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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Adoption in TNIV: males and females, or males only?

I was surprised to read the following in at Romans 8:15:

... the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.

Now I would not have been surprised to read that in or , because these versions make no attempt to avoid gender specific words like "sonship". Indeed, NIV uses "sonship", and ESV "adoption as sons". But I was surprised that this word had not been avoided in TNIV; for it does sound strange to many modern readers that Paul promised "sonship" to an audience of women as well as men. A partial explanation is given in a footnote:

The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture.

By contrast, the new translation , which also avoids gender specific language, has the following note about the same word at Romans 8:23:

υἱοθεσία, huiothesia, "adoption", non-gender specific language (see below), cf. Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Eph 1:5. This is a use of a technical adoption term from Greek law. F. Lyall, JBL 88 (1969) 458-66 argued that Paul's use of adoption terminology was a reference to Roman law, but this has later been shown to be a reference to Greek law. υἱός, huios, is in reference to both males and females. See P. Oxy. 9.2106; P. Oslo 3 (Oxyrhynchos, 1st/early 2nd century); P. Erlangen 28.6 (Arsinoe 2nd century). ...

So, who is correct? Nyland claims that the word is non-gender specific and based on Greek law (but gives no reference for the latter). The TNIV team claims that this word refers only to male heirs and is based on Roman culture (and give no references at all). Which view is correct?

The note seems helpful here:

The Greek term υἱοθεσία (huiothesia) was originally a legal technical term for adoption as a son with full rights of inheritance. BDAG 1024 s.v. notes, "a legal t.t. of 'adoption' of children, in our lit., i.e. in Paul, only in a transferred sense of a transcendent filial relationship between God and humans (with the legal aspect, not gender specificity, as major semantic component)."

So, if even BDAG agrees that "gender specificity [is not] major semantic component", why does TNIV use gender specific language here in contrast to its regular policy? It might be argued that the Greek word nevertheless has male connotations. But the English word "sonship" does have gender specificity as a major semantic component,at least for some English speakers - and the TNIV footnote seems to recognise this.

Many translations, even ones which like the NET Bible and which generally make no special efforts to avoid gender specific words, avoid the word "sonship", by using wording like "the Spirit of adoption". It is not clear why TNIV did not do the same.

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At Thu Jul 28, 05:07:00 AM, Anonymous rich shields said...

Here is the rendering in GW:

Instead, you have received the spirit of God's adopted children...

At Thu Jul 28, 04:34:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

That sounds good to me, Rich. I have just one problem with it which it shares with most other translations, that it suggests that we are somehow like God's adopted children, but are not actually adopted. The TNIV rendering indicates rather that the adoption is real. But is that correct? I'm not sure. For in 8:23 it seems that our adoption is in the future, whereas in 8:15 in TNIV it is past. Well, this is a separate issue and potentially a deep theological one, so I will leave it there.

At Fri Aug 05, 06:46:00 PM, Anonymous rich shields said...

It takes me a while sometimes to respond... and being sick didn't help.... but I have thought about this quite a bit.

My wife and I adopted our two sons. So, while we might occasionally refer to them as our "adopted sons", I never think that way. That is, they are our sons. When someone asks me if we have children, I never say "We have two adopted sons". Rather I say, "We have two sons". Sometimes we explain how (and even why) we adopted. But that never changes the reality of who they are: "our sons".

My thought is that this text in Romans is the same way. While Paul writes "God's adopted children", from God's perspective, we are "His children". Paul is explaining how (and why) God adopted us; but that never changes the reality of who we are: "God's children".


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