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Acts 2:45 – A Short and Simple Lesson in Gender Accuracy

Acts 2:45 – A Short and Simple Lesson in Gender Accuracy

This passage in the KJV reads:

And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. [italics in original]

Note that the italicized “men” is an indication from the KJV translators that this was an addition of a word not reflected in the Greek. But the adjective here, “all (pasin)” is masculine in form (it could be neuter, but in context doubtless is not), and thus is translated “men” by the KJV.

As a side note, the use of italics to indicate added words is questionable, because since there are no words in the English text that are also in the Greek text, it is difficult to draw the line. What exactly is reflected in the Greek text, and what is added by the translators? Note the second word “man,” which is not italicized in my edition of the KJV. (Not all KJV editions are identical.) It is reflected in the Greek text just as little, or just as much, as is the first “men,” but it is not italicized. It is probably impossible for someone to be perfectly consistent on this point.

Now note a couple of modern versions that normally try to reflect the masculine in their translations, at least where those represent words like “adelfoi (brothers)” or “anthropos (human being).”

And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (ESV)

and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. (NKJV)

I haven’t searched exhaustively, but I haven’t found any of the translations that avoid gender neutral language that reflect the masculine form here. And of course they should not. They should refer to its referent by the appropriate English form for referring to a referent that doubtlessly included both men and women. One is conveniently available in this case, “all” which is not specified as to gender in English. So we don’t hear about “male representation” in this case.

But I believe a similar argument could be made for dozens of cases at least of occurrences of “anthropos” or “adelfoi” in the Greek text where those terms refer to groups of mixed gender.

In general, this whole debate is more about modern culture and language usage, I suspect, than it is about reflecting the actual meaning of the Biblical writers.

More on the TNIV

More on the TNIV

I was a bit put off at first by certain rhetoric on the new TNIV Truth blog, and I must confess that anonymity doesn’t rank high with me, even when I understand the motivations. Now the blogger there has “outed” himself and also posted a note on the TNIV on one of my pet peeves–discussions of translator motivations.

First let me quote from Lane Wiemann’s profile:

I have a passion for the Bible being worded in the language of the majority of English speakers. I also have a passion for truth.

Excellent! This is precisely where we want to be.

Much criticism of the TNIV, often combined with advocacy of the ESV is motivation based. While the sophistication of the rhetoric and arguments is better than the old KJV only stuff, there is a distinct nasty odor in this type of argument. It seems extremely odd to me, and even borders on dishonest, to criticize a translation based on some assumptions about translator motivations when the translation itself is available to check alongside the source documents.

I have never encountered any translators who are not motivated by a desire to help people understand the Bible. There are plenty of disagreements about how to accomplish that, and sometimes I have thought translators get way off the mark on the method, but I would be very slow to question any of their motivations.

Thus this from the post Have you stopped beating your wife (TNIV Truth blog) is right on target:

Rather than speculating about the motives of the TNIV translators, it would be better if we objectively examined each verse with which there is a difference of interpretation. In most cases we will discover that good Bible scholars differ on the interpretation of those verses and that the TNIV wordings are supported by lexical and exegetical evidence from the Bible itself as well as from good scholarship.

Wow! What an amazing concept! Let’s look at the actual evidence and see what conclusions we come to! (I am not aiming this sarcasm at Lane Wiemann, but rather at those who somehow miss this obvious method and go instead for unknown and often unknowable motivations.

While I have not encountered actual Bible translators who do not want to express God’s message clearly and accurately, I have encountered many church members who are primarily concerned with other things. Unlike Mr. Wiemann and the folks over at Better Bibles, I’m not a translator except for what I do as part of my own teaching and writing work. Where I encounter this issue is in churches with actual church members when I teach classes in how translation works. Those church members are often confused.

Because some people have attacked the motivations of Bible translators, and the TNIV seems to be the main target right now, and so people are afraid of corrupted Bible translations. Their concern often keeps them from using new versions that provide clearer translations. My own choice for use in writing and often in teaching has been the CEV. One common complaint has to do with the way a version sounds when read from the pulpit. Now oral reading is something that needs to be given consideration in translation, but these members are often not concerned with whether it is easy to understand when read orally or has good rhythm. What they want is something that sounds “Biblical,” generally meaning “like the KJV.”

One class I taught was split throughout, with one group repeatedly saying that the Bible used in church and Sunday School should be one that made them feel comfortable, while the remainder of the class thought the choice should be made based on how well an unchurched person would understand the reading. Not surprisingly, when I read passages to these two groups, the first group like versions like the RSV, ESV, NASB, or the NRSV, except that they generally didn’t like gender-neutral language. The second group favored dynamic equivalence translations like the CEV or TNIV.

