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      ‎…but not the meaning. If a person wants a translation with a more literal, word for word approach, then neither the NIV, TNIV nor NNIV should be their preferred translation.


  16. Jamie Dugger says:

    But the bit of a problem passage I was referring to above is in Psalms 8:4: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?’ The issue here is the choice of “human beings.” In the Hebrew the words are “ben-‘adam”. “ben” which is singular means “son”; “adam” means man so a more correct translation would be “son of man”. The writer of Hebrews in the second chapter saw that as a fulfillment of prophecy in Christ, but that is blurred with the choice by the translators. I think it also speaks to what is meant in 2 Timothy 3:16 by the text being “God breather.” In the original it carries/portarys the idea of the writers being “carried along/moved” by the Holy Spirit as to what words to write to portray God’s truth. The inclusive language used in Hebrews 2 also makes a mess of things and portrays a bit of a theological problem that I haven’t found anyone supporting the rendering able to explain.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      I can see why the Psalm 8/ Hebrew 2 thing would cause some concern, but I have to say that I think the TNIV might be more consistent in its translation of Hebrews 2:5-9. The root passage in Psalms 8 seems to reflect the charge God gave to all mankind (the plural descendants of the earth-man, Adam) in the Garden of Eden, but not necessarily the yet-to-arrive Messiah. Clearly the Father thinks rather highly of THE Son. Since Hebrews 2 quotes Psalms 8, there is no reason to impose the singular “he” (Jesus) onto Psalms 8 when the Psalm author wasn’t likely referring to Christ. However, in his or her own cultural context, the author of Hebrews clearly adapts Psalms 8 as referring to Jesus, and the TNIV moves with this as it changes from the general, plural “them/their” to the specific, singular “he” in Hebrews 2:9. I think it does a fair job with the knotty passage.

  17. Jamie Dugger says:

    CL, I don’t think you understand what the issue in 1 Corinthians was. It is not about punctuation, or just exactly what was meant in relation to the “women should remain silent”or anything about women prophesying. As I said earlier the issue is how the translators have chosen to portay the Greek in English. The Greek has “ekklesia” in both phrases which means “church, congregation”. They have chosen to ignore that it is in both parts which in turn creates a misreprentation of whatever the point was about women being silent. The translators choice portrays the idea that it was simply a local problem at Corinth not something that is a truth for ALL churches, ALL congregations. They have misrepresented that idea that is present in the original text. It also leaves open a feminist interpretation of the passage which may or may not be what the original writer meant. But, this much is clear: it was a problem at all churches not just Corinth.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      As far as 1 Corinthians goes, I guess I don’t know what you mean. There is no difference between “all the congregations of the saints” (NIV) and “all the the congregations of the Lord’s people” (TNIV). Am I missing something?

      Since women ARE speaking in church in other places (in an orderly fashion), it casts doubt on the idea that this was a universal problem and not more of a local/ contextual issue. As you said, “The translators choice portrays the idea that it was simply a local problem at Corinth not something that is a truth for ALL churches, ALL congregations.” The whole of Scripture supports this translation.

  18. Jamie Dugger says:

    The new NIV also leans towards a feminist understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet”. I don’t wish to debate what is meant in the passage itself other than to point out a few things. The Greek word is “authenteo” which means “excercise authority” or “have authority”; not “assume authority.” Even translators of the NSRV (which tend to be a little more liberal) did not translate it that way. Neither does the NLT, which also uses inclusive language. Both use “have authority.” Regardless of one’s views on woman pastors, the rendering also leaves open the argument that someone on the feminist side in favor of women pastors can argue “well I’m not not assuming authority on my own; it was given to me”. That is probably a moot point anyway since “authenteo” doesn’t mean “assume authority.”

  19. Jamie Dugger says:

    The new NIV translates Luke 17:3 as: “So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. The word in the Greek is “adelphos” which means “an individual male.” There is a word which is an invidual female: that is “adelphe” and there is one that means “brothers and sisters” (adelphoi). It is a misreprensentation of what is in the original.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Like these other passages, the inclusion of “sisters” doesn’t change the meaning/ significance at all. The very act of putting ancient languages into English is a cultural accommodation, so I don’t understand the adamancy of your rejection of inclusivism. We all assume that the text means men and women when the original language uses male words. Why not carry that meaning forward in the language itself?

