It’s a Man’s Bible

Coming home early from work today to start the holiday weekend, I was reading the paper (the Chicago Tribune) on the train. On p. 2 of the main section was a short article entitled “It’s a man’s, man’s man’s Bible.” The substance of the article was about the announcement by Biblica this past September 1st at Trinity Christian College that the Committee on Bible Translation is going to completely redo the New International Version (NIV) for publication in 2011 (the 400-year anniversary of the King James Version). This will be the first complete revision of the NIV since it was first published in 1984. The gender neutral edition, called Today’s New International Version (TNIV), will, according to the article, “vanish” in 2011. You can watch the news conference or ask questions or make suggestions here.

The 2005 TNIV was exceedingly controversial in the evangelical community, mostly for its attempts at gender neutral language. For an excellent overview of the issues, see this paper.

In the article, academic gadfly Bart Ehrman is quoted as doubting that the revision has as much to do with the evolution of the English language as it does the orthodox trends in evangelical thought.

“They are changing the gender-neutral language, no doubt, because their ‘base’ is conservative evangelical Christians who are offended by anything that appears to have a feminist agenda behind it, not because the language has changed,” Ehrman said during a news conference at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights earlier this week. “If it has changed, of course, it has changed toward greater gender neutrality — except in religiously and politically conservative circles.”

What are your thoughts on this development, either as to the forthcoming revision of the NIV in particular or attempts at gender neutral translation in general?


  1. As a historian I hate tinkering just to make it palitable to some segment of society. Just as Jesus never had blue eyes, was not of African descent or a women (but one could argue that compared to his times he would have been an ancient feminist) there is no need to eliminate the history of our books especially sacred ones.

    Evangelicals are your primary sellers then you tinker it again… it is about the dollars.

  2. I’m confused. On the local radio they said the new NIV would have more Gender Neutral language. A local pastor noted this was in keeping with the spirit of the gospel, etc.

  3. Arrogant cultural imperialism, ‘correcting’ the writings of others.

    Let’s show respect for the culture of others.

  4. I really don’t care about the gender-neutral language. But on average, the new Bible translations have been useful. I hope this one will be too.

  5. As a historian I hate tinkering just to make it palatable to some segment of society.

    How do you feel about the tinkering the Church does to its manuals on, say, the teachings of the prophets? Surely the history they contain is not in its most unvarnished state, yet they seem to serve a worthy purpose.

  6. There is no need to take others’ word anyway. I love my Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English. You can see the word-for-word translation of the original Greek, with the KJV on the facing page. It is fascinating to see how ideas were actually expressed in the original.

    For instance, most everywhere the English says “man”, the Greek says ἄνθρωπος (which means “human”, “mankind”). Apparently, the NIV editors feel the need to single out men where the original εὐαγγελιστής did not feel the need.

    But as a certain former governor of Texas once perportedly said, “If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for the children of Texas!”

  7. Dan Weston brings up the point I would have brought up too. Does the original Greek/Hebrew write in a gender neutral fashion? If it does, then we ought to as well. Personally, I have no problem retranslating the bible to better suit the language of the times. I don’t get where this arrogance comes from that the King James Version is so complete that we ought not to bother fixing errors. I mean, our beloved prophet retranslated it because he didn’t like how it came across!

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 2, I’m guessing that such a statemenet would mean that the new NIV will have more gender neutral language than the original 1984 NIV, but not nearly so much as the controversial 2005 TNIV.

  9. #6: “There is no need to take others’ word anyway. ”
    I have a need…I don’t read Greek.

  10. Bob,

    I’m not saying we don’t need help with exegesis. The words are fairly simple (written in what was to the Evangelists a foreign language). If anything, that makes it harder to understand: you need the backstory of history, a solid foundation in Judaic law, what exactly the Jews were looking for in a Messiah, etc. Not just a Bible, but study guides, concordance, commentary.

    What I suggest the word-for-word translation (that’s the Interlinear aspect) is good for is to avoid the pitfalls of eisegesis, that someone (else) is reading extra junk into it based on some spurious connotation introduced into the English translation. (And I’ve heard some whoppers from some amateur eisegetes!)

