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Response to Becky Groothuis' Paper

by Robert M. Bowman

Note: Becky's paper is available here.

This article is provided in response to a discussion on the subject of gender-inclusive language Bibles. It is posted here as a service to the members of the AR-talk mailing list, and provided under these terms.

[Becky Groothuis:] Some on this list have responded to my little essay on inclusive language translation by bringing up issues and objections that were beyond the scope of the essay.

My post was not responding to Becky's paper at all. I was responding to someone else's post who wanted to know what the main criticisms of the NIVI were.

My intent was simply to show that the incendiary accusations against the NIVI that mobilized the masses to revolt (which, in turn, provided the leaders of the opposition with the populist clout they needed to force IBS to back down) was based on a fallacy: namely, that the move to use inclusive language in Bible translation is a move toward neutering the Bible, rendering it unisex, and obliterating gender differences. The use of such argumentation--despite its powerful effect on an unthinking and uninformed evangelical public--should be shunned by those who should know better. Unfortunately, it was not.

I may be uninformed, but I have not run across public criticisms of the NIVI that criticized all "inclusive language in Bible translation." The criticisms have been directed to allegely inappropriate forms of inclusive language -- which the NIVI is said to contain. Perhaps, as I said, I have missed what some of the critics said. In any case, the more responsible critics, those represented by the CBMW for example, do not seem to take such a shrill approach.

Another profound misconception (not addressed in my essay) is that inclusive language translations are primarily out to promote an egalitarian or feminist agenda. If this were so, there would not be so many traditionalist scholars who support such translations.

Which traditionalist scholars specifically supported the NIVI? Of course traditionalists can be found who favor a moderate use of inclusive language (including the CBMW people themselves), but this general statement does not address the specific issue of the types of changes in the NIVI to which traditionalists have objected.

Becky, of course, does support an egalitarian agenda, which is why she is so harshly critical of the critics of the NIVI. Would that be fair to say?

These people realize it is just as easy to argue for gender hierarchy from an inclusive language translation as from, say, the current NIV.

It is? I find this surprising.

(Of course, this would not include the more extreme traditionalists who really seem to believe men are more important to God and the church than are women and so insist that the very philosophy of the language into which the Bible is translated should reflect the centrality and normativity of maleness in both the divine and human agendas.)

In all honesty, I have no idea who these "more extreme traditionalists" are. Are all complementarians in this category?

Regarding Acts 1:21, which Rob Bowman cites as evidence of an egalitarian agenda in the NIVI: First, referring to the Twelve as "those" does not open church leadership to women, and referring to them as "men" does not restrict church leadership to men. The exact word Peter used in this context proves nothing. Obviously, the Twelve were all men, just as they were all Jewish. It does not necessarily follow from this fact that all church leaders should always be men (or Jewish--but no one makes this argument).

Oops. Acts 1:21 does not refer to *the Twelve" as "men," but to the entire pool of candidates for Judas's replacement: "It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us . . . one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22, NASB). "The men" here are probably the seventy (Luke 10:1ff.), but in any case are distinct from the Twelve, who Peter refers to here as "us." Thus, Peter specifies that Judas's replacement must be chosen from among the men -- which thus excludes women from consideration.

Of course, the apostles all happened to be Jewish, but one would not rightly infer from that fact that church leaders must all be Jewish. But this observation does not negate my point. (1) My point was not that Acts 1:21 proves that church leaders must all be men, but that apostles all had to be men -- and egalitarians find this restriction galling (since it implies that other offices *may* also be closed to women). (2) The pool of Jesus' followers in Acts 1 included no Gentiles, but did include women (as Acts 1:14 even makes explicit). In this light, Peter's limiting the pool of candidates for apostleship to men (aner) cannot be dismissed as insignificant.

There is even debate as to whether this lot-casting episode was entirely directed of the Holy Spirit or was largely Peter's own notion.

This appears to be a throw-away argument. There is no reason in this context to press the point unless you admit that Peter limited the pool of candidates to males. But Becky seems to be arguing otherwise.

Second, the NRSV (an inclusive language version) translates this word as "men," and I have no problem with that. The concept of inclusive language translation does not demand that "aner" be neutered when there is no real reason to do so (as in this case).

Evidently the NRSV translators recognized that the word does does refer specifically to men. Again, if it does, is this not proof that Peter thought only men should be apostles?

Opponents of inclusive language translation are quick to object to any perceived influence of an egalitarian agenda on translation. And it is quite right that theology and translation should remain as distinct as possible. What the Bible says, and the theological positions that can legitimately be derived from what the Bible says, are separate questions. Yet no one seems to object when advocates of a hierarchical theology attempt to justify the continued generic use of masculine terms on the basis of their male-centered theology. But should we allow the translation process to be co-opted by a very specific and debatable theological agenda?

