Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gender Neutrality in the Bible, Again

The 2011 translation of the New International Version Bible (NIV) includes some gender neutral changes that are drawing criticism from some who believe that such changes "can alter the theological message."

Now, these changes apparently didn't involve anything as radical as, say, referring to god in gender neutral or hermaphroditic terms, mind you. They are changes that "avoid using 'he' or 'him' as the default reference to an unspecified person."

Nonetheless, the Legitimate Other Side to gender neutrality in the Bible was presented in this article by the patriarchalist Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) "an organization that believes women should submit to their husbands in the home and only men can hold some leadership roles in the church." A CBMW spokesman explains her* concern over changing the text of the Bible:

"Evangelicals believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of scripture. We believe every word is inspired by God, not just the broad thought," [Randy Stinson, president of CDMW] said.

Thus, like many critics of gender neutrality in the Bible, Stinson is arguing that making the Bible a bit more gender neutral results in making the Bible a less accurate reflection of "God's" word.

Yet, I was pleased (and honestly, surprised) to see that the AP article actually mentioned how, like, the Bible wasn't originally written in English, as that's a fun fact that some patriarchalist Christians seem not to know. One linguist explains:

"While the change to the generic 'man' in verses like Matthew 4:4 is applauded by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, linguist Joel M. Hoffman, author of 'And God Said — How Translations Conceal the Bible's Original Meaning,' said it is simply incorrect.

"'Anthropos' (the Greek word in the original text) means 'person,' plain and simple," he said. 'It's as much a mistake as translating 'parent' as 'father.'"
He doesn't buy the argument that 'man' is understood in English to refer to men and women.

'If you walk into a church on Sunday morning and say, 'Will every man stand up?' I would be shocked if the women stood up, too.'"

Now, it is true that some passages in the Bible are irredeemably sexist and oppressive toward women. Yet, it is also true that at least some passages could be redeemed to reflect a purported word of god that is, not only less male-centric, but also truer to the original texts.

Patriarchal Christians, however, are unwilling to make concessions that do not favor maintaining male supremacy. In insisting on "gender-neutral" masculine pronouns that are inconsistent with the original Greek, Patriarchal Christians do not concern themselves with the trivial matter of the demands it places on half of its congregants, who must do a translation of a translation of a translation just to see themselves reflected in the word of "God."

And so I would tell this subordinate, marginalized half: When patriarchalists say that their male-centric version of Christianity is more accurate, more divinely-ordained, than a gender neutral one, it's helpful to remember Mary Daly's maxim that "patriarchs are always the reverse of what they claim to be."

*Actually "him," but what's the harm in starting a trend of making "her" the default "gender-neutral," am I right? Soon enough, Everyone Will Just Know that "her" really means "her" and "him" (but really, usually just "her").


Gendered Language Shapes Our Minds

Critic of Biblical Gender Inclusion: Mansplaining Needed

Review: Out of the Silent Planet

"Gender Neutral Masculine" is an Oxymoron

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