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Some gender translations can weaken Bible’s personal touch, scholar says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)-Changing the pronouns “he,” “him” and “his” in translating Scripture may undercut the Bible’s personal touch, said Ray Clendenen, associate general editor of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

A key biblical theme – one that has made “a profound impression on Christians through the centuries,” Clendenen said – is “the stress the Bible places on the importance of the individual.”

“Many Bible scholars are concerned to provide the church with a Bible translation that does not make women feel slighted or overlooked,” Clendenen acknowledged. “One of the most common ways of achieving this goal is to render Greek or Hebrew masculine singular nouns and pronouns as plurals. ‘He,’ ‘him’ and ‘his,’ then, often become ‘they,’ ‘them’ and ‘their.'” But, he explained, “This changes an aspect of the biblical message at that point by changing the audience or person concerned from an individual to a group.

“The Bible shows God confronting not just humanity,” Clendenen said, “but individuals with their sin and warning individuals of judgment to come.

“Similarly, the Bible confronts individuals with the claims of Christ and calls upon not just ‘us’ but ‘me’ to turn from sin, to trust Christ and to enjoy a personal and intimate relationship with him.”

Where the original biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew do not utilize masculine pronouns, the HCSB translators used language that can refer to both men and women, Clendenen said. But where the Greek and Hebrew refer specifically to “he,” “him” and “his,” the HCSB has maintained a priority on accuracy by translating the pronouns in their masculine form, he said.

Revelation 3:20 is an example Clendenen noted of a Bible verse “commonly used to invite someone to have a personal relationship with Christ.” The HCSB renders the verse as “Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me.”

A gender-inclusive Bible translation, meanwhile, might say that Jesus will eat with “them,” and “they” with him, Clendenen said.

“By not eliminating generic masculine singular nouns and pronouns,” he noted, “the HCSB has sought to maintain the biblical stress on individual blessings and accountability.”

The Holman Christian Standard Bible is being produced by a 95-member team of interdenominational Bible scholars and editors for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Clendenen, in addition to serving as the HCSB’s associate general editor, is general editor of B&H’s 40-volume New American Commentary series.