Again, I apologize for my apparent ignorance, but I don't know who these prople are who advocate a "male-centered theology."

>Perhaps some of the folks who argue in this way are unaware that there exists good reason--on exegetical, theological, and logical grounds--to question the standard dogma on male hierarchy in the church and home. This is understandable because, as we know from sociology of knowledge, the terms of cultural debate are set by those who control the public discourse (which, in evangelical culture, are the traditionalists). As a result, the public rarely even hears of an alternative biblical view, and when it is mentioned it is typically caricatured and misrepresented beyond all recognition. And so the arguments against gender hierarchy are not even heard, much less honestly engaged by persons of intellectual integrity eager to arrive at an understanding of the truth.

I'm concerned about this uncritical use of the dogma taught within the sociology of knowledge that those who are in control set the terms of the debate so that alternative views go unheard. If this explains evangelical belief in "male hierarchy," why doesn't it explain evangelical belief in biblical inerrancy, or evangelicals' belief that homosexuality is sinful? This question isn't hypothetical, since opponents of these "traditional" evangelical positions make precisely the same argument from sociology of knowledge that becky makes here.

In any case, nobody is preventing *me* from considering both sides of the argument.

I have read carefully the writings of the critics of the NIVI, including the CBMW newsletter on the subject. There has lately been a fair amount of space and effort devoted to arguing against changing singulars to plurals in order to avoid the generic "he"; yet this objection to the NIVI has nothing to do with the rallying cries of "feminist seduction," "unisex Bible," and so forth. To say that pluralizing pronouns deemphasizes individuality is not exactly to demonstrate an obliteration of God-ordained gender differences!

Quite true. Again, though, in my post I was not making such extreme criticisms of the NIVI. Besides, the use of plurals in place of singular forms is only one of the problems that has been pointed out in the NIVI -- some of which do relate to the egalitarian vs. complementarian debate. Instead of focusing on whoever is using such inflammatory language as "unisex Bible," I would prefer to hear answers to the scholarly critics of the NIVI.

I may be breaking ranks with other egalitarians (if so, it won't be the first time), but I think the generic "he" should be retained in cases where plural or second person pronouns would move the sense of the text away from its intended meaning. If a passage that refers to both men and women uses the generic "he," its meaning should be clear enough as long as the antecedent is gender inclusive (e.g., person, people, or believers instead of man, men or brothers).

Fair enough, at least in passages where the antecedent in the original language text is "gender inclusive" (e.g., anthropos instead of aner).

I won't respond here to objections to inclusive language that are nothing more than arguments for male hierarchy (from which the generic use of masculine terms is presumed to follow naturally). I have dealt with all those arguments in *Good News for Women*. Summary papers of my main points in this book may be found at our Web site, www.gospelcom.net/ivpress/groothuis. My earlier book, *Women Caught in the Conflict*, refutes the oft-heard claim that to move toward biblical equality (or evangelical feminism) is to take the first step twoard an inevitable slide down the slippery slope to radical feminism, goddess religion, abortion and homosexual rights, and so on. (This is another false but highly effective rhetorical effort that trades on the ignorance of the evangelical public.)

I wonder if Becky would agree, though, that many so-called "biblical feminists" are moving down that slippery slope? Hardesty and Scanzoni are obvious examples.

Since Rob Bowman mentioned the Web site for CBMW, I see no reason not to give the Web site address for the evangelical counterpoint, Christians for Biblical Equality: http://www.chrbibeq.org/. After all, shouldn't we at least have a fair understanding of both positions before deciding on one?

Of course. I gave only the CBMW site because I was specifically responding to a post asking for information on the perceived problems with the NIVI. I'm all in favor of an open, free debate on these questions within the evangelical community.

I hope that our common commitment to Jesus Christ and the love and respect we have for each other as co-laborers in the ministry of the Word will overshadow any disagreements we may have on these matters.

--Rob Bowman

Robert Bowman works with Reflections Ministries, headed by Dr. Kenneth D. Boa, and teaches part-time at Luther Rice Bible College and Seminary in Lithonia, Georgia.


  • Becky Groothuis' message referred to and quoted in this message appears on this CounterPoint page.

Return to CounterPoint Menu
On The Gender-Inclusive NIV (NIVI) - Robert M. Bowman
The Bible and Gender-Inclusive Language - E. Calvin Beisner
Re: Debate on inclusive language Bible Translations - Becky Groothuis
Women in Christian Perspective (A Bibliography) - Robert M. Bowman

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