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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Like his brothers and sisters in every way: Hebrews 2:17

This is intended to be my last in the series on Christ as human. Here Christ, our high priest, is said to be like his human brothers and sisters in every way.

    For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:17
Some have disapproved of this, asking how Christ can be like his sisters in every way. I might perhaps have prefered that the TNIV has translated adelphoi as 'his own people' instead of 'brothers and sisters' in keeping with the pattern established in Acts 7:23.

    When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites.
However, 'brothers and sisters' seems equally accurate. If someone still questions the phrase 'in every way', let me point out that neither men nor women as a collective are like each other 'in every way'. The intent of this verse is clearly stated in the context, that he be able to sympathize with our weaknesses.

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
How soon we forget the most pressing cause of human suffering throughout history. Up until the middle of the last century and the discovery of antibiotics, it was a common life experience to suffer the loss of a child or loved one, a member of one's family or close friend, in an unexpected and untimely manner, through illness or violence.

This is what I had always understood from this verse, that Jesus sympathized with the pain and suffering of those he loved. Due to modern medicine, we are a generation of people who expect to go through life without losing a child. I well remember as a child being offered a steady diet of novels from the 19th century, longing for just one in which a child did not die. (except Alice!)

I have been sleeping on a cot at the hospital this last week, watching my own child as the doctors diagnosed the cause of her recent relapse. However, she is now on the appropriate antibiotics and beginning to recover.

In this verse, it depends on how we define being human. Do we define it terms of differential male and female needs and attachments, or in terms of our common needs and attachments? Does Christ sympathize more with men than with women? I find this so strange I can hardly write it - how is that there are so many complaints against the translation 'our brothers and sisters'? Never mind.

To expand the concept of human needs, I would like to offer Maslow's hierarchy as a provisional framework. First, the physical and safety needs, then the needs of love and belonging, of independence and esteem, cognitive and asthetic needs, and finally the needs of fulfillment and mission. So we read the Jesus was tired, hungry and in pain, mortal, sorrowing for those who died, lonely and disappointed in human relationships, not recognized by his own community, and burdened by the need to fulfill his mission. He suffered in order to be able to fully sympathize with us.

I would like to suggest that it is the quality of being human and the nature of basic human needs that enables men and women to share a common culture and read a common literature, and that is why ultimately we can read the same Bible in the first place and talk about it. We share common cognitive and aesthetic needs, and a common need for fulfillment and mission.

Here is one verse of a poem that I read last night, written by the Persian poet, Hafiz, in the 13th century on the death of his son. (tr. Gertrude Bell)

    He sought his lodging in the grave - too soon!
    I had not castled, and the time is gone,
    What shall I play? Upon the chequered floor
    Of Night and Day, Death won the game - forlorn
    And careless now, Hafiz can lose no more.


At Thu Aug 31, 05:48:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

Great post, Suzanne, as always.
Just one tiny little nitpick: Hafez was a Persian poet.

At Thu Aug 31, 08:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

In this verse, it depends on how we define being human. Do we define it terms of differential male and female needs and attachments, or in terms of our common needs and attachments?

Very good, Suzanne. I vote for the latter. I can't see how Christ's maleness would have made him a more suitable person to sympathize with our frailties.

Furthermore, someone who heard Dr. Grudem bring up this argument for this verse has pointed out that there are great differences among Christ's "brothers," if we want to insist on that translation of adelphoi. Some of his brothers were short, some were taller, some were of fiery temperament, some were more contemplative.

I think that the focus on maleness of those who criticize the TNIV is not very well founded. It is difficult to match that focus with the wonderful truth of the new covenent that Paul emphasized in Gal. 3:38, "In Christ we are not categorized according to whether or not we are Jew or Gentile, slave or free, or male or female."

At Thu Aug 31, 09:57:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Not a nitpick. Thanks very much. I was reading some of these poems as quoted in Bell's biography. I don't know if they are very good translations, but I was touched by how she wove these poems into her own story of a lost love.

At Fri Sep 01, 08:43:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...


As always, a thought-provoking post. I'm really glad you brought up that verse in Acts 7:23. "His own people" does sound most natural in English. I have to admit that Hebrews 2:17 sounds a bit unnatural to my ears with "his brothers and sisters." But I admit that there aren't a lot of good alternatives. Here it could almost mean "his fellow countrymen."

This is slightly off topic, but I did want to mention that I think the word "tempted" in Hebrews 4:15 is problematic. In today's English, the idea conveyed in this verse is that Jesus was experiencing some inner feeling of temptation to do something wrong. But I think the idea is that he was "tested" by all the same things that we go through as humans. Translating "tempt" is always tricky. My knowledge of Greek grammar is not good enough to be able to confidently analyze this word in this passage, but the passive voice seems to indicate that Jesus was "being tempted" externally, not that he was "feeling tempted" to do something wrong. Jesus went through every "trial" and "testing" that we do, but he didn't sin.