I think it is extremely important for those who have a good technical knowledge of translation issues to be truthful and to reduce the rhetoric which makes church members believe there are conspiracies of Bible translators whose purpose is to conceal the truth and support social agendas by inaccurate translation.

It would be valuable, as a start, to stay away from accusations of bad motivation except where there is very substantial evidence.

With Reasons Like These . . .

With Reasons Like These . . .

. . . who needs rationalizations? I refer to the article 7 Reasons Why (it’s title in the title bar) also titled “Key Issues Regarding Bible Translation.” This is on the domain genderneutralbibles.com, (yes, Virginia, there really is a genderneutralbibles.com!).

A while back I blogged on Mark Driscoll’s reasons for using the ESV at his church. But with highly credentialed people to feed pastors misinformation, what should we expect? I am freshly astounded at the poor quality of argumentation and even of exegesis that is used in these articles, even though I shouldn’t be, because I have read these so many times before. Much of this is warmed over KJV-Only argumentation, just used a little bit more narrowly.

Let’s look at some of the major problems with this essay.

In discussing 1 Kings 2:10, the authors wax quite eloquent about the wonders of the metaphor “slept with his fathers” as opposed to “died,” preferring the Hebrew metaphor for death to a modern understanding. One should, of course, note that the metaphor is a Hebrew metaphor, and question whether the modern English reader in fact hears all of the things the translators expect. This underlines one of the common problems with the arguments of advocates for literal translation: They speak constantly of what meaning a word, phrase, or passage “contains” without asking what an audience will hear when reading that translation. What is lacking is any testing to see precisely what people will hear and understand.

This is precisely how I was awakened out of my own apathy on the issue of translations. I was already a fan of dynamic equivalence translations, and thought the KJV was hopelessly out of date in terms of language. But I felt there was no great reason for me to argue with anyone else about this until I was invited to teach on the history of the Bible to a group of high school aged young people. A couple of the students used the KJV, and when they would read, nobody, including them, understood. Now I still see no problem with my mother using the KJV. She’s 87 years old, has read it all her life, and can understand it quite well. But those young people could not. Why should I spend my teaching time in teaching them how to understand 17th century language?

But that incident started me on learning something very important, other than the realization that many people try to use the KJV even though they don’t really understand it. It suggested to me that the right way to discover how well a Bible translation functioned was to ask people to read it or hear it, and then to explain what they had heard. This applies to the use of gender language, or in this case to the particular metaphor, “slept with his fathers.” Does this metaphor mean all those things to actual church congregations, new believers, or non-Christians? I haven’t tested that particular one, though I suspect the answer is that few people would come up with all the wonderful meanings for the metaphor that our authors find. The problem is that those authors are blithely unconcerned with what people understand. For them, communication is all about what’s “in” the text, not about what readers actually understand from it.

Thus we see the following:

Supporters of essentially literal translations would agree that the dynamic equivalence rendering “then David died” does translate the main idea into contemporary English, but they would add that it is better to translate all of the words of the Hebrew original, including the word shakab (which means, “to lie down, sleep”), and the words ‘im (which means “with”), and

Gender Accurate Translation and Interpretation

Gender Accurate Translation and Interpretation

Wayne Leman has an exceptional post on women and Bible translation. We talk a great deal about gender accurate (or I still like gender-inclusive) language, but it’s men that are doing most of the talking. That’s because there are more men than women involved in translation. I’m in full agreement with what Wayne says in his post, but I want to carry things just a step further.

First, however, I want to make sure you understand what I mean when I say I’m an egalitarian. It doesn’t mean that I believe men and women are the same. Thank God they are not! What it means is that I believe that each person should be start on a level playing field and be appreciated and used in accordance with their gifts. So how could I support putting more women on Bible translation committees any more than I could support putting more men on them? The problem is that we are human, and some of us are guys, and we may not think of all the gifts. Since I believe men and women are different, we need to go out of our way to hear what the other gender is thinking. Since translation is dominated by men, as is interpretation, we may tend not to think of the need for women’s gifts in our activity.

There’s no big wall here. Men can have some of these gifts, just as women can have gifts we consider the province of men. My wife and I reverse some of the activities that you might expect. In the properly male dominated home the guy drives, I’ve heard. I generally let me wife drive. She likes to, I don’t. We divide financial responsibilities. But stereotypical folks do exist, I suspect. The best way to be sure is to be inclusive.

