More than such headline grabbers as the Pensacola revival, the Disney boycott, or China’s most favored nation status, the most controversial issue among evangelicals continues to center on new translations of the Bible and whether they should adjust pronoun references and other gender issues to harmonize with current usage in mainline translations and with new evangelical scholarship.
Christianity Today magazine (Oct. 27) reports that on the one side, scholars are reaffirming that translations must adhere always to the original text, leaving the matter of understanding up to the pastors, laity, and teachers. The other camp insists that the translators must themselves make the changes or reword traditional passages to make the non-sexist meanings of the scriptures understandable to the readers.
Editor David Neff suggests that most translators do not want to eliminate gender differences in family life and church or promote women’s ordination. Further, some translators continue to be influenced by the traditional evangelical missionary impulse to present the Bible in terms and words that non-Christians can understand. More conservative translators believe the scriptures must be preserved against contemporary fads and current vernacular speech.
To further develop these two perspectives, Professors Wayne Grudem and Grant R. Osborne of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Illinois) present extended arguments, and reply to each other’s positions. Grudem asserts that the generic use of he-him-his, or man is not sexist but clearly reflects the Biblical authors’ common understanding of humanity by these terms.
By using these words, the authors are not being exclusivist as critics charge. The original authors did not intend to exclude women. To bow to today’s fad for gender-inclusive language is simply to ignore the explicit intent of the authors of the Bible.
Osborne rejects these arguments and insists that translations that are aimed at general audiences (as opposed to scholarly) should indeed reflect inclusiveness for clarity and accuracy in passages that refer to men and women together. “They” or its equivalent is closer to the intentions of the writers of scripture than “he” and its equivalent. Osborne argues this is not a surrender to a feminist agenda but an implementation of the desire to communicate accurately and clearly.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
— By Erling Jorstad, RW contributing editor.