At Fri Sep 01, 10:39:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

David, I think you raise a good point about "tempted/tested" (πεπειρασμένον). I've always tried to explain that temptation is not a sin, but giving into the temptation is a sin.

I noticed that the HCSB and NRSV use "tested."

At Fri Sep 01, 02:39:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Not really having an understanding of Greek, I hope you won't take offense to this. I realize adelphoi being translated as "brothers and sisters" or otherwise inclusively is theologically correct, but is it what the Greek in fact says? I mean, even if I am using one of the most inclusive translations, like the NRSV, the translators notes tend to point out that the Greek is "brothers."

I am not trying to push an exclusivity, nor am I trying to push this particular translation, but when we put it in an inclusive sense in English, are we straying from an exact translation? If it does in fact mean "brothers," and the Greek was using that term in an inclusive sense, doesn't it tend to hide the tendency of Greek to use male terms in an inclusive sense, and hence hide the bias that was in the original?

Please don't all jump on me at once. This is just something I wonder as I debate within myself about the accuracy of different philosophies of translation. I have gone back and forth regarding this just within myself regarding whether it is better to use RSV or NRSV, NIV or TNIV, etc. It even makes me debate between which is better out of RSV or ESV.

I guess this stems from a more recent desire to not see the text in a light that has glossed over all of the perhaps politically incorrect tendencies of the original. I have no doubt the writers meant women as well as men in most instances, but I highly doubt the masculine tendency in language choices only happened upon translation into English, rather than being inherent in the original as well.

At Fri Sep 01, 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

GD, the problem is that adelphoi does not mean "brothers". That is to say, the Greek word, at least as used in this context, does not mean the same as the English word "brothers" means in the same context. (I note that in English this expression "his brothers" would normal refer not only to males only, but to the specific group of Jesus' brothers named e.g. in Matthew 13:55 - TNIV doesn't fix this misunderstanding but just adds in the sisters of Matthew 13:56.) If we were translating the Greek into English for the first time, we would not consider the translation "brothers" because there is a significant mismatch in meanings. In fact the only reason we consider "brothers" is because that is the traditional translation, and because in some other contexts, mainly in the singular, there is a match between the meanings.

There are two reasons why someone might claim that "brothers" is more accurate:

1) This is the rendering in an older translation and there is a presumption that that older translation is accurate, and that any departure from it is an inaccuracy or at least has to be proven to be an improvement;

2) There is a confusion between consistency and accuracy, such that any attempt to reflect the variety of senses of an original language word with a variety of target language words is presumed to be inaccuracy.

Yes, the TNIV reading does "tend to hide the tendency of Greek to use male terms in an inclusive sense". But surely that is the point of a translation, to hide details of the original language that the reader doesn't know so that he or she can understand the meaning of the text in the target language.

At Fri Sep 01, 03:36:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Peter said GD, the problem is that adelphoi does not mean "brothers".

I guess this is the confusing part for me, especially when the NRSV puts a translators note to Hebrews 2.17 that says "Gk brothers."

Did the NRSV translators mistake the meaning of the Greek because they were so used to using older translations, or did they in fact have an understanding of Greek before they attempted to translate the New Testament? I have read in several places the translators of the NRSV were some of the best around.

Maybe it is just the transfer to modern English in the functional equivalence mode that is causing me to have a problem getting my head around the discrepancies in opinion.

At Fri Sep 01, 03:51:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

It is rather important to point out that the Greek words are adelphos and adelphe, for brother and sister, and these words vary only in their grammatical male and female endings, which is irrelevant to real life sex of the referent.

So no, adelphos does not mean 'brother' any more than sibling means brother. I do not find that the word brother in English has more than a remote relationhship to the Greek word adelphos.

This is not political correctness. It is much more of a generic in Greek than in English. I am trying to represent the Greek, not some idea of smoothing out the patriarchal language!

Also, brother was used for tribe or people. But we have to ask, who was the first 'brother' that Moses would have seen on his return to his own country, Don't you think it would have been Miriam?

I am very offended that people even think that adelphos means brother. I have in English only two brothers, and in some sense this could be extended to blog brothers, (thank goodness we don't seem to have a blog father) but please note that in English, these blog brothers really are male. I would have to say my blog 'family' if I we were a more mixed group. I wish we were!

So the Greek does not sound 'male only' and the English does. The TNIV is hiding only the grammatical male ending, no semantic male content. I don't know if it is possible to ever get this across, that the KJV and all its descendants don't sound like Greek to me!

