Gender-inclusive language: bible version rankings

Gender-inclusive language: bible version rankings July 3, 2005

Wayne Leman was posting about gender-inclusive bible translation at the same time I was. Wayne’s post is interesting as it seems to confirm that the ESV is itself more gender-inclusive than the NIV (although less so than the TNIV). I think that we should be careful not to polarise this debate as it would seem to me at least that there is a real debate between genuine people about how some of these verses should be translated. So far I havent really seen any evidence for the conspiracy theories of some about certain translations. We may disagree with specific translation decisions on either side of this issue without concluding on the one hand that certain translations are “feminist revisions” or on the other that certain others are “msyogynist propaganda”

On the specific subject of Mat 10:24 Wayne disagreed with my statement about the word “they”. His view is that “they” is increasingly used as a singular pronoun to replace “he” where appropriate. I immediately checked the Oxford English Dictionary online expecting total vindication and found instead the following note on the modern usage of the word they:

The word they (with its counterparts them, their, and themselves) as a singular pronoun to refer to a person of unspecified sex has been used since at least the 16th century. In the late 20th century, as the traditional use of he to refer to a person of either sex came under scrutiny on the grounds of sexism, this use of they became more common. It is now generally accepted in contexts where it follows an indefinite pronoun such as anyone, no one, someone, or a person, as in anyone can join if they are a resident and each to their own. In other contexts, coming after singular nouns, the use of they is now common, though less widely accepted, especially in formal contexts. Sentences such as ask a friend if they could help are still criticized for being ungrammatical. Nevertheless, in view of the growing acceptance of they and its obvious practical advantages, they is used in this dictionary in many cases where he would have been used formerly.

In the notes at “he” and “she”, the usage “he or she” is given the roasting that in my view it deserves. So, it seems that although this is not universally accepted, the use of the word “they” may be the solution that English as a whole settles on. From my point of view if the use of the word “they” in this way is the only way to save us from the hideous “he or she” or such craziness as alternating “he” and “she” or indeed simply replacing “he” with “she”, then I for one am all for it!

So, just so you know I listen to my commentators, I will propose an entirely new translation of Mat 10:24 which not even the most extreme gender-inclusive translators have yet proposed. (Perhaps I should reserve certain copyright rights on this translation!)

“A disciple is not above their teacher nor a servant above their master”

This has the advantage of keeping the rhetorical emphasis of the singular which whilst I concede does have a similar meaning to the use of the word “disciples” nonetheless seems to me at least to have a different impact.

For comparison

-“Students are not above their teacher, nor servants above their master.” (TNIV)
-“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” (ESV)

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