May 19, 2007

Bible Translations and Inclusive Language

Bible translation is tough work, I'm sure. And it is impossible to understate how important it is. The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, but the vast majority of us only see it in translation, and very frequently, only in one translation. So how do you translate something across millenia and across huge cultural boundaries? There are a number of different strategies, from wooden and literal to "dynamic equivalence" (going thought by thought more than word by word, like the NIV) to modern-language paraphrases that border on not being "translations" at all. And each of these has merit. But I think the first think that is important to notice is that it is important to understand how the translation you consult works, and to be in the habit of checking various translations during study.

This is all by way of introduction to another important issue, that of inclusive language. In some circles, this issue is entirely a non-issue ("of course you should always use inclusive language whenever possible"; or even "of course you shouldn't use inclusive language, because of the importance of masculine superiority"), but in may circles it is an important issue. I had a chance to read a a great article this morning by New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary, and found it to be extremely helpful and insightful on this issue. He specifically looks at the debate as it relates to the issue of the TNIV in 2002. This release by Zondervan and the International Bible Society brought down a storm of criticism from some important and influential conservatives, such as Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention, and World magazine. Their main claim related to the obscuring of the "masculine" nature of God, the skewing of important texts toward an egalitarian understanding of gender, and the change from masculine to plural that would obsure individual application or Messianic prophecies. Blomberg takes up these criticisms, and shows that they are largely unfounded.

But the biggest benefit of his article is the careful notice he takes of some of the extremely important improvements in the TNIV, both improvements that have nothing to do with gender (these make up the majority of the changes) and with regard to how gender issues are treated. I believe it warrants a careful read. Blomberg has helped me see the issue from a broader perspective, and made me want to pick up a TNIV.

If you are looking for more info, you can check out the TNIV web site, which includes passage explanations for some of the most visible changes, and also has an extremely impressive list of endorsers, including quite a list of evangelical Biblical scholars from quite a variety of denominations and schools.

You can also research the opposing viewpoint on the web site of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Happy reading. In the end, it is my hope that evangelicals can embrace the enclusive-language renderings in almost everyc ase, because they reflect the way English is now used. At the end of his article, Blomberg relates how a friend of his ten-year-old daughter came to a church service, and near the end of a gospel presentation, their Children's Ministries Pastor quoted a verse from the KVJ from 2 Corithians that says if "any man is in Christ, he is a new creation." This immediately caused their daughter's friend to ask, is this the way people always talk in this church. Even kids are extremely attuned to the chauvanistic overtones of that type of language. That's not meant to be an ultimatum, nor a call to any type of uncritical and haphazard translation, but an important notice that we need good reason to leave gender-exclusive language.

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