Are my sisters so offensive?

I am a very even-tempered and mildly mannered person. I can get very excited about some things, but I am mostly reserved. I am very hopeful and idealistic. Something I have learned about my personality is that I have a very difficult time pointing out the negative things I see in people or situations. Associated with that difficulty is a repression of my negative emotions––sadness, frustration, anger. It takes a lot to get me worked up, and even then I’m still quite timorous. However, I did get quite worked up over a recent event in the Evangelical world.

Last month at their annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention resolutely criticized the 2011 New International Version Bible translation and has additionally petitioned that LifeWay stores not carry the translation. You can watch the video of this portion of the conference here (24:00 – 36:00). I don’t care about LifeWay, so that decision does not affect me at all. Neither am I naive to not understand that the NIV is the most popular English translation of the Bible and that the 2011 edition offers, according to Christians for Biblical Manhood & Womenhood (CBMW), a whopping 2,766 gender-related translation inaccuracies based on a revision of Grudem and Thacker’s study of the TNIV translation (read their statement here).

The protests made against the 2011 NIV are categorized as follows:

  1. Changes made from singular to plural (and a few related changes to avoid the use of “He/Him/His”
  2. Changes made to avoid the word “Father”
  3. Changes made to avoid the word “Brother,” or to add “Sister”
  4. Changes made to avoid the word “Man”
  5. Changes made to avoid the word “Son”
  6. Changes made to avoid the word “Women”
  7. Changes made to avoid the phrase “the Jews”
  8. Changes that lose the nuance of holiness in the term “saints”
  9. Other changes

The biggest lobby against the translation is that it caters to a feminist reading of particular passages regarding the roles of men and women in the church. That is no big surprise considering that CBMW is producing this critique. I fully expect CBMW to take issue with the renderings that leave female authority open to discussion rather than a conservative translation that closes the discussion. I fully disagree with their conclusions, but I expect nothing else from them (read this for an excellent defense of the egalitarian position). I do, however, take issue with the critique on passages that have rendered the text to be more inclusive, such as “brothers and sisters” or “you” and the replacement of non-gendered pronouns for general statements instead of “he” or “him.” You can read CMBW’s analysis for specific examples.

Taken from CBMW’s statement:

The real controversy is whether to water down or omit details of meaning that modern culture finds offensive.

These revisions in the 2011 NIV display an awareness to the androcentrism of the Bible and attempt to render the text to be inclusive and accessible, and acknowledge the personhood, holiness, and equality of women in the scope of the Gospel and the church. This does not sit well with biblical literalists, who accept the bias towards the male, patriarchal experience of the ancient worlds in which the Bible was constructed as an extension of the inerrancy of Scripture and the validity of such social values for all eternity.

I understand the spectrum of methods in Bible translations (can’t stand the NASB, prefer NRSV and NIV, shocking). Retaining the intent and meaning of a passage is absolutely crucial. I understand that. However, I don’t quite see the meaning of Luke 17:3 being lost by translating it to read, “If your brother or sister sins against you…” It’s a good thing, too, because until now women didn’t have to forgive anyone!  Nor did they have to be held accountable for anything. That stuff is just for the brothers.

This type of fear-based rhetoric that sounds an alarm towards against the loss of the integrity of the Scriptures is rooted in a fierce embrace of deeply patriarchal values that are centerfold of Evangelicalism. At the root is the fear that gender-inclusive language will ultimately lead to the removal of patriarchal father-language for God, which will obviously be the unraveling of the entire Gospel and Christianity, in addition to putting Mark Driscoll out of a job. The 2011 NIV didn’t even go near that issue.


8 Comments on “Are my sisters so offensive?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dewalt, do you endorse this post?

  2. Kyle says:

    An excellent defense of egalitarianism? There’s no such thing!
    But for real, this is an awful post and I’m quite surprised to see it on Gospel Centered Musings. I feel little to no need to qualify that, since this entire post isn’t qualified and is just a soap-box rant from someone who completely misunderstands the issues at hand. I’m disappointed…really disappointed.

  3. Kyle, It is a blog. A place to talk, comment, and make conversation about ideas, stances, thoughts and here theology.

    If you disagree with the writer…
    1. Simply comment, ask him a question or defend your stance.
    2. Do not attack in doing so.
    3. Explain the decision at hand and try to explain to them.

    Going off on your soapbox does not help fix theirs.

  4. Why are you asking me anonymously?

  5. Meghan Smith says:

    I am so happy to find your blog. I am a devout conservative Bible-believing female church youth leader who is against homosexuality, the emergent church, and theistic evolution, but I am very much egalitarian. You are a breath of fresh air because there is almost no one who is both for women leadership in churches and against liberal agendas. My blog is Are there other Biblical egalitarians out there in the blog world?

  6. peterjosephgarcia says:

    Meghan, I’m deeply thankful you could find refreshment here. Based on your affiliations and convictions I am sure that you are hard pressed to find other egalitarians in the communities you find yourself in. I have a feeling, however, that this might be our only point of agreement, but lets agree joyfully and disagree lovingly. If you are looking for greater support in your egalitarian convictions is a phenomenal resource.

    Kyle, I’d love for you to share what you see to be the issues at hand. This is a place for dialogue, not a one way transmission.

