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Friday, January 12, 2007

gender-inclusion and Bible translation

No, this post is not about what you think it's about!

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.


At Fri Jan 12, 12:30:00 PM, Blogger Eddie said...

As Sue and I have moved on in supporting translation work, Sue has stayed much more in touch with the language side. She's a translation consultant, whereas I do much more by way of planning and leadership training these days. I've no doubt whatsoever that Sue's relational side helps in this - the fact that she's a far better linguist than me is not to be ignored either.

At Fri Jan 12, 12:35:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

The English stylist for the GW translation Committee was/is a woman. I think GW reflects a good balance in terms of inclusiveness.

But I'm sure someone will point out the errors of my ways. LOL

At Fri Jan 12, 03:12:00 PM, Blogger Molly said...

Great thoughts...I've never thought of those aspects before. And thanks for the nice words, too, cos. :)

At Sat Jan 13, 03:22:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Which good book says "Adam is not an island"? The one written by John Donne? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. - excellent thoughts (which may even be allowed to include America as well!), but not from the Bible and not about gender inclusion.

At Sat Jan 13, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

It's interesting we evangelicals have come so far in our thinking to include women in all aspects of the "conversation". Our patriarchal society has been male-centric for a long time. It will be good to see more women being fully included in bible translation work because they do have a lot to offer. It won't necessarily make a better bible but I think it will produce a more gender-inclusive bible, which is the way most modern English translation of the bibles will go (e.g., TNIV).

At Sat Jan 13, 12:16:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist said...

I resist the notion that women should be included because women tend to be better at relational and verbal skills. I also resist the notion that men's value on translation teams is their "more logical" approach.

There is no particular skill that is not respresented in both men and women; the tendencies for more of one or the other to have a given skill or have it as a stronger gift, means that basing inclusion on gender traits or tendencies is not good policy.

Why not choose people because of outstanding demonstrated strengths and skills, and stop worrying about whether they're male or female? Have gender inclusive teams because a strong team includes outstanding team members (who will probably be of both the male and female variety), not because "women tend to be X" and "men tend to be Y" and "we need both X and Y." Good translators and writers come in both genders!

At Sat Jan 13, 12:38:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

The Psalmist concluded:

Why not choose people because of outstanding demonstrated strengths and skills, and stop worrying about whether they're male or female? Have gender inclusive teams because a strong team includes outstanding team members (who will probably be of both the male and female variety), not because "women tend to be X" and "men tend to be Y" and "we need both X and Y." Good translators and writers come in both genders!

You make a good point. I think there is room for both approaches. Clearly, it is most important to choose the best qualified individuals. But there is also value in recognizing that, overall, there is some truth to the claim that men and women bring some different, complementary gifts to the translation table.

Please note that I have not suggested an affirmative action approach. Rather, I'm trying to recognize gifts that different genders can bring to translation. And while saying that, I want to continue to emphasize, as I did in my post, that what Molly and I are talking about are "tendencies". I know logically-oriented women and feeling-oriented and relationally-oriented men (I happen to be one of them and because of it I have sometimes felt out of place among men who would rather talk about football, their car engines, etc.).

I appreciate your balancing words.

At Sat Jan 13, 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter asked:

Which good book says "Adam is not an island"?

I got a bit convoluted there, Peter, as I was trying to have fun with my literary allusion and paraphrase. You correctly point to Donne as the source of the original quote. I used the term "Good Book" to refer to the Bible. In some of the circles I run in, people enjoy pretending like some saying comes from the Bible.

At Mon Jan 15, 12:08:00 AM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...

It was a woman perspective that made me realise that in John 3:5, the water is probably not referring to baptism but to physical birth (amniotic fluid) in contrast to spiritual birth!

At Thu Jan 18, 05:26:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Although regarding John 3:5, D. A. Carson (in Exegetical Fallacies) noted that it doesn't refer to physical birth, but spiritual and the proof was provided by a woman. LOL

At Wed Jun 06, 02:00:00 AM, Blogger Mason said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Wed Jun 06, 02:09:00 AM, Blogger Mason said...

The creation of man and woman was the making of the whole, complete Being of God. This is elemental (or should be). Both man and woman were created from what already existed and like all things we are co-creators of in this domain, creating usually requires "splitting" something and putting things together to make a whole. Ironically, the smallest things split into, such as an atom, sometimes have the greatest potential for explosive results when forming back into a whole entity. More important though, is once split for creation purposes it is likely one side will "view" things differently from the perspective they exist after the split and will be different although similar in some ways after reformation to a whole. And when we speak figuratively, yet spiritually real, when discussing our Creator and His Creation of man and woman it is fair (at least I believe) to say the characteristics of the views may be different, but who are we to judge as one being better than the other. Both are God's view from different perspectives, God's male psyche and God's woman psyche making up the whole PSYCHE of GOD. But this is just my unbiased blogging view expressed from thousands of hours studying the psychology of God and the Bible from Christ's perspective-NOT my own. A better, and certainly greater expressed view on the topic is Reading 2--The Serpent and Eve, Genesis 3:1 of the "My Utmost Devotional Bible" where Oswald Chambers (one of the greatest Christian translators of our time) selections from "My Utmost For His Highest" and other works are entered. Incidentally, but not by chance, this is how I came upon your blog entry and the entry on gender translation. Having studied fervently for 12 years the Bible in relation to the teachings of Oswald Chambers through his devotional and other writings, and The Bible my whole life ever since I can remember, I have found his view and story to be profound in this area. Not by the entry I will quote here in a moment, but rather by the fact in his biography, "Abandoned to God" we find his works were primarily accomplished by the shorthand dictation of his talented wife Biddie Chambers as he gave his messages when preaching. Later after his untimely death, it was Biddie who translated his works in which he translated the Message of Christ and God most perfectly through abandoned sacrifice and study to receive and freely give back to those who still listen and read. Man (Oswald Chambers) and woman (Biddie Chambers), man and woman (Oswald and Biddie Chambers), making up the whole of God with One translation perspective - God's as a godly man and godly woman.

Reading 2--The Serpent and Eve, Genesis 3:1 of the "My Utmost Devotional Bible"

Why did Satan come via the serpent, and to Eve?--why did he not go direct to Adam? In thinking of man and woman as they were first created, it is extremely difficult, especially nowadays, to present the subject without introducing small, petty and disreputable ideas relative to the distinctions between man and woman. In Adam and Eve we are dealing with the primal creations of God. Adam was created immediately by the hand of God; Eve mediately. Eve stands for the soul side, the psychic side, of the human creation; all her sympathies and affinities were with the other creations of God around. Adam stands for the spirit side, the kingly, Godward side. Adam and Eve together are the likeness of God, "Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, ...male and female He created them." The revelation here is not that woman stands as inferior to man, but that she stands in quite a different relation to all things, and that both man and woman are required for the complete creation of God referred to by the big general term 'Man.' [(BIB. PSYCH.) Chambers].


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