After the NIV: Appendix 2—1 Timothy 2:1-6

This is a good passage to illustrate the difficulty of selecting appropriate gender neutral language for a modern translation. It’s particularly helpful because it takes it away from the more divisive issues like 1 Timothy 2:12. Here I compare the NIV84, ESV, HCSB and NIV11.

In verse 1 and 4, where the Greek phrase for ‘all persons’ is used, there is a clearly generic anthropos (‘man’ as ‘human’). Here is how are versions handle it:

  • NIV84—“everyone” in verse 1, yet in verse 4 went for “all men”
  • ESV—“all people” in both verses
  • HCSB—“everyone” in both verses
  • NIV11—“all people” in both verses.

In verse 6, where there was no noun in the Greek phrase “ransom for all”:

  • NIV84—“all men” (supplying a noun)
  • ESV and HCSB—“all” (not supplying a noun)
  • NIV11—“all people” (supplying a noun).

So far, the ESV, HCSB and NIV11 all improve on the 1984 NIV, and are rightly more gender sensitive on anthropos in a way that is hard to argue against. The ESV is the most consistent on the translation of the phrases.

But we’ve skipped verse 5, which is tricky for translating anthropos. Here are the options:

  • NIV84—“one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
  • ESV—“one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” with a footnote, “men and man render the same Greek word that is translated people in verses 1 and 4”
  • HCSB—“one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus”
  • NIV11—“one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”

The NIV is consistent in referring to ‘men’ all through, including the verse immediately before, but risks sounding today like it’s excluding women from Christ’s work. Its gender insensitivity is no longer acceptable to any of the more modern versions.

The ESV tries to make clear that the mediator was truly a “man” like the ones he was saving. But to say ‘people’ would lose the repeated word link in this verse, so they kept “men” and explained via footnote. But it could still sound sexist today to those who skip footnotes.

The HCSB goes for “man” both times, the first time being a collective ‘man’ for the plural. This retains the gender insensitivity without explanation and misses the verbal link to ‘all people’ (which it translates as “everyone” in verses 1 and 4).

In passing, I note the TNIV went for “one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human”. But this makes ‘human’ a bit abstract, not quite a specific person, a man. It also misses the link to “people” which it used in verse 4.

The NIV11 is happy from its study of English use today to use words like ‘mankind’ as part of a mix of terms available for collective anthropos (as human). This keeps it clear that Jesus is a real, particular human, a man. And it keeps a verbal link to those he ransoms—mankind. But it misses the verbal link to “people” which it used in verses 1 and 4. Overall, I think NIV11 probably does best on this one, with ESV as a very close second.

9 thoughts on “After the NIV: Appendix 2—1 Timothy 2:1-6

  1. Here is how the Common English Bible (CEB) handles these verses:

    “all people” in verses 1 and 4
    “all people” in verse 6
    “one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus” in verse 5

  2. There’s an “elephant in the room” about the loss of NIV84: why has this change been forced upon the Church? I could not find the announcement from the publishers Zondervan about the reason for no longer continuing with NIV84, but I can understand if their argument is that they need to move translation quality forward and this requires funding (ie, sales of new translations). However, there is something in this that makes me profoundly uncomfortable – should our translation of preference be in the hands of a single company, regardless of how faithful they have been historically. Do we need to take a leaf out of the computing sector’s book and develop Open Source Bible Translation (google reveals this is not an original thought)?

    • Matt, thanks for the comments, although not quite sure it makes elephant in the room grade! I recall seeing some of these issues discussed.

      A technical correction, I believe it is correct to say Biblica (formerly International Bible Society) are the copyright holders and Zondervan are the exclusive North American distributors. But obviously there is close working together.

      You are certainly correct that there are financial issues, given how expensive translation work is, with modern expectations, complex computer checking, multiple experts from across denominations and nations etc.

      Another issue is that the English language is perhaps changing more rapidly today than ever, with globalisation for what is perhaps the global language. Sure the KJV lasted 250-300 years without major revision. But the ASV was published in 1901. The RSV in 1952 and was tired by the time of NIV (1978). The NIV 78 (84 was a very mild revision) is now also showing its age, not disastrously, but noticeably.

      In the same way RSV went out of print when NRSV came out (and rights were eventually bought by ESV people), so too it might be understandable that NIV84 goes out of print once NIV11 is published for a couple of years.

  3. Posting here because the other translation threads are closed, but it is worth noting that ESVs published from 2011 on will have a small number of changes agreed by their translation oversight committee last year. Only about 275 verses, which is about 1/100th compared to the NIV11 update.

    Most look like good moves to a smoother reading, as well as a fewer in-principal changes (e.g. to do with translating words traditionally translated as ‘slave’ – a vexed issue esp. in USA, but these also look like improvements).

    Read about it .

  4. Posting here again, because other translation threads are closed…

    David Croteau has completed his trawl through the various translation options.

    On his point scoring system, he scores the NIV11 slightly ahead of HCSB by just one point, and a bit more ahead of ESV. But overall, he favours the HCSB with a slight advantage over ESV and NIV11 third because NIV11 has a slightly higher rate of bad decisions in his choice of issues/verses to study.

    NET and NIV84 are right down the list with NASB in last place.

    Please note, because of some errors in addition etc, this scoring is a revision of his original conclusion.

    You can see his conclusion here.

    You can download a pdf of his full series here.

    Of course, as he observes, you might score it differently, with different translation philosophies or subjective choice of key verses/issues.

    • I just double-checked, and as at time of posting this comment, the PDF of his full series does not yet reflect the correction to his scoring mentioned above.

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