One dictionary definition of the word language is “the words . . . and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.” To communicate, we need to be understood, and to understand the words others use. But language is always alive, always changing. We strain to grasp the sense of Shakespeare plays, shake our heads at the incomprehensibility of Middle English—and often struggle with new words that are daily added to our common vernacular.
One dictionary, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, is in its tenth edition since its first unabridged volume of 1890 and is updated annually, according to its editors. Language changes, and how words are understood is always inherent in that change. Once the word gay was understood as merry, as in the Christmas song “Deck the Hall” that includes the line, “Don we now our gay apparel”—even though that word today has a completely different connotation.
The first dictionary definition given for the word man is “an individual human being, esp: an adult male human.” This means that young people and those who are struggling to learn English as a second language need to make what for them is a giant leap to understand that man really means woman as well in some contexts.
This issue of Priscilla Papers takes a comprehensive look at this matter of language, which is so crucial to current discussions concerning Scripture translation. You’ll be interested in CBE president Mimi Haddad’s historical take on the language we use for people, for God, and then for translations intended to make the language clear to women who no longer understand they are implicitly included when male nouns and pronouns are used. Bruce Kilmer’s companion article, “All Things to All People,” sheds more light on this most difficult issue. We hope you will be helped and encouraged.
You will also be nourished by a reprint from Christian Ethics Today on the subject of headcoverings, and want to ponder Gilbert Bilezikian’s current subordination challenge, number six in the series of ten he is presenting. And don’t miss Ruth Hoppin’s intriguing discussion of the authorship of the Book of Hebrews. Could the writer have been a woman—perhaps a woman named Priscilla?
Finally, you will enjoy the book review by Ruby Renz of Her Own Story, a collection of autobiographical portraits of early Methodist women. Reading this reminded me of a gifted woman who planted a Methodist church outside Detroit in my youth. Without fanfare, Elsie Johns took on an enormous challenge to pastor and build what is today a large, thriving congregation in a Detroit suburb—long before prolonged discussions over whether a woman had the right to do so.
I wish you not only happy reading, but a blessed and prosperous new year.
Carol R. Thiessen, Editor