At Fri Sep 01, 04:03:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...


glad to be of help :o) I like Gertrude Bell's translations of Hafiz very much. In general, it seems that women translators are much better at capturing the spirit of Hafiz' poetry.

the problem is that adelphoi does not mean "brothers"
If I remember my NT Greek correctly, it could mean "brothers", "cousins", "countrymen", "kin" and so forth.
I looked up translations into other languages and most stick to "brothers". There are, however, some translations which found a way around it. For example, the Czech and the Slovak translations by International Bible Society translate the first part as (translation mine) "For this reason he had to be made like US..." The IBS Swedish, Dutch and Italian versions also switch to first person plural, but keep the "brothers" theme, the result being "It was necessary to make Jesus like one of US (his brothers)..." The Croatian and German translations by IBS replace "brothers" by "brothers and sisters".

At Fri Sep 01, 04:26:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

One more thing re adelphoi:

the Hungarian translation (Károlyi) uses a rare word to translate αδελφοι - "atyafia". Literary, it means "father-boy", which comes down to "sons of the same father". This word is used only if you want to expressly state that this particular sibling of yours is male.
Notice that there is no grammatical gender in Hungarian ("he" and "she" are both translated as "ő"). Moreover, there is a nearly perfect Hungarian counterpart to Greek adelphos - "testvér" - which may mean "sibling", "cousin", "relative" and even "sister" (e.g. Luke 10:39). The translators could have used this word (and indeed did in other places). But believing, as some still do, that αδελφοι means "male siblings" and nothing else, they went for the most legalistic option they could think of. The resulting translation is more than awkward.

At Fri Sep 01, 05:59:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Well, I hope I don't offend you, Suzanne, by giving examples of how the more educated but less Greek-literate Bible-reading public perceives these issues, especially when many translators that do know Greek give a different meaning than what you are giving. It seems many of those translators are oversimplifying the issue, but getting offended at the query itself can seem oversensitive to someone asking a fair question.

This is just one example of why people get polarized over the gender issue. I hope you don't seriously think I am implying women are less than men, and maybe you don't, but that is the impression given every time someone brings up a question regarding the accuracy of a particular rendering on this blog. That doesn't make for a good open discussion. My intent is trying to understand. I don't know Greek, and maybe that is one of the reasons I cause such offense, though none is intended.

At times, I have asked a question, only to get a response that was condescending, patronizing, or sarcastic (and I'm not even talking about your getting offended at my question). It gives the impression that if you don't already know Hebrew and Greek, and don't already share the same views as all of the regular contributors and commenters, you are likely to get laughed out of the room, so to speak, for asking a question that quite frankly is on the minds of more people than you realize.

My concern is accuracy, not trying to lower your status. When I write that, I'm not implying your definitions are not accurate. I appreciate any clarifications any of you give in response to my questions. There is no intention to offend.

At Fri Sep 01, 07:50:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I did not in any way mean to be patronizing, condescending or sarcastic. I wrote, in my view, a lively response written in the same tone as your original comment.

I regret that you took offense. I truly did not think for one minute that you thought of women as less. I did not in any way interpret you that way.

To switch topics here and cheer up, I shall share another fragment of a poem. I have not found the original yet. Maybe someone else knows it? Jules Laforgue, about 100 years ago, wrote,

Ah, young women, when will you be our brothers, our brothers in intimacy, without ulterior thought of exploitation? When shall we clasp hands truly?

Here the sense is that woman should be in reciprocal relation to man. If Christian men truly said 'woman is our brother' then women would not mind being brothers. However, this statement by Laforgue has been used by feminists, and now some Christian writers claim that this way leads to darkness.

So this would be a legitimate way of redeeming the word 'brother', a way to say, yes, woman is our brother, but this is considered controversial. Woman is brother but not brother, brother when we say she is, but not otherwise.

At Fri Sep 01, 08:31:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I find G. D. Grubbs' question about the NRSV very interesting. WHY exactly did the NRSV translators add the footnote "Gk brothers everytime they rendered ἀδελφοί as "brothers and sisters"?

I know that one of the guidelines on Better Bibles Blog is not to question the motives of translation teams, but this is an interesting question. And if I am questioning motives, it's out of curiousity with no mean-spiritedness implied.

Here's why this is of interest to me: everytime someone makes the claim that the TNIV is a "politically correct Bible," I say nonsense and explain why translating ἀδελφοί as "brothers and sisters" is not only more accurate but more literal than "brothers."

But the footnotes in the NRSV makes one wonder what the translators' motives were in a gender-inclusive translation.