    For this, I recommend Daniel Wallace’s “The Basics of New Testament Syntax”, which points out numerous such tricky points. One big one is the use of και (and). Does this mean two hats worn by a single person, or two different people.

    Cf. 2 Pet 1:1 θοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ σωτῆρος, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [of-the God of-us and of-Savior of-Jesus of-Christ]. Are God, Savior, and Jesus the same person? Or different? What do the of’s mean? Is Jesus the Savior (appositive) or does he have his own savior (objective genitive)?

    Even the word-for-word translation reveals start differences in the sophistication in language between different books. Wallace points out on page 23 that Revelation,Mark,John, and 2 Peter have a Semitic/Vulgar style (written by less educated) whereas Luke, James, and 1 Peter have a Literary Koine style (well educated, urbane). Clearly whoever wrote 1 Peter could not write 2 Peter, but you’re likely to get an argument over that from a Baptist preacher!

    These conjunctions, ambiguous antecedents, and ellipsis are much more Christologically significant in exegesis (for which we need help to understand), but at least we can see for ourselves that there is a potential ambiguity when someone tries to read in to it. Compared to the divinity of Christ, I think the fetish over gender is fairly unimportant (after all, everyone but Jesus was much more sexist back than the worst bigot is today).

    Beyond this, given that these writers of the New Testament actually knew people who knew people who knew the apostles and Jesus, that would be enough for believers to want to read it in the original. It’s like finding letters in Russian from your beloved and long-dead great-grandmother, that starts out, “Here is where I hid the family jewels…” You’d want to find that treasure! A single year of home study would suffice to read John 3:16 in the original:

    οὕτως γὰρ ἡγάπησεω ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον,
    thus for loved the God the world,

    ὥστε τὸν υἱον τὸν μονογενῦ ἔδωκεν,
    so-that the son the only-begotton gave,

    ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων είς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται
    in-order-that all the believing in him not may-perish

    ἀλλ’ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
    but may-have life eternial.

  11. As much as I would like a gender neutral Bible, isn’t one of our problems with even the King James version of the Bible that it includes translations, ommissions, etc. that may reflect the opinions of the people who did the modifying? If the updates were made by God or one of His prophets (like Joseph Smith), I would be all for it. But, a committee of men/women? I think that would be along the lines of “the philosophies of man”.

  12. #10: Sorry, now it need help in reading your #10.
    Maybe I am being to simple in my thinking. I believe the Bible (or BoM) should be an easy read in itself for the common person.
    99% of the readers never did, never will have, “the backstory of history, a solid foundation in Judaic law, what exactly the Jews were looking for in a Messiah, etc. Not just a Bible, but study guides, concordance, commentary.”

  13. #11: Do you not feel the KJV was done by “a committee of men/women? “

  14. Well, it will be interesting to see what they do. The use of inclusive language has become such a hot potato in evangelical circles that the translators will be criticized whatever they decide.

    Part of the problem here is the nature of language and how it changes. To take one key example, a century ago (and even less) there was no issue — people who saw the word “man” knew that it included women, so it was no problem to translate a masculine word for “person” as “man” and not be misunderstood. But ask my children, even ones who are growing up in a church where the KJV is used, and they’ll tell you that “man” refers to males, period. So if you use the masculine word in translation, you run a big risk of being misunderstood. But in evangelical circles, attempts to change the language to (in my opinion) make it more accurate can seem like a mistranslation done for political reasons.

    I’ve never liked the NIV; it strikes me as simplistic in its language. And the TNIV? I abhor its use of “they” and “their” with singular antecedents and would be embarrassed to read it out loud in a liturgical setting. No translation is perfect; of the popular translations, I’m satisfied with the NRSV, which is fairly inclusive in its language. But evangelicals will never accept it. Ah, the joys of politics of language!

  15. Bob, I’m sure with a quality translation you get everything you need. It is akin to marrying a Finn who speaks fluent English. There is no need to learn Finnish (unless you were a missionary in Finnland). You could raise your children in English and have a perfectly adequate life.

