Evangelical tradition places a high value on the biblical text, which is a good thing. But too often, we buy into a myth that our favorite translation is God’s true Word, pure and untainted by bias. Changes are seen as a threat to God’s truth, motivated by a social or political agenda.
Language matters. It impacts our ideas. It reflects our biases. It influences those we speak to. As I sang on Christmas Eve that all men are to employ their songs, the picture in my head was of men singing praises to God. Not one woman was among “all men” in my own imagination! It’s crucial that women see ourselves in what we sing, in what we read, and in what we hear.
Important questions, including over women’s leadership in the church and home, often hinge on translation issues. We don’t all need to be translation experts, but a basic understanding of Bible translation concepts helps us judge whether the arguments we hear are valid. It’s my hope that these principles will help us all better appreciate the challenge of translation and approach gender (and other) debates with knowledge and humility.
First Corinthians 14 contains the only passage in the Bible that at face value silences women or restricts their ministry in the churches. It is important for all who believe Scripture to understand the truth about this passage.
While some Christians rationalize sexism and patriarchy by appealing to the “plain reading” of Scripture, others instinctively question whether what they see on the pages of Scripture is a faithful and consistent translation of the original text. At stake is something much more costly than a statue; we risk living our lives based on distortions of Scripture, which, in turn, justify a Christianity centered not on Christ but on male rule.
Recent events in the evangelical community—particularly with the release of Todays New International Version (TNIV) Bible translation—have raised concerns over masculine language. Does Jesus ask us to be fishers of people or fishers of men (Matt. 4:19)? Is there a difference? Should we be afraid to use words like people, especially when the ancient text and context warrants this?
Recently, CBE lost a dear friend and a most gifted intellectual, John Kohlenberger III, after a thirteen-year battle with cancer. A humble but brilliant scholar, John published over sixty study Bibles and reference books. Serving CBE as a board member and advisor, John contributed to our scholarship, vision, and CBE’s “egalitarian speak” for more than fifteen years. A leader in Bible translation, John’s burning passion was to help people understand God’s word, especially as it addressed gender and power.
Mary and Martha continue to stir up heated dispute in the church, but their contribution to egalitarian arguments appears to have been wrung dry. I propose a new look at the sisters—a look that goes far beyond the tale of a “Mary” trying to fit into a “Martha” world.
Where and how we start in our interpretation of Scripture determines where we will end up. When seeking to understand the relevance of the Bible’s teaching for our lives, interpretive starting points are particularly significant. The method by which we read and derive meaning from Scripture is the fundamental determinant of the nature of the meaning we will derive.