Thursday, April 26, 2007

Gender Neutral??

One more quick comment for the week...

I don't understand the concept of a gender neutral bible (TNIV, NLT, & MSG [if you can call that the Bible]). I'm not saying that these translations are completely useless, but depending on the motivation I'm afraid that the reality of them is un-Christian. God's not an egalitarian God. As I have started to study and learn Hebrew it has made the idea of "gender neutrality" in translation of the Old Testament ridiculous.

You see, adjectives, verbs, and nouns all have a gender assigned to them. I'm sure there are other languages like this. I'm still learning basics...and through the advice of pastor Wayne I'm hoping to study with a Rabbai in town (to learn more of the language). But this idea is coming on strong!

TNIV and other "gender neutral" folks. What are you thinking??

Have a good rest of the week everyone!


R. Mansfield said...

Noah, I'm glad to know that you're taking Hebrew, but as you progress a bit further, you will learn that you can't always take the gender of words at face value. For instance the word for spirit, ‏רוּחַ‎ in the OT is feminine, while πνεῦμα in the NT is neuter. But when referring to the Holy Spirit, English translations have always used masculine gender because of the overall context.

And although you keep using the term "gender neutral," these translations don't call themselves that. You must understand that the term "gender neutral" is a pejorative term used by the detractors of some of these methods of translation. If these translations went with true gender neutrality, the gender would be changed to "it." That, however is never the case. The translations in question never refer to themselves as gender neutral, but gender inclusive or gender accurate. I prefer the latter term.

It should be clear that a translation like the TNIV retains all masculine pronouns for deity, and ONLY changes gender references for humans when the context warrants it. This is in keeping with the principles of dynamic equivalency as first introduced by Eugene Nida in the 1940's. That is, often when translating, from one language to another, simple one word for one word translation will be deficient. Therefore, you translate the meaning across. All translations do this to some degree.

Now let me show you how this applies to gender in a translation like the TNIV. Take for example Romans 15:30 in which Paul writes "I urge you, ἀδελφοί..." Traditionally, this has been translated as "brothers" or "brethren," but the context of Romans 16 clearly shows that Paul is writing to a mixed audience. Even the ESV acknowledges this by giving the alternative translation in the footnotes, "Or brothers and sisters." The TNIV simply uses that translation "brothers and sisters" because it more accurately reflects the use of ἀδελφοί in this verse. In Greek literature, the meaning of this term is always dependent upon the context.

The same thing is true for a word like ἄνθρωπος which was often in the past translated as "man," but again, it does not refer to maleness unless the context defines it as such. The primary meaning of the word is person or human. The TNIV translators are very careful to distinguish here as to whether the context is referring to men only or men and women and translate accordingly. Interestingly, the ESV does this a good bit, too. Check out verses like Matt 7:9 and Matt 12:11 in both the Greek New Testament and the ESV and you'll notice that ἄνθρωπος is in the text, but the ESV never translates it as man in these verses. I can give you other examples, too.

And as for the TNIV and NLT, these are actually pretty good translations. You should really check them out with an open mind.

Noah Braymen said...

Thanks for the response...
Like I said "these translations aren't completely useless." And I may have generalized too much... I see your points, but in the sweep of all the passages that these translations do not translate literally I think it's a problem. Don't we want to pass on what the Bible literally says? I tend to agree with Grudem's article on CBMW here:

Here are a few paragraphs that address what I was trying to allude to in my post:

"There is a Messianic prediction in Psalm 34:20: "He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken" (RSV). John's gospel refers to this (and probably Exod. 12:46) with respect to Jesus' death: "For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of him shall be broken'" (19:36, RSV). But the NRSV will not allow such a prediction about an individual man in Psalm 34, so the prediction is plural: "He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken" (NRSV). The individuality of the Messianic prediction, so wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus' death, is lost to readers of the NRSV. And the ncv, NLT, and NIVI all have "their bones" as well, even though the statement is singular ("his bones") in Hebrew.

