BIBLE: Gender-Neutral Bibles
What is the issue?
There are many gender-neutral Bible translations (recently called egalitarian translations) published in the past two decades. These are translations that attempt to eliminate all male-only references in the Bible. The publication of these translations have caused arguments among prominent evangelical leaders.
Where can we find a good source of information on the issue?
A detailed report analyzing the whole issue is:
Vern Poythress & Wayne Grudem (2000): The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God’s Words. (click here to download the report, use the link at the bottom of the webpage)
The report is a detailed analysis of the whole question. While the authors oppose the gender-neutral translations, both sides of the argument are presented. However, the report does not cover the controversy of the TNIV (2005). Information on TNIV can be found at http://www.keptthefaith.org/.
What are the problems with the gender-neutral translations?
It originated from the well-meant objective of reducing the feelings of some females of being discriminated against. But the result is a blind conformity to political correctness and conformity to the radical feminist agenda of erasing any reference to the masculine gender. This one-way bias against males is clear when the gender-neutral translations consistently preserve female examples, but often neutralize the male ones.
The result is a wholesale modification of words in the Bible that originally were clearly masculine. With such changes, the original sense and meaning of the Biblical texts were distorted. But the words in the Bible are God’s Word and must not be tampered with as we please.
Poythress and Grudem said it well in the conclusion of their report: “The omissions and alterations in gender-neutral versions are systematic in character, and line up with this (feminist) program. The integrity of the meaning of the Word of God has been compromised in the process.”
What are the techniques used in deleting male-only words?
Modified by gender-neutral translations
person, someone, they
your, their, those
man (human race)
mortals, humans, humankind
man (male person)
anyone, person, those
those, people, others
In some cases, the modification of the male-referenced words become so difficult that the translators simply delete the words entirely.
The result is that the original meaning is distorted. Deletion of words compromises the accuracy. Using plural instead of the original singular is a particularly serious distortion.
For example, Psalm 34:19 in the more traditional New International Version (NIV) reads: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” Jn 19:36 clearly says that the verse is a prophecy for the crucifixion of Christ.
But in the Today’s New International Version (TNIV), the verse reads: “The righteous may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers them from them all; He protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken.” Such a change obscures the prediction of the Messiah and drastically distorts the original text.
Aren’t some male-referenced words in the Bible actually refer to both genders?
Some words previously translated as masculin do originally refer
to both genders. In these cases, it is legitimate to add the female reference.
That is why the
“Brother” (Greek adelphos) should not be changed to “brother or sister”; however, the plural (Greek adelphoi) can be translated “brothers and sisters” where the context makes clear that the author is referring to both men and women.
How can we check quickly whether the Bible is gender-neutral?
(1) The best quick test is to look at John 14:21, John 14:23, Matthew 16:24-26.
The particular meanings expressed in these verses in Greek require a translation that uses generic “he.” If a particular version uses generic “he” in these verses, it will probably use “he” elsewhere in order accurately to represent the full meaning. If, on the other hand, generic “he” does not appear, you know that the translation has restructured the verses, altering nuances of meaning in the process. If it restructures these verses, it probably does the same throughout the whole Bible in order to avoid male-oriented meanings.
(2) Another quick test is to see if the word “man” is used as a name for the human race in Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:2; or if it uses the word “man” in Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man ....”
How dependable are the gender-neutral translations?
Since hundreds of verses have been changed, the gender-neutral Bibles cannot be depended for their accuracy and faithfulness to God’s Word. They should not be used as a sole source for Bible verses in Bible studies. They can only be used for general reading or for reference when comparing different versions.
My personal feeling on this issue:
In order to understand the issue, I have read close to 1000 pages of related materials. As an evangelical Christian, I feel very sad to see prominent evangelical leaders fighting each other employing escalating rhetoric. This is not God’s will. I strongly believe that this is one of the issues that the devil uses to cause internal struggles among evengelicals [the other one is environmentalism]. So, when we express our opinion on this issue, we should always keep this reality in mind and try hard to not cause more disagreements.
However, defending the Bible, God’s Word, against inaccurate translations is important. This work includes helping fellow Christians to discern which translation is accurate. Inaccurate gender-neutral translations published before the 1997 Colorado Springs Guidelines can be excused. But TNIV represents a more serious problem. It is the breaking of a promise (after agreeing to follow the Guidelines). It was published only because some translators don’t want to see their work wasted. This is not a sufficient reason to publish an inaccurate translation of God’s Word. It actually damaged and is still damaging the reputation of the publisher who has done so much good work for God’s Kingdom.
We can only pray that more Christians will know about this problem so that inaccurate gender-neutral translations will be out of print because of dropping sales.
ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF THE BIBLE DIVIDED BY ACCURACY
(explanation of abbreviations below the table)
Gender-specific Bible versions
Gender-neutral Bible versions
RSV (1946, 1952, 1971)
NASB (1963, 1995)
JB (1968) [Roman Catholic]
NIV (1973, 1984)
NIrV revised (1998)
NJB (1985) [Roman Catholic]
NAB (1988) [Roman Catholic]
NCV (1987, 1991)
GNB revised (1992)
NIVI (1995, 1996)
NLT revised (1996)
TNIV (2002, 2005)
Gender-specific Bible versions
KJV King James Version (1611)
ASV American Standard Version (1901)
RSV Revised Standard Version (1946, 1952, 1971)
NASB New American Standard Version (New American Standard Bible) (1963, 1995)
GNB(1976) Good News Bible: The Bible in Today’s English Version (1976)
NKJV New King James Version (1982)
NIV New International Version (1984)
REB Revised English Bible (1989)
NIrV(1998) New International Reader’s Version (1998 revision)
ESV English Standard Version (2001)
Gender-neutral Bible versions
NJB New Jerusalem Bible (1985) [Roman Catholic]
ICB International Children’s Bible (1986), simplified NCV
NAB New American Bible (1988) [Roman Catholic]
NCV New Century Version (1987, 1991)
NRSV New Revised Standard Version (1989)
GNB(1992) Good News Bible: Today’s English Version Second Edition (1992)
CEV Contemporary English Version (1995)
GW God’s Word (1995)
NIrV(1995) New International Reader’s Version (1995)
NIVI New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (1995, 1996)
NLT New Living Translation (1996)
NLT revised New Living Translation revised edition (1996)
TNIV Today’s New International Version (NT in 2002, entire Bible in 2005)
Culturally adapted imaginative renderings of the Bible [did not presume to be accurate]
Kenneth N. Taylor, The Living Bible—Paraphrased (1971)
Eugene Peterson, The Message (1995)