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Note: to avoid this becoming a an opinion-based issue, the question seeks only answers based on objective analysis rather than arguments for or against gender-neutral translations.


Romans 8:12

RSV - So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh...

NRSV - So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh...

The NRSV translation arrived at the following criteria as translation guidelines for its updating of the vintage RSV translation:

  1. Any passage that was referring to both men and women was to be rendered inclusively, even if the original language (Hebrew or Greek) used masculine terms (“men,” “man,” “brothers,” “he” etc.).
  2. Any passage that was explicitly referring only to men, or only to women, was to be left as referring only to men or to women.
  3. All references to the Deity that in the original used masculine terms were to be left masculine.

Several other contemporary translations use similar guidelines. Without offering opinions on the correctness of these guidelines, what problems do they create or solve for the practice of biblical hermeneutics, compared with literal translations of the original text?

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  • Sick-minded modern political-correctness idol worshipers and feminist fanatics find in themselves obscene rashness and arrogant audacity to sally even the Holy Scriptures with their sorry and venomous agenda and mistranslate the text by adding “sisters”! Why not also to add “gender neuters”? Heretics, please better sweep streets with a broom than translate Holy Scriptures! Jan 6 at 23:06

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There is an old translators' aphorism that "Men do not own their own gender", by which is meant, male nouns often mean both sexes but female nouns always mean just female items. There are many examples of this in English and Greek.

  • the word ἄνθρωπος (anthropos) is masculine meaning literally "man" but most often means both men and women, especially when plural. This is also true in English when we say something like, "How long has man been on the earth?" This mean "people" of both sexes.
  • διάκονος (deaconos) is masculine but is used of women as well when plural such as in royal palaces
  • ἀδελφός (adelphos) is masculine but can refer to people, especially when plural of both sexes, see Acts 21:17, James 4:11, 2 Thess 3:6, etc.

The big translation problem here is to decide (from the context) when both sexes are intended or when only the male sex is intended. Some are obvious (eg, Matt 22:25) and some are debatable. This is quite normal as in many situations with translation.

Here is a simple example of Gal 2:16 involving ἄνθρωπος (=literally, "man"):

  • NIV: [we] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
  • BSB: [we] know that a man is not justified by works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.

Which correctly conveys the meaning of the original. In this case I would strongly argue for the NIV over the BSB because, it is not only males that are justified by faith but all people of all sexes.

Here is another example involving two more words from John 13:16 -

Very truly I tell you, no servant [masc] is greater than his [masc] master, nor is a messenger [masc] greater than the one who sent him [masc].

Does this maxim apply to both sexes? Our English word "servant" is gender neutral but the Greek "doulos" is masculine. Similarly, our English word "messenger" is gender neutral but the Grek "Apostolos" is masculine. Therefore, if we want to be pedantic we would need to translate this as:

... a masculine servant is not greater than his master ...

But that is silly and it is understood to apply to both sexes. The same is true of "brethren/adelphoi" in many situations.

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  • + 1 good so far... any objective thought (the other "o"-word is out of bounds) about the now gender neutrality applies to the Deity. Jan 5 at 20:47
  • @DanFefferman - that is becoming an even bigger hornets nest. I have heard some suggest that in the OT, the Holy Spirit, which is grammatically feminine, should be translated with feminine pronouns and represents the feminine side of God. That would be the subject of another question.
    – Dottard
    Jan 5 at 21:07
  • @DanFefferman - this is one of those cases where it is best to hide behind convention and simply stick with the traditional methods until we have truly gender-neutral pronouns (which are now emerging); but then there is all the problems of all the other 50+ genders that now exist. Sometimes I think that these "problems" are a manifestation of human attempts to make God more like us.
    – Dottard
    Jan 5 at 21:12
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Dan, you have asked a fairly complicated and open-ended question. So, I hope you don't mind a somewhat complicated, open-ended answer.