  7. Kyle says:

    1. Your entire post is built upon the notion that those who are against gender neutral language in Scripture are so because women are somehow ontologically inferior. You say gender neutral language “doesn’t sit well with biblical literalists” who apparently don’t like to acknowledge the “personhood, holiness, and equality of women in the scope of the Gospel and the church.” Aside from being immensely uncharitable and aside from not dealing with the arguments of CBMW, your pejorative title and accusations of “fear-based rhetoric” don’t exactly open the door to honest discussion. But thanks for the invite. I won’t let the door hit me on the way out.
    2. It seems very clear, and correct me if I’m wrong, that your egalitarian agenda informs you how one ought to translate Scripture. That’s not overly helpful, especially considering egalitarianism, of the sort you advocate, cannot be supported by Scripture. As soon as Jesus Christ stops being the Head of his Church and as soon as the church stops submitting to Christ, then the egalitarianism you so desperately want can be a tenable position. But since Christ is, and remains forever, the Head of his Church, so long as the marriage institution and ecclesiastical polity last, so too will an economic complimentarianism. In other words, what I’m saying, and what I don’t think you get, is that the egalitarian position undermines the Headship of Jesus Christ.
    3. The egalitarian position has, in the past, been faulted with loose translations. I’m not speaking simply about those times such as “I will draw all men to myself” are translated “I will draw all people to myself.” Fine. But there are plenty of cases, when to eliminate the strange and awkward English reading, singulars have been turned to plurals (e.g. John 14:23, 15:5, 19:36; James 5:14-15; Revelation 3:20, etc). Scripture is intentionally singular, but in order to guard against that evil pronoun “him” many egalitarian sacrifice a literal translation for a plural inclusiveness. That’s not being faithful to the text.
    4. Do you know Greek?

  8. peterjosephgarcia says:

    Kyle, thank you for sharing your critique and offering your viewpoint. I’ll number my replies to correspond with your own.

    1. You’re right. I was being uncharitable. Thanks for calling me out on that. I don’t want my disagreements to be interpreted as without love and I let myself get carried away. However, it’s been my experience both personally and in my studies that Protestants who are resistant to egalitarianism within the church do hold to deeply historical notions of gender inferiority that find their roots in the Reformation. It is not just a distinction between “roles” or “functions” but has been a distinction between worth and value. Those categories cannot be separated.

    2. My egalitarianism is more of a hermeneutical lens that informs interpretation rather than informing translation. However, scripture will reveal God no less if passages that can afford to be graciously gender-inclusive are translated as such. I think you agree with that. I’m by no means advocating a complete removal of “he” and “him” and “men” and “Father” from the Bible (although personally I am very conscious of how those shape our understanding of who God is and how the church reflects who God is), but I am advocating for a careful revision where the language is unnecessarily exclusive. Given the ancient character of the biblical texts, I understand that would not have been anywhere on the radar of the biblical authors. If in translating the Bible we are attempting to make it readable and understandable and present the revelation of God as accessible in our modern context we need to consider the gendered language and imagery. There are certainly texts where the NIV took liberties in translation that carry significant implications for people who hold to complementarian views. However, this highlights the ineffectiveness of proof-texting and throwing scripture bombs back and forth rather than wrestling with cultural contexts and modern applications. The dominant church has lost a critical approach to scripture in favor of an acceptance of the text at face value, fearing that objecting or resisting any text is contrary to God and Christian living.

    Regarding Ephesians 5 or other household codes, submission to Christ is the ultimate vision and standard, not socio-cultural relationships. Submission to Christ is not contingent upon, or based upon any other relationship. Christ being the head of the church has nothing to do with a husband being “the head” over his partner. Paul simply uses the culturally accepted relational hierarchies to teach the truth of Christ as head. He is being a good expositor of his culture, using examples they would understand and can relate to so that he can esteem and uplift Christ. Moreover, Ephesians 5 espouses a mutual submission based on the pattern of Christ’s servanthood.

    The resistance to this, as I’ve typically heard it is that if men are to mutually submit to women, then so must slaveowners submit to their slaves, parents submit to their children, and ultimately, Christ must submit to us. This resistance assumes a type of submission not implied by scripture. When submission is properly understood as loving servanthood, then yes! Parents do submit to the needs of their children, masters do submit to the needs of their slaves (employer/employees) — or they certainly ought to, and Jesus did submit to the needs of a broken and lost creation.

    Basing the headship of Christ on the marriage institution misses much of the thrust of analogy. Gender equality and egalitarianism in no way undermine the headship of Christ.

    Moreover, marriage was not the norm among the earliest Christians. Their immanent eschatology shaped many ethical and social practices towards singleness, and even Paul encouraged singleness. Marriage then was not what it is today. Paul encouraging husbands to actually love and serve their wives was quite counter-cultural.

    3. Being “faulted for loose translations” is not a knock against egalitarianism. It speaks to the difficulty in being faithful to an ancient religious text while also being faithful and generous to its readership and cultural contexts. That does not mean we do not strive for better translations and better understanding. Because something hasn’t worked out perfectly before does not mean it was not well-intentioned and can be done more appropriately for our current situation. It is for this reason that a number of scholars reject such patriarchal images as king and lord. While undeniably biblical, our modern context and cultural situations do not afford us the deeply meaningful implications such images would have conjured up in ancient people through the medieval era. Those images bring up a host of problems aside from being irrelevant to us. I certainly don’t advocate changing “king” to “president” or “lord” to “governor,” because those are just as bad, but our metaphors and language for God ought to change to still best represent who God is rather than relying on one or two images that don’t quite cut it for us. It’s about faithfulness to God taking precedence over literal faithfulness to the text.

    4. I don’t know Greek, no. But I do know both men and women who have a hard time reading the Bible and approaching Christianity because of the way that the church has passed down gender inequalities and sustains an institutionalized sexism. This is largely a pastoral issue rather than one of literalism.

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