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New International Version, Mary Kassian, gender-inclusive language

Mary Kassian posted an article on her website on the 16th of September, 2011, expressing her concern over the 2011 edition of the NIV. Her article has been reposted on several other websites, including Christianity.com, and today it was posted on the Gender Blog of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).

Mary’s post entitled “10 Reasons Why the New NIV is Bad for Women” contains ten short statements, each expressing one of Mary’s concerns, followed by a short paragraph on each. Many of Mary’s concerns are vague, and all her claims are simply without basis or substance.

Here are Mary’s ten concerns about the NIV 2011.

1. It obscures the profound symbolism of gender.

2. It exalts gender above that to which it points.

3. It diminishes the unique beauty of womanhood.

My response: So how exactly does the NIV obscure gender’s symbolism? In what way does it exalt gender above that to which it points (i.e. above Jesus)? And what does this even mean? In what way does the NIV diminish the unique beauty of womanhood? Mary does not explain her claims, nor does she give any Bible verses as examples to support her statements.

4. It is less inclusive of women.

My response: How can the NIV be less inclusive of women when it makes a point of mentioning women? This is in contrast to other translations that use the words “men” and “brothers” in verses that include women and sisters.

5. It demeans women.

Mary writes that “Gender inclusive Bibles imply that women are too stupid to figure out that, in the Bible, the words ‘man’ and ‘brothers’ are inclusive terms.”

My response: How are even highly intelligent women and men, who only read English translations of the Bible, supposed to know which instances of the words “man” or “men” refer only to male people and which instances include women as well as men?

For example, can you tell which of the following verses Paul addressed to men only (in the Greek text), and which verses are gender non-specific (in the Greek text)? The answer may surprise you. (I have underlined the masculine terms in the English translations to highlight them.)

  • I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. 1 Timothy 2:8 (NIV 1984)
  • If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.  Romans 12:6-8 (NIV 1984)
  • The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV 1984)
  • This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 1 Timothy 3:1 (KJV) or This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach . . . 1 Timothy 3:1-2a (NLT)
  • . . . God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:2b-5 (NIV 1984)
  • Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature . . .  2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)

According to Mary Kassian, it should be obvious which one—yes, only one—of these verses is addressed, and applies, specifically to men.  [See footnote 1 to find out which one.]

6. It patronizes women.

My response: Rather than patronize women, the NIV more accurately informs both men and women.

7. It calls God’s attitude toward women into question.

My response: Mary does not explain what she means by “God’s attitude towards women.” Nor does she explain how the NIV calls this attitude into question. Moreover, does God have a different attitude towards women than to men? I cannot see that this is the case, especially in light of the New Covenant.

8. It calls God’s wisdom into question.

Mary writes sarcastically (and with poor taste), “Poor God. His bad. He needs our help. He wasn’t smart enough to get the words right.”

My response: God did get the words right. It is the translators (and not God or the original biblical authors) who have translated some words and phrases that include and apply to both men and women and made them sound as though they apply only to men. The NIV has attempted to clarify this ambiguity.

9. It encourages further changes to Scripture.

Mary suggests that the NIV translation might encourage other translators to take liberties with their translations. She writes, “Translators will undoubtedly feel the need to update God’s names so that HE becomes more gender inclusive.”

My response: Bible scholars such as Ben Witherington have pointed out that “Nowhere in the updated NIV (nor in the TNIV, nor in any of the committee discussions leading up to either version) is there even the remotest hint of any inclusive language for God.” (Read more about Ben Witherington’s view of the NIV 2011 here.) Update: 10 years later, this is still the case.

None of Mary’s arguments presented in point 9 has any relevance, whatsoever, with the NIV translation of the Bible. (See her article if you want to know what her arguments are.) New English translations will continue to be produced as language evolves and changes. The ESV (one of Mary’s preferred translations) differs from previous English translations. Are these differences in the ESV encouraging Scripture to be altered? Neither the NIV nor the ESV alters the original texts of Scripture, so I don’t see Mary’s point.

