“This is not a gender matter, it’s a language matter.” Professor Jimmy Duke speaks for many in his comments on translations (Saint Paul Pioneer, June, 1997:4D). I beg to disagree. As a professor of New Testament who has served on several translation committees, and as a woman, I propose that the May 27 “Guidelines for Translation” released from Focus on the Family’s headquarters in Colorado Springs are solely “a gender matter.”
Language does affect our thinking and our sense of who we are. Because both men and women have been conditioned to accept noninclusive language—even deprecating language—we may be unaware of the effects of a lifetime of such language on our psyche.
The badge of political incorrectness began as an oft-appropriate response to ideas and values imposed on us culturally by political liberals—a backlash against left-wing “thought police” whose anti-traditional values ironically included opposition to censorship, absolutes, and “legislated morality.”
When a bomb goes off those behind the incident will usually take credit and publish a tract or manifesto to propagate their views. So it was in the latest chapter of the evangelical culture wars. On May 27, 1997, the International Bible Society (IBS) made a decision that exploded in controversy, and the real culprits behind the matter went to press proclaiming their point of view.
Interpretation is a complex adventure. The reader compounds this complexity, in part by asking (and not asking) certain questions. Such questions guide and sometimes limit or even obstruct the interpretive process. Interpreters have tended to ask certain specific questions concerning Paul’s words about women. This article examines two such questions and finds them wanting.
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.
Regular readers of Priscilla Papers will be familiar with those standard biblical texts one points to when discussing feminine imagery for God. We read, for example, of God extending a mother’s care in Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (nrsv). Similarly, Jesus longs to offer such comfort and protection in Matthew 23:37 (also in Luke 13:24), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (nrsv). In addition to motherly comfort, other common texts speak of God nursing and giving birth (e.g., Num. 11:12; Deut. 32:18; Isa. 42:14).
This list is meant to provide a brief sampling of the rich literature of Bible commentaries written by evangelical scholars in the last few decades. All of the Bible commentaries listed here are friendly to an egalitarian perspective.
Over the past forty years, the remarkable presence of women in Prov 1–9 has drawn an equally remarkable number of studies, a gift from the rise of feminism and women in the academy. The combination of these two forces brings attention to the once invisible women in the text, figures generally overlooked or ignored as males have read and interpreted the text for other males. Now, however, the text again gives birth to these marginalized figures, providing them with bodies, eyes, ears, hands, feet, and especially, mouths for speech. Of 256 verses in Prov 1–9, 132 specifically mention or speak about women and another seventeen verses either introduce these texts or draw conclusions from them;hence fifty-eight percent of Prov 1–9. Yet, ironically, all this attention to women comes because of the writer’s interest and concern for young men (1:4), with a secondary appeal to older, wise men (1:5). For the sages, it would seem that the way to a man’s heart is not through food, but through women. After all, the author seems to assume, what better way to engage the attention of a young man than by speaking about or describing women?