Should gender-inclusive language be used in Bible translations?
Translations of the earliest manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments are usually undertaken with the intention of offering the most accurate and understandable versions of the Word of God possible to people in their current and native language. Sometimes translators desire a word for word translation (known as formal equivalence), at other times they aim for a phrase for phrase, or thought by thought translation (known as dynamic equivalence).
The past 100 years has produced more English translations of the Bible than any other time in history. However, some of those who have produced translations have done so to push a certain social or doctrinal agenda. Some of this has been related to how the Bible deals with gender. Taking out any reference to gender in the Bible is to change the inspired Word of God.
But carefully weighing the Scripture to see whether the original words regarding gender were used intentionally to specify males or females is important. When the Word says "man" as in "human" we should render it as including men and women. When the Word says "men" as in the male gender we should not change it to include women, and vice versa.
The pronouns used in the Bible are difficult. English has no gender-neutral singular pronoun that delivers a meaning of both "he" and "she." So when talking about humans generally, some translators default to the generic masculine "he" or "him." This is problematic because it can connote a meaning not intended.
For example, often the term "every man" has been used as a gender-neutral pronoun. The better "everyone" has also been used. For example, see Colossians 1:28: "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ" (emphasis added). Clearly Colossians 1:28 is not talking exclusively about males, so "everyone" is appropriate here.
When weighing the accuracy of a translation for gender issues, it is important to study the meaning of the passage being evaluated. Sometimes translators will, after mention of the Christian "brothers" insert a "and sisters" such as in 1 Thessalonians 4:10. "We urge you, brothers, to do this more and more" is sometimes augmented to "brothers and sisters." Paul was writing to the entire church in Thessalonica, not just the men in the church. The meaning of the verse, in context, is not changed with the addition. The ESV translation, which CompellingTruth.org uses, employs footnotes at times to explain that the original Greek used is a male pronoun, but the context assuredly connotes people of both genders.
However, there are various uses of the male pronoun in the Bible that are clearly used with intent. When the Bible speaks of God in a pronoun, it uses "He" and "Him." Similarly, God is known by the writers, and by Jesus, as the Father. We have no right to change this to "Parent" as God clearly used the masculine parent title, and masculine pronouns, to reveal Himself.
Be intentional about what translation you choose to use. Make sure you are making your choice based on your desire to know God and not to impose a social, doctrinal, or personal agenda into your decision.
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