Gender in Bible translation
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Gender in Bible translation concerns various issues, such as the gender of God and generic antecedents in reference to people. Many in today’s churches have become conscious of and concerned about sexism. Bruce Metzger states the English language is so biased towards the male gender that it may restrict and obscure meaning from original languages. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was one of the first major translations to adopt gender-neutral language. The King James Version translated at least one passage using a technique that many now reject in other translations, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matt. 5:9). The Greek word υἱοὶ that appears in the original is usually translated as "sons", but in this passage the translators chose to use the term "children" that included both genders. Opponents of gender neutral language believe that readers who are not familiar with the original languages, can be influenced by a compromised meaning they believe is feminist.
There are two translations that are particularly notable for their efforts to take radical steps in this regard, both explaining their reasons and their techniques in their front matter. The titles of the two translations are similar, but the two translations are distinct. The first is The Inclusive New Testament (1994), the second is The New Testament and Psalms: an Inclusive Version (1995). The first one deliberately tried to make the text agree with their creed, pointing out that when they saw problems with the message of the text "it becomes our license to introduce midrash into the text" (p. xxi). It is an original translation. The second one, however, is based on the NRSV, making changes as the editorial team saw fit, but being less radical to change the message of the original.
Translation of the names of God
There are a number of ways to translate the names of God into English from Hebrew. Hebrew uses only four consonants for the name—Yod-Heh-Waw-Heh (יהוה, YHWH)—hence it is called the Tetragrammaton. Some modern English bibles render this as LORD—L capital, and ord in small capital font face. Others use Yahweh, and the old King James Version used Jehovah. In English, outside Bible translations, the tetragrammaton is often written as YHWH or YHVH.
The original meaning of this form is connected with the "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 (and it probably contains a Hebrew masculine verb prefix—the Y or yod). Sometimes this word is rendered into English by using Hebrew Adonai, instead of attempting to directly translate YHWH, following an ancient Jewish custom of respect.
The Hebrew word Adonai literally means my lord (with pseudo-plural), and is usually translated as Lord. The Hebrew names Elohim, El, Shaddai, and Yah are usually translated as God—with Elohim being the most common. Elyon translates as Most High.
There are a number of compound names for God. YHVH Tzevaot is translated as Lord of Hosts. YHVH Elohe tzevaot would be Lord God of Hosts. Among non-Orthodox Jews, there is a growing tendency to avoid the gender-in-English-language debate, and to simultaneously reclaim the vocabulary of Hebrew itself, by not translating these names in English prayers.
An example of a traditional translation is:
- "The earth belongs to the Lord, and all it contains; the world and its inhabitants." (Psalm 24)
An alternative translation is:
- "The earth belongs to Adonai, and all it contains; the world and its inhabitants."
Third person pronouns for God
Many prayers use one or more of the names for God many times within the same paragraph. The first time it appears a proper name is used, while further instances use a third person pronoun (he, she or it). English speakers usually use masculine or feminine third person pronouns to refer to people, and the third person pronoun—"it"—to refer to non-people. Traditionally, in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim writing, the third-person pronoun "He" has been used to refer to God in English translations. In non-religious contexts, English speakers have generally used the word "he" as a substitute for a gender-neutral third person pronoun.
The idea of God being an "It" rather than a "he" or "she" does have some support in Jewish, Christian and Islamic rationalist medieval thought, much of which was based on Neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Some medieval philosophers of all three of these religions took great pains to make clear that God was in no way like a person, and that all apparently physical descriptions of God were only poetic metaphors.
In the Chinese language, translators of the Christian Bible have created a new Chinese character to act as a divine pronoun: 祂 (Pinyin: tā). Tā, in essence, is the universal third person pronoun for all objects and persons. However, personhood (as well as gender) can be distinguished in writing. The normal pronoun for he, 他, is also used in generic cases. The radical 亻(rén) marks personhood (distinct from non-human referents), not simply gender alone. The radical in 祂, 礻(shì), marks the "elevated personhood" of divinity, without implying anything about the gender of the divinity referred to.
- Bruce Metzger. "Preface to the NRSV". Archived from the original on 2010-02-06. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
- Strauss, Mark; Wegener, David (2009). "The Inclusive Language Debate". Christian Research Institute. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
- Poythress, Vern and Wayne Grudem (2000). The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words. Broadman and Holman Publishers. p. 149. ISBN 0-8054-2441-5.
- Kimbrough, ST Jr.. 'Bible Translation and the Gender of God'. Theology Today (1989): 195-202.
- Piper, John and Wayne A Grudem (eds). Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1991.
- Poythress, Vern Sheriden and Wayne A Grudem. The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.
- Poythress, Vern Sheriden. 'Gender in Bible Translation: Exploring a Connection with Male Representatives'. Westminster Theological Journal (1998): 225-53.
- Reimers, Paula. 'Feminism, Judaism, and God the Mother'. Conservative Judaism (1993).