In Psalm 41, David tells of his enemies speaking against him: "My enemies say of me in malice, 'When will he die, and his name perish?'" (Ps. 41:5). But in the NRSV the words "he" and "his" had to be removed, and in this case the speech of the enemies is turned into thoughts in their minds: "My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish" (NRSV). But the Hebrew text does not say they simply wondered; it says they spoke ('amar). An accurate translation should tell us that. (The CEV changes "he" to "you," but the NCV, NLT, and NIVI accurately retain "he.")

Why does the NRSV try so hard to avoid using "he" in a generic sense? The preface explains that they used paraphrase "chiefly to compensate for a deficiency in the English language -- the lack of a common gender third person singular pronoun." What is surprising is that they say the problem is with English while they fail to mention that Hebrew and Greek also lack "a common gender third person singular pronoun," and both languages use a third person singular masculine pronoun ("he") in singular generic statements. Therefore there is no problem with English at all if we want it to translate the generic statements in the Bible -- it precisely and accurately translates the common generic use of "he" in Hebrew and Greek."

There's a lot more...I know. Also, I don't know Greek yet. And I also don't know Hebrew well. I appreciate the push back, but like I said I am most convinced by Grudem's paper on this...

When I know more then I can try to see if I can disprove his points...but it seems his approach and logic stand up pretty well (in my view).

Thanks for the response brother!

In Christ,

R. Mansfield said...

Noah, thanks for your reasoned response. Thanks also for not throwing countless scripture passages at me. A handful can usually be discussed fairly easily and are representative of others.

The goal of passing on what the Bible literally says is honorable enough; that is, the intention is good. However, it's not practical in all passages because one language cannot adequately be translated into one language from another on a word-for-word ratio and still allow for understanding. I think I demonstrated that in a post, "Grinding Another Man's Grain," which I encourage you to look at. I'd be interested to get your thoughts on that.

But if we were really going to honor strictly literal translations, why don't we all read the 1901 ASV or even better Young's Literal Translation from the 19th century? These translations can be considered faithfully literal, but I'll be the first to admit that I wouldn't want to use them on a regular basis. And technically, if we are going "to pass on what the Bible literally says," would that not entail requiring our church members to learn Hebrew and Greek? I mean if we want to talk about what the Bible literally says," we have to point to the original languages. Only there do we see what the Bible literally says. Everything else is translation. And as I said in the article I linked to above, literal is not accurate if it's unintelligible.

I've read quite a bit of what Dr. Grudem says on this issue. Although I would agree with him on many things, and I have great respect for him and the work he has done, I'd disagree with him regarding a translation like the TNIV. For a better response than I could make, I'd recommend "Current Issues in the Gender-Language Debate: A Response to Vern Poythrees and Wayne Grudem" by Mark Strauss.

Regarding Psalm 34:20, the TNIV committee on Bible translation has provided a response to those who have questioned their translation of this verse:

The change from "his bones" to "their bones" reflects the concern of the translators that a passage that has in view both men and women (which this passage has; its reference to "the righteous" is generic, not, as claimed, to "an individual righteous man") be "heard" by contemporary English readers to have just that meaning. The Hebrew pronoun here is masculine singular, but that is simply in accordance with how ancient Hebrew writers treated generics. The Hebrew of the OT has grammatical gender whereas English has only natural gender. That is, in Hebrew (and Greek) many words are rather arbitrarily assigned grammatical gender. For instance, Hebrew nephesh (traditionally often rendered "soul") is feminine, while Greek pneuma (often rendered "spirit") is neuter. No conclusions about a "soul" being feminine or a "spirit" being a "thing" are to be drawn. And Hebrew also uses masculine singular pronouns to refer to masculine singular generic nouns (which are usually masculine) that refer to both men and women alike—which is certainly the case here. This is seen in the fact that Psalm 34 itself moves back and forth between plural generic forms (vv. 15-16) and singular generic forms (vv. 19-21). Clearly the singular forms are as generic as the plural forms and are intended simply as an alternative way to speak of righteous persons in general (including both men and women). So, consistently with their desire to present the Bible in gender accurate language, the TNIV translators have turned the masculine singular generic pronoun of the original Hebrew here into a generic plural.

