What Are They? Where Did They Come From? And What Do They Really Mean?
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.
IBS’s controversial decision was to pull a complete reversal of its stance on gender-inclusive language and its plans for future editions of translations and publications. It decided to rescind its plans for the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI) in the U.S. and to recall its inclusive New International Reader’s Version (NIrV). Its president, Lars Dunberg, then signed a shocking set of gender-biased translation guidelines that were touted by some as a milestone agreement but considered by others to be a millstone around the neck of evangelical progress.
The creators of these guidelines were quick to claim responsibility for the explosive reversal and to announce their victory in print, first on the front page of the June 1997 CBMW News, published by the anti-egalitarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They next published a two-page advertisement in the October 27, 1997 issue of Christianity Today (pp. 14-15), which asked, “Can I Still Trust My Bible?” This ad listed not only the guidelines intended to guard us from “diminishing” the accuracy of our translations, but listed five “authorized” versions readers can trust. The ad offered a free information packet, containing CBMW brochures and a 32-page booklet, What’s Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations?, written by CBMW President Wayne Grudem.
Included in this advertisement, however, was the admission that revisions to the May 1997 guidelines had already been necessary! Two of the original twelve signatures had also been dropped—those of Dunberg and Bruce Ryskamp, president of Zondervan. The most significant change involved a concession that when the Greek speaks of brothers in the plural (adelphoi), it can mean both brothers and sisters and therefore may be so translated. We can only hope proponents of these guidelines will come to see that their faulty reasoning on this point is the same reasoning behind their other restrictions on inclusive translation.
On the heels of IBS’s explosive May 27 announcement, the June 1997 CBMW News boasted of its team’s success with a headline: “NIV controversy: participants sign landmark agreement.” The lead article, by Wayne Grudem, described the steps they took to make the agreement happen. On the cover, seven participants most closely associated with CBMW and/or most instrumental in the final decision exhibited their beaming pride at the outcome of the Colorado Springs meeting in a group photo. But who were these “participants” and what did they participate in? The headline makes it sound as if they represented opposing views on the inclusive language issue. The opening sentence describes them as “twelve men with strongly differing views on a controversial issue,” sounding as if something on the level of the SALT Accords happened here. Not so. Notice that no CBE members or prominent egalitarians were included. The majority present were CBMW-associated or representatives from similar organizations. They were CBMW members Grudem, Tim Bayly, John Piper and R.C. Sproul; Vern Poythress of Westminister Seminary; James Dobson, who called the meeting, and Charlie Jarvis, also of Focus on the Family; NIV Committee for Bible Translation (CBT) members Ken Barker and Ron Youngblood; Bruce Ryskamp, Zondervan Publishing House president and International Bible Society president Lars Dunberg (who did not re-enlist when the revision came around); and finally Joel Belz, publisher of World magazine, whose initial biased coverage of the NIVI prompted numerous ethics charges against the magazine by IBS and Zondervan. All of these men signed the controversial agreement, though only Dobson, Jarvis, Belz, Poythress, Piper, Grudem and Bayly stood together for the historic photograph.
CBMW News stated that “two hours before the meeting started, the International Bible Society had issued a press release that contained many of the very points we [CBMW] were prepared to request from them.” In other words, this was not a jury of twelve men with strongly differing views; it was more like a kangaroo court organized to lynch scholarly work done by the CBT. That two CBT members sympathized with the agreement in no way legitimizes the guidelines.
Let us now take a closer look at this so-called “agreement” and then consider the CBMW defense, which crystallizes the essence of what the IBS capitulation involves.
The Colorado Springs Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture2
Adopted on May 27, 1997, by the International Bible Society; deletions in the September 9, 1997 Revision shown as crossed out, additions shown in bold print
- Gender-related renderings of biblical language which we affirm:
- The generic use of “he, him, his, himself” should be employed to translate generic 3rd person masculine singular pronouns in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. However substantival participles such as ho pisteuon can often be rendered in inclusive ways, such as “the one who believes” rather than “he who believes.”