    Or you can learn Finnish to better understand the “backstory”, what your wife tick, what she means when she says something that doesn’t quite translate. You can raise you children in Finnish so they know they are children of a tradition and are less likely to leave that tradition when they grow up. It solidifies the family bond. It improves your English. It makes you interesting to others.

    Or if you don’t have the time, you can always just put your breakfast in a food processor and drink it. It’s after all, just as nutritious!

  16. Velikiye Kniaz says:


    gfe: In all likelihood your children would go a bit further and point out that the KJV use of “man” is in fact an error. For their generation the correct word would likely be “dude” and where the word “woman” occurs that should be rendered as “dudette”, and where all of humanity is referred to the simple plural “dudes” would cover both genders. Another sorely needed correction, from their perspective, to all verbs and many adjectives would be the addition of the ubiquitous “like” as in; …Jesus and his disciples like went to Galilee…, and Jesus was like angry with the moneychangers… Give it a few years and you will see these ‘modernizations’ creep into the Scriptures!

  17. With respect to gender terms, the English language has already changed. For example, when sending a letter to a local newspaper editor, I no longer use the words “man, men, he, him, or his” when referring to both men and women. Instead, I change my sentence structure in order to use the words “person, people, they, them, or theirs.” So the sentence, “When a man wants a pay raise, he must ask for it,” becomes “When people want pay raises, they must ask for them.”

    My second language, Indonesian, does not face this gender related challenge. It has a word for children is “anak-anak.” The word for male is “laki-laki.” The word for female is “perempuan.” So, to say “sons” or “daughters,” you have to modify the nouns with the adjectives and call them, “male children” and ‘female children” (“anak-anak laki-laki” and “anak-anak perempuan”).

    So, how would you translate the word “sons” in the phrase “sons of God” into Indonesian?

    If you translate word-for-word, then you end up with, “anak-anak laki-laki.” However, this phrase excludes daughters from the meaning of the original phrase. Closer to the *meaning* of the original *word* would be the less direct translation “anak-anak” which means “children.”

    Is the NIV allowed to adapt to the most popular use of gender terms?

    Those saying “yes” desire to most accurately communicate the meanings of the original Greek and Hebrew *words* to the most modern audience. They understand the “cultural battle” for the historic use of gender terms has been lost. They are accommodating the new linguistic landscape. They are following the same principles used to translate the Bible into Indonesian.

    Those answering “no” are still engaged in the culture-war to preserve the historic gender inclusive use of male terms. They impose archaic linguistic gender conventions of Greeks and Hebrews on a modern audience that no longer follows those conventions. The same semantic word-for-word correspondence applied to translating the Bible into Indonesian would exclude women from the meaning of many passages in the Indonesian Bible.

  18. #15:”I’m sure with a quality translation you get everything you need. ”
    I hope so. But my point is knowing what a Jew was feeling, talking about, or thinking thousands of years ago, is not what reading the Bible is about. It should be (IMO) about understanding God and ourselves.

  19. “knowing what a Jew was feeling, talking about, or thinking thousands of years ago, is not what reading the Bible is about.”

    That’s exactly what it’s about to me – and that same approach is what reading the Book of Mormon is about to me, as well.

    Sure, I like to “liken all things unto (myself)” – but, at the most fundamental level, those are two different exercises. I believe there is something important lost if only one of those exercises is pursued – and, often, the power of the original intent is lost in the too-specific application to our own lives.

  20. Iow, modernizing the language runs the risk of eliminating a great source of understanding others – and, while that’s fine in a theology that stresses salvation as a totally individualistic endeavor, there is a loss within a theology that tries to turn our **hearts** to our fathers (used in the gender inclusive sense).

  21. Bob 13 – yes, that’s why I said isn’t one of our problems with even the King James version of the Bible that it includes translations, ommissions, etc. that may reflect the opinions of the people who did the modifying?