I was curious enough about this that I pulled my copy of The Making of the New Revised Standard Version" and reread the chapter, "Inclusive Language in the New Revised Standard Version." I wanted Walter Harrelson, the writer of the chapter, to make some kind of statement regarding the actual meaning of ἀδελφοί as the basis of why "brothers and sisters" is used. But I found just the opposite.

On p. 80 there's a brief discussion about the translation of ἀδελφοί. Harrelson writes, "The changes for the sake of inclusiveness once again result in a more satisfactory rendering than would a literalistic translation of the normal meaning of the Greek."

WHAT?! The changes for the sake of inclusiveness? What about changes for the sake of accuracy? As I said above, it seems clear to me that "brothers and sisters" IS the literal translation in most of these case (esp. Paul's epistles). But evidently that was not the belief of the NRSV translators (at least as described by Harrelson). If I understand my Greek correctly, "brothers and sisters" is more literalistic (to use Harrelson's term).

In the whole chapter, I only found one discussion (on p. 77) that referred to inclusive language being more accurate. And this was in reference to the NRSV's rendering of Psalm 8:3. After displaying the text, Harrelson writes, "It is unmistakable that these plurals express more clearly, for contemporary English readers, the sense of the Hebrew text than singular number pronouns would express that sense."

But other statements are more troubling. Consider this question from p. 83: "Have we adequately addressed the language that gives trouble and offense to others who take exception to certain forms of reference."

While I don't have any desire to offend someone unnecessarily, it seems as if the desire for non-offence was the overriding motive for inclusive language in the NRSV as opposed to simple accuracy.

Let me ask the hard question, Does the NRSV use inclusive language in an attempt to be politically correct or to be accurate?" I want to hope it's the latter, but I'm no longer sure.

Harrelson, in describing the initial decision to make the NRSV more inclusive regarding references to human contexts, writes this: "The usual approach was taken: a small committee was appointed to take some particularly difficult texts and see what could be done to reduce or eliminate the masculine references" (p. 74). Yikes! That sounds like something out of the accusations of Grudem and company when they claim that the TNIV removes masculinity from the Bible.

Don't get me wrong, I like the NRSV and I find it to be a very accurate translation overall (not denying that it has its problems like all translations). And to its credit, it was a bridge in many ways between translations that used older forms such as masculine universals and newer translations that have streamlined the process of "gender accuracy."

But Grubbs' question is still very valid regarding the ἀδελφοί footnote. Is the NRSV inclusive for the sake of accuracy or merely for the sake of inclusiveness itself? I don't have a clear answer to that question.

At Fri Sep 01, 09:04:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Suzanne said I did not in any way mean to be patronizing, condescending or sarcastic. I wrote, in my view, a lively response written in the same tone as your original comment.

Your comment that I replied to said I am very offended that people even think that adelphos means brother.

If you check my original comment for this entry, there was not any statement that I was offended we don't have things translated to the exclusion of women, nor was I particularly offended by the usual reaction to my questions, but I accept your apology. I suppose I must assume most of you are on the defensive regarding your translation choices in today's climate.

r. mansfield quoted:
"The changes for the sake of inclusiveness once again result in a more satisfactory rendering than would a literalistic translation of the normal meaning of the Greek."

"Have we adequately addressed the language that gives trouble and offense to others who take exception to certain forms of reference."

"The usual approach was taken: a small committee was appointed to take some particularly difficult texts and see what could be done to reduce or eliminate the masculine references"

These, in addition to many of the footnotes I've seen in various Bibles, not just NRSV, make me have the types of questions I have -- and I'm not alone. Now, for people like me to have questions like this is not evil, nor is it an attempt to exclude reference to women.

Check out this review from Amazon on the NOAB 2nd edition:

Dr. PC Comninos "" (Cape Town, South Africa) - See all my reviews
The NRSV is a revision of the RSV, regarded by scholars as the most literally accurate translation of the Bible. When the NRSV was published, it attempted a consistent policy of translation that would exclude bias in favor of the male gender. For the most part, the NRSV is a brilliant translation by an array of scholars with impeccable credentials. I have three reservations regarding the translation, which I use:

First, a person cannot help gain the impression that the translators have consistently asked themselves the following (modern) question: Is this or that particular passage about gender? If not, then they have felt at liberty to translate WITHOUT representing the gender of the person in question. For instance, in Philippians 2:5, the translators have apparently asked: Is the gender of the incarnate Christ the main point of the writer? Since most would agree that gender is NOT the point, i.e. the writer is not emphasizing the fact that Jesus became a MAN as opposed to a WOMAN. And yet, are we not saying less than the text intends if we simply translate "human"? Was Jesus a human? Was he not also and more specifically a MALE?