  20. Jamie Dugger says:

    About the 1 Timothy passage, the BDAG lexicon says “this Greek verb means to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” An example given (“tell a man what to do”).

    I don’t reject the idea of inclusive language where warranted. When the Greek/Hebrew carry the notion of inclusiveness that it should be carried over into English. But, the “new” NIV, it forces inclusiveness where it is not there in way too many cases. On the other side, there are times the word for ‘brothers and sisters” is used in the N.T. and some translations like the ESV still choose to translate it “brothers” disappointingly. A translators job should be to remain faithful to the original and portray that in English. At times, this is trickier than others. But the NIV2011 is going much too far on the “interpretive” side of things unnecessarily and I would almost venture to say that is more of a “dynamic equivalent” version than a “mediating” version like the NIV84. In my opinion, it also tends to have a feminist slant (by looking at its renderings of verses and insistence on inclusive language when the idea is not present in the original languages). There are also some issues where they change singulars to plurals numerous times just to avoid “he, him, etc.” We have to remember the Bible was communicated to us in a patriarchal male dominated society. To understand it, we have to understand what it meant to “them” before we can safely and accurately determine how it APPLIES to us. The NIV translators are betraying the meaning in its socio-historical context.

    One additional rendering that seems to take a feminist slant is Romans 16:1: “I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” The word for “deacon” (diakonos) is only translated deacon 4 times out of the 29 appearances of the word in the N.T. by the NIV2011. This is going to be a problematic verse for churches that don’t have women deacons in light of 1 Timothy 3:12 which is rendered that “deacons must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and household well.”

    • C_Lambeth says:

      It is neither “feminist” nor “sexist” to let the text’s meaning speak on its own terms and advocate for a universal equality (which the Bible does in general) or the prohibition of a certain demographic in a certain situation at a certain time within a certain context (which parts of 1Timothy and 1Corinthians do in particular). Clearly some people are uncomfortable with sister Phoebe being called a deacon(ess), but that doesn’t give us the right to dismiss this wording as some sort of pejorative feminist agenda. Is it possible for us to hold these verses in tension without having to harmonize everything into a rigid and tidy systematic theological framework?

      I think this sort of tension-holding is exactly what the text beckons us towards, but I would also like to offer a counter-perspective on Phoebe: diakonos can be translated as either “servant” or “deacon” pending the context, but doulos is more regularly used to indicate servanthood or even a slave, so the question I have is: Why are we so quick to reject the idea that maybe Phoebe was a “deacon” here, but insist on the “deacon” definition for the same word in 1Timothy 3:12 or elsewhere? Given that the author of 1Timothy already prohibited women from usurping the authority of their rightful leaders (2:12), is it any wonder that he also references the deacons in that context with male personal pronouns (he/his)? In the contexts of 1Tim, yes, those leaders were clearly intended to be male, but what is it in the text that has lead us to presume that all leaders in all times, in all places and contexts must also be men?

      Still not convinced? I ask that you consider Jesus’ highest regard and commission that it is not those who want to lead who are called the “greatest” but those who are “servants.” Could it be that Phoebe was indeed called a “servant” to indicate that she was at the apex of church leadership in Cenchrea? Or must we assume that being a “deacon” and being a “servant” are mutually exclusive? Could not Phoebe have been one and the same? I see no reason, biblical or otherwise, to rule out the possibility, and I think we do our women a disservice when we assert the unbiblical idea that they cannot serve the church in the same way men can, for no other reason than that they do not have the “right” genitalia. I am certain that you would not state it so starkly, but that’s where the logic leads.

