In Part 1, we set the stage for today’s discussion by exploring some of the ways in which bias and mistakes in translations have upheld, implicitly and explicitly, beliefs in the subordination of women. Today, we’ll pick up where we left off with an example of bias in translation and an answer to our final two questions from last week:
Why is this a problem for women? Why should biased translations and mistranslations matter to Christians?
In Romans 16:1-7, the apostle Paul refers to Phoebe as a deacon and Junia as an
apostle Some English versions translate the word deacon as deacon or minister when it refers to men, but diminish it to deaconess or servant when it refers to women. And some English versions turn the name Junia into the masculine name Junius or lessen her position as someone who was well known to the apostles. When the original languages refer to women as valiant or strong in Proverbs 31:10, the translations reduce women to capable or noble. When they are exhorted to act sensibly, the translators change this to be modest (1 Tim. 2:15; 3:2).
So, why do the translators try to “fix” the translation of passages that refer to women in positions of strength and leadership? Neither Protestant nor Catholic translators attempt to “fix” passages that seem to contradict their views on salvation. Catholics point to James 2:17 to argue that faith without works is dead. And Protestants point to Ephesians 2:9-10 to argue that we are saved through faith, not works. They don’t try to alter these seemingly contradictory passages in their versions to force the text conform to their views. Instead, they translate what’s written and trust the Holy Spirit to sort out the seeming contradictions.
But this is not so with passages concerning women. Across the board, Catholic, Protestant, liberal, and conservative translators have consistently attempted to “fix” the passages that depict women as strong, serving as teachers, or acting in positions of authority by mistranslating those passages to diminish the real intent of Scripture concerning the role of women.
These mistranslations are not without consequences. Modern women growing up in the Western world are reading the Bible and concluding that Christianity, and therefore God, demeans women.
For centuries, Christianity was passed on through oral tradition. Since the rise of literacy, the primary means of passing on the faith is by encouraging Bible study. This makes an accurate translation of Scripture much more critical since mistranslations lead to wrong doctrines and practices that are destructive to the church and the family.
These mistranslations are not without consequences. Modern women growing up in the Western world are reading the Bible and concluding that Christianity, and therefore God, demeans women. Many are rejecting the Gospel, becoming atheists, or turning to other religions.
Even in Christian homes, mistranslations result in negative consequences. They erode the healthy boundaries of wives and daughters and engender passivity and a feeling of powerlessness. Wives tolerate treatment by their husbands that is damaging to both their relationships with their children and themselves. They learn to suppress their natural instinct to be advocates for themselves or for their children, because they believe it’s unbiblical to confront their husbands.
Further, wives can use Scripture as an excuse to avoid doing or speaking up for what’s right. They are able to abdicate responsibility for their marriages and for their own choices because they restrict and limit their identity to the role of submissive wife (or they believe it’s righteous to restrict themselves).
Also, Christian women are encouraged to abdicate their adult authority in Christian work and in their communities. A wife, believing that she was created primarily to be her husband’s helper will often sacrifice herself and her desires to further her husband’s advancement, instead of both spouses practicing biblical self-denial to empower and benefit each other.
These biases and mistakes in translation lead to the belief that discrimination against girls and women is divinely sanctioned. When the church practices discrimination and claims that oppression as a divine mandate from God, it is sinning.
Daughters growing up in this environment may also lack healthy boundaries. They may compromise themselves for male attention because they have emotional deficits from unmet father needs. This is one possible explanation for the high rate of cohabitation and unplanned pregnancies. Developing vocationally often takes a backseat, leaving girls vulnerable to learned dependency.
These ideas have destructive consequences in the developing world where the devaluation and subordination of women is pervasive in many communities. Without laws protecting them from violence, women face physical abuse in their intimate relationships at alarming rates. In many cultures, women are still given away as child brides to older men. Additionally, many communities still practice polygamy and genital cutting. Male preference is widely accepted and girls are often deprived of both education and medical care as a result.
Some cultures practice the selective abortion of female fetuses because families value sons over daughters. Slavery has not ended for women. In fact, it is still on the rise. It is estimated that more girls and women are trafficked into slavery every year than Africans were trafficked at the height of the African slave trade. This includes the US, Canada, and Western Europe.
Jesus came to undo the work of evil and to bring redemption and wholeness, not to perpetuate the devaluation and exploitation of people created in the image of God. But Satan’s mode of operation has always been to twist God’s word to tempt and destroy. Satan challenged what God said to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And again when he attacked Jesus in the wilderness, he used God’s word.
Poor Bible translations that devalue females do not bring healing and restoration. These biases and mistakes in translation lead to the belief that discrimination against girls and women is divinely sanctioned. When the church practices discrimination and claims that oppression as a divine mandate from God, it is sinning (Is 10:1-4). Christians have a moral responsibility to provide a truly accurate and honest translation of the Bible for women, as it is the Bible that shapes belief and practice around the world.
 McKnight, Scott, Junia is Not Alone, (Kindle book), 27% and 71%.
 Dufield, Sandra, “Women and Scripture: When Hebrew and Greek Became English,” www.godswordtowomen.org.