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Thursday, September 15, 2005

That's okay. It says brothers, not sisters...

Yesterday I was looking at a genre of literature I do not usually read, booklets for teenage girls. In fact I overheard some girls reading this passage to one another at our church. It is from Phoebe's Book of Body Image, Boys and Bible Bits by Kathy Lee, published by Scripture Union (UK) in 2003. The passage reads (complete with approximate formatting, I hope, Comic Sans replacing neat handwriting):

(Later: there was supposed to be a border round the Bible quote, and this appeared OK in the Compose window, but as just a block in the actual blog.)

And then there's my sister.
Sometimes I can't stand her.
We have huge arguments over stupid little
things, like the best seat on the sofa.
It's so childish!
I wish she would grow up a bit.

Keep on loving one another
as Christian brothers.
(Hebrews 13)

That's okay. It says brothers,
not sisters...

Interesting! The quote is not from TNIV, nor NIV - in fact apparently from TEV, but not from the latest version of it which is more gender neutral. Does the author actually think that this applies to males only? (Probably not!) Does the author's character Phoebe think this? Or does she realise that the text really refers to sisters as well as brothers but find a legalistic get-out clause here?

Anyway, I think this is an interesting chance to get inside the mindset of a group for whom the old gender-based words are simply not understood in the gender-generic way which was intended (at least, according to 92% of us it is so intended, see Wayne's posting Rom. 12:1 poll says it's gender-inclusive). If we want the real Phoebes of this world to understand the Bible as intended, we need to give them, and preach to them from, gender-inclusive Bibles.

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At Thu Sep 15, 12:16:00 PM, Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

Maybe the larger context indicates otherwise, but when I read this excerpt it doesn't sound like an example of young people not understanding gender-based words. Instead, I read it as ... humor. Perhaps Phoebe isn't misunderstanding or being a legalist; perhaps she's just making a joke. It's the same kind of thing I used to do when I tried to explain to my parents that, due to a punctuation error, two of God's cherished commands -- Spare the rod. Spoil the child. -- had been conflated into a proverb.

Some teenaged girls, when speaking to a group of their female friends, will call them "guys." We need to find a way to get more of them to participate in these polls!

At Thu Sep 15, 12:32:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Mark, I agree that there is humour here. The whole book is not exactly a serious one. But the point of the humour is the ambiguity about whether the Bible verse applies to sisters. There is no such ambiguity in the Greek (I side with the 92% here!) So, if there is ambiguity in a translation, that translation is misleading. See Wayne's recent excellent postings about ambiguity.

At Thu Sep 15, 04:46:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

If any other males want to get a feel for the gender exclusivity of any particular translation I suggest you just substitute female words for the male ones:
So NIV 1 Corinthians 8:3 would be read "But the woman who loves God is known by God."!

At Sun Sep 18, 06:38:00 PM, Anonymous Eduardo said...

I don't think the example as particularly funny. And Peter, while I understand, approve and support your desire to be like the Apostle Paul in preaching to that people, I also think that if we want the real Phoebes of this world to understand the Bible as intended, we need to teach them proper grammar and correct their vices of language (yes, I think gender inclusivity is in many instances a vice of language). After all, we teach them to spell, how to parse sentences correctly, how to check for subject-verb agreement and so on. We correct their defects. Why we cannot correct this one? Why we should defer to this? Perhaps a question for other time...

At Mon Sep 19, 03:33:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Eduardo, I take your point. But why do you claim the gender inclusivity is a vice of language? What is the basis for your value judgment here? Is any change of past standards morally wrong? Was the 19th century form of English somehow morally ideal? Maybe you consider the original language of the Bible to be somehow ideal - but in that case you should take your argument to its logical conclusion and expect everyone to learn Greek and Hebrew. But don't forget that Christ came to save each of us just as we are, in a sinful and corrupt world which includes corrupt (in some sense) language. He didn't expect each of us to make ourselves worthy first before we could understand the gospel. Similarly, Paul became all things to all people, rather than expecting others to become like him. So, even if we accept that our language is corrupt, we should also expect to use that language to reach people with the Word of God.

At Mon Sep 19, 04:34:00 PM, Anonymous Eduardo said...

Peter: thanks for your kind answer. First of all, please note that I understand, accept and approve your point desire; I would be the first one to employ "gendered" language (if we may call it that way") to reach out to "the Phoebes of this world".

But, as a sidenote, I do think --and this is important-- that gender inclusivity is in many instances a vice of language. Please understand that I am qualifying my assertion. Not all gender inclusivity is bad, and we do not have to be sexist in our language.

What I deem to be a vice is the "downgrading" of the language when you start with a noun or word that at some time conveyed both genders and later was artificially set to convey one. "Brothers" is an example. To me, "brothers" does not refer to male human beings, but it describes a relationship between human entities of any sex: when A has at least one of their parents identical to those of B.

I do not consider the Victorian Age English ideal (yuck!), I don't think that any change of past standards is morally wrong, nor I think that everyone should read their Bibles in Hebrew and Greek.

What I do think is that there are instances of gender inclusivity that in my opinion are just bad English, and they should be corrected as one would do with any other instance of bad English. After all, when a kid miscostructs a sentence, we do not start to use his language; we correct him in a loving way.

I hope I had expressed myself better.




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