10. It leads women away from truth.

My response: Mary does not explain how the NIV supposedly leads women away from truth, nor does she attempt to define what she means by “truth.” Moreover, I’m wondering whether Mary thinks this translation also leads men away. If Mary really thinks that NIV 2011 is bad for women, wouldn’t it also be bad for men?

Mary writes that, “. . . a gender-inclusive Bible is BAD for women. Really, really bad for women!” In contrast, I think the NIV 2011 (and the CEB, CSB, and NRSV, which are other accurate, gender-inclusive Bible translations) is pretty good for women, and for men. I don’t understand Mary’s concerns or the logic of her arguments.

Is the NIV 2011 Bad?

Older English Bible translations are generally less accurate than the NIV 2011 in their translations of the Greek word “anthrōpos” and the Hebrew word “adam.”[2]  In the past, these words have typically been translated as “man” when in fact they are often used in the Bible to mean “person” or “human being.” And so, older translations have made many passages sound as though they refer to, or apply to, men, when actually they apply equally to both men and women.

For instance, the NKJV translates 1 Timothy 2:5 as:

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (Their use of the capital M on “Man”. My underline.)

The NIV 2011 translates 1 Timothy 2:5 as:

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” (My underline.)

I actually do not think that the NIV 2011 goes far enough. Translated literally from the Greek this verse says:

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human (anthrōpos) Christ Jesus”

It is because of Jesus’ divinity and his humanity, not his male-ness, that he can be the mediator between God and all humanity, not just men, which is what many English translations imply.

There are numerous other examples of Bible verses that have been translated into English with a masculine bias, even though there is no gender bias in the original languages. (My examples under point 5 are just a small sample.)

Translating both succinctly and accurately from Greek and Hebrew is difficult, and no English translation is perfect. The NIV does not claim to be a literal, word for word translation, but I like it a lot. It makes a serious attempt to convey the meaning of the verses from the original languages, which includes conveying the genders intended by the original Bible writers![3] The NIV translation is a just, reasonable, and commendable translation.

Update (February 15 2012)

Southern Baptist leaders are beginning to show some common sense concerning the NIV 2011. See here.

Update (August 25 2015)

The general editor of the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible is D.A. Carson who holds to complementarian views, as do most of the contributors,  T. Desmond Alexander, Douglas J. Moo, Andrew David Naselli, but not Richard Hess. And it has been endorsed by prominent complementarians such as Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. See here. I strongly doubt these men think the NIV 2011 is bad for women.


[1] ~ 1 Timothy 2:8 was written specifically to men in the Ephesian church, and not to women.
~ Romans 12:6-8 does not contain any words that mean “man” or “him” in the Greek. It does contain participles that are grammatically masculine; but then, so does John 3:16 and no one suggests that John 3:16 applies only to men.
~ 2 Timothy 2:2 can be translated as, “entrust these to faithful people” (from anthrōpos).
~ 1 Timothy 3:1-6 is remarkably gender-neutral. For more information about this please read my article Paul’s (gender-inclusive) Qualifications for Church Leaders here.
~ 1 Timothy 2:2b-5 and 2 Corinthians 5:17 are also gender-neutral in the Greek; that is, in the Greek there are no words that indicate that these verses were addressed specifically to males.

[2] There are other words also (such as the Greek word “tis“) which are gender non-specific but have sometimes been translated into English as “man” in the past.

[3] The NIV 2011 has faithfully translated the gender intended by the original Bible authors; however singular words have sometimes been translated as plural to avoid awkward and stilted language. This is because in English we do not have singular pronouns that refer to both men and women, but we do have plural pronouns that are gender-inclusive, pronouns such as “they,” “them,” etc. Ben Witherington explains the use of plural pronouns in the NIV here. See also my article here.

Explore more

Which Bible Translation is Best?
“Brothers and Sisters” (Adelphoi) in Paul’s Letters
Why masculine pronouns can be misleading in English Bibles and in the Church

10 thoughts on “Why does Mary Kassian think the new NIV is bad?