Second, in respect to the problem of gender bias in Greek and Hebrew. In the Preface to the NRSV, the translators state the following: "During the almost half a century since the publication of the RSV, many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language towards the masculine gender, a bias that in the case of the Bible has often restricted or obscured the meaning of the original text." This is misleading as it implies that whereas the English language favors the masculine gender, Hebrew and Greek do not. This is wishful thinking. Both Hebrew and Greek favor the male gender-even a first year student of these languages knows that. For example, "adelphos" refers to a brother although it may mean a sister. The translation of "adelphos" as "Brothers and sisters" is correct from the standpoint of the situation of the early Church, in that when Paul addressed his congregations, he was speaking to both sexes. In addition, "Brothers and sisters" it is theologically correct, in that a strong case can be made for restating the Bible in a non-gender-biased language. SEMANTICALLY, however, it is mistaken, since it puts forward to the modern reader the erroneous notion that the Greek language, and more importantly, those writers of the NT who made use of it, were NOT biased in favor of men, whereas the opposite is true. Should translations ignore the prejudice inherent in the original languages?

3. Finally, I was surprised to discover that the translation "Son of man" in the NRSV was to some degree motivated by a desire not to offend the sensibilities of certain scholars who participated on the project. One of the scholars, who is best left unnamed, threatened to resign from the board of translators, if his translation of the Hebrew "BEN ADAM" was not rendered as "MORTAL". Christians immediately recognize the problem because the phrase BEN ADAM was used by Jesus of himself and has important theological implications. By rendering it as "Mortal" one would never know this. This translator was not a Christian, and the question remains: should passages in the Old Testament that refer to the Messiah be left in the hands of non-Christians? Here we have a case where the tranlator has ignored the fact that Jesus used the term of himself. I think that ought not to happen.

This edition of the Oxford Annotated has the notes of the Second Edition, which are different from the notes to the Third Edition, but just as useful, if not more useful in parts.

You should be able to understand why some will question which way is the best way to deal with accurate translation with these comments out there (which can be convincing to someone not fluent in Greek).

At Fri Sep 01, 10:13:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...


Let me add a clarification to my comment above.

I strongly believe in gender-accurate Bibles. This is not based on any preoccupation with political correctness (something that I often have little patience with when it's expressed in its extremes). I believe in gender accurate Bibles because I believe they express the meaning of the original more accurately than those which don't use gender-inclusive language.

Good translation and clear communication of God's word is the bottom line for me.

Although it wasn't always the case, I've given up on masculine universals because I don't believe they do a good job communicating the intent of scripture when they are used. Granted lots of folks understand them just fine, but the problem is that lots of folks don't, and the number of those folks is growing.

One reason the owners of this blog caution against making claims about a translator's motives is because in the end it doesn't matter. What matters is the final product. I brought up the motives of the NRSV translators out of historical curiousity, and in an attempt to explore the reasons behind the ἀδελφοί footnote. But in the end, all that matters is the final product of the NRSV, footnotes aside. Can its renderings be defended as accurate to the meaning of the original texts? Although one can always look at this or that passage and say, "Well, I would have done it differently," by and large the NRSV is defensible in its use of gender-inclusive language.

I took up the cause of defending the TNIV after reading so many misinformed and inaccurate attacks against it. I went from being passive in my concern to a much more aggressive position. My enthusiasm for the TNIV is the direct backfire of the rhetoric of Grudem, Poythress, Ryken, etc. Although I can sometimes point to the TNIV's translation committee in my discussions, ultimately all that matters is the final product.

So, what if the NRSV committee was a bit more preoccupied with inclusion for inclusion sake than I would have cared for? I may not like that fact, but the real question is whether the translation is a good one in spite of this. Overall, I think it is.

At Sat Sep 02, 03:04:00 AM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Thanks, Rick. Since there are many experts on both sides of the fence, it makes me wonder if their opinion rests largely with which seminary they went to, or what professors taught them their Hebrew or Greek.

At any rate, most scholars seem to have respect for the NRSV, and most explanations of why the gender inclusive approach is taken in regard to how the "thought" comes across to a modern English speaking person make sense to a reasonable person.

I have a young daughter (as well as a son), and my desire for her would be for her to get the full impact of the scriptures in their truest sense. Even talking to my wife about this issue, I have met with resistance from her about more inclusive translations, though with some of my explanations of the arguments, she has come around a great deal (how's that for a woman's perspective, Suzanne? - ;) ). I have read the tales of people that have read passages from the Bible to their daughters, and the hilarious misunderstandings that take place (daughters thinking passages only apply to a male), and think to myself I don't want that for my children. On the other hand, I see passages like Proverbs 5 in the NRSV, which try to neuter something that is supposed to be speaking specifically to a son (which is not done in the TNIV or NLT), and think I don't really want them to get the wrong impression (though obviously the whole scenario can be applied to girls in another way).

