Gender-Inclusive Bible Translations

Every time, it seems, a new Bible translation reaches the public’s consciousness, a debate is ignited about said translation’s fidelity or lack thereof.

The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) has been out for several months, time enough for people to analyze the changes from its predecessor–the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)–and to form opinions about whether these changes strengthen or weaken the translation. An article in The Atlantic, published (not coincidentally) the day before the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) held their annual meeting, got the debate ball rolling. As teased by the provocative title, “Southern Baptists Embrace Gender-Inclusive Language in the Bible,” Jonathan Merritt (son of a former SBC president) and Garet Robinson allege that the CSB contains “hundreds of verses that fall within the ‘gender neutral’ category condemned in Southern Baptists’ own resolutions” and that these decisions illustrate “the kinds of quietly progressive changes that have been inserted into this conservative denomination’s Bible translation.” The implication is that the CSB translators are succumbing to cultural influence rather than sticking by their interpretive guns.

Denny Burk quickly responded by dismissing the accusation of gender-inclusiveness, saying, “It would be shocking if it were true. But it’s not true. In fact, it’s demonstrably false.” He pointed out that the CSB follows the Colorado Springs Guidelines for gender-related language. Trevin Wax, publisher of the CSB, followed with an interview with Ed Stetzer for Christianity Today in which he tried to allay concerns that the SBC was violating its previous resolutions. He insisted that the CSB, far from being “gender-inclusive,” was striving to be “gender-accurate.” So when the Biblical author was referring to a male or group of men, masculine language is conveyed; and when when it is clear that both men and women were being referred to, words are used to accurately reflect that.

Indeed, each example referenced in The Atlantic article appears in step with that philosophy–changing “men of Israel” to “people of Israel,” or “likeness of men” to “likeness of humanity,” or “brotherly love” to “love as brothers and sisters.” It certainly can be debated whether such changes are necessary, more accurate, or even helpful. But as Burk observed, the authors of The Atlantic article “reveal very little evidence of familiarity with the debate or with the issues in contention.” Even Slate seems to think the accusations are missing the point.

Of course, criticisms of new translations are obligatory at this point. The red meat here appears to be the “liberalism in the SBC” narrative. And the fact is, narratives have power and labels (read: gender-inclusive) often stick. The conversation won’t be going away, so for the sake of biblical integrity and the peace of Bible-readers everywhere, we ought to think carefully.

So consider this an encouragement to resist label-making until the discussion is understood and the facts are examined. Christianity Today and The Gospel Coalition have recent, helpful articles about the translation discussion. And Bill Mounce has a wonderfully informative weekly blog over at Zondervan Academic which brings much-needed light to the entire translation discussion (start here and here).

Full disclosure: Baker Publishing Group is partnered with Holman to publish some Bibles in the CSB and will be using the CSB in some forthcoming Bible reference tools.

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About Christopher

I am husband to London, and father of Maggie and Russell. I have worked as Academic Buyer at Baker Book House since 2016.
This entry was posted in Around the Web, Bible Translation, Bibles. Bookmark the permalink.

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