From: Theology’s Impact on Translation: KJV to NRSV Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2013
New Revised Standard Version
Implemented Its Feminist Agenda
Simply Preservation of the Language
Used in the Original Text?
When the Associated Press interviewed Bruce M. Metzger and summarized his defense of the New RSV, they shared with the reader his summation of why “he” is an inadequate translation of the Biblical text, “However, he said, English, unlike Hebrew and Greek, lacks a common-gender, third person pronoun, leading to a masculine bias to male pronouns about people in past translations, although the original text is more inclusive” (N. 1).
The problem arises not in regard to translating some “third person pronoun,” but when words that are “male” in the Hebrew and Greek are rendered in a degenderized form, substantially altering what the original has said. Yes, these often implicitly are intended to include females, but the actual language to convey the thought was still “male” in form. The “male” language carried this extra “freight” and until the 1970s few questioned that it did so in English as well.
The problem is not with moderate and responsible degenderization that does not alter the original text. The problem is with the irresponsible and destructive extremes to which the New RSV goes—extremes that are even more excessive in the feminist lectionaries. When the text has to be rewritten so that there is a massive disconnect with what the original says, isn’t that an abuse of the translators’ role?
[Page 117] However before we go further into the matter, we should first carefully examine the accusation that “he” contains a totally “male bias.” According to the Lectionary we examined in the previous chapter, however, the use of “he” as a description of universal humanity—regardless of specific gender—was not made customary in English under the mid-nineteenth century (N. 2):
Those grammarians who oppose this usage follow common practice established by an 1850 Act of Parliament that “he” is generic and includes “she.” That declaration in turn was based on a rule invented in 1746 by John Kirby: the male gender is “more comprehensive” than the female.
The inaccuracy of this assertion should be immediately obvious: More than a century prior to even John Kirby, the KJV was using “he” in the comprehensive sense. If it couldn’t carry that “freight” surely they would have translated it differently! (Note the examples below.) Doubtlessly the usage could be traced even further back if we wished.
Further dust is thrown into the air by the Lectionary when it cites William Shakespeare and St. John Fisher (1535), both of whom used terms other than “he” to encompass both genders (N. 3). Naturally that is so: “They” immediately jumps to mind;” “passengers,” “immigrants,” and “travelers” obviously do the same. But this does nothing to undermine the propriety of “he” as dual-gender terminology.
the KJV also uses both “male” language as well as more “neutral”
words to cover both genders. For
illustration purposes we will use the newer New King James Version, though the
same result would be garnered by using different translations as well—or the
original KJV itself. Space will permit
us to present only a few cases of what is extremely easy to prove.
The “he” of Hebrews 10:28 is the “anyone” of verse 28.
The “he” of Hebrews 5:10 is the “people” of verse 9.
The “he” of 2 Corinthians 9:6 is the “each one” of verse 7.
The same phenomena is found in regard to the term “brethren.”
The “brethren” of 1 John 4:8 are the “everyone” of verse 7.
The “brethren” of 1 Corinthians 1:10 are the “saints” of verse 1.
Even within the same verse, the dual-gender usage of “brethren” is sometimes asserted. Within 1 Corinthians the “brethren” are spoken of as including “each of you.” Likewise the “brethren” of Hebrews 3:12 are promptly identified as “any of you.” The “brethren” of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 are the “each other” and “one another” of the same verse.
Contextual evidence also makes plain that “sons” is used in a similar broad fashion. In Ephesians, the “sons” of 1:5 are the “saints” of verse 1—not just some of them, but all of them, both male and female.
The “sons” of Galatians are all those who are described as baptized in verse 27, i.e., all Christians regardless of gender.
[Page 118] The “old man” of Romans 6:5 refers to the inner nature of all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus (verses 1-4), which again includes both sexes.
Romans 7:1 refers to the fact that “the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives” and then illustrates that generalization by a woman whose spouse has died (verse 2-3)! What better proof could there be that both male and female can be included under the term?—the context determining which is the case.
Barring contextual evidence that it should be so limited, we would make a mockery of a significant number of texts if we were to strictly limit such expressions to the male gender alone,. For example, Paul urges Christians to “reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition” (Titus ). Does that mean women who are church dividers are to be ignored or that they are immune to causing such internal turmoil in the first place?
From Biblical texts such as the above, the ultra-feminist problem with such terms as “brethren,” “he,” “him,” and “man” is shown to be self-generated and not the result of the Biblical texts themselves.
“Degenderizing” that does not alter the underlying original language, does not gut the readability of the scriptures, and is not exalted into an absolutist fetish is a responsible course. In other words, where the text does refer to the human race at large in non-gender language, the conservative search for maximum accuracy would encourage us to seek expressions that even zealots would concede to be similarly broad English equivalents.
