The Gender Neutral Language Controversy

The NIV has been in the news this past week. Plans are underway for a revision of the NIV to be published in 2011. The plans include the discontinuation of the TNIV, which was first published in 2002. The biggest battle over the TNIV, and the greatest concern over revision of the NIV involves gender neutral language.

To be honest, the Bible is not an egalitarian book. In other words, feminists will never be satisfied with the Bible as written. To illustrate, one only needs to look at the Inclusive Bible’s handling of Colossians 3:18-19: “You who are in committed relationships, be submissive to each other. This is your duty in Christ Jesus. Partners joined by God, love each other. Avoid any bitterness between you.” That is a rewrite of Paul and not a translation. The Bible affirms the equal value of males and females, but it does allow for differences in gender roles.

English usage has become more gender sensitive in recent decades, although usage has not solved all issues. The third person singular personal pronouns are still he or she.

Most modern translations (e.g., NKJV, NIV, and ESV) attempt to be somewhat gender neutral. When words like all, anyone, or everyone occur even thought they have masculine grammatical gender in Greek but there is no word for man in the text, they are rendered in a more gender neutral way – “all” instead of “all men.” The occurrence of man when it is understood generically of human beings is often translated persons or human beings instead of man.

Romans 3:9

“for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” RSV

 For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. NKJV

 We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. NIV

 Matthew 5:15

Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. RSV

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. NIV

But the question arises; can we go too far in the pursuit of gender neutral language? That has been at the heart of the controversy over the TNIV, and it will be one of the issues in the NIV revision. I think it is possible to go too far. Two areas have been of principle concern. First, we should not remove reference to males in historical passages when those references are present. Some translations have. Notice the following examples:

 Acts 1:21

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us  NIV   (TNIV)

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of those who had been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.  NIVI  

 1 Timothy 3:2

the husband of one wife  RSV

married only once  NRSV

The second concern has to do with the third person singular pronoun. The TNIV and the NRSV substitute third person plural pronouns for third person singular pronouns. In other words, they change “he” to “they.” Problems arise especially in the Old Testament. We can obscure Messianic references doing that. For example:

He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Psalm 34:20, ESV

he protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken. Psalm 34:20, TNIV

This is an important issue. How does your translation handle gender language? The preface of some translations will tell you. Comparison with other translations may be helpful.

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One Response to The Gender Neutral Language Controversy

  1. Dawn Jones says:

    Any chance of getting hold of your sermons via mp3? Is it possible to post them here or on our home church site–or both? I do miss your sermons when I am in the nursery or back classes (at least 2x’s a month these days).
    Thanks for considering….

    PS, I look forward to the “Full Armor” sermons. I have missed several of them as well. I know Alex Alkema has also requested the outlines.

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