  21. Jamie Dugger says:

    Corbin, The verse in Romans “servant” is also a legitimate translation of “diakonos”. The translators had to make a choice then based upon context which they thought is the better meaning. They chose “deacon.” In this instance, I really wasn’t trying to necessarily point out that the choice was “incorrect.” I only mentioned that because it looks to be a part of the bigger picture with the translation that slants more towards the feminist views about ministry positions, etc. and also because churches who only have male deacons are going to have difficulty accepting the NIV2011 in light of what it says in 1 Timothy 3:12.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      I’m with you on everything in this last comment except for the “feminist” thing. It is simply not feminism that understands Phoebe as a deacon. -CL

      • Jamie Dugger says:

        Maybe egalitarian viewpoint would be a better way to describe it. Either way, in the passage and some others like it the translation definately does not lean toward a complentarian view.

        • C_Lambeth says:

          You said that the Bible (or at least this translation of it) “ definately [sic] does not lean toward a complentarian [sic] view.” I couldn’t agree with you more, but if this is objectionable to you, then the only thing this “proves” is that you don’t like egalitarianism and prefer an interpretation that favors your own opinions on complementarianism.


  22. Jamie Dugger says:

    CL, looking a little bit more at the Romans passage about Phoebe and how “diakonos” is used in the Bible, it looks to me like she likely was serving is some type of ministry role because it carries the idea of carrying out commands of another. I still maintain “deacon” is not the best translation in that passage and believe “servant” would be the better choice especially in light of 1 Timothy 3:12 and since “diakonos” carries both meanings. So, no I am certainly not advocating that women cannot serve in ministry roles for the church because they aren’t men. But, I do believe Paul is prohibiting women from serving in pastoral type positions where they would be teaching men based on 1 Timothy 2:12 since the BDAG lexicon shows that word translated as “assume authority” by NIV2011 means have authority, to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to. The example given is “to tell a man what to do”. The NIV rendering muddies this meaning and leaves open an interpretation not present in the Greek. To be honest, I am sure that the idea is “offensive” to those with an egalitarian view to Scripture. But, it seems to be clear if continuing to read on into verse 13 God’s design is for male leadership in this area. Francis Chan, in his new book Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity and the things we’ve made up, said it well about the difficulty or “offensiveness” of accepting the idea of a literal hell. He reminds the reader that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9) as well as pointing out a good point about the potter and clay pointed out in Romans 9:20-21.

    We can’t let ideas from culture “reshape” the Bible. Instead, the Bible should shape our culture and how we do things as we look at a faithfully translated text that makes it clear what it meant to “them” so that we can “apply it” to us.

    • C_Lambeth says:

      Jamie, an egalitarian understanding of various Bible passages does not “reshape” the Bible in the least. It merely approaches the text from an interpretive framework that just happens to be foreign to the way you have been led to believe.

      The Bible was not artificially imposed ON culture but rather developed enmeshed IN it, and it would be a mistake for us to artificially impose it on our own culture as well. From the very beginning culture has shaped the tradition and letters that would only later become the Bible. You are right that we must first ask what it meant to “them” and then seek to “apply it” to us, but before we get to the application part, we must also ask what it means for us. We are not Christ followers apart from culture any more than the original apostles were, and if we look at the entirety of the Bible, from beginning to end, we find that it is truly progressive in its instructions for human relationships. We first see a garden where man and woman are equals. This is shattered by sin and we see humanity totally corrupted and inequity reigns. But THEN, God begins to stir the pot and we see progressive movement from less equitable to more equitable relationships and instructions. The New Testament is not simply repeating the code of ethics from the Old Testament. There is a clear trajectory in Scripture, and it is designed to take people from where they are, to where they should be (in a closer/ more perfect relationship with God and with each other). To ask what it meant to them is very important, but we must also realize that we are NOT them. We live and move in a different zip code and time zone if you catch my meaning.

      The Bible was radical to its original audiences. Consider its instructions on slavery. Slaves are to honor their masters and masters are to treat their slaves with fairness and justice!? This was truly subversive in its day, but to our ears, it seems totally irrelevant. Is its application for us supposed to be merely about serving our 21st century employers well and not stealing office supplies? I think not.

      Nowhere does the NT advocate emancipation, but does this mean that we should not be champions for ending slavery in our own day? Of course not. If Christians were called to be radical in Colossians 3, then we have rightly understood the call for us to be radically against oppression in all its forms today (slavery, sexism and otherwise). Even though the Bible does not command abolition of slavery, its entire trajectory indicates that this is where it is leading.