  22. #19:.. “the power of the original intent (of the Bible) is lost in the too-specific application to our own lives.”
    I am putting my money on the common mother or father who read the Bible by candle light to their kids for hundreds of years as it’s ” orignial intent”.
    I don’t think it exists for lessons in Greek, for lessons in 1000 year old Jewish Law, or as some kind of Da Vinci Code to be only understood the by the well educated.
    If it is God’s word to his people, it should be understandable by billions, not hundreds, of people by a humble reading of it alone.

  23. Bob, I am glad to read that humble reading is sufficient for you to understand the will of God.

    I on the other hand am not so wise. I need to spend my humility on asking questions from more educated people, accept personal responsibility to constantly improve myself intellectually so that I can understand the answers I receive, honor the privilege and duty of free agency to develop myself morally and ethically through the study of religion and philosophy to be able to evaluate whether the voice in my head is from God, Satan, my own ego, or schizophrenia, so that when and if God does choose to speak to me, I will understand what He is saying and believe that He is the one saying it.

    When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. I actually thought that Little House on the Prairie was a documentary. Pa was always so wise. Ma was patient and kind and generous to strangers. But when I became a man, I put aside childish things, and learned that in real life the “common mother or father” of the prairie with an eighth grade education thought the earth was flat, that God loved white people more than black people, that “God helps them who help themselves” (except that God did not say that, Benjamin Franklin did), that all problems can be solved in a half hour.

    I agree that knowledge without wisdom is vain, but wisdom without knowledge is impossible. So while waiting for wisdom to strike, I am currently increasing my knowledge of Attic and Hellenistic Greek. Just in case.

    Ignorance has for me never turned out to be bliss, only self-justifying laziness seasoned with bigotry and served up with an unhealthy dose of jealousy. I found that once I started regarding other people’s erudition as an opportunity for me to learn instead of a threat to my self-esteem, I liked myself better. I can only hope that God feels the same way.

  24. #23: Dan, in #15 , you told me: “Bob, I’m sure with a quality translation you get everything you nee.” Now you tell me I also need the learning of men(?)
    I think you are being ( in paragraphs 2-3) too hard on the commom man and too respectful of the educated elite(?)
    I don’t believe a common man’s self reading of the Bible (or BoM) leads to “Ignorance …is bliss, only self-justifying laziness seasoned with bigotry and served up with an unhealthy dose of jealousy.”

  25. “If it is God’s word to his people, it should be understandable by billions, not hundreds, of people by a humble reading of it alone.”

    But Bob, it was God’s word first to the Israelites, conveyed in Israelite language and context, Israelite worldview and culture, idiom, etc. To completely strip it of that context or ignore it is to “wrest the scriptures” and misunderstand them.

    The Spirit, on the other hand, can convey God’s will to us individually, regardless. But let’s not confuse the two things.

  26. #25: Ben, your last paragraph is supportive of a simple “read, ponder, and pray” rule as outlined in Moroni 10: 3-5. I think the Bible is also understanable by this rule. To say I am wresting the scriptures by doing this. I feels untrue.
    I disagee that only the elite or learned can have the needed knowledge, or that they are needed by the common man to understand God’s words.

  27. #26 does does need better proof reading.
    I also believe your argument was made when the KJV was first printed for the command man.

  28. Bob, I am called only to strive to improve myself, not others. I do this because I cannot stop doing it. I do this through self-study and through dialog with others.

    If I have tried to improve you, or to imply that you should feel the need improve yourself, I apologize. That is clearly beyond my mandate and ability.

  29. #28: Dan, it is I who must apologize if you I made you feel I was talking about you, or that you were talking about me. I was writing about an idea.
    I also know very well I can be wrong (and often am!) on my side of the dialog.

  30. Actually Bob, I don’t think you’ve understood my comment at all. ““read, ponder, and pray” gives us revelation for *us*, not (as a general rule) historical or linguistic context to what it meant to *them*.

    What it means to us is likely a very different thing from what it meant to an Israelite audience. We should not conflate the two things.

  31. My central point is that context matters. Strip away the context, and it’s far too easy to turn words into anything someone wants them to be – and the world ends up having one more “scriptural justification” for one more abominable teaching, when that abominable teaching wouldn’t fly if the original context was understood properly.

