Why I Changed My Mind on Gender Inclusive Bible Translations – Twice

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In the mid 1980s the NRSV committee decided to adjust their translation philosophy to a more gender neutral approach. The TNIV followed in the early 2000s as did the New Living Translation and finally the New American Standard Bible. When I first became aware of this I was skeptical. I figured politics had to be involved…but the more I considered what they were attempting to do, the more I appreciated it. It is more accurate, not less, to use more inclusive pronouns when referring to groups of men and women rather than the old generic masculine that I was accustomed to.

That was my first change of mind.

My second change of mind came as I dove into the specifics…what kinds of changes had they made and did it improve the translations involve or hurt them? What I came to realize was that in the majority of cases translations were improved by these moves with some exceptions and the exceptions are important to be aware of.

Here are a few examples where things didn’t go well and I am embedding a video with far more examples in it in case you want to study this further,

“son of man” in Ezekiel 2 is changed to “mortal” – this obliterates some of the OT roots of that phrase.

In Matthew 7:3 the speck in your brother’s eye is now the speck in your neighbor’s eye.

In Acts 10:26 Peter tells Cornelius to not bow before him because he is only mortal (instead of he is “only a man”). Well, Peter is a man so there’s that.

The qualifications for elders and deacons in 1 Tim 2 were changed to being married once rather than “husband of one wife” – that’s a loss…completely made up.

Hebrews 5:1 now says the High Priest was selected from among “mortals” as opposed to what? From among gods? No, they were always selected from among the men. That’s a loss.

This even affects Jesus in 1 Cor 15:21.

Job 24:9 has orphans who still have their mothers all in an effort to not use the term “fatherless”. Another loss that makes no logical sense.

Psalm 119:11-12 appears to say the Bible/God’s Word has errors when they went from,

11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern his errors?


11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?”

Many more examples can be given and it is important to be aware of these shortcomings. They are unforced errors.

What do you think about all of this? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please watch the video below if you would like to know more on this topic. It is good to inform ourselves!

One Response

  1. O language! Such an amazing tool to get messages across! And then there are translations – such an occasion to really mess things up!
    I have spoken about and taught classes on the topic for over a decade now. One of the interesting things to me is: Where do people get the right to make any change in a translation?

    Looking at the Hebrew and Greek (a smattering of Aramaic tossed in for good measure) as a text, simple as that, attaches the same limits to the translator as, say, books by Josephus, Tertullian, Thomas a Kempis, Martin Luther, Thomas Jefferson, Dan Brown, Tom Clancy…

    As a translator, I do not own the text. My job is to change the text from one language into another, staying true to the original text.
    Translating can mean, at times, that I have to change the order of some words – but never do I have the right to change the meaning of words – unless I have the permission from the original author.

    Of the list of authors above, there is only ONE author left who can answer those questions: Dan Brown. NONE of the other authors can answer my questions, and to take that authority on my own is not the job of a translator.

    EVEN when culture has changed, I have to honor the fact that the original was written in a specific culture, with specific concepts.

    And yes, when Paul uses the term, “brethren,” for example, I could argue that it is the cultural equivalent of “y’all,” I still do not have the right to change ALL occurrences – unless the context makes it clear beyond a doubt.

    One critic has counted the changes made, (4700 +/-) the majority of which were “acceptable,” but exceptions should have been made, based upon immediate context.

    Gender neutrality may be a modern concept, but that does not give translators the right to arbitrarily make changes in the texts.

    The CEV (Common English Version) for example, created the following monstrosity,
    1Ti 3:1  It is true that anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile. 2  That’s why officials must have a good reputation and be faithful in marriage. They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved, friendly to strangers, and able to teach. 3  They must not be heavy drinkers or troublemakers. Instead, they must be kind and gentle and not love money. 4  Church officials must be in control of their own families, and they must see that their children are obedient and always respectful. 5  If they don’t know how to control their own families, how can they look after God’s people? 6  They must not be new followers of the Lord. If they are, they might become proud and be doomed along with the devil. 7  Finally, they must be well-respected by people who are not followers. Then they won’t be trapped and disgraced by the devil.”

    I remember arguments with some of language teachers, from grade school, high school and college days that, just because I though something could be said in a better way, did not make the translation correct…

    And then there is definition of translation, of course: “Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text” It is the text which matters, not cultural relevancy.

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