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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Language Police

I have recently read some posts elsewhere about how women don't want inclusive language in their Bibles. They would feel patronized, etc. It is too silly. Okay, I am one of those women. If a year ago someone had asked me if I thought that the Bible should have inclusive language, I would not have responded with interest.

Personally, I don't really give a fig, or a fig-leaf, which pronouns are used in the Bible. I thought 'thou' and 'thee' were nice, ...

So, what is the issue for me? Simply this. I do not believe we should have language police for the Bible. It is a socialistic, central planning coup, a revisionist polemic - and so on - you get the idea. (This is not intended to refer to any particular group, but it is the way some people talk up here about Bill 101.)

A book has been written about language police. Not the Canadian ones, this time.
    Author of 7 books, Ravitch served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993. Her expertise and her 30-year commitment to education lend authority and urgency to this important book, which describes in copious detail how pressure groups from the political right and left have wrested control of the language and content of textbooks and standardized exams, often at the expense of the truth (in the case of history), of literary quality (in the case of literature), and of education in general.

You notice that it says pressure groups from both sides. I certainly hope that I am not part of a pressure group for any particular translation. Okay, I did buy a TNIV and I have been reading it, but I have not bothered to update my Good News Bible to the inclusive language edition.

I don't recommend any particular translation, but simply hope to contribute to an understanding of how Bible versions differ and why we should learn to live with that.

Frankly I am still looking for something that contains verses like this.

    Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Romans 16:7 KJV

    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9 KJV

    For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 1 Cor. 11:10 KJV

A nice traditional and suitably ambiguous Bible like the KJV is what we need. (Actually I do know that there are places where it doesn't look all that great, but the text critics can fuss over that.) Luther's Bible is also looking good. Tradition!


At Mon May 01, 02:06:00 AM, Blogger DavidR said...

Amen, sister!

At Thu May 04, 09:12:00 PM, Blogger Modern Day Magi said...

since language is fluid, shouldnt the newer translations use the more current terms?
30 Years ago everyone knew that man sometimes meant mankind, but it is not proper to use 'man' that way anymore.
As language changes shouldnt our bibles reflect the current language whih is used?
The KJV uses 'charity' in 1 Corinthians 13 while almost every other translation uses 'love'. In the 1600's when the KJV was translated charity meant love and not what it means today (a non profit organisation which helps a particular cause or group of perople).

I agree that it is silly to change words around just for Political correctness but when a wrod actuall takes on a new meaning or usage it should be dropped for a more accurate word.


At Fri May 05, 12:01:00 PM, Blogger M. J. Mansini said...

Magi wrote "I agree that it is silly to change words around just for Political correctness but when a wrod actuall takes on a new meaning or usage it should be dropped for a more accurate word."

Well, this is exactly the issue isn't it? The question is whether the replacements for the generic "man" (and others) are suitable replacements or not. This is what people get hung up on. For example, if we had a perfectly suitable third person generic pronoun in english, we wouldn't have nearly as much to say about the gender inclusive issue. The question is whether or not the substitutions retain accuracy.

In my personal, and very rarely humble opinion, it is difficult for a literal translation to use gender inclusive/accurate/neutral language in english due to the fact that suitable replacements at this point are somewhat rare (and barely suitable according to some). They usually, and basically, have to resort to restructuring the sentence and/or pluralizing (we have good neutral plurals in english) the statement. A dynamic translation on the other hand has much more freedom in this respect, and in my opinion, it would be much more appropriate for a dynamic translation to utilize gender inclusive language, just simply because they can be more interpretive while maintaining accuracy.

The Bible was written over a very long time period, which ended quite some time ago. Putting it into modern languages should be difficult, and I personally enjoy seeing so many people squirm over these issues.

It's to bad all our english translations are not in Hungarian or some other language that is basically gender neutral, or has neutral terminology as part of its core.

After we are done making the Bible inclusive because it is "more accurate" than the traditional linguistic choices of generic male language I say we should start revising all writing composed between the year 0 and 2000 Anno Domini, because you will notice the male oriented langauge in a great many of those writings. !!!(Obvious Sarcasm)!!!

At Fri May 05, 06:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


The point is that there are words in the Greek which are gender inclusive, 'anthropos' is 'human or person'. That is a basic literal translation. So all Bibles should use this.

On a completely separate note, the pronouns are less easy to make gender neutral. But what is a pronoun - nothing. So the Bible should say the person who ... and then a pronoun, 'he' can be used, or 'they', both can be used with a singular antecedent. However, as to making whole phrases plural, that becomes less literal. So I don't protest a masculine generic, although it must be made clear that it is a generic, and not some image of the greater 'prominence of the male'.

