WHAT’S UP WITH GENDER-NEUTRAL BIBLES?
Many Christians are concerned about gender neutral Bibles. What exactly are they and are they spiritually dangerous?
Here’s the big question: If the original language, of a particular passage, is meant to include all people (men, women, children, etc.) should not the new translation reflect this if at all possible? For example, William Tyndale published the first English New Testament in 1526. In Matthew 5:9 he rendered the text to say, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God”—even though the underlying Greek word is υἱοί (huioi), meaning “sons.” The reason Tyndale went this route was to communicate that it is not only sons who are blessed if they are peacemakers, but daughters can also benefit from this, as can mothers and fathers.
The King James Version renders the Hebrew word בן ben (son) and it’s plural בֵּנִים (banim) as “son” or “sons” over 2,800 times and as “child” or “children” over 1,500 times. The reason goes back to the issue of what did the original text intend to communicate? This is what the so-called “gender-neutral” issue is all about. Should a male pronoun in the original Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek automatically be translated as a male pronoun in a modern translation? My answer: maybe.
Over the past thirty years, almost every English version produced has adopted a gender-neutral approach. This is in line with translating words according to their original context.
One of my favorite examples is Psalm 1:1. The 1984 NIV renders it, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” The NLT renders it, “Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.” Are both accurate translations? I believe so, but I believe that the NLT is more faithful to the original meaning. That is anyone, regardless of age or gender, is blessed if they shun wicked companions. The NIV’s use of man is grammatically correct (the original Hebrew word איש means “man”). But, is man the best way to translate it into English? If English is indeed changing into a more gender-specific language, than perhaps not. It’s safe to say that when most Americans under the age of 30 hear the word man, they probably think male.
The new 2011 NIV is gender-neutral, but so is the 1984 NIV. Many scholars prefer the phrase gender-accurate. Even the newer, very conservative, ESV removed the word man and/or men over 650 times from its predecessor, the RSV. The King James is also gender accurate in many places (i.e., “Children of Israel” is actually “Sons of Israel” in the original Hebrew).
Gender-neutral means this: if the original language intended to include both sexes, then it’s ok to reflect this in the translation. If the original language did not intend to communicate this, then we must stick with gender specific language in our new translation. This simply reflects the realities of the changing state of the English language.
For further reading on this topic, I’d highly recommend two books: The Inclusive Language Debate, by D.A. Carson, and Translating the Bible for All It’s Worth, by Fee & Strauss. Both are excellent introductions, for lay people, to the complex issues surrounding translating the Bible.