The same principle that encourages fundamentalists, conservatives, and evangelicals to seek greater precision in other areas of translation should be operative here as well—if we are to be truly consistent. Because the plea for strict accuracy comes from a source that annoys us, is it any the less a valid plea?
On the other hand, to meet all the militants want is impossible. To totally avoid “he,” “him,” and similar words represents theological paranoia of the worst kind because, textually, the contested expressions are in the original text and were intended—in many contexts—to cover the entire human species. However the greater use of humanity-wide terms will make even clearer that the “hes” and such like that remain are not necessarily intended to indicate exclusively the male gender. Context rules, in other words.
Major steps had already been taken in this direction before the New RSV was released. To illustrate let us examine a dozen KJV renderings: the key word is underlined and the rendering of four newer versions provided afterward (NKJV, NASB, NIV, and RSV). Only cases where the “male” terminology has been altered is noted. [Page 119] These examples are selected more or less at random and many more could be presented to make the same point.
(1) James 1:27: “Pure religion and undefiled . . . is this . . . to keep himself unspotted from the world.” NKJV / NASB / NIV / RSV: “oneself.”
(2) James 5:20: “Let him know, that he which converteth a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death. . . .” NIV / RSV: “whoever.”
(3) Acts 10:35: “But in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him.” NKJV: “whoever;” RSV: “any one.”
(4) Acts 10:47: “Can any man forbid water, that they should not be baptized. . . ?” NKJV / NIV / RSV: “anyone;” NASB: “no one.”
(5) Romans 2:6: “Who will render to every man according to his deed.” NKJV: “each one;” NIV: “each person.”
(6) Romans 10:10: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” NKJV: “one;” NIV: “your (heart).”
(7) Galatians 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men. . . .” (Note: “men” here is italicized by the KJV, indicating an interpretive addition.) NKJV: “all” (omitting any word after); NIV: “all people.”
(8) Ephesians 4:25: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour. . . .” NKJV / NASB / RSV: “one;” NIV: “each of you.”
(9) 2 Thessalonians 3:14: “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.” NKJV / NASB / NIV / RSV: “anyone.”
(10) 1 Timothy 5:22: “Lay hands suddenly on no man. . . .” NKJV/NASB: “anyone;” both the NIV and RSV so word the sentence so as to avoid using either “man” or “anyone.”
(11) 2 Timothy 4:16: “. . . no man stood with me. . . .” NKJV / NASB / NIV/ RSV: “one.”
(12) 1 Peter 4:11: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God. . . .” NKJV / NIV: “anyone;” NASB / RSV: “whoever.”
These representative examples clearly exhibit the fact that the New RSV enjoys no monopoly on the effort to reduce “gender” language. Ironically, it is perhaps the most “conservative” of these pre-New RSV translations--the New King James Version—that seems to go the furthest in this regard. What these earlier versions share in common is the determination not to allow the degenderizing to destroy the readability of the text; likewise a refusal to interpolate new wording foreign to the Biblical manuscripts.
seen that the extreme feminists would like to thoroughly mutilate the Biblical
language about God. In the Associated
Press pre-release conversation with Dr. [Page 120] Bruce Metzger, this
Despite some pressures for more sexually inclusive terms, Mr. Metzger said that was done only when the text allowed it concerning people. Pronouns remain masculine in reference to God and Jesus.
There was “no tampering with the gender of deity,” Mr. Metzger said. “God remains, ‘Our Father,’ and Jesus Christ is the ‘Son of God.’ ”
Nor did they remove “Son of Man,” “Lord,” “king,” and “kingdom,” all of which are viewed as possessing a male chauvinist taint.
In light of the ease with which those opposed to the ultra feminists are denounced as “sexists,” this moderation probably represented considerable courage. (Made significantly easier when those concerned enjoyed academic tenure as well.) How wonderful it would have been if similar courage had been manifested in a refusal to carry out a complete degenderizing of human references when it could only be done by awkward wording, the shuffling and rearranging of the text contrary to its underlying Hebrew and Greek, and the insertion of new wording alien to the Biblical manuscripts.
The official line of “God” language not being changed became part of the “truth” as reported by the newspapers. A southern newspaper correspondent of the time noted soon after the translation appeared that “references to the deity are in traditional masculine terms, much to the dismay of some feminist groups” (N. 5).
In contrast to what the ultras wanted, the New RSV does come across as (relatively) “moderate.” Whether this moderation was due to principled opposition to the extremist fringe (which is our hope) or out of fear of unleashing an uncontrollable conservative backlash against the translation is a question I can not answer. At least three points, however, can be safely stressed.
