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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Gender-inclusive language Bible version rankings

Three years ago I did a quantified study of gender-inclusive language usage in major English Bible versions. At that time the TNIV was not yet available for the Old Testament. Today I filled in the values for the TNIV chart for the Old Testament. You can access all of my quantified studies by clicking on the title to this post, including files with data for the study of gender-inclusive language usage in Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Word, and PDF formats.

In this study chart percentages indicate the degree to which that version used gender-inclusive language where it was possible to do so. For this quantified study I used many key passages in the current discussion about gender-language translation of different Hebrew and Greek terms. Here are how the different English versions rank in terms of gender-language usage in this study:
With data available only for the TNIV New Testament, the TNIV percentage was 78.4%. After including the Old Testament data the TNIV percentage moved slightly higher to 80.2%, just above the rankings for the TEV (GNT) and GW versions.

Those who claim that the ESV uses less gender-inclusive language than other recently produced versions are correct. The ESV is nearly 7% higher in terms of gender-language usage than the NIV, representing translation wordings which are more accurate than those in the NIV, such as where the TNIV translates Greek tis as 'a man.' The ESV team would claim that each instance of usage of gender-inclusive language in the ESV represents gender-accurate translation. Of course, this is the same claim made by each translation team which has addressed the issue of gender-inclusive language. It is possible for someone to study each passage in my chart and decide if they agree with the gender language usage of a particular version wording for that passage.

There is an important note about translation accuracy at the top of my chart:
this study only surveys gender inclusive language usage in English English versions, not accuracy of such usage. Therefore it is not appropriate to use the results of this study as any measure of gender language accuracy in translation.
Please do NOT use the results of this study to suggest that any version is more or less accurate than another. This study only measures degree of gender-inclusive language usage for the particular passages studied, and makes no statement about whether or not such usage is accurate. There is essentially 100% agreement among the versions with regard to gender language when the referent is masculine or feminine. In other words, when a specific man is referred to, he is referred to with masculine language in all versions. If a woman is referred to, she is referred to with feminine language in all versions. Differences occur when exegetes differ about whether a group composed of both males and females should be referred to with masculine (such as "sons" or "brothers") or gender-inclusive language (such as "children" or "siblings", the latter of which has not yet been used in any English versions that I know of). Differences also occur when there is potential indefinite reference in the biblical text which uses a masculine entity as a reference point, such as in the debate over whether "the man" of Psalm is:
1. literally a single masculine godly individual.
2. a single godly masculine individual who "represents" all godly inviduals
3. any godly individual, where the original text uses a masculine term for a generic reference
4. godly individuals, where the original text uses a masculine term for a generic reference
Whether or not a specific passage translation wording that potentially involves gender-inclusive language is accurate or not has to be determined on a verse by verse basis, studying all the relevant facts of language usage in its context. And even then, there will be the inevitable subjectivity that comes with trying to assess whether one translation wording is more or less accurate than another. Such is the nature of human differences of opinion about exegetical decisions.

I would welcome questions, corrections, or any other comments about this study.

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At Sun Jul 03, 04:03:00 PM, Anonymous Joe Missionary said...

Thanks for posting this, Wayne. I don't have time to look at it right now, but I am certainly coming back to read it in the future. I think I have gone one direction and the other regarding my feelings on gender-inclusive language. Where I am right now, this is not as much of an issue - to say "all men" would sound VERY gender-exclusive - not like in English.

I wonder how many other languages have this issue? I'm guessing not many, huh?

At Sun Jul 03, 07:28:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne E. McCarthy said...

I became less impressed with the ESV arguments when I read Acts 9 and found that the ESV has not translated "υιων τε Ισραηλ" in verse 15 with "the sons of Israel" to show the parallel construction with "ο υιος του θεου" verse 20 the son of God. It shows to me that they are picking and choosing what is convenient, since they kept "children of Israel" but not "child of GOd".

FOr αδελφοι I didn't mind the KJV reading of 'Brethren" - it seemed part of the antiquity and a collective use of the term but when I hear 'Brothers'without the 'Sisters' it is an irritant - I wonder what they are trying to prove.

From our pulpit they often go back and forth from RSV to NRSV and the change is obvious to the audience although I don't think the reader or preacher realizes that they sound as if they are either for or against 'Sisters' every time they read a passage.

At Sun Jul 03, 09:31:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Suzanne said: "FOr αδελφοι I didn't mind the KJV reading of 'Brethren" - it seemed part of the antiquity and a collective use of the term but when I hear 'Brothers'without the 'Sisters' it is an irritant - I wonder what they are trying to prove."

Hi Suzanne, thanks for posting your thoughts. I like to believe the best about someone until proven otherwise, so I believe that those Bible translators who still use "brothers" today for the meaning of "siblings" (that is, "brothers and sisters") are doing so for three reasons they have stated:

1. Either they believe that that verse was only addressed to men, or
2. They believe it was addressed to men, but the men "represented" both the men and women believers. I, personally, have theological difficulty with this one, or at least some ways that it can be explained, since I believe that Christian women have direct access to God, just as Christian men do. I think that those who take position #2 may also believe what I do, but I'm not sure about it, from the reading I have done of what they say about "male representation." I'm still not clear on what it all means.
3. Or, they believe that the word "brothers" today includes in its meaning both males and females. And for those people who do not get that meaning from the word "brothers" today, they have stated that they should be taught that meaning.

My second comment/question for you is that I noticed that you directly keyboarded Greek characters in your comments. I have done that also but it was an awkward process, using the extended character set and copying and pasting from the Windows Character Map. Would you be willing to tell us how you type in Greek characters into plain text comments like this? Can you do Hebrew characters also? Or do you just use the standard Windows Extended Character Set and not Unicode characters?

Thanks, Wayne

At Sun Jul 03, 11:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne E. McCarthy said...

Hi Wayne,

You need to install international language support following instructions from this page.

I have a Windows XP laptop and the language files were on the hard drive and not on a separate CD so it depends what you have.

Install support for complex scripts and right to left scripts for Hebrew. It works well once you get used to the cursor action - a little different.

ישראל - Israel (it looks good)

Once you have installed Hebrew and Greek fonts and a Hebrew and Greek keyboard, set the langauge bar to display on the taskbar.Then you can choose your language as you type.

For easy input use the on-screen keyboard found under start>programs>accessories>accessibility. You can click on a letter to input it.

I use 10 different scripts in my blog at although Vietnamese does not display in blogger but Chinese,Tamil, etc do - go figure.

This works for Modern Hebrew and Modern Greek since they are bundled with Windows and always display in Internet explorer. However polytonic Greek is a bit different. I am still deciding what is the easiest way to do that.

If you need further help email me at



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