- Person and number should be retained in translation so that singulars are not changed to plurals and third-person statements are not changed to second-person or first-person statements, with only rare exceptions required in unusual cases.
- “Man” should ordinarily be used to designate the human race, for example in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:2; Ezekiel 29:11; and John 2:25.
- Hebrew ‘ish should ordinarily be translated “man” and “men” and Greek aner should almost always be so translated.
- In many cases, anthropoi refers to people in general, and can be translated “people” rather than “men.” The singular anthropos should ordinarily be translated “man” when it refers to a male human being.
- Indefinite pronouns such as tis can be translated “anyone” rather than “any man.”
- In many cases, pronouns such as oudeis can be translated “no one” rather than “no man.”
- When pas is used as a substantive, it can be translated with terms such as “all people” or “everyone.”
- The phrase “son of man” should ordinarily be preserved to retain intracanonical connections.
- Masculine references to God should be retained.
- Gender-related renderings which we will generally avoid, though there may be unusual exceptions in certain contexts:
- “Brother” (adelphos) should not be changed to “brother or sister”; however the plural (adelphoi) can be translated brothers and sisters where the context makes clear that the author is referring to both men and women.
- “Son” (huios, ben) should not be changed to “child,” or “sons” (hoioi) to “children” or “sons and daughters.” (However, Hebrew banim often means “children.”)
- “Father” (pater, ‘ab) should not be changed to “parent,” or “fathers” to “parents” or “ancestors.”
- We understand these guidelines to be representative and not exhaustive, and that some details may need further refinement.
The Colorado Springs guidelines treat the NIV as though it were a literal translation instead of the superior “dynamic equivalent” translation it is designed to be. Admittedly, some of the guidelines may be appropriate in literal translations or interlinear texts, which have strengths and weaknesses of their own, but these guidelines are inappropriate for a dynamic equivalent translation. Dynamic equivalent translators realize there are trade-offs to be made for the sake of clarity and accuracy; what they sacrifice in literalness (which can result in renderings not understandable in a receptor language) they more than gain in reproducing the author’s intent. As a dynamic equivalent translation, the NIVI (currently available only in the U.K.) overcomes the historical and cultural distance intrinsic to gender-laden language.
Sadly, the Colorado Springs guidelines fail to recognize the nature of the NIV’s own translational philosophy, which when carried out consistently must embrace gender inclusiveness. The guidelines also fail to recognize inclusive language as a legitimate receptor language for translation.
This “landmark agreement” did not represent a group of scholars wrestling with how to best translate God’s Word into a dynamic equivalent for modern readers. That had already happened when the CBT met years earlier and made plans to update and inclusify the NIV and related publications. What happened at the Colorado Springs meeting was that persons representing only one point of view (subordination of women) persuaded the CBT’s business partners to conform the NIV to that view.
What About the Specific Guidelines?
For the most part the guidelines beg the very issues at stake in this debate, as do the clearest defenses of these guidelines, written by Dr. Grudem. The first of these defenses appeared in CBMW News in June 1997. Another appeared in the October 27, 1997 issue of Christianity Today (pp. 27-32) and was essentially a condensed version of the CBMW News article. A third, What’s Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations, also by Grudem (32 pages), appears to be a reworked anti-New Revised Standard Version tract, updated to include elements of the preceding two articles.
Since Grudem’s article in CBMW News seems to be the key document rationalizing these guidelines, I will focus primarily on it, noting significant insights to be gained from the other sources, and will consider these arguments in the order raised there by Dr. Grudem.