The first is that the feminists can rightly accuse the translators of severe inconsistency. If “brethren” and other terms must be degenderized to more explicitly include both genders, how much more so should “God words” be similarly treated since God fits under no gender category at all. If “he” is an improper term to include women, how much more so is a capitalized “He” an improper description of the true God of heaven and earth, who is not only neither male nor female but is above and beyond the very concept of gender.
The second fact is that the New RSV has legitimized major textual alteration in order to keep a theology happy; worse yet a new theology that only became a major one in the last fifty years. In its own way, Paul’s warning seems verbally germane about Christians being “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians ). Something new comes up and lo and behold, people follow it! It certainly happened this way on this occasion: This theology hadn’t even been “time tested” before it was allowed to have veto power over scripture readings.
Having established the precedent of drastic textual alteration to conform to a given theology, how can it possibly defend itself against the demand for a more complete conformity to the “truth” it has conceded the validity of in so much of its translation? The “male” language has been removed not just in regard to the “hes” but also by replacing “brethren” with various unrelated substitutes. In other cases, the text has been [Page 121] rearranged and humanly invented wording created and injected into the text—to replace what really belongs there—in order to avoid alleged “gender terms.” If such major, massive, and ongoing substitutions can be legitimately made in this “human” context, why would there be any impropriety in similarly altering, replacing, substituting, and rearranging textual references concerning God Himself?
The third fact that should be stressed is that in at least some cases the New Testament of the New RSV has “degenderized” references to God regardless of the public relations propaganda that it has strictly avoided such. Its own footnotes testify that the Greek speaks of “he” while the text substitutes “God” in Acts 7:44, Galatians 3:5, Ephesians 1:20, Hebrews 8:8. To be fair, it should be noted that in certain other passages where this is done (for example, Colossians , Hebrews 2:5, 1 John ) the earlier RSV had also engaged in the substitution.
The optimist would use these facts to suggest that the NRSV has merely “expanded” the RSV’s procedure of inserting into the text the identity of the specific “he” under discussion. The pessimist would point to the increase of such cases as precedent for more extensive alterations in the future. Unquestionably, if “precedent” be needed by the feminists to further their crusade, these would certainly be useful.
An example of apparent feminist censorship of “male” Godhead words is found in 1 Corinthians 12:11. Although the Holy Spirit is normally identified as a personage—by the use of terms such as “he” and “him”—in this text the translators preferred making the text awkward rather than permitting a “malish” taint: “All those are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit (RSV: “he”) chooses.” This repetitiveness of the Divine description / name is quite common in feminist lectionaries. Fortunately for its readability, this example is an exception rather than the rule in the New RSV.
What sounds awkward and odd to one individual may not do so to another. In spite of there being this inevitable subjective element, even the defender of the New RSV would be hard pressed to avoid conceding that it does have such renderings—at least in many hearers’ ears as of the time of its issuance. The reason for this lies in its commitment to a total degenderization of allegedly male terminology regardless of the price. A more restrained effort would have avoided this problem but created another—the counter-charge of the “failure of courage” or “nerve” to fully complete what they had begun. (They were already stuck with this charge of course, by not altering the “God language” as well.)
To insist, as some have, that people will “get used to” speaking in such a “non-sexist” way only concedes the point we are making: as of the time of its issuance (and [Page 122] still now 25 years later?) much of the language creates a text that sounds “odd,” “off,” and “unnatural.” The language itself may make perfect sense in occasional usage, but when it becomes the standard usage we create a dramatically different situation.
Of course one way to avoid this—and the New RSV does commonly utilize it—is to substitute something different in structure or language so that at least the thought may remain the same, but “gender” words be avoided. Of course that creates the justified accusation that the original text is, essentially, meaningless to the translators when it is in conflict with feminist theology.
(Note to readers: The following examples and evaluation are as of the early 1990s. Consider them and evaluate for yourself to what extent these expressions make sense when they are made dominant rather than just occasional. To me, they still fail the test of fluency when used to that extent. Your judgement might be different.)
We certainly would not assert that all of the non-“gender” terminology is bad, at least when used in moderation. “Wisdom of man” becomes “human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:5) and “heart of man” becomes “human heart” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Though one can properly observe that even here--within that “human”--lies a “human.” The language has been obscured, at the most, and still lies there waiting for someone to protest; perhaps it has been sufficiently “hidden” to avoid such protests. But it is hard to be as kind hearted about many of the other substitutions.
“Sons of men” (Ephesians 3:5, RSV) may not be inclusive language to militant feminists but “humankind” (RSV) is a substitute that easily causes the flesh to creep. (Though that nasty verboten word “man” is still able to sneak into the middle that term as well, doesn’t it?)
Though “humankind” is found acceptable in other texts as well (Revelation , 18, 20), “mankind” is rejected as unacceptably narrow. The RSV used the latter in each of the Revelation texts but, to be facetious, take the “hu” off of “humankind” apparently plummets it from the holy peaks of feminist acceptability to the fiery hell of sexist usage.