    Imo, most of the truly horrible teachings of the Dark Ages grew out of a lack of understanding of context – and that is true of most of the worst things I hear in church on any given Sunday. Context matters to me.

  32. #30 & 31: Ben and Ray,
    I understand the importance of reading something in context, and that context can help in understanding the text.
    I only stiffen when told I cannot understand the Bible without knowing Greek or Jewish Law, or should defer my thinking to someone who does.

  33. Well Bob, let me be blunt then. Ya can’t. Not fully, anyway.

  34. #33: Nor can I fully understand it after two thousand years of study by the finest of where does that leave me…. with a sealed book?

  35. Imo, most of the truly horrible teachings of the Dark Ages grew out of a lack of understanding of context – and that is true of most of the worst things I hear in church on any given Sunday. Context matters to me.

    Context can certainly save, but it can also damn. For example, we get our redefinition of “celestial marriage” mostly by ignoring the context of certain sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. Our recent Sunday school lesson on D&C 132 came up with its implicit monogamy by _removing_ the relevant context.

    I don’t think we can claim that if we just understood the context correctly, the scriptures would say things that we like and agree with and that sit well with our contemporary sensibilities.

  36. As far as gender-neutral language in translation goes:

    (1) I’ve come around to preferring to translate ἀδελφοί [adelphoi] as “brothers and sisters” in passages where both men and women are clearly intended.

    (2) I’m not a big fan of rendering active verbs as passives in order to avoid engendered language.

    (3) I’m not a big fan of rendering singulars as plurals in order to avoid engendered language.

    (4) I can live with rendering οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι [“hoi ioudaioi”] as either “the Jews” (original NIV) or “the Jewish leaders” (TNIV).

    Complementarian evangelicals complained about all of these things, but I will tell you the real reason the TNIV upset them:

    (1) It translated 1 Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to … assume authority over a man” instead of “to … have authority over a man.”
    (2) It translated Romans 16:1 “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” instead of “a servant of the church in Cenchreae.”
    (3) It translated Romans 16:7 “Greet … Junia … outstanding among the apostles” instead of “well known to the apostles.”
    (4) It translated 1 Timothy 3:11 as “the women” and footnoted both “their wives” and “women deacons” as alternatives. (Contrast the ESV, which is put out by the people who complained about the TNIV and favored “Their wives” in the main text.)
    (5) It called each female prophet(ess) “prophet” instead of “prophetess.”
    (6) It translated 1 Corinthians 11:10 as “for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head” instead of “a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head.” (Note: “a symbol of” isn’t in the Greek and never has been.)

    If the TNIV had completely skipped any attempt at using gender-neutral language and still maintained all those preferences in translation, it still would have been denounced by complementarians leaders.

    This isn’t really about gender-neutral language and it sure as heck isn’t about concerns for translation accuracy. Look for the man behind the curtain. It’s about 1 Tim. 2:12 and co.

    If you want to see some more evangelical discussion of these issues, I recommend TC Robinson’s New Leaven.

  37. I think the problem isn’t one of feminism, but a confusion brought on because of the concept of Trinity. When God is only a Spirit, one cannot really state whether he/she/it is male, female or otherwise.

  38. But what confusion? It is a well-studied fact in thermodynamics that at the so-called critical point, the temperature and pressure at which the vapor density of the gas and liquid phases of a fluid are equal, at which point there is no difference between gas and liquid.

    Gas and liquid do not fuse, morph, or transmute. It is merely that there is no meaningful distinction between them, no test to tell them apart. In effect, there is only one.

    This is my concept of Trinity, that at the level that man and observe, there is a phase boundary of God between a paternal law giver, a youthful public defender, and an incorporeal probation officer. When humans are perfected to the point that they see God as he/she/it really is, there will no longer be such an artificial distinction.

  39. Dan,
    It seems to me you are describing modalism, and not Trinitarianism. There is a distinct difference.

    As I did not discuss modalism (water in its various forms, for instance), it does not apply. For your argument to hold in a Trinity definition, water would have to be ice, liquid and gas at the same time; and not just 3 faces of the same thing.