America's best-selling modern Bible is being issued in a gender-neutral version

Monday, January 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The International Bible Society said Monday that America's best-selling modern Bible is about to get an update using gender-neutral wording, despite past criticism of that idea from conservatives.

The revision will be called ``Today's New International Version,'' or TNIV. The original ``New International Version,'' which has sold more than 150 million copies worldwide since 1978, will remain on the market.

The New Testament of the latest version goes on sale in April with the full Bible including Old Testament books expected by 2005.

Zondervan of Grand Rapids, Mich., owned by HarperCollins, holds North American rights for both versions. To date, the Bible society and Zondervan have spent $2 million to develop the new translation but they did not disclose other financial terms.

Both versions, the work of evangelical translators, are especially popular in the conservative, Protestant heart of America's competitive Bible market.

The older version's gender usage became hotly disputed in 1997 when World magazine, a conservative weekly, reported that the Bible society was working on an inclusive-language revision. The society had already published such an edition with a British publisher.

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant denomination, criticized the language change, as did James Dobson of the influential ``Focus on the Family'' radio broadcast.

After meeting with critics, the Bible society said it would halt publication of Britain's inclusive edition and had ``abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version.''

The Bible society, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., isn't quite abandoning its pledge because the latest version won't replace the ``New International Version'' _ it will just be sold alongside the older translation.

Examples of some changes from 1978 to 2002: ``sons of God'' to ``children of God'' in Matthew 5:9, and ``a man is justified by faith'' to ``a person is justified by faith'' in Romans 3:28.

A publicity release says ``the TNIV is not merely a gender-accurate edition of the NIV,'' because 70 percent of the changes do not relate to gender. Also, terms referring to God and Jesus Christ have not been altered.

Like the 1978 Bible, the new version is aimed at Protestants, and will not appear in an edition with the extra biblical books recognized by Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The major U.S. sales competitor for the NIV has been the venerable King James Version. But the international versions will now also have to compete with two evangelical translations that appeared last year:

_``English Standard Version'' from Crossway, a slight update of the 1952 Revised Standard Version that makes modest use of gender-free terminology.

_``Holman Christian Standard Bible'' from Broadman & Holman, the Southern Baptist book house, which rejects gender-neutral wording. It is currently available only in the New Testament, with the full Bible due in 2004.

All or part of the Bible is currently available in some 70 English translations.