It is far more natural spoken usage to speak of “spiritual men” than of “spiritual people” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Nor do we normally speak in terms of “tongues of mortals” (1 Corinthians 13:1), but of “tongues of men.” “Mortals” stresses the fact that we are subject to death; “men” stresses that our languages are those of fellow human beings—a much different core concept. Therefore “mortals” seems an inappropriate substitute unless a text is specifically discussing the fact that we are subject to death.
“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark , RSV). Have you ever heard a person in real, everyday speech talk that way? Nor do your neighbors normally use expressions like “persons of sincerity” and “persons sent by God” (both 2 Corinthians ). They may be more ideologically / theologically acceptable to one particular faction, but they do not reflect genuine, nonacademic speech patterns—at least of the time when this was originally written. (Nor of what I hear today, for that matter.)
Here are a few others without comment. Let the reader judge whether they represent natural speech or are an artificial invention to please a powerful theological faction.
Matthew 4:19: “I will make you fishers of people” (RSV, “fishers of men”).
[Page 123] Acts : “There is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (RSV, “given among men by which we must be saved”).
1 Thessalonians 2:4: “not to please mortals” (RSV, “not to please men”).
1 Thessalonians 2:6: “nor did we seek praise from mortals” (RSV, “not to please men”).
1 Timothy 2:5-6: “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all. . .” “Himself human:” was there an early heresy that Jesus was really a space alien masquerading a man?
Eliminating “Gender Language”
Even When a Male
Is Clearly under Discussion!
Perhaps the extraordinary degree to which degenderizing was permitted to become a theological fetish to the new RSV translators is best revealed in their treating texts in this fashion even though contextually the reference is unquestionably to a male! In most cases the New RSV uses “male” language of males but so profound is their grim determination not to “err” by inadvertently using it in a now “improper” way, that they degenderize texts even when there seems little or no excuse to do so.
instance, Acts (RSV), in which
we find a citation from the Old Testment: “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for
you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him as he praised me up.’
” We all know
that “brethren” means covenant people in general—in this context, the people of
A footnote in the New RSV concedes that in the original language the word is “brothers,” but insists upon degenderizing the first half of the verse in spite of that and in spite of its intended messianic / “male” application / fulfillment: “Moses said, ‘the Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. . . .’ ”
Here at least we can grasp some logic in what they are doing. Not so in 2 Timothy 4:2 where the reference is to the male evangelist Timothy. Yet we read, “You then, my child (RSV, “son”), be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
[Page 124] In Acts 12:2 the male King Herod (cf. verse 20) is under discussion yet we have, “The people shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!’ (RSV, “man”).”
Rather than refer to the “likeness of men” (RSV) in a reference to the males Paul and Barnabas, we find, “When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lyaconian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ ” Somehow--knowing who they were talking about--one is strongly inclined to believe that they fully meant “men” as in male gender.
Or take Ananaias’ lie to the (male) apostles in the NRSV, “You did not lie to us but to God!” (Acts 5:4). A footnote concedes that the Greek reads not “to us” but “to men” which these folks logically and physically were. To be stripped of one’s male gender to keep ultra-feminists happy strikes one as rather silly at the best.
In Luke the original RSV has Mary saying to her young (and quite male) offspring, “Son, why have you treated us so?” To avoid a malish reference, the New RSV alters this to, “Child, why have you treated me like this?”
In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, does any one doubt that the wealthy individual was indeed a male? Yet in Luke , rather than have him called by a male gender term like “Son” (as in the original RSV), the New RSV substitutes “child.” There is also something strange about labeling an adult male facing and enduring ongoing unpleasant punishment by the term “child.” Would not “child” normally be excluded as a proper description of someone justly facing such an ill destiny? “Child” suggests innocence, minimal accountability; not what is pictured in the text.
In Hebrews 5:1 we read, “Every high priest chosen from among mortals (“men,” RSV) is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” Whoever heard of a female Jewish high priests? The reference is clearly to males and should be so rendered out of respect for historical fact and usage.
Jesus was speaking to the (male) apostles when we read of how they called to Him, “saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you (“men,” RSV) of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm” (Matthew -26).
If these things were perpetuated in the name of some “fundamentalist” theology, the scorn would be heavy and thick and amply deserved. Why shouldn’t feminist misuse of the translation process be similarly treated?
Avoid “Male” Language
However laudable reasonable degenderizing is in and of itself, the techniques used to accomplish the “absolutist” approach of the New RSV often fail to pay adequate [Page 125] respect to the authority of the original New Testament texts. Far too often it is freely set aside and abandoned in order to produce a reading acceptable to the militant fringe.
