Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reminders about the ESV

Since a discussion about gender language in Bible translations has cropped up here and here, let me provide a reminder of why the ESV is not a good Bible translation with regard to gender.

Here is a passage from the preface to the ESV,
    In the area of gender language, the goal of the ESV is to render literally what is in the original. For example, “anyone” replaces “any man” where there is no word corresponding to “man” in the original languages, and “people” rather than “men” is regularly used where the original languages refer to both men and women. But the words “man” and “men” are retained where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew. Likewise, the word “man” has been retained where the original text intends to convey a clear contrast between “God” on the one hand and “man” on the other hand, with “man” being used in the collective sense of the whole human race (see Luke 2:52).
In Greek there is one word for man, as a male, aner; and another word, anthropos, for a "human." Since in English we don't use the word "human" in normal discourse, when this word occurs for a single male, we translate it as "man." However, when this word occurs in the plural, we translate it as "people." So, in translating Greek, the plural of aner is translated as "men" and the plural of anthropos is translated as "people."

Let's look at these verses in the ESV,
    and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Tim. 2:2

    “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.” Eph. 4:8

    And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men. Mark 1:17

    And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God Luke 12:8

    In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:4

    Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:18

    For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 1 Tim. 2:5

    For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebreww 5:1

    For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21
According to the preface of the ESV, these verses should have been translated using the word "people" in order to be literal, gender accurate and transparent to the Greek.

If the ESV used "men" instead of "people" in order to be traditional and to preserve euphony, then the translators had better say so. They would need to admit that the translation is not all that literal, not literal at all when it comes to gender, but traditional, conservative, and preserving the rhythm of the KJV.

What is so wrong with admitting this? Why do the translators claim for their translation something that is simply not true? It's a tissue of nonsense, a tangled web of half truths.

Why use a gender inclusive translation

Here is Daniel Kirk on the topic, HT Joel,
    To the overall question, why require a gender-inclusive translation? My overall answer is this: to keep transforming the culture of the church until we actually believe (and therefore act like) that women and men are equal members of the body of Christ, equally addressed by the word of God, and equally empowered by the Spirit to serve in it (and therefore lead it).

    My student asked specifically about requiring the now defunct TNIV and the NRSV that was sponsored by the World Council of Churches and has not been well received in evangelical circles.

    This is a crucial question. In my estimation the reason that these gender inclusive translations have not caught on in evangelicalism is precisely because conservative churches are theologically opposed to gender equality. It is because they are guarding against the sort of transformation that I think needs to take place that they choose to preserve and further language of masculine hegemony. In resisting even gender-inclusive language for humanity, however (e.g., not allowing adelphoi to be translated “brothers and sisters,” but instead insisting on “brothers”), the English translation expresses an exclusivity that was not there in the Greek. This is a case where “more literal” is not equivalent to “more accurate.”

    The final couple of questions from my student were along the lines of who cares? and why bother? Why not use “mankind” and “man” rather than human? In addition to what I’ve outlined above, the reason I care is that women who are learning to locate themselves, as women, in the world, need to be told and have reinforced from every angle that they do not have to become male (or approximate maleness) in order to fully realize their humanness, to become who God desires them to be as restored image-bearers of Christ.

    The church has been shackled by the idea that maleness is ontologically superior to femaleness. This has ramifications for how the church thinks about Jesus and how it thinks about gender among us humans.

    With respect to Jesus: the ESV gives some hints as to the necessity for certain people to hold onto Jesus’ maleness as a sine qua non of salvation. A translation that prides itself on rendering words consistently and accurately translates ἄνθρωποι as “people” in 1 Timothy 2:4, “…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” With this desire for all people as the set-up, however, the ESV simply cannot bring itself to say that a human is a sufficient category for a savior. No, it has to be male: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men [!, ἄνθρωποι], the man [! ἄνθρωπος] Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

    We need to embrace gender-neutral terminology for humanity so that we can start to disentangle ourselves from skewed notions about maleness and salvation. And if you think I’m just making up the idea that the maleness of Jesus is an essential part of conservative evangelical theology, then maybe you can drop a note to Paternoster Press and ask why, after printing Neil Williams’ new book The Maleness of Jesus, they canceled the contract and are refusing to distribute it.

    Of course, as soon as being male is required to represent humanity before God, then being male is required to represent God before God’s people. The continuing deafness of the evangelical world to the biblical passages that give counter-testimony to 1 Timothy 3 from the early church is another lingering effect of gender-exclusive Bible translation. So long as we think that to be truly human is to be man, and so long as we think that a man must be the mediator between God and man, women will never be able to participate as full, co-equal partners.

