Gender-Neutral Bibles

I.         Our society has been extremely concerned about avoiding giving offense to various sections of our culture

            A.        Just to use certain words can be perceived to be an insult by various groups.

            B.        All variations of Negro are off limits, as is use of colored to refer to people with very dark skin tones, though people of color is making a comeback.

            C.        Just recently Indian Red, referring to a reddish-brown pigment from India, has been changed because Native Americans (not American Indians) find it offensive.

                        1.         Though Native Americans is a misnomer since most Americans are natives of this country, being born here.

            D.        Feminists have been attempting to alter the English language to remove male terms.

                        1.         While spoken English has not changed, nor has popular written English changed, recent translations of the Bible have been altered to reflect an idealized “gender-neutral” style of English.

                        2.         For example, a group called the National Council of Churches of Christ (nothing to do with us) insists that

                                    a.         “Paraphrastic renderings have been adopted only sparingly, and then chiefly to compensate for a deficiency in the English language—the lack of common gender third person singular pronoun.” (Introduction to the NRSV)

                                    b.         “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. 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.” (Introduction to the NRSV).

                                    c.         Only very occasionally has the pronoun “he” or “him” been retained in passages where the reference may have been to a woman as well as to a man; for example, in several legal texts in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In such instances of formal, legal language, the options of either putting the passage in the plural or of introducing additional nouns to avoid masculine pronouns in English seemed to the Committee to obscure the historic structure and literary character of the original. In the vast majority of cases, however, inclusiveness has been attained by simple rephrasing or by introducing plural forms when this does not distort the meaning of the passage.” (Introduction to the NRSV)

                                    d.         “In everyday speech, “gender generic” or “inclusive” language is used because it sounds most natural to people today. This means that where the biblical languages require masculine nouns or pronouns when both men and women are intended, this intention must be reflected in translation, though the English form may be very different from that of the original.” (Introduction to the CEV)

                                    e.         “It is often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers through gender-inclusive language when this could be done without compromising the message of the Spirit.” (Preface to the NIVI)

                        3.         In other words, these translations are admitting to paraphrasing instead of translating the original manuscripts if the translators believe the author meant something different than what was stated.

            E.        Today we will examine the gender neutral translations to see if they are usable by serious Bible students.

                        1.         Versions which claim to be gender neutral are:

                                    a.         New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

                                    b.         New Living Translation (NLT)

                                    c.         New Century Version (NCV) [adult version]

                                    d.         Contemporary English Version (CEV)

                                    e.         New International Version - Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI) [currently distributed only in England].

II.        Changes to eliminate “he”

            A.        Changing “he” to “they”

                        1.         Example from John 14:23

                                    a.         “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” (NASB)

                                    b.         The KJV uses “man” for “anyone,” but the Greek pronoun is tis is an indefinite pronoun that does not carry a male or female meaning, so “anyone” is a more accurate translation.

                                    c.         The inclusive versions want to eliminate the “he” and “him”s because it is obvious that women are included by Jesus’ words.

                                    d.         “If anyone loves Me, he or she will keep My word; and My Father will love him or her, and We will come to him or her and make Our abode with him or her.”

                                                (1)       Impossible to read and extremely awkward.

                                    e.         “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NRSV)

                                                (1)       Avoided the awkward by changing the singular to plural.

                                    f.         The problem is that Jesus did not speak with plural pronouns in this passage. The Greek shows that Jesus used masculine singular pronouns.

                                                (1)       Instead of being applied to the individual believer, the statement is made to apply only to groups of believers

                                                (2)       It is no longer a literal translation, but a paraphrase which does not carry the same meaning as the original text.

                                                (3)       The Greek does have generic plural, masculine / neuter singular, masculine singular, and feminine singular pronouns for self-reference.

                        2.         Consider John 15:5 where denominations gloss over the pronouns to make application to churches instead of individuals.

                                    a.         “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (NASB)

                                    b.         “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (NRSV)

                                    c.         With a gender neutral version, one could argue falsely that Jesus was speaking to groups of Christians (i.e. churches), even though this does not match the Greek.

                        3.         Worse is Psalm 34:20, a prophecy of Jesus’ death.

                                    a.         “He keeps all his bones, Not one of them is broken.” (NASB)

                                    b.         “He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.” (NRSV)

                                    c.         Even though the pronoun here is singular in Hebrew, the messianic prophecy is lost to those reading the gender neutral translations.

                        4.         Psalm 19:11-12, speaking of God’s Word

                                    a.         “Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.” (NASB)

                                    b.         “Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.” (NRSV)

                                    c.         The pronoun is inserted to keep the meaning clear. Notice that in the NASB, we are addressing the individual’s error, but in the NRSV we are addressing the errors in God’s Word!

            B.        Changing third person to second person

                        1.         Consider Galatians 6:7

                                    a.         “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (NASB)

                                    b.         “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” (NRSV)

                        2.         A reader could come away thinking that Paul’s statement only applies to Christians and is not a general commentary on human conduct.

            C.        Removing direct quotations

                        1.         Consider Psalms 41:5

                                    a.         My enemies speak evil against me, “When will he die, and his name perish?” (NASB)

                                    b.         My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish. (NRSV)

                                    c.         Speech has been converted to thoughts.

