A new translation of the country's best-selling modern Bible that incorporates gender-neutral references is roiling the evangelical world.
Today's New International Version won't be out until April, but some evangelical Christians have pronounced it a desecration that, as far as they're concerned, is dead on arrival.
"We believe that these changes are not only driven by a feminist agenda, but that they alter the essential meaning of passages that we believe to be inspired by God," said Randy Stinson, a Southern Baptist who is executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in Louisville, Ky.
The new edition was translated by a group of conservative biblical scholars and targeted to the evangelical market, which has made the original New International Version the most widely read English translation, with more than 150 million copies distributed globally. That version won't be changed.
References to God and Christ remain masculine in the newest version, said Larry Lincoln, a spokesman for the International Biblical Society, which sponsored the new translation with Zondervan, a division of HarperCollins that is the main Bible publisher.
Limited gender changes
Gender changes were made only in references in which scholars determined that the original Greek or Hebrew intended no specific gender, Lincoln said. "Sons of God" becomes "children of God," and "brothers" is translated to "brothers and sisters."
Lincoln suggested that the critics, not the translators, are driven by a political agenda. "The committee on Bible translation is a group of godly, evangelical conservative Christians," he said. "Accusations that they've been influenced by feminism or political correctness are just plain wrong."
The controversy surrounding the latest translation is hardly new. During the past 50 years, as scholarship and archaeological discoveries have increased, scores of English-language versions have been published, each with adherents and detractors.
1989 version was opposed
The 1989 edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which was created under a mandate for a gender-neutral edition from the National Council of Churches, an ecumenical Protestant group, alienated conservatives but also liberals, who were disappointed that it failed to substitute gender-neutral language in reference to God.
In the soon-to-be-released translation, other alterations include the use of everyday language for clarity. Mary is "pregnant" rather than "with child," and more specific references to "the Jews," such as "the Jews there" or "the Jewish leaders."