With the upcoming release of a updated NIV (already available online), the whole gender-inclusive language issue rears its ugly head again. This morning I was reading my NLT and was curious about their inconsistent use of Messiah in the New Testament, so I looked up their principles of translation in the Introduction.
In the New Testament, the Greek Work Christos has been translated as “Messiah” when the context assumes a Jewish audience. When a Gentile audience can be assumed, Christos has been translated as “Christ.”
Yet, in James 1 which is written to Jewish Christians, they used Christ. Hmmm. Why do translations inconsistently transliterate rather than translate names & titles? Aside from that interesting bit of curiosity, I spotted the section on Gender-Inclusive Language. Here’s some of what they say:
“The English language changes constantly. An obvious recent change is in the area of gender-inclusive language. This creates problems for modern translations of the ancient biblical text, which was originally written in a male-oriented culture. The translator must respect the nature of the ancient context while also accounting for the concerns of the modern audience. Often the original language itself allows a rendering that is gender inclusive. For example, the Greek word anthropos, traditionally rendered “man,” really means “human being” or “person.” A different Greek word, aner, specifically means a male.
I guess the question is “to what degree is the Scripture reflecting culture and to what degree is culture a reflection of creation principles?” Their example is a good one. The language has the capability to be clear, and we must honor that. We must also remember when women are included/assumed in a general statement like “brothers.” Most people have no problem with recognizing that and saying “brothers & sisters”, though their use of “Christian friends” is problematic. It takes the text out of the context of the Church as God’s household and it’s members as adopted sons (and therefore heirs). This is an example of the danger that happens with some attempts of gender-inclusive language. It can strip the text of its context and lose meaning (as well as impart unintended meaning).
Overall, I think the NLT does a good job. There are places a wince a tad. But the translation is very readable (which I really can’t say for the ESV though I am using it more often these days). I like it for a devotional Bible, but I’m not comfortable using it to teach or preach. Yes- there is a significant difference in my mind.
Last week I began to read The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. In his preface, John Frame acknowledges that some women (and men) may be unhappy with his book and why he did not use gender-inclusive language (in the mid-80’s). I find some of his arguments important for today with a much more important text- the Scriptures.
He starts with a caveat of sorts:
My practice does not reflect a belief that women cannot be theologians. Quite the contrary. For according to this book, everyone is a theologian! I do believe that only men are called to the teaching eldership of the church, but the interest of this book is wider than that.
This distinction is important, and often lost on the “all or nothing” egalitarian crowd. Women are also theologians. All Christians are theologians (the question is whether they are good or bad theologians). Theological study is not beyond the capacities of women. They are fully capable of learning theology. In 1 Timothy 2, where Paul famously forbids women to teach or have authority over a man he also says they should learn! Learning, and teaching others (aside from men) is both encouraged and necessary. Complementarians are often falsely accused of thinking that women are dense or incapable of ‘doing theology’. Patently untrue.