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.

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Gebara on Anthropology

A major component in the eco-theology discussion is Christian anthropology and the ordering of humanity within the cosmos; human relationship and positioning to God and to the universe.

Ivone Gebara responds to the question, “What are you proposing when you say we must change the anthropological basis upon which Christianity is built?”

I suggest that we must first change our image of men and women within the cosmos.  And when we change that image, our image of God changes.  Any image of God is nothing more than the image of the experience or the understanding we have of ourselves.  We must re-situate the human within –not above – the cosmos.  This is diametrically opposed to a Christian anthropology that insists humanity is ‘Lord of Creation’ ordered by the Creator to ‘increase and dominate the Earth.’  In the current anthropology, the human’s right to dominate, control, and posses has been legitimized by the Creator and thus becomes part of human nature, pre-established – and therefore impossible to change. [1]

A few weeks ago I briefly detailed the hierarchical ordering of the cosmos derived from the creation poem in Genesis.  Classical theism is dependent upon this structure, but is this anthropology one that is essential to Christianity?  Is this a framework that is biblically consistent?

Here are two options for reconfiguring our anthropological situation into more linear renderings:

1.                      God

Humanity        Animal life        Nature


2. Humanity          Animal life          God          Nature

The first still maintains the God-World transcendence of classical theism.  The second, something of an incarnational anthropology, brings God into the center of the world, intimately involving God with the ebb and flow of creation.  What implications do both of these renderings present?

The second rendering moves beyond an emphasis on God’s transcendence from the world and places God within the world, necessarily deconstructing the dualist separation between matter and spirit.  However, as Gebaras states, this can only occur through egalitarianism.  Gender is the paradigm through which our anthropology shifts or remains the same.

How does the classic hierarchical structure compare to the more linear structures vis-a-vis the stewardship of creation?  Does the classic structure import an ethical responsibility for the care of all of life?  Can gender-equality be assumed within the hierarchical structure without radical reconstruction?

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[1] Gebara, Ivone. “Ecofeminism and Panentheism,” in Readings in Ecology and Feminist Theology. Edited by Mary Heather MacKinnon and Moni McIntyre (Lanham: Sheed and Ward, 1995), 210-11.