But it is alleged that this has created an inner-canonical problem, since this verse is quoted in John 19:36 as applying to Jesus—that it is "fulfilled" in Jesus' experience. However, it should be noted, first, that it is not certain that John quotes Ps. 34:20. He may be referring to the provisions for the Passover Lamb, as found in Exod. 12:46 and Num. 9:12. But even if Ps. 34:20 is being quoted, the connection between the two passages is still clear enough. That Jesus is preeminently the Righteous One, and so fulfills the description of "the (generic) righteous" of Psalm 34, experiencing with them God's care for "the righteous," should be obvious to all careful readers of the Bible. Moreover, quotations of the OT in the NT are generally not exact, so that the shift from the plural of the TNIV of Ps. 34:20 to the singular of John 19:36 should not obscure the connection. Note, for example, how NT writers occasionally change OT singular references to plurals (compare Isa. 52:7 with Rom. 10:15; Ps. 36:1 with Rom. 3:10,18; Ps. 32:1 with Rom. 4:6-7). Do such changes "obscure" the connections between the OT and NT passages? Of course not. Moreover, entirely apart from the gender issue, the shift from singular to plural in this verse is actually a gain in that it makes clearer to the reader that the reference in Ps. 34:20 is generic rather than particular, and that in John 19:36 the author of the Gospel was applying this generic statement about "the righteous" to Jesus as the supreme Righteous One.

Regarding Psalm 41:5, I agree with you that the NRSV makes unnecessary changes, although I don't think the meaning is overly obscured. But the TNIV (which is an Evangelical translation) handles this much better and takes a traditional, more conservative approach:

My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”

I'm curious, though, as to why you've changed much of the discussion from the TNIV/NLT/Message to the NRSV? All three of these other translations will make more conservative translation choices than the NRSV, although in general, I don't have a great problem with the NRSV--although I don't use it very much anymore.

As for using "he" in a generic sense in any of these translations, here is where you and I might disagree. You don't think there's any problem with the English language. And if we were around a generation or two ago, I'd agree with you. But our language has moved away from masculine universals. Now we could bemoan that fact, but that doesn't change the reality of it. No missionary translating the scriptures into a foreign language would complain about current usage and try to make them revert back to an older form. I don't think we can do that either.

And if a biblical writer actually meant that both genders were included in the context of his words, it is actually MORE ACCURATE to represent that in the receptor language (in this case, English) than to do otherwise. This is why the TNIV translators do not refer to their practice as gender neutral or even gender inclusive, but as gender accurate. They are communicating the intent of the biblical author more accurately than traditional translations have done in the past--at least to current generations of people who read and speak English.

I don't know if you're familiar with the NET Bible, Noah, but they make a good distinction in their preface between idealogical gender inclusiveness and gender accurate translation. The first kind simply doesn't want to offend anyone--that's the political correct agenda. Well, really, when it comes to Bible translation, who cares about that, right? The Bible's going to offend all of us at some point because it convicts us of our sin. But gender accuracy attempts to communicate strictly the gender intended by the author, which often cannot be represented simply by "he."

Thanks for considering my response, Noah.


Geoff said...

This comes from This is about the TNIV. There's a lot more than this but this seems to show the point quickest. They are not translating in places. They opt for inoffensiveness over straight translation.

In 1 Corinthians 14:39 the word adelphoi "brethren" is translated "brothers and sisters" by the TNIV— "Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy." Yet Paul has just finished saying (in verses 34-35) that "women should keep silent in the churches" and "it is shameful for a woman to speak in church"! So how can adelphoi in verse 39 be considered a gender-inclusive term? Obviously Paul is addressing only the "brothers" at this point, according to the normal usage of adelphoi, because it makes no sense for him to be telling the sisters to "be eager to prophesy" in church after he has prohibited them from doing so. (6) In James 3:1 the TNIV has "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters," which implies that James envisioned some "sisters" being teachers of doctrine. (The context indicates that doctrinal teaching is in mind, for he has just finished talking about inadequate ideas about justification by faith.) Further, it should be noted that when James wishes to be explicitly gender-inclusive in 2:15 he uses the compound expression "brother or sister," (adelphos e adephe), not the word adelphos "brother" or adelphoi "brothers." (7) In a few places the TNIV revisers could not even refrain from neutering the Greek word aner, which can only refer to an adult male. In the first edition of the New Testament (2002) they gave "the number of believers" as a rendering of the phrase arithmos ton andron in Acts 4:4, lit. "the number of adult males." (8) In the Old Testament the same strategies are used for eliminating masculine pronouns, avoiding the word "man," and so forth. We note also that in Isaiah 19:16 where the prophet says "the Egyptians will become like women and tremble with fear," the TNIV has "In that day the Egyptians will become weaklings," apparently to avoid offending readers who might object to Isaiah's use of a "stereotype" about women (similarly Jeremiah 50:37, 51:30, and Nahum 3:13).