At least three methods of degenderizing the text are quickly recognized by the close reader of the new translation and have been mentioned in passing earlier. Here they deserve greater treatment though we are more interested in illustrating the methodology than of criticizing each and every example in detail.
Substituting Non-Gender Terminology
When used with moderation and a respect for language as it is really spoken, such is fine and good. However the repeated examples we cite throughout this chapter amply document that many of the substitutes are either misleading or inadequate and even result in a distortion of the point that various specific texts are making. A prime example of inadequacy is found in the “degenderizing” of the explicitly male references that we just examined. How can that possibly be justified?
Constructing or Rearranging the Sentence
In Such a Way that
No Personal Pronoun is Required
In the first RSV we find this translation of Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” In the New RSV it is reconstructed in this manner, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”
Since “men” here is an interpretive addition anyway—to complete the thought—there certainly is no harm in and of itself in its omission and if it had been content with the omission there would have been no cause for complaint. Instead they seriously degrade the significance of helping specific others.
The vague “working for the good of all” requires nothing beyond vague sentimentality and the giving of a few dollars to a charity and perhaps voting for a political agenda preferred by the ultras. It stresses attitude; not personal action. “Doing good to all” (with or without “men” attached) requires that we personally get off our duff and do something. For the specific someone standing in need. (Not an anonymous and unknown “someone” half the world away.) A significantly different mind frame is [Page 126] envolved in the two rival translations. Intended or not, the abandonment of the “gender” reference aids in a significant shift in the fundamental thrust of the passage.
In extreme cases, the sentence structure no longer reflects traditional translations at all—those which had reflected the construction of the original language(s). In such cases, the structure is not merely shifted a little but is substantially rearranged. Although there has been and continues a disagreement concerning the degree to which an English translation should reflect the original Greek word order, when the alteration clearly occurs in order to support a theological presumption—in this case, extreme feminist abhorrence of generic “male” language—there can be little question that the boundaries of fair play and legitimate translator discretion have been dangerously crossed. “Right” theology triumphs over right translation.
One example of the dramatic rearrangement of sentence structure to avoid banned terminology can be found in Christ’s citation of Isaiah in Mark 7:7, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” By reversing the contents of the second half of the verse the offending language is removed: “teaching human precepts as doctrines.” Since we are not permitted to say the former, we have to say the latter. Theology triumphs again.
Converting the Text from “Individual”
to “Collective” Terminology
Take as a starting point, Christ’s famous admonition (Matthew , RSV), “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” In the New RSV the questions are generalized, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their lives?”
This distances the admonition from the reader—in effect, saying, “Those people—them—they need to put their priorities right.” The individualized wording properly puts the personal application front and center: you, me, every single person, needs to put their personal priorities in the right order.
Other examples of the unjustified and unwise depersonalization of the text include:
Romans 14:4b—RSV: “And he will be upheld for the Master is able to make him stand.” NRSV: “And they will be upheld for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
John 14:21—RSV: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” NRSV: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
James 5:13—“Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise.” NRSV: “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are [Page 127] any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” (The shift from the individual to the collective is continued in the following verses.)
If only one person feels cheerful is “he” bound to remain silent since the required plural “they” are not present to share in the sentiment? After all, has the prerequisite plural number been met? Are they, in such cases, in fact sinning by expressing their joy vocally at all?
Obviously not, but even as a silly hypothetical question, it would be removed if the original reference to clearly individual conduct were left untouched. In such cases the translation is not altered out of the quest for greater accuracy—it already had that—but out of a slavish loyalty to a theology that puts its tenets ahead of the obligation to faithfully and accurately translate the text.
to Avoid Using “He”
In the New RSV’s version of Matthew we find Christian helpfulness to fellow believers being done “in the name of a disciple.” This is vague and potentially misleading. The RSV, however, is crystal clear, “because he is a disciple,” but that requires the use of the forbidden word “he.” Obscurity triumphs and is preferred over clarity.
In Matthew the language is needlessly awkward: “will repay for what has been done”—done by whom? The original RSV leaves us in no doubt: “He will repay every man for what he has done.”
In Luke is found an admonition that each of us has certain personal burdens we must carry in order to be faithful disciples. The earlier RSV has it, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” In order to be rid of the impermissible “his,” the NRSV shifts the reading to make it a reference to Christ’s cross rather than our own, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
“His own” leaves room for the fact that the cross each of us carries will have its own characteristics due to inclinations to particular sins differing from person to person as does the impact of life experiences on behavior and attitude. “The cross,” in contrast, would seem to force one to believe that one given challenge--set of challenges?—is under consideration. And that, somehow, it is Christ’s cross that we carry rather than our own.
to Avoid Using “Man” and “Men”
In Matthew the RSV renders, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The New RSV alters it to, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” “Mortals” stresses fragility, the ability to perish; indeed, the certainty of perishing. Such is not under discussion but, rather, human beings as human beings—that which it is impossible for them to do not merely because they are “mortal” but because they are human. To use the banned terminology--because they are mere men. So the replacement terminology is both inadequate and inappropriate.
