Volume 1 October 15, 2002 Issue 17

In the September 15th issue of Diligence we included a very brief discussion concerning the gender neutral versions of the Bible. Before moving on to a new topic in the next issue, we would like to address that particular aspect of Bible translations in a bit more depth in this issue.

Let's begin with a history of the origin of this effort. As we stated in the previous issue, gender neutral language is a style of writing that adheres to certain rules that were first proposed by feminist language reformers in universities during the 1970's. Feminists hoped that by means of such reforms in universities, the language of society as a whole would gradually be reformed, and that by means of such reform in the language, the consciousness of people would be rendered more favorable to feminist ideas. New "rules of usage" were laid out in the handbook Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing by Marilyn Schwartz. During the late 1970's many mainline seminaries adopted these new rules of usage and it became a widely used handbook of gender neutral writing for many academic writers. However the feminists in these progressive seminaries were not satisfied with the rules that applied only to people and insisted that the gender neutral language should also be applicable to God. So by the 1980's in those same seminaries, gender neutral language in reference to God became not only normal, but considered an important moral duty. The next effort was to promote this same language in churches at large, by means of denominational publications. But serious problems arose with this effort because the Bible itself did not abide by their new rules.

Both the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible frequently use the generic masculine nouns adam and anthropos when referring to "mankind" (not just "man/male sex") in reference to persons of unspecified gender. The gender inclusive intent of the writer is usually obvious from the context. It is also usually obvious from the context when the writer's intent is not gender inclusive. It is simply not appropriate for translators to mechanically change every occurrence of "man" or "male sex" to a gender neutral inclusive statement. There are numerous occasions when the writer of the text does use the undebatable masculine word "aner" instead of adam or anthropos. For example, let's look at Acts 1:21 from two different Bible translations. In this passage Peter is suggesting that a new apostle be selected from those men who had been with them from the beginning. Peter says:

First, from the New American Standard Bible

"It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord went in and out among us."

Now, from the Revised English Bible

"Therefore one of those who bore us company all the while the Lord Jesus was going about among us."

The Greek word used for men in this passage is "aner." It would therefore be less accurate to translate this verse in a gender neutral manner indicating that the sex of the one to be chosen was optional.

Additional difficulties also arose with this effort to "gender neutralize" the Bible since the Scriptures themselves are Patriarchal in nature. That is — they are (a majority of the time) addressed to men using "he," "him," "man" and etc. The Greek of the Bible is most easily translated by assuming that "he," "him," "man" and other such references are frequently inclusive meaning "mankind." It should be determined by context when it is and is not inclusive. Failure to do this often results in either rewriting the Scriptures or having them become so cumbersome that it would be impossible to read them. For example, let's look at John 14:23.

"...If a man loves Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (KJV)

Translators of the New Revised Standard Version found this verse especially troubling. There would be no problem in beginning the sentence, "...If anyone loves me..." because the Greek pronoun "tis" (used for "man") does not specify male sex. But then how can we finish the sentence in a completely gender neutral manner? One might think of using "he or she" in some cases, but it would soon become exceptionally awkward. We would end up with a monstrosity of English style:

"...If anyone loves me, he or she will keep my word, and my Father or Mother will love him or her, and we will come to him or her and make our home with him or her."

The NRSV translators didn't want to do this, so they changed the singular to plurals to have it read instead:

"...Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them."

But Jesus did not often speak in plural pronouns. He wanted to specify that He and the Father would come and dwell with an individual believer. But the NRSV has lost that emphasis, because the plurals "those" and "them" indicate a group of people. "...We will come to them and make our home with them" indicates coming to a group of people, such as a church. The words of Jesus have been unnecessarily changed to appease current culture, and the meaning is different.

While it is true that in some places women are specifically addressed, for the most part those instances are very embarrassing to the feminist agenda. An example of this would be Ephesians 5:22-24. This presented a problem for the whole concept of inclusive language and the feminist ideology in general. Two solutions were proposed to remedy this problem.

