Friday, June 24, 2011

Brethren and the tattoo

It turns out that "brethren" is, in fact, a gender-neutral term in English today. Niles turned to Daphne, on a rerun of Frasier tonight, and said "you and your tattooed, mumu-wearing brethren!" However, he could not have said with the same meaning, "you and your tattoed, mumu-wearing brothers!" It seems that "brethren" is gender neutral and "brothers" is not.

On the other hand, perhaps Niles meant that men wear mumus. Hmm. I don't think so. This is why I find the KJV quite acceptable, and then the NRSV and NIV 2011. "Brethren" is gender inclusive, and "brothers and sisters" is gender inclusive. "Brothers" is not.

It happens that in Hebrew as well, the word often translated "brothers" also meant all the brothers and sisters in a biological family. We see that use in Joshua 6:23. When it says that the "brothers" of Rahab were saved, it means "all the brothers and sisters" as we can see in chapter 2. That is the simple usage of the word, the meaning, one might say.


G said...

In Thai the expression "phi nong" พี่น้อง refers to both women and men collectively. It is equivalent to adelphoi or brethren and is used in all Thai Bible translations. Are there other options in English that would work that would avoid the brethren/brothers mental block some are having? kinsfolk, kinspeople?

CD-Host said...

That's interesting. And it makes sense. The move towards dropping the masculine gender neutral wouldn't have happened to archaic terms.

Of course frankly the use of the singular plural has become the standard technique for handling this, which is what the gender inclusive bibles do. I still say the problem conservatives have is not with Hebrew/Greek translation but with English.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks, Jay, its nice to know that not all languages have this issue.

CD, I feel as a woman, that the difficulty for conservatives is not language at all, but women. I feel that they are simply using language as an instrument of marginalizing women.

CD-Host said...

Suzanne --

Yes I agree. Underneath it all is a desire to marginalize and disempower women.

Kristen said...

CD-Host-- I agree. They have made the domination of women the hill on which they will die.

It is my opinion that the SBC Council has just fallen into the pit it has dug. In other words, in denouncing the NIV 2011 in another attempt to marginalize women, they have succeeded in marginalizing themselves. On various blogs, I have read comments by several Southern Baptists members who have said, "The SBC council speaks for itself, not for me."

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I really appreciate your comments. They give me a lot to think about with respect to the American context. Thanks so much.

Donald Johnson said...

ALL evaluation functions work both ways, even if thought to be one-way. The SBC has put yet another thing on their plate that they will need to repent from, hopefully sooner than the slavery issue.