    So yes, I care. And as a man I think it’s more important for me to champion this cause than it is for women to champion it themselves. Because the call of the gospel isn’t to spend all our time getting worked up over our own rights, but to spend all our time getting worked up over how life can come to the other.

Thanks very much, Daniel.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just overworked

I don't expect to be blogging much for the next few weeks, and I haven't blogged much this year. However, I am not sick or depressed, nor am I a mirthless sourpuss feminist - just overworked. While I am absent, I will post my staff pic to keep you company.

(Well, I am a feminist - just not mirthless!)

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I read Ron Hendel's critique of the Society of Biblical Literature a few days ago. I have not attended SBL but I do follow its meetings with interest. I then read this response. I don't myself think that there should be any place at SBL for faith committments, as long as these include an attitude which subordinates, or denounces women, queers and any other natural class of human beings.

I particularly take exception to the ongoing critique of feminist and queer hermeneutics as being "clubbish." First, I have no doubt that some of it is unattractive. So here I wish to address what I have found to be "clubbish" among evangelicals, and why I would not go anywhere into any physical space where there is a danger of their attitudes about women being given voice.

I am acquainted with a very vocal and well-known SBL theologian of the evangelical leaning. I sat and listened to him lecture 200 young people on how the cause of contemporary divorce is that women will not accept their role. This was his interpretation of Gen. 3:16 and this view is widely held by evangelicals. He is an influential theologian.

I questioned him on this since I was in the process of divorcing because I had suffered ongoing violence, being controlled by being shut in my room, hit and sworn at, combined with having Bible verses used to condemn me to hell.

The theologian in question did have any interest in this situation, but he vociferously questioned my right to remarry. I had no interest in remarrying, I simply wanted to be safe.

I found his lecture, his commentary on Gen. and his response to a woman wanting a divorce for violence to be incrdibliy callous and yes even "clubbish." But he gets rave reviews by evangelicals for being so "reasonable" and open-minded.

Unless one has actually been beaten, as many women and queers have been, for reasons relating to being a woman or a queer, then I suggest that using the term "clubbish" for the hermenuetic of feminists and queeers is not appropriate.

The appeal of Christianity is that Christ actually experieced being beaten, he did not claim a privilege not open to women and queers.

However, Paul did claim a privilege not open to women, slaves, and non-Roman citizens. He asked, as a Roman citizen, not to be beaten.

That women have not had such a legal privilege until recently, that they may experience this for much of their life, that being beaten can be just a normal consequence of being a woman, is still to fresh in my mind.

Perhaps feminists and queers are clubbish, but [some] evangelical Christians are callous to the most outrageous suffering in their midst and should clean out their own stables first. I firmly believe that any space where people are free to express their faith commitments, in such a way as to denigrate even the tiniest bit, women, homosexuals, or those of another religion or race, is not an appropriate place for academic exchange.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Paul and Thecla

James McGrath links to a post about Paul and Thecla. There is an interesting tradition that Thecla's eyes and hands were erased because they were a sign of her authority.
    Bart Ehrman (if I remember correctly) shares a photo of the same fresco in one of his books, and points out that Thecla's "teaching hand" has been deliberately defaced (as have her eyes), by someone who found this depiction of her authority threatening. Crossan and Reed also make this point.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I don't usually laugh out loud at America pronunciation. I try to muffle my mirth if I can. Of course, I expect to be the source of a little mirth myself. But listen to this. HT Nick.



I had never heard the first one before, but I am of Huguenot stock myself so I am familiar with the first rendition in the second link. Give me a call and hear how I pronounce it! is there anyone out there with the Oxford pronunciation?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Because it matters

This blog, by Danni Moss, was one of the first blogs that I read in the Christian blogosphere. I just read today that the author has died of cancer. I am so grateful for her blog, and I hope that her influence will remain. Its a long journey out of violence as a way of life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Not a slam dunk

There has been a discussion on Cheryl's blog, where a commenter is very sure that kephale, meaning "head," as in the object on top of your neck, is a slam dunk for "authority". He perhaps thinks this because he has read this entry.

the head, both of men and often of animals. Since the loss of the head destroys life, this word is used in the phrases relating to capital and extreme punishment.
metaph. anything supreme, chief, prominent
of persons, master lord: of a husband in relation to his wife
of Christ: the Lord of the husband and of the Church
of things: the corner stone"

However, if you were to look in a dictionary of classical Greek, i.e. English-Greek dictionary: a vocabulary of the Attic language by S. C. Woodhouse, you would not see either kephale or authenteo, as equivalents for the English word "authority."

