More on Gender Accuracy

Suzanne has returned and is carrying on the debate about the approiate use of language for gender in Bible translation. Her response comes in three parts. I’m going to comment briefly on each, and then make some further comments on this controversy. (You can follow Suzanne’s links to Adrian’s posts.)

First, in Response to Adrian: part1, the lexicons, she deals with the issue of the lexicons. I’m not so concerned with the particular lexicons concerned. I do have all of them in my Logos software, and also have some in the form of good old-fashioned books. But the number of lexicons is not really the point.

It is an error to simply combine the definitions one finds in a lexicon in order to produce add nuances of meaning. Each context must be examined on its own merits. Now there certainly can be a transfer of meaning between contexts, i.e., one uses a particular word in a new context because of some relationship its existing meaning has with the new situation. The individual definitions are not necessarily disconnected, but they can become so. Let’s take the word “car” as an example, we have cars we drive on the highway, train cars, elevator cars, street cars, and so forth. In each context a specific definition applies. I cannot claim that there must be an element of individual locomotion in the concept of “train car” just because that is an element of the word “car” when speaking of an automobile.

Similarly, when it was common to refer to “humanity” as “man” in English, one couldn’t claim a special emphasis on maleness. Going back to the language I grew up with, I might have said something like, “That is a man walking down the street.” Doubtless, with the emphasis, I’m referring to a man as opposed to a woman or child. On another occasion I might have said, “God is infinite, but man is finite.” In this second case, should you assume that there is somehow an emphasis on “maleness” in my reference? Absolutely not! The contexts are totally different. In the first case I’m specifiying a male, in the second, I’m contrasting being human with being God. There’s no carryover. The part of the definition that connects is the humanness, not the maleness.

Now whether it was feminists who got it started or not, I think using “human” is a much better idea, and makes the second sentence clearer. But that is something I have learned in the last few years. Henry the college and graduate student would have used the other terms. But I never intended any male representation by that usage.

As I tell Greek students: The lexicon doesn’t tell you what a word means; it gives you a set of options. The context tells you what the word actually means.

In her second post, Response to Adrian: part2, the interlinear, I have to agree with Suzanne, though I’m a bit more laid back on the use of interlinears. (Students are never to use them, as they inhibit actual language learning.) But interlinears do not get you closer to “what the Greek really means.

In her last post, Response to Adrian: part3, neutering, Suzanne points out that simply not referencing someone’s masculinity does not result in neutering.

I have to add that I see this concern about neutering as a bit hypersensitive. There seems to me to be a “theological correctness” approach going on here, in which someone has to watch their language closely to make sure they don’t accidentally allow for any feminization of God. I have no sympathy with this theological correctness any more than I do with political correctness. But barring one New Testament that corrected gender language with reference to God, I have not found any of these feminist agitators amongst Bible translators. I have only found a concern for accurate translation, translation that communicates clearly to the audience. I must just run in different circles. 🙂

On the other hand, I probably do have a feminist agenda from a complementarian point of view. I favor women in church leadership, women as elders, women as pastors, and women in every last position they are gifted and called to fulfill. I don’t need to retranslate the Bible in order to support this view. I merely need to understand the incarnation, and then read the Bible in its cultural context. I believe that God has called the church to move ahead of the world on this issue, not behind, and that it is a scandal that we are still trying to keep women out of leadership.

I hope for the day when we see such barriers fall in the face of our oneness in Jesus the Christ.

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  1. The Berkeley version uses human beings in Phil. 2:7 -8. I have 1945 for the date of the Berkeley NT. The New English Bible also used human in these verses in 1961. So the transfer to human from man does not seem to have a connection to a feminist agenda.

  2. You know I got to thinking about this… to say that we couldn’t use particular phrasing because it was begun by a feminist agenda is like saying that we will no longer use French and Latin loan words to English since they were introduced because of the Norman Invasion.

  3. R. Mansfield said:

    You know I got to thinking about this… to say that we couldn’t use particular phrasing because it was begun by a feminist agenda is like saying that we will no longer use French and Latin loan words to English since they were introduced because of the Norman Invasion.

    True. But phrases like “politically correct” and “feminist agenda” are also used to label ideas and destroy them via “guilt by association,” thus removing any need to actually answer the argument.

    The one question for Bible translators should be, and in my experience generally is, this: What will best convey the meaning of the source text?

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