      The Bible is not frozen in time “then” for “that” culture, but remains radical and calls us to dynamic understandings and applications “now” in “our” culture. Even if the NT demanded that all women everywhere were prohibited from leading in 1st century Rome (and it doesn’t), this alone is not enough to prevent the legitimate leadership of women in various 21st century cultures and empires. God can call whomever he wishes to shepherd his people. In him there is no favoritism and there is neither slave nor free nor male nor female. This doesn’t mean we’re all some unisex throng of biomass, but rather that human hierarchies and prejudices are inappropriate for the church.


  23. C_Lambeth says:

    I find your interpretive preference for “servant” over “deacon” for the Greek word diakonos in reference to the church leader Phoebe (Romans 16:1) to be too dogmatic and questionable. What is it that leads you to think that she was merely “carrying out commands of another”? Are pastors not also a “great help” to many people? Why didn’t Paul use “doulos” if he actually meant “servant” as in a subordinate? I still see no reason to rip the specific instructions to a specific situation at a specific time and place out of 1Timothy and let that dictate how we interpret the passage from Romans 16:1 in a different situation X-miles and X-years removed from 1Timothy.

    What is it in the text that leads you to the idea that 1Tim 2:12 is to be absolutized in all times and places regardless of the various cultures and situations involved? And what do you do with the other Scriptures that tell us that women were also called apostles, prophets etc?

    God’s desire for his church does not change, but the cultures and contexts of the universal church are anything but universal. For effective leadership and dynamism in one context (1Tim), clearly women were not authorized to lead, while in another, at least one is called an apostle and another a deacon and another a prophetess. The Kingdom principle remained unchanged however, and that was/is that the best leaders lead in the appropriate contexts, regardless of corrupted human constructs and prejudices.

    As I asked before, and as per Christ’s standard, could it be that Phoebe was indeed called a “servant” to indicate that she was at the apex of church leadership in Cenchrea? Or must we assume that being a “deacon” and being a “servant” are mutually exclusive? Could not Phoebe have been one and the same? I see no reason, biblical or otherwise, to rule out the possibility. And when we consider the pre-fall equality that Adam and Eve shared in the garden, for us to defend the imbalance of the curse brought on by the first sin is a step in the wrong direction, and an affirmation of the corrupted state of affairs. As you said, this is not an issue of feminism, but of equality.

    Regarding the unique Greek verb in 1Timothy 2:12, have you considered why the standard word for “authority” was not used here? Most places in the NT use a noun for “authority” (Gk: exousia). Even in Luke 10:42 the author uses its verb form katexousiazousin to mean “exercise authority over.” But in 1Tim 2:12, we have a curious, one-time only verb form that does something strange with “authority.” Have you considered the other accepted definitions of this particular Greek verb: “domineer” or “usurp”? You prefer “assume,” but surely you are aware of its definitions and synonyms as well (seize, feign, presume, take on). Could it be that unqualified and unauthorized leaders in Timothy’s context just “assumed” that they could lead without receiving a call or affirmation from God or the congregation? Even if you and I continue to advocate for different meanings, at the very least we must each admit that there is wiggle room and that it is not as tidy as we might prefer. And if there is even a modicum of wiggle room, which one of us has the audacity to tell a woman who is otherwise qualified and who feels “called” by God to lead that she is mistaken and that God did not really invite her into a pastoral role? It is not up to me to hand God his hat because of my preferred interpretations.