I am just seeking gender-accuracy, as well.

At Sat Sep 02, 06:47:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

G.D. said, "Since there are many experts on both sides of the fence, it makes me wonder if their opinion rests largely with which seminary they went to, or what professors taught them their Hebrew or Greek."

I may be in a unique position. When I got my M.Div, the NRSV was translation of choice at my school. By the time I went back for my doctorate, the school had become more conservative. These days, the ESV is translation of choice.

I took it upon myself to seriously study the issue for myself back in the late nineties. When the whole "stealth Bible" issue broke around 1997(?), rather than take someone else's word on it, I paid about $40 to have a $10 Bible shipped to me from England--the only place that an inclusive NIV was available. After actually having one in my hand and examining it, I felt that the controversy was one that was forced and ultimately much ado about nothing.

My experience in teaching settings and my own investigation of the issues convinced me that there was nothing inaccurate about a gender-inclusive translation when it was done responsibly. Moreover, as I stuided the subject further, I began to see them as more accurate in communicating God's word in our current English language at the beginning of the 21st century.

This is not true across the board, but I find that many who oppose gender inclusivity in a translation do so because (1) someone like James Dobson opposes it, and that's good enough for them, (2) they've read folks like Grudem, Poythress, and Ryken on the subject, but have never read anything on the other side, or (3) they are simply unfamiliar with the issues and would stay with traditional translations.

I believe it's important for someone to have read both sides. A person should read not only the above mentioned names but also what D. A. Carson and Mark Strauss have written on the subject. At the very least that person will be better informed of the issues.

By the way, yes, the context of Prov 5 is undoubtedly wisdom from a father to a son. The NLT and TNIV handle this passage more accurately.

At Sat Sep 02, 09:49:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


All my training came from outside the theological spectrum. There was no axe to grind for or against women, we weren't reading the Bible.

The fact that this has become so controversial is on some level incomprehensible to me from my background.

On a woman's perspective, many women are instinctively conservative, loyal to the men in their life and don't wish to appear in any way to go against the grain. They wish to appear unoffended, because the alternative, to appear to be in any way offended, raises such ire that it is not worth the risk.

The other consequence is for a woman to be labeled a 'feminist' with all the baggage that may entail. So I find that many women don't take this on. Naturally, if one doesn't have the training it is better not to say too much.

There are some women like Mary Kassian who are majors defenders of a very conservative perspective. But she openly admits that she has never experienced some of the things other women have.

I did a little count the other day of about 25 of my women friends to find that 50% are single, divorced, widowed and supporting their own children. Three of these are professional women, with handicapped children, who left abusive husbands. Of those still married some have husbands who are unemployed, one had a stroke, etc.

None of these women are in any way served by being raised with complementarian expectations. I would say complementarianism is for a few lucky people, a minority of those for whom life goes according to plan.

At Sat Sep 02, 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Rick asked:

Is the NRSV inclusive for the sake of accuracy or merely for the sake of inclusiveness itself?


Your favorite online encyclopedia quotes directly from the Preface to the NRSV:

In the preface to the NRSV, Bruce Metzger wrote for the committee that "many in the churches have become sensitive to the danger of linguistic sexism arising from the inherent bias of the English language towards the masculine gender, a bias that in the case of the Bible has often restricted or obscured the meaning of the original text." [1] The RSV observed the older convention of using masculine nouns in an inclusive sense (e.g. "man" instead of "person"), and in some cases used a masculine word where the source language used a neuter word. The NRSV by contrast adopted a policy of gender-neutral language: "The mandates from the Division specified that, in references to men and women, masculine-oriented language should be eliminated as far as this can be done without altering passages that reflect the historical situation of ancient patriarchal culture."

I am trying to locate the entire preface online so I do not have to keyboard it myself.

Although the NRSV team had a clear mandate to remove "linguistic sexism" from the translation, the preface does not address your specific question. I *suspect* that Metzger et al would answer that accuracy would trump ideology. I have not personally found any passages in the NRSV where it is clear that actual masculine *reference* was neutered.

At Sat Sep 02, 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Oh, the NRSV preface is here online.

If I had only read further in the Wikipedia article, I would have seen that link.

The paragraph which addresses gender language is about 2/3 of the way through the preface, and begins with these words:

"During the almost half a century"

At Sat Sep 02, 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

GD asked (quite a lot of comments ago!), "Did the NRSV translators mistake the meaning of the Greek because they were so used to using older translations, or did they in fact have an understanding of Greek before they attempted to translate the New Testament?"

