In my previous article, I opened by clarifying that I sincerely believe gender-inclusive Bible translation always matters. Nevertheless, it matters more in some places than in others. I described four examples where gender-inclusive Bible translation makes a real difference. Below I list three more, for a total of seven.
5. 1 Timothy 4:7a
This example is of a different sort than the other six. It’s more specifically about being gender-sensitive, not merely gender-inclusive, in translation. 1 Timothy 4:7a says, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths” (ESV). The ESV is here to be commended for abandoning the phrase “old wives’ tales”—an antiquated expression which both the NRSV and the 2011 NIV retain!
The Greek word is graōdēs. This word suggests “foolish, frivolous” and is cognate with a Greek word meaning “elderly woman.” As a result, many English translations fall prey to a translation fallacy, which is the felt need to translate not only a word’s meaning, but also its etymology.
Consider, for example, the very next verse (1 Timothy 4:8), where Paul’s reference to physical training uses the word gymnasia. This word contains in it the word “naked” (gymnos); thankfully, we feel no need to retain its etymology in our translation, resulting in “naked physical training is of some value…”!
At the risk of going beyond seven examples, I’ll mention that at 1 Corinthians 16:13 “act like men” (ESV) and “be men of courage” (1984 NIV) are guilty of this same fallacy; compare “be courageous” (NRSV, 2011 NIV) and “be brave” (CEB). Similarly, “adoption” is to be preferred over “adoption as sons,” “sonship,” or “full rights of sons” in Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5. Like 1 Timothy 4:7-8, these several verses also need not use translations that reveal some aspect of a word’s etymology.
6. Philippians 2:7-8
Philippians 2:7-8 reads as follows in the ESV: “… but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form ….”
Both “men” and “human” are translations of anthrōpos, and it is not clear why the ESV translates the word in two different ways here. A reader of this translation who is familiar with the doctrine held by some complementarians that Jesus had to be a man might wrongly argue that such a doctrine finds support in this text. See “Could Our Savior Have Been a Woman? The Relevance of Jesus’ Gender for His Incarnational Mission” by Bruce A. Ware.
7. Romans 14
My final example broadens to a longer passage, thereby emphasizing that unnecessary masculine language in Bible translations does its damage largely by cumulative effect. I have somewhat randomly chosen Romans 14 as an example (it is today’s student-chosen text in my Greek class). The chart below collects four sets of data from six English translations.
Column 2 shows the number of times a translation uses a form of the word “man.” It is important to note that the Greek text of Romans 14 does not include the word “man” (anēr). The word anthrōpos does occur twice in this chapter (meaning “people” in v. 18 and “person” in v. 20).
Column 3 gives the number of times a translation renders adelphos as “brother” without an accompanying “sister.” The Greek text has five occurrences of adelphos in this chapter, all singular. It is essential to note that adelphos in this chapter, as well as many other New Testament instances, does indeed mean “brothers and sisters”—made clear, for example, by the scores of ESV footnotes which admit this very thing.
Column 4 shows the number of times a translation uses a masculine pronoun. For many of these, there is indeed a corresponding Greek masculine pronoun. The difference, however, is that Greek is a highly gendered language and English is not. Thus it is common in Greek to refer to something with a masculine word (noun, pronoun, adjective, or participle) even though there is nothing masculine about what the word represents. Here we should be more forgiving of the KJV than the pre-2011 NIV, because in 1611, the generic use of masculine pronouns was much more embedded in the culture.
The far right column gives the resulting total number of times in Romans 14 that unnecessary masculine words have been added to the Greek text—an alarming forty-five times in the KJV!
“he,” “him,” etc.
As stated at the beginning, I believe gender-inclusive Bible translation matters much more frequently than seven times. Nevertheless, I offer these seven texts as compelling examples of the importance of gender-inclusive translation tactics.