I stated this in book on Bible translation:

I believe that the best translation is likely to result from a committee of persons with diverse beliefs, all of whom are committed to translating without allowing those beliefs to interfere. (A bias in favor of accurate translation would be entirely appropriate, and could not be said to interfere.) Since I believe nobody is entirely free of bias, the best defense against bias is diversity. However, diversity in which one simply averages out the results of the various biases still leaves too much room for inappropriate results, so I believe the one commitment all members of a translation committee should make is to accurate translation within the context of the methodology they have chosen. (This extract from pages 39-40 can be found at the Energion Publications Announcements Blog.)

I now believe this diversity should definitely be extended to include gender.

But shouldn’t this be extended to interpretation? If the Bible message was presented only to men, then perhaps only men should listen and understand. But if that was not the case, perhaps we lose something by not including the voice of women in our interpretation.

The last step of my method of interpretation is sharing. Some people wonder why I include sharing as part of the method of interpretation. There’s a level of accountability that results simply from expressing your understanding of scripture and listening to other people’s reactions to it. You can learn how you might be misunderstood. Others may point out things you had missed in studying the passage. You may learn of implications of your interpretation that you hadn’t comtemplated.

Ideally such sharing should include the entire community so that diverse people are heard from. Not just men and women, but people of different ages, races, and cultures should be included. Many errors of Biblical interpretation might be avoided if we learned to listen to the broadest and most diverse possible community.

Man, Mankind, or People – Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 6:5-8

Man, Mankind, or People – Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 6:5-8

On my Threads blog I comment on Pastor Mark Driscoll’s theological basis for using the ESV at Mars Hill Church. In that article Driscoll makes a special point of the translation of the Hebrew “‘adam” in Genesis 1:27 by the NRSV and NLT:

Translations such as the New Revised Standard accommodate this by wrongly translating “male and female” in Genesis 1:27 as the androgynous “humankind.” The New Living Bible translates it as the genderless “people.”

I commented in that previous post on this point, quoting the NRSV translation which does include the words “male and female” but which translates the Hebrew “‘adam” with “humankind” where the ESV uses the word “man.”

Now I can see no indication that there is any special emphasis put on the masculine by the use of “‘adam” in Genesis 1:27. In fact, the verse is a clear case of both male and female being included in the definition of the word “‘adam.”

But I wonder if Driscoll and other critics of the NRSV, NLT and many other versions who use this translation of “‘adam” think the same thing about Genesis 6:5-8:

5 Now the Lord observed the extent of the people’s wickedness, and he saw that all their thoughts were consistently and totally evil. 6 So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them. It broke his heart. 7 And the Lord said, “I will completely wipe out this human race that I have created. Yes, and I will destroy [one instance of “‘adam” not directly translated] all the animals and birds, too. I am sorry I ever made them.” 8 But Noah found favor with the Lord. — Genesis 6:5-8 (NLT, emphasis mine)

I’ve bolded each case of a translation of the word “‘adam.”

Now my question is this: Is there a particular masculine component here as well? Was God much more angry at the men than at the women? Did he determine to destroy the men, and wipe out the women as a side-effect?

Note: For more on translation methods, see also posts by Wayne Leman, Richard Rhodes and Peter Kirk. These were all posted since my initial post over on my Threads blog.

Dave Warnock on Wayne Grudem Interview

Dave Warnock on Wayne Grudem Interview

Dave Warnock has posted an excellent set of reflections on the Wayne Grudem interview series. I strongly recommend reading it, especially some specific reflections from a Methodist perspective. While I do not use the term “evangelical” and Dave does, the problem is a difference of definition. Some of us try to hang onto words and defend them. I generally discard them as they begin to be used of things with which I do not agree.

Idolatry and Male Representation

Idolatry and Male Representation

The new, young associate pastor was praying, and in her prayer she referred to God as “Father-Mother God.” Silence settled over the congregation as mental gasps replaced “Amens.” The associate pastor had transgressed the unofficial line. You can represent God as vengeful or loving, gentle or angry, gracious or demanding, present or distant, but don’t you ever present God as male and female.

I was preparing a communion service with a slightly non-traditional text. Someone reading the material brought a portion of it to me. Was I sure I wanted to use this passage? Wasn’t it feminized? My text had crossed the line. I can represent God as just about anything, but never use feminine language. The feminized language in question? ” . . . gather us under your wing as a hen gathers her chicks . . .” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34).

We constantly use images for God, mental images, yes, but images nonetheless. And there is nothing wrong with mental images, provided you don’t cast them in stone–real stone or mental stone. The Bible uses plenty of images of God, including the feminine image of divine wisdom as used in Proverbs.

