Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2011

New Bible criticized for gender-neutral language

March 17, 2011

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— In the old translation of the world’s most popular Bible, John the Evangelist declares: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” Make that “brother or sister” in a new translation that includes more gender-neutral language and is drawing criticism from some conservatives who argue the changes can alter the theological message.

The 2011 translation of the New International Version Bible, or NIV, does not change pronouns referring to God, who remains “He” and “the Father.” But it does aim to avoid using “he” or “him” as the default reference to an unspecified person.

The NIV Bible is used by many of the largest Protestant faiths. The translation comes from an independent group of biblical scholars that has been meeting yearly since 1965 to discuss advances in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage.

Before the new translation even hit stores, it drew opposition from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an organization that believes women should submit to their husbands in the home and only men can hold some leadership roles in the church.

The council decided it would not endorse the new version because the changes alter “the theological direction and meaning of the text,” according to a statement. Similar concerns led the Southern Baptist Convention to reject the NIV’s previous translation in 2005.

At issue is how to translate pronouns that apply to both genders in the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts but have traditionally been translated using masculine forms in English.

An example from the translator’s notes for Mark 4:25 to show how the NIV’s translation of these words has evolved over the past quarter-century.

The widely distributed 1984 version of the NIV quotes Jesus: “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

The more recent incarnation of the NIV from 2005, called Today’s New International Version, changed that to: “Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

The CBMW had complained in 2005 that making the subject of a verse plural to convey that it could refer equally to a man or a woman “potentially obscured an important aspect of biblical thought — that of the personal relationship between an individual and God.”

The NIV 2011 seems to have taken that criticism into account and come up with a compromise: “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

While the translators’ former grammar teachers may not like it, the translators offer a strong justification for their choice of “they” (instead of the clunky “he or she”) and “them” (instead of “him or her”) to refer back to the singular “whoever.”

They commissioned an extensive study of the way modern English writers and speakers convey gender inclusiveness. According to the translators’ notes on the Committee on Bible Translation’s website, “The gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’ (‘them’/‘their’) is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as ‘whoever,’ ‘anyone,’ ‘somebody,’ ‘a person,’ ‘no one,’ and the like.”

Randy Stinson, president of the CBMW and dean of the School of Church Ministries at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the changes are especially important to evangelicals.

“Evangelicals believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture. We believe every word is inspired by God, not just the broad thought,” he said.

So if the original text reads “brothers” — even if that word in the original language is known to mean “brothers and sisters” (such as the Hebrew “achim” or Spanish word “hermanos”) — many evangelicals believe the English translation should read “brothers.”

Comments

Betty Bartholomew 4 years ago

Oh, that's right, I forgot - religion is strictly for men! ....

Remind me why anybody cares what a small group of radical evangelicals thinks? Most Christians I know don't care how you word it, they realize that whether it's he or she or them or all of the Whos down in Whoville (which might make for a far more entertaining read since the Bible is a little dry in places), the scriptures apply pretty evenly to each person.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Do the they refer to God with the pronoun "It," as well?

Betty Bartholomew 4 years ago

From the article: "The 2011 translation of the New International Version Bible, or NIV, does not change pronouns referring to God, who remains 'He' and 'the Father.'"

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Perhaps I should have read the article rather than just commenting on the headline.

TheStonesSuck 4 years ago

ummm, errrr, uhhhh...who cares???

BigPrune 4 years ago

politically correct run amuk. i think this version would piss me off.

davidnta 4 years ago

Good I think it should. Maybe it'll give you perspective on how women feel.

sr80 4 years ago

Who cares how you feel? i surely don't, but i'll give you 50 cents to call somebody who might !

BigPrune 4 years ago

oh brother....or should i say, oh sister?

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

My all time favorite bumper sticker (spotted when I was in Portland, OR) said, "Jesus is coming and boy is She p***ed!"

yourworstnightmare 4 years ago

Yes, it really upset 4th century roman citizenry when the bible was translated into Latin from Greek, and it really rattled 15th century English citizenry when the Bible was translated from Latin to English.

So politically correct. The Bible should only be printed in ancient Greek.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

"The Bible should only be printed in ancient Greek."

Aramaic would be even more authentic.

Ken Lassman 4 years ago

In many, many Jewish congregations, it is still written as "He," "His," "the Lord," etc. and everyone just inserts the word "God" as a substitute without blinking an eye, and everyone is happy.

whats_going_on 4 years ago

nothing about this book is the same as it was "written" as anyway, so does it matter if some guilty feelings about sexism change the language again? No.

JustNoticed 4 years ago

Oh forget your Aramaic comments. Much of it was originally Greek. Paul wrote in Greek. The Gospel writers wrote in Greek although I've read that maybe Matthew was Aramaic. The Old Testament is Hebrew with some Aramaic. But NONE of the originals exist anyway which adds yet another layer of irony onto the ridiculous idea of inerrancy. So, kudos to anyone trying to make Jesus' message more acceptable - Jesus', not Paul's. Paul hijacked the rabbi and created something entirely different.

Cait McKnelly 4 years ago

"So, kudos to anyone trying to make Jesus' message more acceptable - Jesus', not Paul's. Paul hijacked the rabbi and created something entirely different."

+1. Like. This. You name it. IMNSHO Paul was a gynophobic epileptic who saw his chance and took it. If his letters are real, he twisted the early churches into his image, not Christs's and the fundies have had a hey day with it ever since.

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