On page 3 of CBMW News, Grudem begins with the question, “What were some specific problems with the inclusive language translations?” His list begins: “First, the loss of the generic ‘he, him, his’.” Grudem states that eliminating generic masculine pronouns in inclusive translations has “obscured the personal application of Scripture to the individual” when singular statements are translated into plural statements. A statement like, “I will come and eat with him” now becomes “...eat with them.” This, Grudem says, is less personal because it implies a corporate meal rather than a personal one. Grudem quotes this and similar passages to justify guidelines A1 and A2, which endorse the generic use of “he, him, his” and which prohibit changing gender or number when translating Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek pronouns, “with only rare exceptions required in unusual cases.” (Significantly, Grudem himself acknowledges these rules cannot be applied consistently!) But even if we could stretch our imaginations to think that pluralizing is depersonalizing, would this really be worse than implying that Christ was speaking primarily and preferably to men?
After all, do we assume we must be part of a corporate assembly when Isaiah 40:31 says that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”? Don’t we rather assume this means each of us, and not just those who do it in groups? Of course. The same can be said for John 3:16. No one would be taken seriously who argued that “God so loved the world” means he only loved us collectively and not individually or personally.
What’s more, it is hard to understand why, if Grudem feels it is so important to retain the personal impact of such verses, he would not allow the dynamic equivalent translation of these statements into the second person, e.g., “I will come and eat with you”? His objection to this is that it “restricts the sentence to the readers... rather than keeping it universal.”3 If this is so, then I suppose we have all been presumptuous in applying to ourselves statements like “It is by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8). Apparently this is not a universally applicable statement because Paul used the word “you.” We must then restrict Paul’s meaning to the Ephesians only.
Grudem makes similar objections to translations that inclusify by substituting “we.” “We”, he says, restricts the meaning to the speaker and hearers.4 But what about Romans 5:1, “we have been justified by faith”—did this teaching apply only to Paul and the Roman Christians fortunate enough to receive his letter?
However, pluralizing generic masculine singular pronouns does no actual harm to their personal impact or intended meaning, and can accurately convey the author’s intent. Grudem’s rejection of such translations is unreasonable. Guidelines A1 and A2 are unsuitable for a dynamic equivalent translation.
Grudem goes on to insist that the generic use of “he, him, and his” continues to be acceptable in English today, citing examples of such usage in current dictionaries, stylebooks, and secular journals, and by a few contemporary skeptics who doubt that English will ever fully make the transition to true inclusivity. No one doubts there are still remnants of the literary world that do not use inclusive language, but the question is why a dynamic equivalent translation would deliberately ignore contemporary English generic usage.
Grudem turns next in his analysis to the question, “What if women feel excluded?” His answer is puzzling. He says, in effect, if they feel excluded, they just shouldn’t! After all, people “easily... learn hundreds of variations in different dialects.” Women, he says, should be taught that “such usage does not in fact ‘exclude women’.”5 But if women really haven’t been left out of the meaning of the text, then what is wrong with translating that text into the correct dynamic equivalent to express this reality with clarity?
Most remarkable, however, is Dr. Grudem’s own admission that masculine phraseology in the ancient languages was not intended to exclude women. For years he and his colleagues have declared that, based on the fact that the original languages used masculine terms to describe certain ministries and/or people who filled those roles, the Scriptures do indeed exclude women from those roles. Now Grudem suddenly declares: “the original author did not intend such an exclusive meaning, the translators did not intend such an exclusive meaning, and that is not the meaning the words have when interpreted rightly in their contexts.”6 This remarkable statement thus begs the question: Will he (and his colleagues) cease to exclude women from ordination and from positions of pastor, elder, and deacon—since he himself can no longer claim that the text excludes women based on masculine phraseology in the original languages?
