While the changes may seem small, they are resounding throughout Christianity, whose many denominations formed or broke off from others over clashing interpretations of God's word.
The two new translations touch on some of the most sensitive issues behind those differences, particularly on the inequality of women in society and on the divinity of Mary and — by extension — the birth of Jesus.
'People,' not 'men' Since its debut in 1978, the New International Version has been the Bible of choice for many evangelical and other Protestant Christians in North America, selling more copies than any other version. But a 2005 gender-inclusive edition called Today's New International Version was widely criticized after some evangelical denominations condemned it as being too liberal.
Members of the Committee on Bible Translation, a nonprofit organization of biblical scholars formed in 1965, hope their latest edition will avoid a similar fate. The new version drops "Today's" from the title and turns the clock back on some of the more controversial choices of the 2005 edition, reviving words like "mankind" instead of "human beings," while still avoiding generic references to "he" and "him."
Mark 1:17, for example, has been translated to read: "'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for men.'" The new version changes "men" to "people"; in other verses, "forefathers" are called "ancestors."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, has thoroughly revised the Old Testament in its New American Bible, similarly changing many generic references to "mankind" in favor of gender neutrality. It also adopted language intended to "more clearly express the meaning of the original," it said — like changing "booty" to "plunder" or "spoils of war," because "booty" has a different, decidedly unbiblical meaning nowadays.
Most controversial is its revision of Isaiah 7:14 to predict that the messiah will be born to a "young woman," not to a "virgin," a characterization that some critics say casts doubt on the miraculous nature of Jesus' birth.
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Unlike the New International Version, which can be used in evangelical and other Protestant services, the latest New American Bible isn't yet approved for use in the Catholic Mass, the bishops conference said, because only the Vatican can grant such approval — a process that can take years.
It will nonetheless be highly influential in the United States as a study Bible officially approved by the U.S. bishops, who said it would replace the current version as the official text on the conference's website later this year.
Ancient accuracy in today's world Translators of both new versions said the goal was to strike a balance between sometimes conflicting imperatives: fidelity to the original Greek and Hebrew texts, and readability that honors the sensibilities of a 21st-century audience.
"But precisely because the Bible is a timeless document, we want it to speak to every generation of people, and as English changes and we learn more about the world of the Bible, we want to be able to put the Bible into the English that people are actually using," said Moo, a New Testament scholar at Wheaton College, a leading evangelical university in Illinois.
YouTube: Bible editor explains the changes
Not everyone thinks the committee got it right.
Deanna Brown, owner of Parable Christian Book Store in Kennewick, Wash., declined to stock the new version, saying it was "just too controversial." (The store will order it for pastors on request.)
But Chip Brown, senior vice president of Bibles for Zondervan, the division of HarperCollins Publishers that has exclusive rights to publish the New International Version in North America, predicted that it would be "the translation of choice for millions of people around the world who want to read and understand Scripture in today's language."
To promote acceptance of the new translation, Zondervan said it would phase out the 1984 update of its popular 1978 version of the book, which many churches have continued to use during the translation controversies. That means no more copies will be printed to continue stocking the pews for denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, which rejected the 2005 modernization and stuck with the 1984 version.
The SBC — the nation's largest non-Catholic denomination — hasn't said yet what it will do. However, the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood has already said it will reject the latest New International Version, largely because of "over 3,600 gender-related problems" it had identified.
"Our prayer is that evangelicals will continue to be very discerning with regard to the Bibles that they purchase and will utilize those translations that are the most accurate," the council said in a statement.
The council is influential with the Southern Baptist Convention and its flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which trains many Southern Baptist pastors. The seminary's president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., is a member of the council, which is headquartered at the seminary in Louisville, Ky.