The NRSV translators certainly made a mistake here. In fact I wonder if it was really their mistake; maybe these footnotes were added by an editorial team, or the translation team was forced to accept them, in a misguided attempt to placate people with poor understanding who felt the need for footnotes here. (After drafting this I read Rick's comment in which he quotes Harrelson; if this is an accurate reflection of the NRSV translators' attitude, then probably this is their mistake.) The footnote they did write, at Hebrews 2:17 and elsewhere, is "Gk brothers". This is of course nonsense because "brothers" is not a Greek word. The footnote they should have written is "Traditionally translated brothers".

The confusion is serious because it suggests that this is a substitution made by the translators. Thus, on the issue of horn of salvation, NRSV renders this phrase in Luke 1:69 "a mighty savior" with a footnote "Gk a horn of salvation". This is a genuine case where "Gk" in a footnote introduces a literal rendering of the Greek text, and the main NRSV text is a non-literal alternative, made in this case because the metaphor "horn" is not well understood if translated literally. But the case of adelphoi is quite different, for "brothers and sisters" is the literal meaning of adelphoi, not a substitution. The NRSV footnotes obscure this difference by using the same indication.

TNIV does a better job by rendering Hebrews 2:17 "brothers and sisters" without a footnote.

(Continued after reading all the previous comments.)

I wonder if the difference between NRSV and TNIV is about whether the teams actually believed in the job they were doing. Probably the TNIV team really believed in what they were doing; at least I have no evidence to suggest that they didn't. But the NRSV preface uses phrases like "The mandates from the Division" and "the several mandates stood in tension and even in conflict. The various concerns had to be balanced case by case in order to provide a faithful and acceptable rendering". Reading between the lines, it sounds as if the team had been told to eliminate gender-specific language but found this in conflict with their ideas of what was a faithful rendering. This would explain their footnotes on "brothers and sisters": they really wanted to translate "brothers", because their Greek was really so bad that they thought that this was the most accurate translation, but their "mandate" obliged them not to.

At Sat Sep 02, 12:04:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I am wondering if I can really believe what I wrote at the end of my previous comment, concerning the NRSV translators' preference to translate adelphoi as just "brothers" that "their Greek was really so bad that they thought that this was the most accurate translation".

Now it seems to me, as I mentioned before, that the rendering "brothers" in Hebrews 2:17 is most naturally taken as a reference to the James, Joseph, Simon and Judas of Matthew 13:55. But I don't think that anyone would actually understand Hebrews 2:17 as really referring specifically to these brothers of Jesus, nor for that matter to them and the sisters of Matthew 13:56.

The question is, did the NRSV translators in fact think that "brothers" was the best translation because they understand both the Greek and this English as gender generic, or because they understood both as gender specific and referring only to males? (If the latter, the translators' Greek is bad.) This is the same question as needs to be asked of the translators of versions like NIV and ESV which simply render "brothers". If I understand things correctly, there is a serious lack of clarity and agreement on this issue among the opponents of gender accurate translations. And it is a question which cuts to the heart of the inconsistency and inaccuracy of those who insist on using generic "he", "man", "brother" etc in Bible translations.

At Sat Sep 02, 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Roberts' attitude is an interesting one. It seems that he is prepared to sacrifice referential accuracy, in translating the inclusive sense of adelphoi, just to keep a single word in the translation. I guess that this is in fact the general approach of formal equivalence translators, but I have never seen it expressed quite so explicitly. I see his point to the extent that the translation is intended for "serious historical work" such as "sociological or cultural appraisal of the world of the original text", and perhaps the target audience of NRSV was the world of scholarship. But if the target audience is believers and potential believers, referential accuracy must be the first concern.

At Sat Sep 02, 03:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Peter,

Roberts does seem to ingnore the fact that in English brothers refers to the males in a group of closely related individuals, but in Greek it refers to the collective group as an entity. There is no referential equivalence between adelphos and brothers, although some people here persist in this belief, and indeed some of those quoted seem to think so too. That was the whole point of Grudem and Poythress admission that they had not checked the lexicons on this.

Altogether 'ones own people' is far better for accuracy sake. This seems to leave some metaphor untranslated, but what are we after, metaphor or accuracy?

At Sat Sep 02, 05:36:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Now, see -- this is why I ask the questions. There are good answers to be found here. :)

At Sat Sep 02, 05:46:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I'm just now able to jump back into the discussion.

Regarding the NRSV committee's decision to use inclusive language, the chapter in the book The Making of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible on inclusive language that I mentioned earlier makes no real mention of there being resistance on the part of committee members. However, there is lots of talk in the chapter about the necessity for "removing masculine language."