                                    d.         The Hebrew text does not say they wondered, but that they spoke.

            D.        Why do they alter the text so much?

                        1.         Supposedly there is a defect in English because it does not have a genderless third person singular pronoun.

                        2.         They fail to mention that Hebrew, Greek, and most other languages in the world also lack a genderless third person singular pronoun.

                        3.         English masculine third person singular pronouns precisely translate the Hebrew and Greek masculine third person singular pronouns in the original text.

                        4.         The problem is not in the languages, but in the beliefs of the translators.

                        5.         By the way, not all the gender-neutral translations have the exact same set of problems. Some avoid one set of problems, but cause a different set.

III.       Changes to eliminate “man”

            A.        Changing “man” to “human”

                        1.         In the Hebrew, there is an interesting situation. The word “adam” can refer to the first created individual, any individual male, or all mankind. In English we have a word “man” which can refer to any individual male or all of mankind.

                        2.         However, this is now supposedly offensive, so “man” is changed to “human,” “human being,” or “human kind.”

                        3.         Genesis 1:27

                                    a.         “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (NASB)

                                    b.         “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (NRSV)

                                    c.         Notice that God no longer created a man, Adam, who was the founder of the human race, God created the whole human race. A subtle, but important difference.

                                    d.         Also these multiple creations were made in the image of God.

                                                (1)       What does this do to Paul’s reasoning in I Cor. 11:7-9?

                                                (2)       What happens to the order of events for Paul’s argument in I Timothy 2:13

            B.        Changing “man” to “mortal”

                        1.         Acts 10:26

                                    a.         But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” (NASB)

                                    b.         But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” (NRSV)

                                    c.         The emphasis shifts from Peter’s humanity to his mortality.

                                                (1)       Peter does not refuse worship because he is subject to death.

                                                (2)       Peter refuses worship because he is a creature made by God; he is not God, but a man.

                        2.         There is a Greek word, which means mortal, but it is not used in this verse. The translators chose the alteration.

                        3.         Sometimes it gets humorous. Even though King Agrippa is a male, we can’t call him that (Acts 12:22).

                                    a.         The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!” (NRSV)

                                    b.         As if the people of the first century were politically correct.

            C.        Changing “son of man” to “mortal” or “human”

                        1.         Ezekiel 2:1

                                    a.         “Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” (NASB)

                                    b.         “He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.” (NRSV)

                                    c.         “He said to me, “Human, stand up on your feet. Then I will speak to you.” (NCV)

                        2.         The fact that Jesus called himself “son of man” as Ezekiel was called is now lost.

                        3.         Daniel 7:13

                                    a.         “I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him.” (NASB)

                                    b.         “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him.” (NRSV)

                                    c.         The prophecy regarding Jesus is lost.

                        4.         Similarly the prophecy in Psalm 8:4 is lost.

            D.        Changing the Greek word for men that excludes women.

                        1.         In the selection of elders in Titus 1:6

                                    a.         namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife,” (NASB)

                                    b.         “someone who is blameless, married only once,” (NRSV)

                                    c.         The eldership is no longer restricted to married men.

                                    d.         I Timothy 3 is similarly altered.

                                    e.         The CEV is also guilty of this perversion, though the other gender-neutral translations preserve the necessity of being male.

            E.        Loss of a righteous man

                        1.         Psalms 1:1

                                    a.         “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (NASB)

                                    b.         “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread,” (NRSV)

                                    c.         The subtle contrast of the singular righteous man as opposed to the many sinners is lost.

                                    d.         The meaning is important. Few are righteous, many are wicked.

IV.      Changes to eliminate “father,” “son,” and “brother”

            A.        One author counted 4,500 fewer references to male family members in the NRSV as contrasted with the RSV.

                        1.         The original text has not changed. The meaning of the original words have not changed. Just the translators fear of male gender words.

            B.        For example, “fatherless” is changed to “orphan”

                        1.         An orphan has no living parents. A fatherless child may still have a living mother.

                        2.         Leading to nonsensical verses, such as Job 24:9 “There are those who snatch the orphan child from the breast,”

                        3.         I was surprised to find that the NASB mistranslated this verse as well.

            C.        Daughters now must be concerned about immoral women

                        1.         “My child, be attentive to my wisdom . . . for the lips of loose women drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil . . . And now, my child, listen to me . . . keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.” (Proverbs 5:1-8, NRSV)

                        2.         The warning is no longer to just sons, but daughters as well.

V.        We could go on and on, but the point has been made. The purpose of a translation is to convey the original meaning of a text in another language. The gender-neutral versions fail to retain the meaning propagating at times serious false teachings.

            A.        English has not changed. You can look in the local paper and popular magazines and see that male terms are still used to represent male and females. It is the nature of English and most languages in the world.

            B.        No one has the right to alter God’s word, even if he wears the title of scholar.

            C.        The Bible claims to be God breathed (II Timothy 3:16). The very words in the Bible were selected by God to convey His meaning. What right does any man have to say God did not mean it exactly in that fashion?

            D.        Every word of God proves true (Proverbs 30:5-6).

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