One may argue that this is because Hellenistic Greek was just that different. In fact, the main difference in the lexicons is that one dictionary is theologically motivated and the other is not. Lexicons of classical Greek routinely include meanings from Hellenistic Greek.

Kephale was not a Greek term for "master" or "lord" occuring in any context other than interpretations of verses in the New Testament itself. There is no outside confirmation of this use, except that the word kephale was used for Jephthah. This is an unusual use of the word in the Septuagint, and is rarely discussed. I would be interested in discussing why, of all leaders in the Greek Old Testament, only Jephthah was called kephale.

This is an interesting topic for discussion - but not a slam dunk. Someone needs to mention to me one other person besides Jephthah, outside of the New Testament (but preceding or at the same time as the NT) who was ever called the kephale of a person or group that he or she was in authority over.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Passionately outspoken for Christian feminism

I have been reading too many critiques of feminism in the Christian blogosphere recently, as if it were to blame for anything one doesn't like. The premise seems to be that we have only had _______ since women have been declared equal under the law. Now fill in the blank with the economic crisis, earthquakes and oil spills. I would like to take credit for modern dentistry myself, but I forget how it is a consequence of feminism. Not that explanations are usually required.

According to Mary Kassian, a prominent Canadian Christian author and anti-feminist, "pornography, and rape and homosexuality and sexual perversion were uncommon and rarely encountered" in the 1960's, preceding the expansion of feminism. I personally thought all these vices were alive and well in Sodom and Gomorrah, where feminism doesn't seem to have had much traction.

In a blog comment on this post, Mary Kassian declares,
    I think feminism and Christianity are incompatible. Feminism can’t be “redeemed.” If you’re interested in finding out more about the history and philosophy of feminism, I suggest you read my book, “The Feminist Mistake.”
However, Alex, a brave commenter and Christian woman, responds to Mary Kassian at length and with passion about the proper attitude of Christian women towards feminism. Here is one of her later comments,
    We must remember that we owe a lot of our freedom today to the feminist of the past. The fact that you can write a book without using a male alias, the fact the we can get ‘equal pay for equal work’, the fact the rape is illegal in marriage, the fact the a women’s testimony is not worth less than a mans and many more freedoms have been won. Truly if you want to see the effects of feminism, look to the places without it. In places like Asia and Africa were girls are married of young, sometimes 13 year old to 50 year old men, were women are treated as the property of the father to be bought and sold, were women have babies so young that they suffer from fistulas, were women are worth less than a man, so much so that a Christian women’s testimony in court is worth a quarter that of a man’s and were 6 billion babies girls have been killed simply because they were female.

    In times gone past a woman’s testimony was so unreliable they had to be tortured to prove it because they ‘made up things’, in times gone past women older than 13 without husbands were considered old hags, in times gone past women were thought not to have souls, which was only begrudgingly over turned by the church who decided they ‘may’ have souls.

    Surly we must look and thank our predecessors for the fact that we are not thought of as less than a man. Sure they made mistakes but so many freedoms we enjoy today are due to their brave fighting, their protests, imprisonments and pain for our freedom.
    We must thank them by going forward to free women throughout the world from violence, humiliation and destruction.

    Say what you like about feminism but first look to the sufferings of women around the world and think of how we can improve their living standards, improve their treatment to more than house slaves or cattle, improve their pregnancies so that they don’t die in birth or get pressured to abort babies girls. Say what you like about Western feminism but look to the women and girls of the developing world and help them. What they need are basic human rights and to be treated better than cattle. In the west this was achieved by brave men and women fighting for recognition. It was called Feminism. What will we do for people in the developing world?

    We mustn’t lose sight of what it means to be a Christian woman, but part of what it means to be a Christian woman is to love and serve other women around the world. Call this movement what you like, Christian women fighting for and caring about other women around the world, in the past it was called Feminism, today who knows what we will name it but it must happen!

    The problem with simply slamming feminism is that it draws attention away from our responsibility to women around the world who still need these rights; still need this love and care.
And may I add that there are still many women on this continent who need this love and care. As women, we need to care equally for both other men and women. But that is the premise of feminism, that women need to be cared for equally and as equals.

I am sorry that Mary Kassian cannot say thank you to the first Christian women who went to university, paving the way for her.