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Published Date: April 25, 2016

Published Date: April 25, 2016

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7 Places Where Gender-Inclusive Bible Translation Really Matters: Part 1

As I begin, it’s essential that I emphasize that I believe gender-inclusive Bible translation matters much more frequently than seven times. In fact, I have often made the point that the King James Version and the pre-2011 New International Versions each include more than 1,000 occurrences of the words “man” and “men” which are not found in the Greek New Testament.

When I demonstrate that vast numerical discrepancy, I am driving home the point that people who claim that the New Testament has a masculine feel, and claim that gender-inclusive translation tactics do damage to that masculine feel, are expressing a truth about certain English translations, not a truth about the Greek New Testament. That is to say, gender-inclusive translations such as the NRSV, NLT, NIV 2011, and CEB are taking steps toward the character of the Greek New Testament, not away from it.

Nevertheless, some people aren’t persuaded by this big-picture argument. Some respond with a demand for examples. Thus I’m here taking the opportunity to give seven examples (four in this blog entry, three in a subsequent one) of places where gender-inclusive translation matters significantly.

1. Mark 1:17

Let’s start with a famous one: In Mark 1:17 we read, “I will make you to become fishers of men” (KJV). Nearly four centuries later, the NIV still used the phrase “fishers of men.” Happily, the 2011 NIV instead reads, “I will send you out to fish for people.”

I begin my list of seven here for two reasons. First, people who disapprove of gender-inclusive Bible translations often refer to this verse. They may say, for example, that “fish for people” simply doesn’t sound good. I consider this a specious claim, because essentially no one today uses the word “fishers” (except, of course, those who live in Fishers, Indiana, northeast of Indianapolis). That is to say, the “fishers” part of Jesus’s statement is the real culprit in terms of making the verse sound odd.

Second, I begin with this example because of the famous children’s song, “I Will Make You Fishers of Men” (published in 1927 by Harry D. Clarke). Simply stated, the wording of this Bible verse is important because millions of children learn it in their earliest years.

2. 1 Timothy 5:8

1 Timothy 5:8 is my second example, and for entirely different reasons than my first. In the KJV we read, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” This translation includes three masculine pronouns, and the pre-2011 NIV retains all three.

Again, we can be pleased that the 2011 NIV more faithfully follows the Greek text, which is gender-inclusive. Consider, for example, the NRSV: “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” This verse finds a place on my list of seven because an uncountable number of Christians believe that the Bible instructs husbands to be the main breadwinner for a family. Many of them don’t know this teaching comes from 1 Timothy 5, but they know it’s in the Bible somewhere.

On the contrary, however, even though this is what some English translations say, it is not what Paul said. Imagine how many marital squabbles and counseling sessions could have been avoided if translators had been more attentive to the gender-neutral nature of this verse! (Furthermore, the prior context speaks of children caring for parents, rather than vice versa, but that’s a matter for another discussion.)

3. 2 Peter 1:21

Many millions of Christians have heard the KJV of 2 Peter 1:21, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Millions more have heard this verse from a pre-2011 NIV, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Both of these translations include “man/men” twice—in spite of the fact that “man/men” is absent from the Greek text. Instead, here we have one of a vast number of examples of the word anthrōpos being translated as “man” instead of “human” or “person.” The CEB, for example, has, “… no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

I choose this verse for my list of seven because the popular gender-exclusive translations greatly exacerbate the problem of ignoring the Bible’s female prophets. The likelihood that a sermon or lesson will feature Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, Phillip’s daughters, or others quickly goes down if the very verse often used to define prophecy rules out women.

4. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

My fourth example echoes a Facebook post by Bill Derham, a member of the Biblical Christian Egalitarians Facebook group. (I don’t know Bill, but I appreciate his comments in the group.)

Paul’s famous counsel in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reads, in the ESV, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” As we might expect, other translations that use “man” in verse 17 include the KJV and the pre-2011 NIV.

As with my previous example (2 Peter 1:21), however, “man” here is a translation of anthrōpos. Bill pointed out that German translations here have Mensch (“person”) rather than Mann (“man”), thus noting that German translations have done a better job than English translations at faithfully rendering anthrōpos. I’ll add that Jerome’s fourth-century Latin Vulgate similarly has homo (“person”) rather than vir (“man”) here in 2 Timothy 3:17.

Part 2 expands this list to include seven places in the New Testament where gender-inclusive translation really matters.