Grudem’s next concern regards “The name ‘man’ for the human race,” which provides the basis for guideline A3, requiring translators to use the term “man” when the text means humanity, human beings, or the human race. 7 The question a dynamic equivalent translator must ask is, “What does this word mean in its context and how can I render it into my receptor language in a way that best communicates that original intent to my people group?” If the word ‘adam means “the human race,” then regardless of any “male overtones” in the original language, it should be translated to communicate its intended meaning.8
However, Grudem insists on using “man” for ‘adam and expands his argument as follows:
- Terms like “humankind, human beings, and human are not names that can refer to man in distinction from woman, and thus they are less accurate translations of ‘adam than the word man. The male overtones of the Hebrew word are lost.”9
- That God named the race man “suggests some male headship in the race.” Since both the man and the woman had to share the husband’s name, Grudem and his colleagues infer male leadership. Abandoning the use of a male-gender-specific word for the human race would discourage this conclusion by English readers.10
- Grudem wants us to consider, “What if these... ‘patriarchal’ elements in Scripture are part of what the Holy Spirit intended to be there? If we hold to the absolute divine authority of Scripture, then we should not seek to mute the content that the Holy Spirit caused to be there.”11
These three points are very illuminating. Point 1 tells us that, to Grudem, although a word in its context may mean humans in general, it is more important to retain its male overtones than to translate it in a way that clearly conveys its primary meaning, even if those overtones will create confusion and mislead some readers to think that they or those they love may be excluded, or that they are secondary participants.12
In points 2 and 3, Grudem argues for implied headship and a possible patriarchy of the Spirit. The concern of point 1 is for the loss of accuracy, which Grudem thinks requires retaining overtones. But is not accuracy the very issue at question and might not overtones actually be misleading? Why should translators accept guidelines based on inferences and possibilities that are not clear to everyone— especially when it is clear that, in generic contexts, ‘adam means humanity. Any departure from what is clear only clouds accuracy. If we follow Grudem’s guidelines, we lose the primary meaning of inclusion—which all agree ‘adam possesses when referring to the race. But if we translate inclusively, all we lose are the inferences that “complementarians” read into this word but which are not explicitly in the text. Grudem himself admits these inferences are not essential to the meaning of the text when he calls them “overtones.”13
My suggestion is this. Let translators translate what is clear, and when it comes to theories based on possible inferred meanings, do what pastors and exegetes have always done to explore nuances in the ancient texts: Engage people in word studies. Such studies are rightly reserved for preaching and teaching that goes beyond the primary, central and obvious meaning captured by translators. Such studies will continue to be required regardless of how the gender-inclusive question is settled.
Dr. Grudem next raises some issues that could have been argued effectively. He asks the questions, “Should men be called men?” and “Should Jesus be called a man?” It does appear that one of the NIVI editors may have gotten carried away with the search-and-replace feature on the team’s word processor. At times, people who were clearly men (Jesus included) have been re-described in the NIVI using neutral terms. For example, in the NIVI “man of the Pharisees” became “a Pharisee,” the “men with Jesus” became the “disciples” with Jesus, and so on. However, not all of these changes are bad. Some, like the change to “a Pharisee,” actually make the writing crisper and more concise.14
In addition, might it not be legitimate for a dynamic equivalence translator to ask if the genders of those involved hold any significance for the meaning of a given text in a given receptor language? Sometimes it may be important that a person in a particular story was male or female; other times it may be irrelevant and only hinder the reader from identifying with the point of the passage.
In the case of Jesus, it certainly would be wrong to conceal intentionally the historical fact that he took on a male body, or the theological fact that he is the eternal Son of God.15 However, regardless of what “complementarians” may read into the “overtones” they perceive, the point of speaking about God and Christ with personal pronouns is not that those pronouns are masculine, but that they are personal. The point of Jesus’ incarnation was not that he became a male but that he took on full humanity. The so-called “scandal of particularity” in the incarnation involves the fact that Jesus not only became human but he also became a male human, a Jew, a Roman subject, a Galilean, a person of the first-century, a carpenter, of the tribe of Judah, and so on. Sometimes some of these aspects of Jesus’ identity bear more significance to a text and its context than others. Translators need to consider how these specifics will be understood by the receptor group. Sometimes, what’s really most significant is that Jesus was human. In such cases, gender-specific language may only cloud the real issue the author wanted to communicate. A dynamic equivalence translator may therefore prefer an inclusive rendering. To Grudem this seems as if “the masculinity of Jesus [is] downplayed.”16 In actuality, the message of Jesus’ actions and his humanity are heightened.
