Last spring a major controversy erupted within evangelical publishing. Under the headline “The Stealth Bible,” World magazine [3/29/97, pp. 12-15] announced that Zondervan was planning to introduce a gender-neutral edition of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. The NIV is the translation found in the majority of evangelical pews, including the pews at Tenth.

The decision to publish an inclusive-language Bible met with a storm of protest. Christian leaders were alarmed that the decision to go gender-neutral was made by a publisher rather than by the church. They were also concerned about the confusion that would result if two versions of the NIV were available simultaneously.

Under duress, Zondervan abandoned its plans to make gender-related changes to the NIV. They had already begun to sell an inclusive-language NIV in England, but agreed to pull it off the shelves. Since that time, the inclusive-language NIV has been selling like wildfire on the evangelical black market [Christianity Today, 9/1/97, p. 78].

One alarming aspect of the controversy over the Stealth Bible is that decisions about the Word of God are now made on the basis of economics. Bible publishing is big business. However, one good thing to come out of the controversy was a series of “Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture.” Their purpose is to make sure the Bible more evangelicals use than any other remains accurate.

In some cases, accurate translation means using gender-neutral language. Here are some examples. In Matthew 12:36 Jesus says, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” The word for “men” in that verse is the Greek anthropoi, which refers to people in general. So the verse accurately can be translated like this: “On the day of judgment, people will have to give an account for every careless word they speak.”

Another example comes from Matthew 16:24, where the King James Version reads, “If any man would come after me.” But in Greek the verse does not say “man,” it uses the indefinite pronoun tis, which means “anyone.” So the NIV has it right: “If anyone would come after me.”

On many other occasions, however, gender-neutral language leads to false translations. The most obvious example would be to use feminine pronouns to refer to the Godhead. God does not have a gender, of course, but Jesus taught us to call him “Father.” Thankfully, the proposed revision of the NIV did not even consider referring to God as “our Mother in heaven.”

Similarly, God the Son should be called “man.” The inclusive-language NIV strayed from this usage. For example, instead of saying “it is better for you that one man die for the people,” Caiaphas the High Priest says, “it is better for you that one person die for the people” (John 11:50). Jesus Christ is a person, of course, but he also has a gender. Therefore, it is proper to refer to him as “man.”

This is especially true when the Bible draws a comparison between Adam and Jesus. It was as a man that Adam represented his fallen race, and it was as a man that Christ redeemed his people. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life thorugh the one man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17).

This raises the question of whether or not the term “man” ought to be used to refer to the human race. What was once standard English now is often frowned upon. In academic circles, referring to “mankind” arouses a storm of protest.

Yet this is the way God himself first addressed humanity. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them (vv. 1b-2a). Here we see the true equality of men and women. Both the man and the woman were made in the image of God. Yet God proceeds to use the term “man” to refer to male and female alike. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.” (v. 2b; cf. Gen. 1:26-27). Therefore, using the term “man” to refer to human beings in general is not a relic from patriarchal times. It is not a human invention at all; it comes from the mouth of God.

One more translation issue is particularly difficult to resolve. How should the word “son” (Gk. huios) be translated? You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (Gal. 4:7). It can be difficult for God’s daughters to think of themselves as sons. So perhaps it would be better to say, “You are no longer a slave, but a child.” The only problem is that this obscures an important fact about inheritance law in the ancient world. The full rights of inheritance belonged to sons. Therefore, the point is that every child of God receives a full inheritance in Christ.

Incidentally, men have the same difficulty when the church is described as the bride of Christ (e.g. Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 21:2). It will not do to say that the church is the “spouse” of Christ. The Bible definitely intends to say that Christians are becoming like a bride: pure, virginal and beautiful.

When it comes to brides, or to sons, Christians must understand biblical images the way God means them to be understood. Like everything else in the Christian life, the Word of God has to be taken by faith. Trusting God includes trusting him to say what he means and mean what he says. To translate the Bible inaccurately is to mistrust God as well as to misquote him. And whenever God is mistrusted or misquoted he is liable to be misunderstood.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org