Likewise in Acts we read in the new translation, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” The emphasis is upon the fact that no human being can secure for us the redemption that Jesus does. “Mortals” shifts the emphasis to the fact that we are subject to death, a thought not relevant to this passage.
In Mark the original Revised Standard reads, “You are not on the side of God, but of men.” Presumably to avoid the verboten word “men,” the New RSV substitutes one application of this principle into the text, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Degenderization occurs but at the price of substituting a single specific interpretation for what a translation is supposed to do—translate.
In Mark we read that Jesus would be “betrayed into human hands.” That He had no need to fear apprehension by space aliens would be a natural twenty-first century understanding of the translation. If words are to carry their normal meaning and connotations, this would be far from an exotic reading of the text, silly though it is.
Laying aside this, the earlier RSV’s reading is still definitely superior, “will be delivered into the hands of men.” It surely wasn’t going to be a female “lynch mob” or a combined male-female “lynch mob” hollering for the blood of Jesus, was it? Shouldn’t the historical context that the hostiles were solely male result in the retention of traditional male language? (Even assuming that one or two females were somehow envolved, would any deny that the overwhelming bulk of participants were male? Which, again, would justify the usage of male language.)
Even when the “man” reference is firmly rooted in the original, it is not permitted to be rendered. Quoting the Old Testament, Hebrews 2:6 reads, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them?” Two footnotes concede that the “Greek” says, “What is man that you are mindful of him? Or the son of man that you care for him?” Isn’t this an admission that they were determined to translate according to the required feminist theology rather than according to what the text actually says?
In defense of their alteration, a footnote states, “In the Hebrew of Psalms 8:4-6 both ‘man’ and ‘son of man’ refer to all humankind.” Jehovah Witnesses use the same kind of reasoning for imposing the Old Testament “Jehovah” (now known to be properly rendered, Yahweh) into the New Testament: The New Testament quotes passages where “Jehovah” (Yahweh) was used; therefore it is only “right” to carry over the language into [Page 129] the New Testament where the term is not used. The New RSV similarly argues: since the word was used in the Old Testament of all mankind, what the Greek actually says can be safely ignored.
Furthermore, in context, Hebrews 2:6 introduces the Isaiah text to prove the superiority of Jesus to angels. Due to the fact that Jesus was, historically, a male, what is the propriety of ignoring that fact in a text where He is under discussion?
Furthermore, if the Psalms text is genuinely prophetic of the Messiah and the Messiah was to be male, does it not have to follow that the specific kind of human being prophetically under discussion even in the Old Testament text itself is a male? (We argue from intent rather than the language specifically used since intent could utilize either male specific or gender inspecific language to make this point.) Hence it should be rendered male specific at least in the New Testament where explicitly male language is used by the New RSV’s own admission. Or do translators now have some sacred commission to freely rewrite the text to make it say what it “should” have said in the first place?
In 1 Corinthians a parallel is made between a man’s own spirit being able to understand his thoughts and God’s Spirit being able to understand the Heavenly Father’s thoughts, “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (RSV).
In order to avoid using “man,” the point of the verse is substantially altered, “For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God.” The point is not understanding what “is truly human” or what “is truly God’s.” At most that is interpretation rather than translation.
The point, rather, is the ability to comprehend the thoughts of either: the only one who can be fully sure and understanding of my thoughts is my own spirit. You can’t. The only one who can be fully sure and understanding of Divine thoughts is the Divine Spirit. When an entire point is so blatantly gutted in order to appease a not even century old theology, who can doubt that scholarship has taken a back seat to doctrinal bias? And not necessarily always that of the translators’ own bias either; in large part they may simply be trying to do their job while bearing a heavy yoke that repeatedly forces them away from their true function
to Avoid Using “Brethren”
The New RSV asserts that it is merely making explicit what the Greek asserts. Degenderization is the result, we are reassured. But the willingness to make the text less comprehensible as to its actual meaning, to extensively rewrite it into a form compatible [Page 130] with the results it seeks while ignoring what is actually said, and the incredible degenderizing of intended male language surely prove that they are being far from fully candid. (Of course, being fully candid would mean the concession that they were voluntarily or involuntarily wearing theological binders and that would, personally, be humiliating to say the least.)
A further body blow to this claim of merely representing the original intent comes from the way they treat a common Greek word they concede (via repeated footnotes) is “male,” but which encompasses both genders. We refer to the term translated “brethren” or “brother(s).” If loyalty to the original tongue were determinative, then that “malish” term should be retained. In the New RSV it is not. Isn’t this prima facie evidence that the desire to appease the feminist lobby was stronger than the desire to be faithful to what the Biblical text actually says?