These concerns form Grudem’s basis for guidelines A4 and 5, which require certain Hebrew and Greek words traditionally rendered “men” and “man” to “almost always” and “ordinarily” be translated in the masculine. However, his qualifiers suggest Grudem and his colleagues recognize that even these words, which they feel are so clearly masculine, do not always behave the way they would like them to behave. This suggests the words are in fact more inclusive and flexible than Grudem and company want to admit.
Interestingly, many of the examples Grudem himself cites in favor of guidelines A4 and 5 could also be used to argue against him. For example, Grudem criticizes the inclusification of 2 Peter 1:21, which refers to Old Testament prophets (“men” in NIV; “human” in the NIVI). Aware that verse 20 refers to written prophecy, Grudem concludes that since no known written prophet of the Old Testament was a woman, there is no point in inclusifying this text. But verse 21 goes on to speak of and include spoken prophecies. Certainly we know of female prophets in both testaments and some of their “spoken” prophecies are recorded for us and therefore are written Scripture (e.g. 2 Ki 22:14-20; 2 Chr 34:22-28). An inclusive rendering is therefore quite justified. Likewise, Grudem objects to changing Paul’s statement, “when I became a man” to “when I became an adult” (1 Cor 13:11). Yet this rendering is far more effective and has the advantage of maintaining consistency with Paul’s earlier phrase: “when I was a child.”
Next Grudem explains the limited endorsement given by the guidelines to specific “legitimate uses of inclusive language,” by discussing guidelines A5, 6, 7 and 8.17 It is only fair to point out that in a letter to Christianity Today, Grudem and his colleagues complained about being called “inclusive language opponents” and expressed disappointment at not being given credit for including six guidelines “that approved certain kinds of inclusive language which can retain accuracy in translation.”18 Some of the guidelines do indeed allow for inclusive speech, and this is even more true since the September 1997 revision. But in CBMW News, Grudem himself highlights only four, not six, and these are under the section entitled, “Gender-related renderings of biblical language which we affirm” (emphasis added).19
When inclusivity is allowed by the guidelines, however, it is sometimes with a curious emphasis that lends itself to ambiguity and inconsistency. For example, guideline A5, says, “In many cases, anthropoi refers to people in general, and can be translated ‘people’ rather than ‘men.’ The singular anthropos should ordinarily be translated ‘man’ when it refers to a male human being” (emphasis added). But why should the singular be so translated? (In the words of Grudem’s colleague John Piper, “the Greek anthropos regularly signifies ‘person’ not ‘male’.”20 Another of Grudem’s colleagues, Andreas Kostenberger, writing in the same issue of CBMW News, affirms that “anthropos, especially in the plural, may refer to people including men and women.”21 Why then, we wonder, does the guideline make it sound as if the “ordinary” meaning is “male”? Meanwhile, the Hebrew singular ‘adam, which is the functional Hebrew equivalent of anthropos, is described as sometimes referring to people in general, yet the guidelines require it to be rendered “man.” There seems to be real inconsistency here.
Furthermore, in guidelines A6, 7, and 8, several masculine pronouns are said to refer to people in general and therefore are allowed to be translated that way. Although Grudem wants credit for making this concession, he misses the very point of our contention. Inclusivists argue that in all cases where masculine pronouns and speech mean to include both genders, then in all those cases it is more accurate to translate accordingly. How is it that in the examples of A6, 7, and 8, it is permissible to translate inclusively, despite “overtones,” because that’s what the text means, while in the other cases it is not permissible even though that is what the text means? Grudem and his colleagues have yet to offer a reasonable explanation for this kind of arbitrary imposition of obviously male-biased preferences on the translated text.