The problem comes in when you fix the images in place so that they become your picture of God instead of allowing God to constantly interact with you, shatter your images, and grow you up. As I previously commented on this:

Read More Read More

The Most Annoying Theologian I’ve Never Read

The Most Annoying Theologian I’ve Never Read

. . . is Wayne Grudem. Well, not quite true. The most annoying theologian is Peter Ruckman of the Pensacola Bible Institute, and I have read some of his stuff. I’ve also read articles by Grudem, and I wouldn’t come close to excluding him from Christianity, so I guess I have read him and he’s not the most annoying. So how about I wanted a provocative title?

When there’s someone I really don’t want to take the time to study seriously, it’s nice to have someone else, whose reading ability I’ve come to trust in the blogosphere, take a look. And that is what Dave Warnock has been doing. The first item was Responding to provocation, and the second Starting to understand connections. I am substantially in agreement with Dave on these things. It might also be a good idea, of course, to read the original interview, starting here.

Like Dave, I believe the connections can be broken at any point. I discuss inerrancy here and I have some thoughts on gender language and translation here.

Later today I will be posting on salvation and particularly on the question of who will be saved and whether we can know. I’m also going to respond to one point in the third part of Adrian’s interview with Wayne Grudem, [update] which I have now posted here. Three recent posts of mine are also relevant, The Danger of Unchanging Truth, And I’m not . . . , and Truth, Pluralism, and Absolutism. None of these respond directly to Adrian Warnock (not to be confused with Dave) and Wayne Grudem, but they do relate.

More on Gender Accuracy

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.

More Gender Accuracy Fun

More Gender Accuracy Fun

Adrian Warnock has continued his series with Cows, Dogs, and Political Correctness parts 2 and 3. I’m quite certain that the folks over at Better Bibles will answer some of the major points, and indeed they already have in some comments.

I want to simply point out that it appears to me that those supporting male representation are trying to create translation rules that serve a particular theology, while they are accusing their opponents of forcing the language to support a politically correct view. No doubt there are those who trying to read political correctness into the Bible. I say “no doubt” because “politically correct” is such a dismally badly defined word that one can hardly defend oneself from the charge of political correctness once made.

Let me look at just a couple of quick quotes from Adrian’s post:

All these arguments about how to correctly render specific Greek words in English leaves us in danger of missing what is the main point about this issue. The controversies about these words in modern English translations often fail to discuss a far more fundamental point – especially when it comes to the translation philosophy of the ESV. That point is the desire to have a Bible that is essentially literal, and as much as possible, transparent to the original language.

But in fact the major issue here is whether it is even possible for a translation to actually be literal and at the same time transparent to the original language. It seems to me that this combination alone suggests some misunderstanding of the function and the possibilities of translation. I am further driven in this same direction by the next paragraph:

This all becomes very apparent when you examine an ESV reverse interlinar in comparison with almost any other modern translation. The ESV very clearly attempts to translate each Greek word and it doesn’t take a long time of studying with such a tool before you begin to understand something of what each Greek word means in different contexts. Words which have a clear equivalent in English are not arbitrarily changed to other words with different meanings. Thus, the translation attempts not to capture the “broad meaning,” but the actual word-for-word meaning of the text. If we believe that each word of the Bible is breathed out by God, such an approach to translation is vital.

But an interlinear doesn’t tell you “what the Greek really means.” I see here a bit of that endless pursuit of the one expression that will tell the reader the real story without that person bothering to learn to read Greek. Adrian says, “Words which have a clear equivalent in English are not arbitrarily changed to other words with different meanings.” But there are no such Hebrew or Greek words. Each word has its own range of meaning and they are simply not equivalent between two languages. What one observes by reading an interlinear is a false picture. There is some value in an interlinear, but testing the accuracy of a translation is not one of them.

In part 2 Adrian stated: “In short, it seems that the words anthropos and aner are loosely synonyms.” That partakes of the same sort of problem that the above paragraphs do–the assumption that some sort of word for word equivalence is a workable method of producing an accurate translation. It is similar to the concept frequently held by beginning Greek students that the real definition of a Greek word is the English gloss. “Anthropos” and “aner” are not loosely synonyms, and even many complementarians would be annoyed to hear it put that way, I suspect, because they want to argue that “aner” is very rarely anything but all masculine. More importantly, however, a translator must regard each of these words as having a range of meaning, which they do, and try to choose the best equivalent in each context. Their ranges of meaning do overlap, but they also have distinctive portions of those ranges as well.

I recommend reading Adrian’s posts and follow the comments and entries elsewhere, especially from the folks over at Better Bibles.