The Non-newness of Gender inclusive language

...in the bible

Gender inclusive language is not anything that is new. Paul writes:

  • “καὶ ἔσομαι ὑμῖν εἰς πατέρα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἔσεσθέ μοι εἰς υἱοὺς καὶ θυγατέρας, λέγει κύριος παντοκράτωρ.” (Κορινθίους β 6·18 THGNT-T)
  • "And I will be for you for a father and you (pl.) will be for me sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

Most likely Paul is quoting 2 Samuel:

  • ”אֲנִי֙ אֶהְיֶה־לּ֣וֹ לְאָ֔ב וְה֖וּא יִהְיֶה־לִּ֣י לְבֵ֑ן“ (2 Samuel 7:14 HMT-W4)
  • "I will be for him for a father and he will be for me for a son."

Note the shift in Paul's citation. Since he is referring to all people, he adds "daughters."

The NICNT summarizes the situation this way:

The second promise, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” is based on Yahweh’s word through Nathan to David about David’s coming son, “I will be a father to him, and he will be my son” (2 Sam 7:14). Whereas Heb 1:5 cites this text as applying to Christ,54 Paul applies it to Christ’s people. Paul here makes some alterations55 to the original text: (1) he changes “him ... he” to “you ... you,” and (2) he expands “my son” to “my sons56 and daughters.” The effect of these changes is to intensify a specific and direct focus on the readers, now including the women in the messianic assembly in Corinth.

(Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 354.)

While this is a rare occurrence, nonetheless, it is an unavoidable example.

... in grammars

Years ago I was reading through Robertson and came across this reference:

  1. Singular Verb with First Subject. It is very common indeed for the verb to have the singular with the first of the subjects. Cf. Jo. 2:2, 12; 3:22; 18:15; Ac. 11:14. But on the other hand we have προσπορεύονται αὐτῷ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάνης οἱ υἱοὶ Ζεβεδαίου (Mk. 10:35). Cf. also Lu. 23:12; Jo. 21:2; Ac. 5:24. In Ac. 25:23 one participle is singular and the other plural. So in Ac. 5:29 we meet ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Πέτρος καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι εἶπαν. With ἤ the verb is usually in the singular in the N. T. So Mt. 12:25 πᾶσα πόλις ἢ οἰκία μερισθεῖσα καθ̓ ἑαυτῆς οὐ σταθήσεται. Cf. also Mt. 5:18; 18:8; Eph. 5:5. In Gal. 1:8 Blass1 thinks it would be impossible to have εὐαγγελιζώμεθα with ἡμεῖς ἢ ἄγγελος. But the impossible happens in Jas. 2:15, ἐαν ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἀδελφὴ γυμνοὶ ὑπάρχωσιν. We have a similar difficulty in English in the use of the disjunctive and other pronouns. One will loosely say: “If any one has left their books, they can come and get them.”

(A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, Accordance electronic ed. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919), 405-406.)

Notice the so-called "singular-plural" being used already more than a hundred years ago.

This important to note due to the fact that, when there was a shift to gender-inclusive language, it was spoken that this was a new phenomenon. While not pervasive and thoroughgoing, gender inclusive language already existed.

"It is permissible to be beaten, but not surprised."

Long ago, Napoleon spoke those words. But, in this instance, they are true today. Already just the turn of the millenium, Zondervan was introducing the TNIV. And one of the notable 'updates' was the use of inclusive language. In the Preface of the TNIV at that time they wrote their rationale:

Generic language is used where the meaning of the text was intended to include both men and women. For example, when it is clear that the original text never intended any exclusive male gender reference, ―sons of God‖ becomes ―children of God,‖ and ―brothers‖ becomes ―brothers and sisters‖. All gender-related changes in the TNIV are made to update masculine terminology that has generic intent and is often misunderstood by today’s generations. This means the elimination of most instances of the generic use of masculine nouns (―a man,‖ or ―men‖ as mankind, humans) and pronouns (he). Relative to the second of these, the so-called singular ―they/their/them,‖ which has been gaining acceptance among careful writers and which actually has a venerable place in English idiom, has been employed to fill in the vocabulary gap in generic nouns and pronouns referring to human beings. Where an individual emphasis is deemed to be present, ―anyone‖ or ―everyone‖ or some other equivalent is generally used as the antecedent of such pronouns.

