I was recently involved in a discussion on Jesus Creed regarding the gender-neutral language of the newly released TNIV. In as much as it opened up a can of worms that I couldn’t adequately close without a lengthy discourse, I thought it best to post my thoughts here on iustificare.
For those new to the controversy, the TNIV has attempted to arrive at what has commonly been called “gender inclusive language.” The idea is that terms such as “mankind,” “man,” “brothers,” etc., when clearly intended to designate both masculine and feminine subjects, are better translated in a gender-neutral manner. Thus Matthew 4:19--
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men" (NIV).
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people"(TNIV).You get the idea. Proponents of the TNIV (as well as other similar translations of the Bible) have suggested that such a translation is actually more accurate in that it conveys in the English what was intended by the original authors. Sounds plausible enough, but I have two difficulties with such an approach.
First, in my mind, little regarding the issue of clarity has been advanced. Did anyone really think that only males were going to be the subjects of evangelism? Not likely. For the past 2000 years (and more) the people of God have understood that male specific designators such as “man,” “brothers,” etc., when used inclusively, are meant to designate a female audience as well. Advocates of the TNIV will not easily concede this point, but in as much as it is the lesser of my concerns, I leave it now to press on with my main objection.
It seems to me that the real impetuous driving the use of gender-inclusive language is the overwhelming bent toward egalitarianism in our wider secular culture. Clearly the male laden language of scripture is not politically correct in the face of society that, for the most part, refuses to grant any distinctions between male and female that extend beyond the anatomical. Such sentiments are not foreign to our evangelical culture. Though far more conservative socially than much of our wider culture, evangelicals have felt the weight of the egalitarian agenda. (Trinity Journal, for example, asks that papers submitted for publication utilize gender-inclusive language.) Such egalitarian pressure has been of great value in reminding our culture about the dignity and worth of what has been unfortunately termed the “lesser” sex, but have we lost something in our rush for equality? I believe so.
In as much as the TNIV strives for clarity—so be it. But I worry that in its aim for clarity, the egalitarian bent of the TNIV has inadvertently obscured an element of Trinitarian thought that is of great worth and beauty. Consequently, in the next number of posts I will be laying out my arguments against the use of gender inclusive language, suggesting that there is a correlation between Trinitarian theology and the use of masculine-representative language.