1) A revision of the Bible would be employed so as to conform the text to the rules of usage that had been accepted by the seminaries and to make obscure the "patriarchalism" of the Bible.

2) Eliminate the "problem" passages such as Ephesians 5:22-24 by means of a revised lectionary (schedule of readings) which would omit all passages in which the subordination of women is so plainly taught that it would not be possible to obscure them by false interpretations. This solution would allow the Bible to be an example of political correctness to all who heard it read in the churches.

An early example of this effort was the Inclusive Language Lectionary published by the National Council of Churches in 1983 and revised in 1992. It excluded I Corinthians 11:3-16; I Corinthians 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; I Timothy 2:11-15 and I Peter 3:1-6. Soon after this, complete versions of the Bible featuring a moderate use of gender neutral language began to appear. The New Jerusalem Bible (a Roman Catholic version) was the first of many others that followed. The first version however, to use gender neutral language in a very thorough and systematic way, was the New Revised Standard Version which was published in 1990. But since it did not incorporate gender neutral language in reference to God nor many of the misinterpretations proposed by feminists, it didn't satisfy many people. Other versions soon followed which included the Contemporary English Version; the Inclusive New Testament and others. But by the 1990's feminism had made inroads into much wider circles and in 1995 a little known version called God's Word had been published and made cautious use of gender neutral language in an attempt to satisfy the less liberal market. Then the New International Reader's Version (NIrV) was published for children and was followed quickly by The New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI). When it became known in 1997 that the NIVI was to be published in America as a new edition of the NIV, there was a great protest by many Evangelical Christians including Dr. James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Bill McCartney and many others. The International Bible Society (who held the copyright of the NIV) reluctantly yielded and promised to not publish this new edition of the NIV in America. The controversy re-surfaced however and The International Bible Society announced that it would publish a gender neutral version under a new name. And in January 2002 the Today's International Version (TNIV) was published.

Since it's release the TNIV has had an overwhelming negative reaction from numerous groups including The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; The Southern Baptist Convention; The 30th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and many others. The resolutions against the TNIV adopted by these groups include statements such as:

"...the Southern Baptist Convention...express(es) profound disappointment with the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation.... We respectively request that the agencies, boards, and publishing arms of the Southern Baptist Convention refrain from using this translation... we cannot commend the TNIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian Community." (June 11, 2002)

"...the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) expresses disapproval of the practice of making gender-related or other alterations to the authorially-intended meaning of Scripture in the Bible translations. ...the PCA cautions its congregations and members, as well as the larger Christian community, against use of the TNIV. ...the PCA implores the International Bible Society to refrain from further gender-neutral or other 'corrective' efforts in Bible translations." (June 20, 2002)

A joint statement issued on May 28, 2002 by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was signed by 110 prominent ministry leaders. Those leaders represented various ministries, denominations and theological persuasions — all of whom have a passionate concern for the translation process used for Bibles. A portion of that statement reads as follows:

 "...the TNIV raises more concerns in this regard than previous Bible versions because, riding on the reputation of the NIV, the TNIV may vie for a place as the church's commonly used Bible. ...We also agree that it is appropriate to use gender-neutral expressions where the original language does not include any male or female meaning. However, we believe the TNIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards in several important aspects. ...We cannot endorse the TNIV as sufficiently trustworthy to commend to the church...."

So there has arisen quite a debate about the inclusive language editions of the Bible. For many, this debate seems pointless. However, it is far from that. Ultimately, what is at stake with this issue is far more than mere pronouns. In the end, this is an issue of Biblical authority and integrity. Let's face it. The Bible is offensive. It is offensive because it demands total submission to God, to His ways, and to His words. Sinful human beings do not like this. And if they can find a way to manipulate its words, they will. Should we then make concessions to these kinds of offenses? Changing God's Word to avoid offenses due to the mindset of the target culture should not be acceptable to Christians who desire to please God.

(Research sources used for Diligence are available upon request)

"Diligence" is a privately funded publication of:
Dennis and Sherri Owens — Cincinnati, Ohio