Clearly, these renderings and many others like them in the TNIV are not the result of any scholarly attempt to be "gender accurate," as the spokesmen for the International Bible Society have claimed. They are a result of the desire to avoid offending "modern sensibilities," as the committee's own Policy Statement on Gender-Inclusive Language states plainly enough, and a result of their belief that it is "appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers," as stated in the preface of the British edition prepared by the same committee in 1996.

As far as the NRSV, there's

.J.M. Roberts, another member of the NRSV translation committee, later published an article [2] in which he protested against the "tyrannical and arbitrary authority" assumed by the final editorial committee which had been elected to revise the translation for "stylistic consistency":

... the members of this editorial committee understood their task as involving a far greater authority to revise the translation than the full committee ever intended. According to Dentan [one of the five members of the committee], 'This editorial committee was given power to determine the final form of the text before publication.' Such a formulation is dangerously ambiguous. What the full committee understood and intended as the task of the editorial committee was actually quite limited; while respecting the basic work of the full committee, the editorial committee was expected to make the relatively minor changes to the finished product that were necessary for the sake of stylistic consistency. At least in the case of the Old Testament editorial subcommittee, that is not what happened. Some hint of the far more intensive reworking carried out by this small committee ... can be seen in Dentan's account of non-scholarly consideration that colored their work ... the editorial committee made thousands of changes, some quite substantive, to the translation of the Old Testament made by the full committee, and when members of the full committee became aware of the extent of these changes, many were outraged, feeling that much of their own work on the translation over the years had been irresponsibly gutted."


The deliberately non-Christian interpretation of the Old Testament which made the RSV unacceptable to conservatives is continued in this revision. In fact the most notorious verse of the RSV, Isaiah 7:14, in the NRSV is moved even further away from its connection with the New Testament. The RSV had rendered it "a young woman shall conceive" (future); but the NRSV has "the young woman is with child" (present), which effectively prevents the Christological interpretation (and there is no footnote to inform the reader that the RSV's "shall conceive" is a possibility).

As far as the NLT, he has similar things to say. These versions are translations in some aspects and not at all translations in other aspects. To present them as "translations" will lead people to believe things which are not true. Must we really change God's Word for people to accept it? Is it not powerful enough? Is He not powerful enough to call people to Himself with the truth?

There are many who feel the Bible is God's Word and inerrant. And, there are those who feel it needs to be changed because the authors must have put their own biases in. It seems obvious to me that one can not believe both.

As far as using Bible translations such as the ASV because they are most literal, it uses English in a way that is no longer spoken today just as other Bibles like the KJV also do. And, the NASB is a literal translation, an update of the ASV, that uses English as we do today. So, there are Bible translations available that are literal and yet in our actual language of the day. Your post seemed to imply there was no such thing.

R. Mansfield said...

Geoff, thanks for replying.

A few responses:
- You are correct that it might first seem curious that the TNIV translators would add "and sisters" (something allowed by the Greek if the context allows it) in v. 39 after the prohibition of women speaking in vv. 34-35. But your exegesis (or that of Marlowe since you are copying him) fails to take into consideration 11:5, which is clearly in the context of public worship:

“But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.” (1 Cor 11:5 NASB)

So in 11:35, if Paul speaks of women prophesying during public worship, why would he deny it in 14:39? I don't know about you, but I don't believe the Scriptures contradict themselves. Therefore, I suggest you take another look at vv. 34-35 to see exactly what those verses mean. No church I know of takes those verses literally and doesn't let women speak, and I doubt that Paul meant something so narrow. Any recent commentary will allow you to explore the interpretive options. Nevertheless, 14:39 in the TNIV is a valid translation as evidenced by Paul's instruction in 11:5. The Scriptures DO NOT contradict themselves.