I find it very difficult to not simply come to the conclusion that the committee was making the changes for the sake of inclusiveness more than the sake of accuracy. Ironically, there decision turns out to be the most accurate one anyway. When you consider their footnote to "brothers and sisters" mentioned ealier, it sounds like the translators were still pretty much of the old school thinking that ἀδελφοί was best translated "brothers." How else can the footnote be explained?

In the end, I wish that Metzger had written the chapter on inclusive language instead of Harrelson (Metzger writes one of the other chapters). I imagine it would have been helpful to hear Metzger's recounting of the decision.

Regardless, as I think I said somewhere earlier, the NRSV is a bridge translation of sorts from the older translations to the newer ones. The NRSV committee made the hard decision to use inclusive language (it was not part of their original mandate) and that paved the way for other versions which followed to do the same thing. Of all the translations released in the decade and a half since the NRSV, most have used gender inclusivity to one degree or another. The NRSV set the stage for that and by and large it's stuck.

Even very conservative translations such as the ESV, NASB95, and HCSB are much more gender inclusive than translations of a generation ago. That can't be all bad.

At Sat Sep 02, 05:56:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

You know, when you mention the NASB95, it reminds me of seeing what was formerly translated as "fatherless" being translated in almost all places in the NASB (even the 1977) as "orphans." I don't really know, but I have suspected that was not as accurate, since in almost all cases out of about 40 instances translated "fatherless" in older versions (as well as some newer ones like the ESV), the term is close to "widow(s)." It has always given the picture to me in something like the KJV of a relation between the fatherless and widow that makes sense in the context of a civilization that is commonly at war with other civilizations, and lost fathers due to war were more common, leaving "fatherless" and "widows." If that is the case, and I may be wrong, "orphan" is not the correct term for a child that still has a mother.

At Sat Sep 02, 07:09:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

Interestingly, I noticed TNIV translates those as "fatherless" instead of "orphan."

At Sat Sep 02, 07:33:00 PM, Blogger G. D. Grubbs said...

On the other hand, Merriam-Webster states:

Main Entry: 1or·phan
Pronunciation: 'or-f&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin orphanus, from Greek orphanos; akin to Old High German erbi inheritance, Latin orbus orphaned
1 : a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents
2 : a young animal that has lost its mother
3 : one deprived of some protection or advantage (orphans of the storm)

So, I suppose either way is correct, but fatherless, as in the TNIV, produces a clearer picture to me.

At Sat Sep 02, 10:10:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

A while back, I gave up on trying to not offend with some of these designations. It does no good to refer to the Old Testament as "the Hebrew Bible" for at least two reasons: (1) The OT is not completely in Hebrew; parts of it are in Aramaic. (2) In the Sunday School class I teach tomorrow from Hebrews 1, it would be inaccurate for me to say, "The writer of Hebrews was quoting from the Hebrew Bible" because he wasn't! He was quoting from the Septuagint. I use the term "Old Testament" because as a Christian, I also have a New Testament (covenant). I hope I don't offend anyone with that, but in reality, it's a faith statement.

I have probably written a number of papers using CE/BCE, but at some point, I stopped that, too. Regardless of the year 0 issue (and actually, there wasn't a year 0 anyway) and Jesus' birth being in 4 BC, as a Christian it's perfectly legitimate for me to use the traditional BC/AD designations. Others can use CE/BCE, and it certainly doesn't offend me, but it's undeniable that the calendar splits around Christ.

I often use "apocrypha" and "deuteronomicals" interchangeably. It's not a big deal to me. Personally I don't like the term "apocrypha" because it means hidden or secret, and these books have never been either. "Intertestamental literature" seems to broad because 1 Enoch is from the intertestamental period (probably), but wouldn't be part of the apocrypha.

By the way, Ishmael, thanks for the link to Dr. Ellis' resignation. That's very interesting history. Although I would disagree with him on this issue, he's a very sharp Baptist scholar; in fact, a giant as such in my mind. I highly respect him and his work.

At Sat Sep 02, 10:12:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

That should have said, "deuterocanonicals" above. It's getting late.

At Sun Sep 03, 03:59:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

The only difference, Ishmael, is that I never said I'd be a jerk about it. My context (at the moment) doesn't require me to use different terms. If I was in a context that did, fine, I would. It wouldn't matter. I'm an extremely reasonable person on these kinds of things. Your conversation described above is a caricature and the kind of conversation that I would never be in.

At Sun Sep 03, 10:55:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Well, I wasn't thinking about this conversation this morning, when I was teaching Hebrews, but I distinctly remember saying two things related to this to my class: (1) "The writer of Hebrews consistently quotes from the Septuagint," and then to explain that for those who didn't know what that meant, I said, (2) "The Septuagint was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which we know as our Old Testament."


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