References originally intended to be masculine remain masculine in the TNIV. [Their emphasis]

For churches, seminaries, and missions this seemed to them to be an interesting side feature of the NIV translation team. Zondervan had already published the NIRV for years. And, for many this was acceptable as long as it was kept as a sort of side project.

Then, a little more than a decade ago, shockingly and suddenly, over night there was an "update" within the bible software *Logos." Overnight the NIV 84 was swapped with what we call today the NIV 11. Overnight, church secretaries printed the propers and pericopes for that Sunday. And when the pastor stood in the lectern to read the lessons, instead of reading the familiar, "brothers," he was assaulted with "brothers and sisters."

This overnight switching of texts was not an issue for those who used Bible Works and Accordance (since they had different licensing contracts). It was only an issue for Logos users. At that time (and it still might be the same today), a person owns the software, but they do not own the rights to have a specific version of a bible. So, Zondervan (Biblica) was allowed to change everything over night.

Many church bodies scrambled then, trying to figure out...

  • Why this happened at all
  • Whether these changes were valid.

The Validity of gender inclusive language

Already at the beginning of this new millenium, on the TNIV website, they published this vigorous defense of the updated language:

Does this text pander to any social agenda? A: Absolutely not. Social agenda must never be a component of Bible translation. The overriding concern with any translation is to produce a version that is accurate and understandable. All social and cultural biases must be discarded in the interest of accuracy and clarity.

The TNIV is not gender neutral; it is in fact ―gender accurate.‖ Gender neutrality suggests the removal of specific male or female attributes. The TNIV does not remove these attributes or ―neuter‖ any passages of Scripture. The TNIV uses generic language only where the meaning of the text was intended to include both men and women. These changes reflect a more precise rendering of Greek and Hebrew words.

With that, then, the debate was on.

Safe examples

As mentioned above, for already 100+ years before this gender inclusive language had been creeping into our English usage. One of the passages that was seemingly welcomed across the board as a useful update was 1 Tim. 2:4. For it was teachable to let younger generations that "men" in that verse included both genders, it was much easier to make what was implicit explicit: God wants all people (both genders) to be saved.

There are many, many other examples of this in the New Testament. For many pastors and professors, though, the issue wasn't inclusive language per se. Instead, the objection of many was the seemingly "global find and replace" way that the Biblica folks went about the work.

Questionable Hermeneutical Examples

ⲁⲛⲏⲣ vs. ⲁⲛⲑⲣⲱⲡⲟⲥ

As a review of the tools in the Greek linguistic tool belt, we have the following words for humanity:

  • ⲁⲛⲏⲣ = men (in the male sense of the word)
  • ⲁⲛⲑⲣⲱⲡⲟⲥ = men & humanity (in a global sense. like "homo" in Latin)

That's the general template and tool box that the Greek has. The difficulty then, is that there also seemed to be an overlap in the terminology. Sometimes (especially if heavily Hebraic idioms are used), ⲁⲛⲏⲣ might also refer to both genders (e.g. James). But outside of those exclusive contexts, these distinctions between the words was valid and useful.

The difficulty, though, is that bible translations might say and stress that they are taking the Greek source and accurately rendering it into the target English accurately. But, it's not too difficult to see some highly questionable examples. The entire book of Acts is a good example. Let's look at some examples:

  • “ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, ἔδει πληρωθῆναι τὴν γραφὴν ἣν προεῖπεν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον διὰ στόματος Δαυεὶδ περὶ Ἰούδα τοῦ γενομένου ὁδηγοῦ τοῖς συλλαβοῦσιν Ἰησοῦν·” (Πράξεις 1·16 THGNT-T)
  • “and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.” (Acts 1:16 NIV11-GKE)
  • ““Brothers and sisters, it was necessary that the Scripture be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit through the mouth of David foretold about Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” (Acts 1:16 CSB17)

We note that, in the Greek, Luke "doubles down" on masculine language. He says "men, brothers." And yet, as one can see, in a number of English versions it is rendered as, "brothers and sisters" even though ⲁⲛⲑⲣⲱⲡⲟⲥ is not included in the verse.