The NRSV is to be commended for providing abundant footnotes noting places where they have substituted a different reading. That was an honorable decision. An even more honorable one would have been not to have the need for them in the first place.
One of the two most common substitutions is to expand the reading to “brothers and sisters” (Matthew 5:22; 5:47; Romans 1:13; 8:12; 10:1; 11:25; 14:15; 16:14; etc.). This at least utilizes and expands on the family imagery of “brothers.” Indeed, in the now fading days when translations routinely utilized italicization to add useful or important supplemental words to make the text make better sense, the inclusion of “and sisters” in italics would have immediately shown (1) that the translators—rightly—regard the term in such contexts as implicitly including both genders but (2) that the actual wording used to do so was the “male” term “brethren.”
Now we hide the difference in a footnote. Better than nothing, admittedly. But they do not confine themselves to “brothers and sisters”—even with footnotes. That we could “get our minds around” though our feelings about it would be considerably ambivalent.
However they freely substitute other terminology which even the degenderized understanding of “brothers” in no way states or implies. In other words they show a fundamental contempt for the authority of the original text, changing it into whatever they deem best. The least one can say about this is that it is an abandonment of one of translators’ most fundamental obligations--to faithfully convey the original document. (Whether one prefers a more or less “word for word” translation process or a “looser” criteria, this criticism remains valid for either approach.)
The second choice for substitution for “brethren” is that of replacing it with “believers” (Acts ; ; 11:1; ; 15:3; 17:6; etc.). But “brethren” suggests familial relationship not shared religious convictions. How can it be regarded as either adequate or accurate?
Less used substitutions are:
“Neighbor” -- Matthew 7:3, 5; Luke 6:42.
“Friends” -- Acts 1:16; Galatians 4:12, 28
“Beloved” -- Phil. 4:8; 1 Thess. ; ; James 5:7, 9, 12
“Comrades” -- Revelation 12:10; ; 22:9
“Students” -- Matthew 23:8
“Disciple” -- Luke 17:3
[Page 131] “Community” -- John 21:23
“People” -- Acts 7:37; Romans 9:3
“Family” -- Matthew 25:40; 1 Cor. 8:12; Gal. 1:2
With two exceptions, these fall short. First, “Brothers and sisters” work well but only so long as some means is used to show that the last two words are interpretive supplements.
Then there is “comrades.” In the time since the collapse of the
Almost a quarter century has gone by since I prepared the earlier draft of this book and, in the interest of full disclosure, let me quote my own far more negative judgement back then:
“Comrades” may come the closest to a conceptual replacement for it carries with it the idea of mutual participation in a common society toward common goals. However, its ideological connection with socialism and communism make it highly inappropriate as the designation of a spiritual relationship.
But that was then: so I once again ask--Perhaps sufficient time has passed to safely “sanitize” it from its earlier, ideological usage and to co-opt it for a spiritual one?
As to the other alternatives utilized by the New RSV, they clearly falter. “Brother” is designed to carry the idea of a spiritual kinship with shared theological convictions. In its original political context, “comrade” carried the idea of a ideological kinship and shared ideological convictions, with an application to spiritual ones being quite reasonable.
and “disciple” suggest a different role, that of a learner.
“People” sounds like the whole human race and certainly lacks any sense of shared loyalties and convictions. “Beloved” and “friend” suggest affection and not shared loyalties and beliefs either. “Community” and “neighbor” are normally terminology of those physically adjacent and lack the shared theological and spiritual commitments of “brethren.” “Family” certainly conveys the idea of a close relationship but it moves the description upward from the individual level (“brothers”) to the group level (“family”), as does the word “community.”
“Believers” certainly describes what “brethren” are and when they want to stress the element of shared faith the Biblical writers freely utilizes it in place of “brothers.” Their use of both terms, however, surely implies that each is intended to carry connotations that the other term does not adequately or fully cover.
So zealous—I’m tempted to say paranoid—are the translators to avoid using the term “brother” because of feminist denunciation of its male nature, the NRSV even substitutes “neutral” wording in at least one text that does carry a genuinely explicit male [Page 132] gender reference. In 1 Corinthians we read, “If any believer (footnote, “Greek, brother”) has a wife who is an unbeliever. . . .” Unless they believe that the first century [Page 132] church saw no problem with homosexual and lesbian “marriage”—a most unlikely possibility to put it kindly—this is not only a brother co-religionist this is a male brother since he has a “wife.”
In the context
of their usage in specific texts, some of these substitutes stand out as
particularly weak since they do not adequately stress the joint discipleship
element at the core of being “brethren.”
