In the old translation of the New International Version Bible, Jesus declares at one point:
"If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
In a new translation released this month, Jesus' words have been updated to read that he will "eat with that person, and they with me."
It's a change made to reflect that male-only language is not as popular as it used to be. And it's one of many changes made for the new edition of the NIV Bible, published by Zondervan, an evangelical Christian publisher based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Catholics, too, are seeing a makeover for the first time in 41 years with the release of a new translation of the Old Testament.
The NIV is thought to be the most popular version of the holy book, with 400 million copies in print. Its latest edition — the first major update in years — is an attempt to keep up to date with scholarship
and changes in English use. Some of the changes, especially those related to gender, have drawn criticism from conservatives.
The changes are to ensure the Bible makes sense for modern readers without losing its meaning.
Take for example, a change that Catholics will see.
In the 1970 version of Old Testament, worshippers are called to "bring a cereal offering to the Lord."
Years ago, cereals usually meant grains, so it was clear what the Bible was referring to, said Mary Elizabeth Sperry, associate director for Bible utilization at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But reading that passage today might conjure up images of young worshippers "taking Froot Loops to God on Sunday," Sperry quipped.
The new Catholic Bible, called the New American Bible Revised Edition, has replaced the word "cereal" with "grain."
The new Catholic version is the result of years of research by more than 50 scholars who pored over every word in the Bible.
"We take the Bible very seriously," Sperry said. "We translate it with enormous care, giving it the attention and respect it deserves."
Reaching a consensus, though, on what exactly the Bible says and rendering it in readable English is a challenge.
The effort is not as bad as in the 16th Century, when William Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake for the crime of translating the Bible into English. But the result can still be contentious.
In 2005, the Committee on Bible Translation was criticized by conservative Christians after it released an entirely new version of the Bible called the TNIV (Today's New International Version) that had more gender-neutral language. It was intended to replace the 1984 NIV Bible. Though the edition had its supporters, critics said it went too far. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a conservative Christian group based in Kentucky that calls for traditional male-female roles, said there were more than 3,600 problems related to use of gender.
The NIV committee listened to their concerns and those of others in releasing this new version.
But despite more uses of gender-neutral language, one thing hasn't changed in the new translation: God is still male. "Nowhere in the updated NIV ... is there even the remotest hint of any inclusive language for God," the committee said in a statement.
The changes for both Bibles were based on changes in English use over the decades and new scholarship.
The NIV translation committee used the Collins Dictionary Group to study how English is currently spoken so members could have some objective data on how people talk and what they understand, said Douglas Moo, chairman of the committee and Blanchard professor of the New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois.1 comment on this story
"To try to find the best way to express (the Bible) in contemporary English is so significant because millions are going to read this as God's words to them," Moo said.
In addition to gender, the Catholic and NIV translations dealt with other sensitive issues.
The 1970 Catholic Bible used the phrase "established holocaust" to refer to a religious sacrifice. But the wording has been changed to "burnt offering" because "holocaust" now is associated with genocide. In the NIV translation, some references to Jews were changed to "Jewish leaders" so they didn't seem to refer to all Jews.