Grudem resumes his discussion of the guidelines by moving on to A9, which seeks to retain use of the phrase “Son of Man,” and A10, which retains masculine references to God. Since the NIVI makes no effort to change masculine references to God (nor does any major inclusive language translation now available), guideline A10 appears to be either a preemptive strike or a cheap shot. Since it does not pertain to the NIVI, though, it is even less relevant than the rest of the guidelines and does not merit further discussion at this juncture.22
Section B of the guidelines pertains to “gender-related renderings which we will generally avoid, though there may be unusual exceptions in certain contexts.” Again there is ambiguity regarding “unusual exceptions in certain contexts.” But that aside, let’s look at inappropriate translations according to this section in the September revision:
- adding “and sister” where the word for “brother” appears in the singular (B1)
- changing “son(s)” to “child(ren)” or to “sons and daughters” (B2)—even though the plural of sons in Hebrew often means that
- changing “father(s)” to “parent(s)” or “ancestor(s)” (B3)
Grudem defended the original guidelines by arguing that adelphoi could only be translated “brothers” and not “brothers and sisters.”23 But in the same paragraph, he went on to admit that the term refers in actuality to all Christians! What then is wrong with a dynamic equivalent translation reflecting that fact? Grudem never really answered that, other than to plea for “accuracy.” But what made it inaccurate? Nothing! Again, his concern was merely to preserve “male overtones.” Thankfully he and his cohorts later discovered examples from ancient extrabiblical texts that show the term adelphoi can mean “brothers and sisters.” In What’s Wrong, Grudem cites four extrabiblical examples that explain the reason for their conceding this point and revising their guidelines accordingly.24 Even so, after defending the revision, and himself admitting the inaccuracy of rendering the word as “brothers,” he expresses sympathy toward and claims to “understand” and “respect” those who choose to continue translating that way so they won’t appear to be complying with “feminist culture.”25
But while conceding an inclusive translation of the plural adelphoi, the guidelines continue to oppose inclusifying its singular form. According to Grudem, in the passage “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him” (Mt 18:15), “brother” cannot be translated “brother or sister.” Are we to infer then, that the rules are different for how we behave toward our sisters? Does Jesus not mean “brother or sister”? Is it now acceptable to be angry with our sister and call her “Raca” or “You fool” (Mt 5:22)? Are we to forgive our brother seven times seventy times, but not our sister (Mt 18:21-22)? Obviously, to require this kind of treatment of the singular adelphos is to require a puzzling commitment to inaccuracy in a dynamic equivalent translation.
Likewise, Grudem points out that the Greek has a separate gender-neutral word for children (tekna) that the New Testament authors often used, but which at other times did not use, choosing instead to speak of all believers as “sons.”24 Grudem rightly points out the potential significance attached to “sonship” when and where this happens. Grudem explains that in Christ “we all (men and women) gain standing as ‘sons’ and therefore the inheritance rights that belong to sons in the Biblical world.” This is a significant point that might get lost by replacing “sons” with “children” in some cases. On the other hand, in a culture like ours that no longer attaches the same inheritance rights to the masculine gender, the word “children” actually carries the intended meaning more effectively.
Surprisingly though, Grudem himself admits that in Christ, women inherit the same rights as men. Presumably, therefore, if women are now to be treated as sons and have all the same “full rights of sons” (Gal 4:5), then certainly women must be entitled to do everything a son has the right to do!
So this brings us back to that nagging question: If in fact “sons” means to include women, as Dr. Grudem so adamantly asserts, then why complain when it is translated accordingly? After all, the NIV, NIrV, and NIVI are intended to be dynamic equivalence translations, presenting what the text means in the receptor language.
Grudem ends his booklet What’s Wrong with a long caution about those who would control our minds by means of Orwellian manipulation of a society’s vocabulary.25
Grudem is correct that language shapes how we think. But how we think also shapes language. Translation is not a mechanical substitution of receptor-language words for ancient-language words. It involves the translator in understanding both the ancient text and the modern context into which a text must speak. The translator must be able to distinguish between denotation and connotation, what is clear and what is an incidental, possibly misleading, “overtone.”
