gender-inclusion and Bible translation
I have been reading fascinating, uplifting posts on the Adventures in Mercy blog. Blogger Molly writes on difficult topics with humor and humility. She's self-effacing, recognizing that she is a work in progress as she wrestles with issues of concern to her and her husband. Well, I admit that I may be a bit biased as I read Molly's posts, because she happens to be one of my cousins. I'm a genealogist in our big family system, and Molly is my 4th cousin once removed, for those who like details.
One of Molly's recent posts noted that men are empowered by testosterone to do their work. The hormone causes a tendency for men to be more aggressive than women. Molly pointed out that women tend to be more relational. Now, of course, these are tendencies. It is important for men to learn to relate better, but, on the whole, women like to relate more than men do. And some women, including from Bible times, have done good jobs of leading. God has given spiritual gifts to everyone in the church, including the gift of administration. Some women, including my wife, have that gift. But my wife is relational, as well.
As I was thinking about what Molly has written, I realized that there are important implications for Bible translation. By far, men make up the majority of members on English Bible translation committees. Much of the disparity in numbers between men and women on translation committees is due to social traditions which have not permitted women to get the advanced degrees in biblical studies and exegesis which are helpful for translation work.
But I'd like to encourage all of us to work toward greater inclusion of women on Bible translation committees. And why would this be important?
Here are some reasons.
It has often been said that women do better with languages than men. I think it has something to do with which part of our brains are used for language functions (I forget if it is women or men who are in their "right" minds!). I remember how it was in my Biblical Greek classes in Bible school. Even though women were not permitted to be in the Pastoral Ministry major, they could take biblical languages. Typically there were three or four women in each of my Greek classes. They would sit together in the back of the room. I resented what those young ladies did to the grading curve in our class. To my shame, I recall thinking that women didn't really belong in "our" Greek class and they were hurting the grades of some of us who actually were doing rather well, but when a prof grades on the curves sometimes we don't get as high a grade as we might like. And why did those ladies do well? Probably because they were women, gifted at language work.
But who ends up doing the language work on Bible translation committees? Almost exclusively men. Who teaches biblical language courses in Bible schools and seminaries? Almost exclusively men. Now men can do well studying, analyzing, and teaching biblical languages. But just think how much better it would be if more women could use their natural linguistic gifts, God-given, to teach biblical languages and serve on Bible translation committees.
Only half of the job of translation of English Bibles is focused on biblical languages, however. The other half must focus on English. Unfortunately, many English Bibles have not had adequate input from English language scholars and those who are gifted in English writing and stylistics. There have been exceptions: J.B. Phillips, Ken Taylor, and Eugene Peterson were/are gifted authors. They understood the importance of good turns of phrase, of words sounding good together, of using natural English forms, of using contemporary language spoken by their readers.
Many women not only do well--often better than men--at biblical languages, but their natural linguistic abilities extend to their own language, English, as well. When women combine their desire for being relational with their linguistic gifts, they often have special contributions to give to committees who need to improve the quality of English in their translations.
In our own worldwide Bible translation mission, there are many women who have done good translation work. I know of at least one team of two single women who have done three different Bible translations. I think two of them were in related dialects, but the dialects were far enough apart that they needed separate translations, and the women would have had to learn differences between the dialects to help create adequate translations in both dialects. The work of missionary Bible translation would be far behind where it is now if it were not for women who have done so much of the work. Yes, we need more men, as well as women, in Bible translation, but let's especially thank God for the women who have heard God's call to translate the Bible for those around the world who need it.
One way for us to have better Bibles is to be more gender-inclusive. I think that the relational side of women would help oil the gears of discussion and relationships among Bible translation committee members. My sense is that men tend to be more logical about how they translate; women many not only have the facts of the biblical languages right but many also be able to express those facts in better English. A man may logically dig in and insist on using a certain English word to translate some Hebrew or Greek word. Often men want to win. I sense this in myself. I like to win arguments on my blog or in comments I place on the blogs of others. When I read blogs of feminine, thoughtful, relational women like my cousin Molly, I am impressed by how that natural drive of men to win is either non-existent (oh, yes, women can be competitive, but it doesn't always exhibit itself in the same way as it does in men), or else it is surpassed by other motivations which we can all benefit from.
God did not create us to function alone, or even gender-exclusively. As the Good Book says, "Adam is not an island; Adam does not stand alone. Eve can stand with him." Men and women Bible translators need each other to produce better Bibles.