  24. Jamie Dugger says:

    Corbin, I’ve addressed your points about Phoebe. Also, I think you misunderstand what I said about 1 Timothy 2:12. I never said I approved of the rendering “assume authority” in the NIV2011. As a matter of fact, I said quite the opposite. I believe it is misleading especially considering the lexicon indicates the meaning is “have authority, to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to.” It also provides the example of “to tell a man what to do” to further clarify. I never argued against rendering the meaning as “exercise authority.” That and “have authority” both better capture the intended meaning of the Greek word than “assume authority.” Rather than something from the text, the NIV’s rendering looks to be unduly influenced by Philip Payne and some of his writings. I find the interpretations you and egalitarians are drawing regarding women leadership roles related to a pastoral position to be highly suspect and definately in the minority in this area and ignores the leader/helper relationship God originally designed expounded upon in 1 Timothy 2:13 for church settings. Futhermore, using Galations 3:28 “There is neither Jew, nor Greek, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” as an argument for this position fails to take into account a couple things. First of all, Paul is the writer of this verse in Galations and 1 Timothy 2:12. Since we know “all scripture is God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and we discussed what idea that carries in the Greek it would be unwise to come away wih the idea that Paul is contradicting himself. Second, the argument violates the context of the passage immediately surrounding it.

    Paul was telling his readers that the purpose of the Old Testament law was to lead people to Christ, not to exclude Gentiles from the blessings of God. His point was that no matter what the background, whether one was a Jew who grew up with knowledge of the Old Testament law or a Gentile without that background in Christ we are all one family, equal to God. But, NOWWHERE does Paul indicate that because of this equality roles specific to gender were to be ignored. In his mind, all his statements were a unified whole. God values men and women equally but gave them different roles to fulfill his work on Earth.

    In the end we may have to agree to disagree. I would think though that even you would admit the NIV 2011 has an egaliterian slant in spots. I know you may not agree with this, but as I have pointed out up above I found the translation to be “too interpretive” and not faithful to the meanings of the original Greek and Hebrew in many places. This is not a Bible for someone who doesn’t adhere to an egaliterian view or anyone who agrees about the faithfulness to the original languages (with regard to a few examples discussed earlier).

  25. C_Lambeth says:

    Jamie, my point has ever been that the languages which make up the NT lend themselves to subtle differences in translation itself. Your posture in this thread has been accusatory of the TNIV/New NIV, claiming that it subversively reshapes this or that to fit into an interpretive perspective (and one that you don’t particularly care for), but what you have yet to acknowledge is that you and your preferred translations are doing the exact same thing, albeit from a different, prejudicial perspective. If a guy wanted to be equally pedantic, he could accuse the KJV or the HCSB translations of “corrupting” the Bible because he did not like THEIR interpretive choices in translation. The bottom line is that there is a difference between translation and interpretation, but one invariably impacts the other. None of us are immune to it, so our only choices are either to acknowledge it and allow for a bit of flexibility, or ignore it and pretend that our preferred understanding is the only valid one. One perspective is healthy. One perspective isn’t.

    In 1Timothy 2:12 (as in every other verse I’ve pointed out in this thread), the “original” language is open to alternate, equally plausible translations and understandings. I freely admit this and even appreciate the tension it creates. Regardless of your and my preferences, Phoebe is a deacon or a servant or both according to the text. I can’t seem to find where you acknowledge this or address the ancillary issues I brought up about her, so perhaps you could remind me.

    Similarly, you still have yet to acknowledge the alternate, equally plausible translation of the unique Greek word “authentein” in 1Tim 2:12 or offer an explanation of why it differs significantly from the other times in the NT where a bland “having authority” is used in Greek. Also, in your third comment above you said that you don’t approve of the “assume authority” rendering, but in the very next sentence tell me that it means “assume a stance of independent authority.” If there is a significant difference between these phrases, it is lost on me. Furthermore, if we look at all of 1Tim (the entire book), we see that it is an address to a specific person having a specific set of problems, in real time, at a a specific location, with a specific culture (and one that did not esteem women I might add) that offers a specific solution. Given other passages that clearly indicate women are speaking and leading in church, I have asked you repeatedly to tell me what is it in the Bible that leads you to believe that the prohibition against women speaking in 1Tim should be absolutized for all cultures everywhere at all time and places. I would really like to know.

    In Hellenistic culture (but not Roman), women had very few rights. It was almost as bad as Islamic Shari’ah Law where women had to wear body coverings and veils, and the only females who would speak to men (not their husbands/fathers) in public were either children, prostitutes or soothsayers. In that context, it would have been offensive and certainly undermining of the Gospel to have a woman “possess” “assume” or “have/take” the pastoral authority of the rightful, qualified, called and authorized pastor (Timothy in this case). It would have been an affront to the church at that time and location, which is pretty much the picture painted by the letter. The passage is NEVER about women merely “having authority” in general, but rather “having authority that belongs to another” (Timothy in this case). Translating the unique Greek word “authentein” as “usurp” or “assume” is very appropriate and the TNIV gets this right.