- Regarding James 3:1, we've already discussed the translative validity of ἀδελφοί being rendered as "brothers and sisters." Even the ESV translators admit this. See their note on Matt 5:47 for instance. But concerning this specific verse, you're over-interpreting. To render ἀδελφοί as "brothers and sisters" is not to imply that James approved of women teaching doctrine, but rather he knew that there existed both men and women who were eager to be teachers. Note also, that Acts 18:26 seems to suggest that Apollos was instructed by both Pricilla and Aquila. The concept of a woman teahing doctrine in the proper context is not foreign to the New Testament.

The use of ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἀδελφὴ in James 2:15 cannot be used to draw any conclusions to James intentions because he had used ἀδελφοί a few words earlier in the previous verse. Scripture is full of examples in both Testaments where word forms are varied when the occur closely together for sake of style.

- Regarding Acts 4:4, what's the big deal? Since the translation committee changed the rendering of this verse between the 2002 edition and the 2005 edition, they clearly saw a mistake. So are you going to complain at what you see as an error in the translation and STILL complain when it is fixed?! Good grief.

- Regarding Isa 19:16, the Brown-Drivers-Briggs Hebrew lexicon states that ‏אִשָּׁה‎ (usually translated woman or wife) can also be used as metaphor for "men as feeble, timid." Considering that this is what the context of Isa 19:16 is referring to, "weakling" is a MUCH more accurate translation than to literally translate the word as "women" which loses all sense of Isaiah's intent. The same thing applies to the other passages you reference. This is a common Hebrew metaphor that a mature translator will recognize.

The statment you quote from the preface of the 1996 British NIV is not found in the TNIV. As I've demonstrated above in the examples YOU offered (or technically copied from Marlowe, the concern of the TNIV translators was based on translational accuracy, not on whether or not they would offend anyone. The Bible will always offend because it exposes us to our sin. That includes the sin of bearing false witness, which often applies to the charges made against the TNIV and its translators.

As for your final paragraph in which you discuss literal translations in the language of the day, tell me which translation is more literal in this example:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Tim 3:16 NASB)

“All Scripture is God–breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16 TNIV)

The Greek word, θεόπνευστος/theopneustos, is translated "inspired by God" in the NASB, but "God-breathed" in the TNIV. Which one is more literal? The TNIV by far.

Here's another example:

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.” (1 Cor 5:1 NASB)

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man has his father’s wife.” (1 Cor 5:1 TNIV)

The Greek word behind "immorality" in the NASB and "sexual immorality" in the TNIV is πορνεία/porneia. Now I'm guess you don't have to have had any instruction in Greek to guess that sexual immorality is a much more precise translation for porneia than mere immorality.

Want an Old Testament example?

Consider Neh 9:16--

“But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff–necked, and did not obey your commands.” (TNIV)

“But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly;
They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments.” (NASB)

The phrase "stiff-necked" (TNIV) or "stubborn" (NASB) comes from the Hebrew phrase ‏וַיַּקְשׁוּ֙ אֶת־עָרְפָּ֔ם‎/wayyaqshu ’et-‘orpam. This phrase refers to a hard/stiff (qashah) neck (oreph) and alludes to the beast of burden who doesn't submit to his master's instruction to turn one way or another, but stiffens its neck and refuses to submit. In a sense, the Levite speakers in Nehemiah 9 are claiming that their ancestors behaved like stubborn animals in response to God's commands.

So here, the TNIV translates the Hebrew idiom literally while the NASB translates the meaning of the two-word phrase with the one word, stubborn.

Which is more accurate? The TNIV of course. In reality, it's not always a matter of what translation is more literal. Yes, the NASB is often more literal, but that doesn't mean that it's more accurate. Accuracy is measured by how clearly the translation renders the message of the original texts. And I'd submit to you that in that regard the TNIV is a very accurate translation.

R. Mansfield said...

Noah, I don't know if you'll see these posts or not. Whenever I've posted a comment, Blogger tries to email you at, but this isn't a valid address and it bounces back to me. You might want to go back in and adjust your settings.

It looks like some of my Hebrew got scrambled above. We'll blame that on Blogger, but fortunately, I transliterated all the Hebrew as well.