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Wednesday, July 06, 2005


The Greeek word adelphoi is used in the New Testament to refer to a group of Christians. The group can be made up entirely of males or it can consist of both males and females. Only the context of a particular verse can tell us whether the referent of adelphoi is gender-inclusive or not. And sometimes the context itself is not definitive, and so translation of adelphoi becomes a difficult exegetical decision.

Translation of adelphoi has been part of the heated debate in recent years over gender-inclusive language in translation of the English Bible. Because the singular of this word, adelphos, usually refers to a male, it would, obviously, be translated as 'brother' in most cases. Some people believe that regardless of whether the plural, adelphoi, refers to males only or to a group with both males and females, the plural should always be translated as 'brothers.' Most of these people accept the lexical evidence that the plural is sometimes used to refer to a group consisting of both males and females. Some of these people believe that the English word 'brothers' today can be used to refer to a group which is made up of both males and females.

I have done fairly extensive field testing of the English word 'brothers' and more respondents understand this word today to refer only to males, but those who are familiar with church language rank much higher in responding that 'brothers' can refer to both males and females. When I field test the older form of this English word, 'brethren,' an even greater number of respondents state that 'brethren' refers to both males and females.

Some believe that even if people understand 'brothers' to refer only to males, those with this understanding should be taught that when this word is used in a religious context, including that of the Bible, it can include both males and females. This, of course, is a form of language engineering for theological reasons. Such language engineering is viewed as appropriate because the original language of the New Testamant, Greek, used adelphoi, a grammatically masculine gender term to refer to either a group of males only or the gender-inclusive meaning, for a group of both males and females. Therefore, the reasoning goes, since English has had both meanings for its word 'brethren' and because some people have that meaning for its successor, 'brothers,' today, it is proper to teach everyone today that 'brothers' can have a gender-inclusive meaning.

I have posted two new polls to test the understanding of visitors to this blog of the meaning of adelphoi in Romans 12:1, one of the most commonly discussed verses in the gender-inclusive language debate, as well as understanding of the English word 'brothers' in a religious context. Please take the few seconds required to vote in the polls. Thank you.

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At Wed Jul 06, 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Aslan_kin said...

Wayne, I want to qualify my response to your poll on Romans 12.1. IIRC, Paul's primary intended audience in his letters is the men (males) of the church. However, women would also be address, even if indirectly. We often tend to transpose our contemporary views of gender roles to biblical times. The actual audience of today of course, is both men and women (with perhaps even a higher percentage of women than men).

It seems that gender is a significant issue facing bible translation and communication in general. My personal theology tends more toward complementarian, while in my communication I tend to be more egaltarian. This is a real struggle for me as I seek to find bible version(s) that reflect both accuracy in translation and effectiveness in communicating God's Word to people.


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