    Given the specific cultural context, it was easier for the author of the letter to just tell Timothy that women should keep silent. Otherwise, (like the issue of slavery) he would have been fighting against an entire culture, and that was beyond the purpose and the ability of the letter. Indeed, it would have been a stumbling block & a message that none of these fledgling Christians would have been able to grab on to. THEY weren’t ready to see slaves or women as equals to free men. Are we equally stymied in such prejudicial, post-fall thinking? Why would we promote or defend it?

    Regarding Galatians 3:28, Paul’s point is that God does not value prejudicial human constructs. There is nothing in the surrounding context that indicates that such equality is limited in any fashion, and certainly not from church leadership. You are right to say that Paul is not contradicting himself. If you consider that the passage in 1Tim 2:12 was never intended to be universal or independent of context, then the general equality espoused in Galatians 3 offers no contradiction whatsoever.

    Finally, I have to ask if you deny the idea of a “priesthood” of all believers as indicated by 1Pet 2:9 and Rev. 5:10 (and the entirety of the Protestant Reformation)? Would you have our women believe that these passages were written only to men? I think I understand why you believe women should forever be barred from church leadership. I don’t agree with it, but I understand that you are trying to honor the text. Nevertheless, I maintain that the greater weight and trajectory of Scripture (beyond just 1Timothy 2) indicates that equality is preferable to inequality/ prejudice and an egalitarian approach better aligns with the Spirit of God and genuine restoration in a post-Garden world.


  26. Jamie Dugger says:

    Corbin, We’re going to have to disagree. If you want to explore reading on the matter from the “other side” I would suggest you explore some of the articles on the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood ( I would particularly refer you to “Able to teach and complementarian” written by a female graduate of the Moody Bible Institute Graduate School. We are operating out of a different approach to interpretation of Scripture which after going to [other sections of] your blog today, if I am being entirely honest, I don’t understand (like when browsing some of your entries and comments you mention that you are skeptical that the first 11 chapters in Genesis are historical (The Search for the Historical Adam and Eve) and also question the existence of figures in those chapters like Noah and Lott even though they are made mention of by Jesus in the New Testament). I also recognize that you don’t understand and agree with my views about God-ordained roles for men and women and what you feel is an unfair criticism of the NIV2011 and that’s okay. You are entitled to your viewpoint. My initial reasoning for the original postings were to make others aware of the concerns and issues with the translation that not only I share but that Focus on the Family shares, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood share, and which Southern Baptists have also shared. I have intended to try to bring an awareness about the translation that would otherwise not be evident because of Zondervan’s shady treatment of rebranding the TNIV (that was criticized by many and eventually discontinued) under the NIV name. As I stated again at the beginning of this particular post, I think it would be best at this particular point and time to agree to disagree.

  27. C_Lambeth says:

    I am pretty sure I understand your views on women fairly well, but you are right to say that I don’t agree with them. If it buys me any credibility at all, I think I should mention that I was once persuaded as you are now. I also appreciate your perspective and friendship, but if I have not been critical enough of the TNIV, I think it is equally fair to say that you have been overly critical of it. It’s a good translation, but it’s not the only one out there. I believe serious students of the Bible would do well to make regular use of at least 3 different and quality translations to get a better picture of the text, and even then to have enough humility to admit that they/we don’t have it all figured out. I certainly don’t.

    As for my comments on the early chapters in Genesis, I have responded to your questions there about the alleged historicity of Lott and Noah and why Jesus may have mentioned them.

    For the record, I am completely committed to the truthfulness of the Bible, but not necessarily what some Christian fundamentalists would have us believe about it. There is what the Bible says, and there is what people say it says, and as I hope you know, these are not always the same.


  28. Pingback: Women and Church Leadership | Exploring Faith in Christ

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