While it is clear that Grudem and his colleagues are genuinely concerned that the Bible be translated accurately, we must sadly conclude that for all their zeal they have failed to separate its intended meanings from their own presuppositions about masculinity and femininity. By means of these guidelines, they have sought to perpetuate restrictions on women and on language that are neither biblical nor accurate.
Finally, with regard to section C, “We understand these guidelines to be representative and not exhaustive,” my comment is that the guidelines may be representative, but not of dynamic equivalence translations! The revision adds, “some details may need further refinement.” To this we give a hearty “Amen!”
- In a recent response to my article, “Am I Wrong Because I’m Politically Correct” (the standard, Baptist General Conference, October 1997, pp. 14-15 ), Dr. John Piper mistook my condemnation of name calling and labeling as an allusion to the sensationalized treatment World magazine gave to this topic (“Why Inclusive Language Bible Translations Give Me Pause,” the standard, January/February 1997, BGC [yet to appear]). He then went on to call me “disingenuous” for calling the so-called “complementarian” view sexist, immoral and on the same level with racism, while I at the same time called upon readers to “dialogue on issues like this without name-calling, labeling or adhering to points of view simply because of the prominent personalities associated with them.” My point was that people who reject a view because it’s labeled “politically correct” seem to be doing so just because they don’t want to be associated with cultural liberalism; they are not considering whether or not in this case the politically correct thing is truly correct.
- Original guidelines reprinted from CBMW News, vol. 2, no. 3, June 1997, p. 6; revisions taken from “Can I Still Trust My Bible?” (advertisement, Christianity Today, October 27, 1997, pp. 14- 15) and What’s Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations? by Wayne Grudem, pp. 28-29 (1997 CBMW)
- Grudem, “Do Inclusive Language Bibles Distort Scripture? Yes,” Christianity Today, October 27, 1997, p. 31
- CBMW News, p. 4
- People, Grudem says, can learn this “in a moment”—although, I might add, it seems to take some people decades to catch on, Grudem and company included. Even so, Grudem is emphatic: “we have all been told a lie—for it is a lie that such usage is ‘exclusive’.” And who told us this lie? Incredibly, Grudem points at the feminists!
- In his CBMW News article he gave no real reason for this, other than noting that the singular collective Hebrew noun, ‘adam “has male overtones,” is sometimes used for Adam the person, and of man in distinction from woman. To this, we can only ask, “So what?”
Grudem’s only point seems to be that we should do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it—and if we stop doing it, men will no longer seem to represent the sum of humanity.
The translator is not, and should not be, under any obligation to reproduce any misleading connotations unfortunately attached to a word by “overtones.” Nor are translators obligated to retain such incidental elements in order to accommodate possible questionable interpretations that would be preempted by inclusive accuracy.
- In his article “Why Inclusive Language Bible Translations Give Me Pause,” the standard, January/February 1997, BGC (yet to appear), John Piper argues that inclusive language translations preempt possible patriarchal interpretations. Therefore, he thinks translators should retain masculine overtones of the original languages as a courtesy to his views.
- Grudem, “Yes” p. 28. See also What’s Wrong, p. 7ff.
- Ibid.; see also Piper, “Pause”
- Grudem, “Yes” p. 28. See also What’s Wrong, p. 7ff.
- Although men cannot make exclusive claim to the title human (quite an admission on Grudem’s part), nevertheless English should follow Hebrew, he says, in calling all humans “men” and all humanity “man.” Why? First because the Hebrew says that’s what God did. But we have to ask: was the point of this to place the woman under her husband, or was it to remind a primitive and patriarchal culture that women too are partners in the same humanity? Grudem assumes the former. We assume the latter.