A little further on we read:

  • “Ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, ἐξὸν εἰπεῖν μετὰ παρρησίας πρὸς ὑμᾶς περὶ τοῦ πατριάρχου Δαυεὶδ ὅτι καὶ ἐτελεύτησεν καὶ ἐτάφη καὶ τὸ μνῆμα αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἐν ἡμῖν ἄχρι τῆς ἡμέρας ταύτης.” (Πράξεις 2·29 THGNT-T)
  • ““Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.” (Acts 2:29 NIV11-GKE)
  • ““Brothers and sisters, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” (Acts 2:29 CSB17)

Here, again we find the "men, brothers" introduction. And we find the address generalized in many English versions. But wait, there's more to consider. A little later on we read:

  • “Ακούσαντες δὲ κατενύγησαν τὴν καρδίαν, εἶπόν τε πρὸς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τοὺς λοιποὺς ἀποστόλους· τί ποιήσωμεν, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί;” (Πράξεις 2·37 THGNT-T)
  • “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”” (Acts 2:37 NIV11-GKE)
  • “When they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”” (Acts 2:37 CSB17)

Here we have the same words ("ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί"). But without any rationale, it shifts back to a masculine emphasis.

With all of these examples from just a few chapters in the book of Acts I hope it will be sufficient to show that saying that they are just bringing the Greek into English is a whole lot easier than accomplishing this task consistently.

ⲩⲓⲟⲥ

ⲩⲓⲟⲥ is another example. "son" in Greek speak both to gender and to status. So you have the example of Galatians 3:

  • “πάντες γὰρ υἱοὶ θεοῦ ἐστὲ διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ·” (Γαλάτας 3·26 THGNT-T)
  • “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26 NIV11-GKE)
  • “for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26 CSB17)

In this example, we have to recognize that, with one word, the Greek can to both. But in English we have to choose between the status word of "son" or to the other meaning of "children." In either case, it's a difficult choice.

Conclusion

This has already been a long post and we haven't even covered the gender-inclusive issues in Christological theology. But it is enough to, at the very least, establish the fact that...

  • Greek has some more tools in their linguistic tool belt than we have in English. So it will be difficult finding the proper words in English that will fit properly. Sometimes we pick one word/meaning knowing that the other meaning will be left behind, hoping the pastor/teacher knows enough to bring the hearers up to speed.
  • Far from just simply taking the Greek thoughts and bringing them into English, it has opened up a pandora's box of strange renderings in english (cf. the examples from Acts above).
  • Gender inclusivity in English versions is here to stay. When the venerable NASB is now making use of gender inclusive language, we have to concede that it is here here to stay.
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    Indeed, gender-inclusive language is in modern translations, and here not only to stay, but to be enlarged upon. However, would you be prepared to say that just because we have to concede that fact is not the same as to express agreement with such modern translations? +1
    – Anne
    Jan 13 at 11:51
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    @Anne Indeed. But the best practice when it comes to disagreements with bible translations is to take it on a case by case basis. For some gender inclusive changes are good. And some are not.
    – Epimanes
    Jan 13 at 13:12
  • A good response.
    – Anne
    Jan 13 at 13:13
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Purpose of Hermeneutics The purpose of Rules of Hermeneutics is to interpret the Holy Scriptures in a way that informs and edifies the believer (reader), and brings the reader closer to God.

Having said that, the literal translation of the Bible verses would use the male wording throughout, since it was written in a Patristic society (and region of the world). However, the intent of many statements do include application to both genders (sexes).

Since this is so, it would not be a violation of hermeneutic principles to translate words as "inclusive" where unmistakably appropriate. But there definitely should be footnotes revealing this departure from the literal original manuscript by the translators! The original, historical "flavor" would not be lost, and just as importantly, the message of God would not be lost in the verses themselves.

Modernization of any translation is a tricky business. But in all cases, the Scriptures should not become a vehicle for social activism. The translations should not become weapons in the hands of cultural activists to promote progressive (or not) ideologies. That would be a glaring violation of Hermeneutical principles, as well as the ethical standards of Christianity.

This answer does not deal with specific examples of inclusive wording, but rather, highlights the importance of---whatever translation is used---sticking to the original intent of the inspiration and revelation of God to mankind (sic).

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