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7/24/97 Bible translation ‘suppositions’ draw differences between scholars

ATLANTA (BP)–True or untrue?
Among critics of plans to revise the New International Version Bible translation with gender-inclusive language — plans now abandoned — a key supposition is: “Gender-inclusive language is driven by a feminist agenda,” according to a scholar who presented a “Bible controversy” workshop during the Christian Booksellers Association mid- July annual meeting in Atlanta.
The supposition is “patently untrue,” said John R. Kohlenberger III of Troutdale, Ore.
A prominent Southern Baptist Bible scholar, however, maintained that “substantive issues” are involved in the controversy.
The issues “relate to the current culture war between biblical Christianity and secularism,” said E. Ray Clendenen, general editor of The New American Commentary of the Baptist Sunday School Board’s Broadman & Holman publishing arm, in a written statement issued after he listened to a tape of Kohlenberger’s workshop.
A second supposition, which Kohlenberger said also is “patently untrue,” is: “Gender-inclusive language would be applied to God and to distinctions between men and women in church roles and in family roles.”
While Clendenen acknowledged the abandoned revision had not intended to apply inclusive language to God, he said “there is evidence that it was going to affect some passages relating to family and church roles.”
Kohlenberger, a writer, lecturer and consultant to the Christian book industry, is the author or co-editor of more than two dozen biblical reference books and study Bibles, including the “The NIV Bible Commentary.”
Clendenen has been a BSSB staff member since 1992 and an adjunct professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky since 1993. He was head of the Old Testament and Hebrew department at Criswell College in Dallas from 1982-92.
Kohlenberger told his workshop audience, “There has always been gender-inclusive translation. Always. It’s not a new thing.” Today, he said, “it’s just more thorough in its application.”
Gender-inclusive translation dates “all the way back to the pre- Christian translation of our Hebrew Old Testament — the Septuagint, the Greek version — through the first English Bibles, all the way into the present,” Kohlenberger said.
The Septuagint was translated by “male rabbis. This is not your hotbed of feminism in the ancient world,” Kohlenberger quipped.
Even so, Clendenen said, “that has no bearing on whether such an agenda is influencing current translation practice. There are feminist agendas all over the place now that did not exist then. The question is not whether gender-inclusive translation principles are acceptable. The question is whether to employ them even in passages when biblical writers were being gender-specific.”
Clendenen acknowledged, “For the most part I think evangelical Bible translators and translation agencies are sincerely motivated by a desire to keep the Bible accurate in terms of recent changes in language … .
“The problem is with the ideological basis for those language changes,” Clendenen stated. “While a translator may not have a feminist agenda in reflecting those language changes in a Bible translation, those changes nevertheless may support secularist anti-biblical views. Rather than just asking how language is changing, a Bible translator should also ask why it is changing.”
Concerning his second supposition, Kohlenberger stated, “The more gender-inclusive translations of the 1990s do not obscure the distinctions between men and women in passages that clearly address the genders distinctly and specifically.”
He then challenged: “Check out any version in the following key texts to demonstrate that they have no ‘feminist’ agenda.” He listed the husband-wife passages 1 Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19 and 1 Peter 3:1-7 and the church office passages 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5-9.
Clendenen, however, noted two inclusive-language revisions of the NIV already have been published. One was published in England last year and ignited controversy once it was reported a similar NIV revision was likely headed for the U.S. market. The other is the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) available in the United States but which is currently being revised to restore gender-specific language.”
Clendenen cited a key example: “Although the Hebrew word for ‘father’ can also mean simply ‘ancestor,’ intending no gender specification, and often what the Bible says to fathers applies equally to mothers, I believe that in some instances the NIrV chose wrongly (as have most other recent translations) to translate the word as ‘parent.’
“There is a principle in the Bible, that many men have recently rediscovered, of ultimate male responsibility in home and church,” Clendenen continued. “Since the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden, God seems to hold the men primarily responsible when families or God’s people go astray. Yet in Exodus 20:5 the NIrV (like the NRSV and others) translates ‘I punish the children for the sin of their parents,’ rather than ‘fathers’ as in the NIV, King James Version and others.”
Clendenen added the Contemporary English Version even removes all references to male church leadership in 1 Timothy 3.
Clendenen said he believes “the recent controversy has served to illuminate for us a dangerous path we have been traveling in Bible translation.” Bible translators should “continue to communicate biblical principles regarding maleness and femaleness to a world that is increasingly departing from those principles, to its own destruction.”
Kohlenberger stated to his workshop, “Bible translators, for the most part, do not want to dabble with the original text. That is delivered once and for all to the saints. That is a sacred trust that does not get altered.”
At the same time, he said, “We may not like changes in our language, but we have to recognize them and respond to them, or we will miscommunicate or fail to communicate.”