  1. Excellent!

    I go even further on 1 Tim 2:5, my translation:

    “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, the human Christ Jesus”

  2. Kassian’s tone and level of intellectual rigor are perfectly suited to whom I believe is CBMW’s target audience: anti-intellectuals who seek to justify why they eat up what the CBMW teaches, and non-intellectuals (and even some intellectuals) who are willing to swing anti-intellectual when it serves the interests of neo-Patriarchy.

    It’s hard to pursue intellectual integrity and anti-intellectualism at the same time.

  3. She writes, “Translators will undoubtedly feel the need to update God’s names so that HE becomes more gender inclusive.”

    I agree that if the names of God are not gender inclusive in the original, they should not be gender inclusive in the translation. But the attitude behind Mary’s words troubles me. It’s as if she’s saying that it would be somehow insulting to God to use gender-inclusive terms regarding God– as if God were a big Man in the sky, and femaleness was a lesser, diminished thing. God uses female metaphors a lot in the prophetic and poetic books to describe Godself. God is not a big Man, but a Spirit, and male and female humans are both in God’s image, so that God encompasses both.

    I’m all for a gender-accurate Bible. But it is not wrong to say God is also a Mother, because the Bible does use that kind of terminology for God frequently. And it’s certainly no insult!

  4. I know what Mary’s problem is: she is trying really hard to fit in the mold that she has placed herself in and this mold makes it necessary for her to mock and demean anything that goes against that mold. “Bad for women,” what baloney, and she knows it too. But she must say it is, for if she doesn’t, she is saying complementarism is bad for women, which it is. Smoke in the mirrors, that’s all her article is, and it is not an accident it was a woman who wrote it. It is their new favorite tactic: it cannot be wrong if a woman says it is bad for women. It’s condescending – and deceitful. But you cannot really sell a lie with truth, can you?

  5. Don, I like your translation.

    Verity, I honestly don’t understand why a college professor would make claims without trying to support them.

    Kristen, I share your concerns. Mary does seem to indicate that she thinks God is somehow a man or male. I don’t call God “mother” yet he has chosen to use maternal metaphors, as well as masculine metaphors, to describe himself.

    Susanna, I also think it’s a very uncomfortable fit. Also, I can’t believe that so many people are agreeing with her article. Apart from the reposts, almost 700 people have “liked” the article on Facebook. What is it about the article that they are liking? (BTW, I love your new website, but I can’t post comments.)

    Belle, I found the article frustrating due to its lack of logic and accuracy. I responded to it on Mary’s site; but when I saw that the article was being reposted by others I felt I needed to write something a bit more public, even if just to vent my frustration.

    I make an effort not to dislike complementarians. I love some of what John Piper has written; just not his stuff on gender roles. And I even agreed with something Wayne Grudem said the other day. 😉 I want to really like Mary, she is my sister after all, but I just don’t understand her reasoning or her particular view of women.

  6. It’s really hard to love those on the complementarian side of the debate when they come up with and endorse utter nonsense like this. Considering the translators of the NIV 2011 have more thoroughly translated the text without adding anything that wasn’t in the original, I’m extremely shocked that Kassian (and the others who reposted her article) are making a big deal of it!

    Thanks for responding to this, I feel my frustration vented in your words!

  7. I’ve just found out that Scot Mcknight has also reposted a shortened version of Mary Kassian’s article here.

  8. Well done, Marg! Thank you for taking time to express the concerns many have with Kassian’s argument.

  9. Thanks Elaine 🙂

  10. Oh, silly me. It turns out that I – silly little woman that I am – have been woefully misled all these years. I’d been under the clearly mistaken impression that if the Bible pointed to the beauty of anyone or anything, it was pointing to the awesomeness of our God and His redemptive work. Turns out, it was meant to point to the “unique beauty of womanhood.” My bad! What a good thing Mary Kassian has corrected this fatal flaw in my theology…wait a minute…isn’t that a MAN’S job?!

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