For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:9 we read, “And when I was with you and
was in need, I did not burden anyone, for my needs were supplied by the friends
who came from
read, “Therefore, my friends” (Hebrews )
does it sound like a politician giving a speech or one Christian sharing a word
of edification with his “brothers”? The
same observation applies to Peter addressing his co-religionists in
Likewise when John (3 John, verse 3) refers to how, “I was overjoyed when some of the friends arrived. . . .” how is the meaning adequately conveyed by a term that omits the explicit spiritual kinship carried by the word “brothers?”
The replacements occasionally produce a truly odd situation. Take for example 3 John, verse 5, “Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the friends (margin, “Greek, brothers”), even though they are strangers to you.” If taken seriously this verse appears self-contradictory: The same people could hardly be described as “friends” and “strangers” at the same time, could they? Spiritual “brethren” you may not have met previously could well be “strangers” to you, but “friends”?
Degenderizing produces an utterly improbable situation in John 21:23: “So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die.” Somehow, one does not expect that this was the subject of village gossip; non-Christians would surely have instantly dismissed it as idle foolishness. That it might well have received careful consideration among “brethren” of John is a different story entirely. And that is the word actually used here.
Other instances could be cited, but these should be an adequate cross-section to demonstrate the inadequacy of the New RSV approach to the word “brothers.”
of What Has Been Done to Justify
Going Far Further
When the text is written of individuals and the translation is altered to a collective reference is that not accepting the principle of tampering with the original text in order to keep the militant feminist lobby satisfied?
When “and sisters” has to be added to “brothers” in order to tolerate even the presence of “brothers,” does the wording of the original text any longer have definitive control over the actions of the translators?
When, in repeated cases, language that is unquestionably used in a literal “male” sense is not even permitted, is everything now subject to a theological faction’s veto? Indeed, one that doesn’t even feel the moral obligation to pay attention to how the text is actually using the words in the first place?
That the translators have not gone anywhere near as far as the militants demand in no way alters the precedent that has been set. Indeed “the camel has already gotten its nose deeply under the tent’s edge” in areas that create powerful precedents for further textual distortion. Perhaps we should consider the implications of what has been done to 2 Peter 1:20-21. As in the RSV it reads, “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
The concluding words are changed, in the New RSV, to “men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
I have absolutely no difficulty with the idea of a book or two in the New Testament having been written by women. (I confess to a harder time imagining it for the Old.) But that can be nothing more than a pleasant thought (fantasy?) since there is absolutely nothing that provides even convincing conjectural evidence in behalf of it. On what basis then dare we alter the text of sacred scripture to say that which it does not say in 2 Peter 1:21?
If we can “equalize” women into the authorship of Old Testament scripture, can we just as properly add the names of their wives to references discussing Old Testament males? On the basis of the precedent set in 2 Peter, then shouldn’t Sarah (for example) be added to every mention of Abraham where it won’t disrupt the flow of the text? Indeed, even if it does, should it matter since the cause served is regarded as so spiritually vital?
For that matter, why shouldn’t the text be rewritten so it won’t be noticed? Hasn’t the New RSV already done this in more than enough cases to justify this additional step in textual rewriting to obtain what the Bible “should” have said rather than what it actually did say?
Will it be done? My best guess is that it won’t happen for another forty years or so until the NRSV is deemed so “old” it needs to be “updated.” By then the Ultra-feminist clique may have the power to make their full wishes and demands accepted. On the other hand, nothing is written in concrete when it comes to future history.
It is in the hands of those who live it to shape it and it is quite within their power to grind to a halt the progress of such intentional degradation of the text. Either at the level it now stands or to “roll back” attitudes to a more responsible approach to translation of the text.
[Page 134] Will God really take kindly to our intentional misrepresentation and mutilation of His Scriptures in the day of judgment? Will our good intentions satisfy His anger? For those who believe in such things—as I do, for one—we are dealing here not just with intellectual arguments but with the destiny of souls. And those who engage themselves in the work of translation should do so with that in mind as well.
Regardless of how we answer such questions, the willingness to tolerate “textual games” to such a pervasive extent in the New RSV, surely dooms it from ever gaining widespread acceptance from those who believe that the Bible is God’s supernaturally guided and authoritative revelation. These are folk to whom intentional manipulation of the text—especially to the extent we have seen—represents not mere bad judgment but nothing short of a “high crime” against the Almighty Himself.
No translation such as this can ever gain but passing curiosity in such quarters.
N. 1 -- “New Bible Translation,” Ibid., page 2.
N. 2 -- Inclusive-Language Lectionary, page 254.
N. 3 -- Ibid., page 254.
N. 4 -- “New Bible Translation,” page 2.
N. 5 -- Thomas Mullen, “Sales of 2 Bible
Editions Begin,” Richmond News Leader,