Neutering the Bible

genderWords matter.  Luther once said, “And let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages [Hebrew, Aramaic & Greek].  The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit [Eph 6:17] is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored.”[1]

If the Word of God is a diamond, the translation is its setting.  Unfortunately, there are a great number of Bible translations out there that look a lot more like a cheap plastic toy than Platinum!  Gender sensitive translations fall into this category, which includes (but is not limited to) the Inclusive Version, Today’s New International Version, and the New Revised Standard Version.  While these translations may be politically correct, they are often theologically faulty.  The best way to ensure you are reading the Word of God in its truth and purity is to learn the Biblical languages (see Luther’s quote, above).

One example of poor theology (dictated by concerns about gender-inclusive language rather than fidelity to the text) can be seen in the Inclusive Translation, which is so afraid of using male pronouns that it actually identifies Jesus as God’s “child” rather than as His Son (John 3:16)!  This is problematic for at least three reasons.  First of all, the Greek language has a word for “child” (τέκνον), but the word used here is “son: (υἱός).  What’s more, the Church confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, not His “child.”  And last but not least, Jesus is male.

Another example of the violence translations often do to God’s Word can be seen in their rendering of the phrase “sons of Israel” (בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל).  This is an important designation for God’s people, as its frequency attests (529 occurrences in the Old Testament).  A sampling of four different translations of this phrase in Leviticus 18:2 yields four different translations: “people of Israel” (ESV), “children of Israel” (KJV), “Israelites” (NIV), and “sons of Israel” (NAS- we have a winner!).  While the gender-sensitive options may be well-intentioned, they end up neutering the Bible, quite literally!

Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, the only One who has the right to call upon God as Father, from both a genetic and theological perspective.  Unlike humanity, Jesus is God (DNA-wise).  Adam and Eve were made in God’s image; they were not made divine.  What’s more, Jesus alone lived as an obedient child of His heavenly Father.  Our relationship with God­—and our right to be in His family—was damaged by sin.  Because of sin, Adam and Eve were exiled from God’s presence in Eden (Gen 3:23—24).  Isaiah knew He couldn’t be in the presence of God and live due to his sin.  When he saw the glory of Yahweh, he cried out, “Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, Commander-in-Chief Yahweh!” (Isaiah 6:5).

Despite being neither divine nor perfectly obedient, God considers His saints to be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:27)—just like Jesus, His Son.  In Holy Baptism, God bestows the privileged status of Son on those who were conceived and born into sin.  When God looks at His saints, He regards them with the righteousness and purity of His Son, Jesus.  In Christ, both men and women are given the inheritance that rightfully belongs to Jesus alone (1 Peter 1:3—4).

Gender sensitive translations make deliberate changes to the text, and as a result, are filled with theological problems.  To merely consider one’s self a “child of God” (which is true enough) misses the theological significance of the Gospel, or what Luther calls the “Great Exchange”: that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, and that with His stripes, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).  On the cross, God regarded Jesus as a son of the devil (John 8:34, 44), so that He might regard you with the righteousness of the Son of God.  Being neither male nor female counts for anything in God’s eyes (Galatians 3:28).  All that matters is being a son of God through Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26).

[1] “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.