If you want a literal translation there is absolutely no excuse, no justification of any kind for using 'man' instead of 'person/human' for 'anthropos'. Although 'person' is not exact, it is far closer than 'man' can ever be.

'Children' should be used instead of 'sons' but brothers and sisters is more difficult to use naturally, It is more accurate but somewhat awkward.

However, no translation can ever be EXACTLY like the original.


I don't mean that we should use the KJV, but that there should be a Bible that uses traditional language and is sometimes ambiguous, saying things like 'Junia was well-known among the apostles' then people would understand that the original is itself ambiguous, and Christians from different perspectives would have a Bible that they could share.

At Thu May 11, 03:54:00 PM, Blogger Glennsp said...

Suzanne, you said;
"If you want a literal translation there is absolutely no excuse, no justification of any kind for using 'man' instead of 'person/human' for 'anthropos'. Although 'person' is not exact, it is far closer than 'man' can ever be."
So how do you explain away;
(From the NT)

1) Matthew 19:5 "Therefore shall an anthropos leave his father and mother, and hold fast to his wife." (also in Ephesians 5:31)
2) Matthew 19:10 "If such is the case of an anthropos with his wife, it is better not to marry."
3) I Corinthians 7:1 "It is good for an anthropos not to touch a woman."

(From the Septuagint)
1) Deuteronomy 17:5. "Then you shall bring out that anthropos or that woman, and you shall stone them with stones"
2) Deuteronomy 22:24. "They shall be stoned with stones, and they shall die, the young woman, because she did not cry out in the city, and the anthropos, because he violated his neighbor's wife."
3) Esther 4:11. "whosoever, anthropos or woman, shall go in to the king in the inner court uncalled, there will not be deliverance from death for that one [ουκ εστιν αυτω σωτηρια]." In addition to the clear opposition of anthropos and gyne here, notice the expression which is used at the end of the sentence. When the author wants to use a gender-neutral expression he does not use anthropos, he uses the neuter personal pronoun αυτω, "that one."
4) Ecclesiastes 7:28. "One anthropos among a thousand I have found, but a woman among all these I have not found."
5) Isaiah 4:1. "Seven women shall take hold of one anthropos, saying, we will eat our own bread, and wear our own raiment; only let your name be called upon us, and take away our reproach."
6) Jeremiah 51:7 [English 44:7]. "to cut off anthropos and woman of you, infant and suckling from the midst of Judah..."

It would appear that your statement is somewhat mistaken in this regard and that there is every justification (in context) of Anthropos being translated as 'man'.
God bless


May the majesty of God and the weight of his glory and the grace of his dying and rising Son rest upon you. Amen.

At Thu May 11, 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Glenn concluded:

It would appear that your statement is somewhat mistaken in this regard and that there is every justification (in context) of Anthropos being translated as 'man'.

You are right, Glenn, and so is Suzanne. Let me explain.

The lexical meaning of anthropos is 'person.' That is what that Greek word means. However, in appropriate contexts the word can refer to a man. In such contexts, it is appropriate and probably best, even, to translate anthropos as "man."

If this sounds confusing, it has to do with a difference in lexical semantics between lexical (or dictionary) meaning and referential meaning. Typically, we want to translate referential meaning.

Thanks for raising your question. It's an excellent one that needed to be addressed. And you yourself noted the key to the answer when you included the words "(in context)".

One problem in current debates over how to translate anthropos is that some people draw the wrong inference from the preceding facts. Just because it is appropriate to translate anthropos as "man" in some contexts, they assume that that anthropos means 'man.' But anthropos does not mean 'man.' It means 'person.' In appropriate contexts it can refer to a man, and translation would key in to that.

This is why context is so important when we are translating. We cannot simply match words from one language to another with the help of a dictionary.

At Thu May 11, 05:23:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Well, I did say literal, not that it would sound any good. But the literal, semantic, non-contextual meaning for anthropos is person.

My point really was, do you really want a Bible that collapses the two Greek words anthropos and aner into one and does not use the word person/people or human? What a loss of distinction and a loss of God's message to us.

My heart is the right place - I would like to see a literal translation. But I did receive an email recently remarking that a literal translation must use siblings for adelphoi. I can't see that happening.

But imagine sitting down with a group of people from different persuasions and talking about the best translation in terms of scholarship, setting aside the agendas. What would it look like?

Dear sibs ... well, I hope we could do better than that.

Thank you, brother, for pointing out my generalizaton and lack of precision. There are certain instances where one would feel contrained by the English language to use man for anthropos.


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