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.
Firmly committed to the biblical teachings on mutual submission (Eph. 5:21), John observed that men and women submit to one another because we recognize Scripture as God’s word, and are therefore compelled to follow its intentions and true meaning faithfully. But, this can be challenging because of human biases complicit in poor Bible translations that distort God’s message and marginalize the voice, agency, and vocation of God’s daughters. To this task John dedicated his time and enormous talent, and his work made it clear that mutual submission is the result of submission to God’s purposes as revealed in the pages of Scripture.
In their article “Does Male Dominance Tarnish our Translations,” CBE founders Alvera and Berkeley Mickelsen recognize how human frailty and male bias in Bible translations may lead to a misrepresentation of ancient texts. For instance, consider how the Good News for Modern Man Bible translates 1 Corinthians 11:10: “On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show she is under the authority of her husband.” The Living Letters writes, “woman is under a man’s authority,” and the Phillips Bible presumes, “an outward sign of a man’s authority.” While the Greek does not mention either a “husband” or “man,” these translators insert their presuppositions as if they were part of Paul’s text.
Imagine how many faithful Christians around the globe are misinformed and therefore deceived into wifely submission and husbandly authority. The only place the New Testament addresses authority in marriage is 1 Corinthians 7:4. Here both husband and wife share authority equally over one another. It was sin (Gen. 3:16) that ruptured the mutuality husband and wife, male and female enjoyed in a perfect world (Gen. 1:26–28). Yet, poor Bible translations impose a consequence of sin—male dominance over women—on Christian couples. Without careful submission to the intent of the text, we misunderstand God’s intent for submission in marriage.
Scholars have therefore, throughout history, identified other passages (Rom. 16:1–3, 7; 1 Cor. 14:34–36; and 1 Tim. 2:12 are a few) that have been translated in ways that reflect the male bias of the translators, muting and deforming God’s purposes for humanity. How can we become more submissive to God and God’s design for human relationships, despite the challenges of Bible translation?
Each of us can become a more skilled student of Scripture. We can learn to read the Bible in its original languages. This is made easier with language and online courses, software, and self-study language books. If you do not read Greek, use an online Greek interlinear Bible. We can use reliable reference books and Bibles and read the difficult passes using many different translations produced throughout history. If you are multilingual, try reading Scripture in other languages. Be aware of the challenges of Bible translation and always supplement translations by one person with those developed by a team. Remember that translation teams often have many more male than female scholars involved. Because all translations of Scripture are imperfect human endeavors, learning as much as possible about ancient history and culture leads to a better grasp of Scripture’s intended meaning. Pray for the work of translators and for better Bible translations.
When we can truly submit ourselves to a more reliable word of God, we will better grasp God’s ideal for mutual submission in human relationships.