- Again we wonder if Grudem has not betrayed his real motives. Is it really accuracy he’s after or does he want to obscure and “mute” the primary and essential meanings of ancient words in order to safeguard his own biased interpretations of word connotations? This really is the choice. He and his colleagues, by their own admission, want to build a case on peripheral “overtones” that will be lost in the transition to gender-accurate translation in the receptor language.
- In other cases though, it looks as if an NIVI editor unnecessarily felt the need to conceal the gender of people involved! If this is true, then there is certainly more work to be done on the NIVI before it should be released in the U.S. But the CBT knew that and was still busy working on its revision at the time this controversy exploded.
- I use the term “eternal Son of God” despite the fact that CBMW board of reference member John MacArthur teaches to the contrary. As opposed to historic Trinitarianism, MacArthur writes of Jesus in his commentary on Hebrews 1:4-5: “He was not the son until He was born into this world through the virgin birth.” MacArthur wrongly believes the title “eternal Son” traps one into making Jesus eternally subservient to God. But he rightly considers eternal subservience a heresy. (See The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews (Moody, 1983), on Hebrews 1:4-5, pp. 23-24.) Ironically, Grudem does believe Jesus is eternally subservient to God. For more on the departure of Grudem, John Piper and others in the gender-exclusionary camp from historical Trinitarianism, see Gilbert Bilezikian, “Historical Bungee- Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS), 40/1 (March 1997) 57-68.
- CBMW News, p. 4
- Ibid., p. 5
- Tim Bayly, Joel Belz, James Dobson, Wayne Grudem, Charles Jarvis, Vern Poythress, R. C. Sproul, “Letters to the Editor,” Christianity Today, October 6, 1997, p. 14
- The guidelines that most clearly do allow for some forms of inclusive language translation are: parts of A1 and 5 and all of guidelines A6, 7, and 8, totaling five. Plus, guidelines A2 and B2 allow for some “exceptions.” And B1 has been revised to be slightly more inclusive. While we welcome any guidelines that contain a sensible approach to inclusivity—and only guidelines A6, 7, and 8 do this without mixing in other, anti-inclusive elements— these few allowances are hardly enough to exempt these men from being called “inclusive language opponents.”
- Piper, “Pause”
- Andreas J. Kostenberger, “The neutering of ‘man’ in the NIVI,” CBMW News, June 1997, p. 11
- Retaining the phrase “Son of Man,” however, is a subject deserving more attention than Grudem or the NIVI translators have given to it. I admit I too winced when I read Psalm 8:4 in the NIVI, in preparation for a preaching series recently: “What are mere mortals, that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” The problem here is that this passage has clear messianic connections in the minds of New Testament authors. And the title “Son of Man” is one Jesus was fond of using for himself as a kind of messianic title. It is also a phrase sometimes used by the prophets of the prophets or of others.
However, the gender guidelines argue that “Son of Man” needs to “be preserved to retain intracanonical connections.” The obvious problem with this rationale, and Grudem offers no other, is that intracanonical connections could also be retained by creating an appropriate replacement phrase and using it consistently. There are a number of other issues Grudem could have raised concerning this phrase, but surprisingly didn’t. One is that Jesus is and was a son, not just a child. He was also a man, not just a human. These facts could argue in favor of retaining the phrase.
Conversely, there are several issues to consider that might argue against it. One is that Jesus was born of a woman and had no earthly father. In other words, his humanity derived entirely from a woman. Although he is the son of men by extension, just as he is the son of David by extension, the term, son of man, clearly does not mean he is the direct biological son of a man, meaning a male. Rather, the phrase is clearly messianic and intended to drive home the reality of Jesus’ human nature. In this light, “son of humanity” or “child of humanity” might actually best convey the theological meaning of the phrase from an incarnational perspective. Whatever the dynamic equivalent is for this particular phrase, the solution offered by, and the rationale behind, guideline A9 are clearly inadequate.
- What’s Wrong, p. 16
- CBMW News, p. 5
- What’s Wrong, pp. 24-27