The new gender-inclusive NIV was published earlier this year. It contains thousands upon thousands of changes to the Bible's male-gendered language. Having a gender-inclusive Bible appears to be the latest trend amongst cutting-edge, cappuccino-slurping Christian hipsters. Don't get me wrong. I like to be hip. And I enjoy cappuccino as much as the next person. But my biggest beef with gender-inclusive Bibles is that they lack doctrinal precision. If you mess with the words, you mess with the meaning. Respected Bible scholars have explained why inclusive translations such as the New International Version (NIV), New Revised Standard (NRSV), and Common English Bible (CEB) are deeply flawed. If you haven't yet considered their arguments, you might want to check out these Gender Neutral Bible Articles.
Notwithstanding the doctrinal imprecision and blatantly politically-correct translating agenda, there are additional reasons why I dislike gender inclusive Bibles. Undoubtedly the publishers had good intentions, and genuinely wanted to help women, but in my mind, a gender-inclusive Bible is BAD for women. Really, really bad for women! I react to people reading from the new, gender-inclusive NIV the way I react to nails scratching down a black board.
Here are ten reasons why:
1. It obscures the profound symbolism of gender:
Gender has a profound, cosmic meaning. God created manhood, womanhood, marriage and sex to put the love story of Christ and the Church on display. When we mess with the Bible's gender language, we obscure gender's symbolism. We make truths about God and the gospel more difficult to understand.
2. It exalts gender above that to which it points:
Changing the Bible's gender language implies that the Bible's gender language is about us. It's not. The Bible is ultimately not about male and female—it's about Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God. The Bible does not use predominantly male gendered language to exalt men; it uses it to exalt THE man who paid the ultimate price to redeem His Bride.
3. It diminishes the unique beauty of womanhood:
Blurring the Bible's gender language contributes to the blurring of gender distinctions. It diminishes and devalues the unique role and beauty of womanhood.
4. It is less inclusive of women:
Gender inclusive Bibles cast women as "other" rather than part of the collective whole. God collectively named male and female "man" (Hebrew: ‘adam. See Gen. 5:2) to indicate that male and female would share a common condition for which He would provide a common answer. Because both male and female are ‘adam, both are equally represented by the first man, Adam. Both are fallen and in need of a Savior. The good news of the gospel is that both are also equally represented by the Second Man—the Last Adam—Jesus Christ. When God named male and female ‘adam, he had the Last Adam in mind. So when, in order to appease modern sensibilities, we change "man" to something we think is more inclusive," we diminish the theological meaning and exclude woman. If woman is not specifically identified as "man" then how can she be represented by the first man, Adam? What's more, how can she be represented by the Second Man, the Last Adam, Jesus Christ? Gender inclusive Bibles are supposed to be more inclusive of women, but pardoxically, the language theologically does the exact opposite. It excludes women from the collective whole.
5. It demeans women:
Gender inclusive Bibles imply that women are too stupid to figure out that in the Bible, the words "man" and "brothers" are inclusive terms. The male translators have to fix the words for us, since we're not theologically astute enough or bright enough to get it on our own. Quite frankly, I feel like gender-inclusive Bibles insult a woman's intelligence.
6. It patronizes women:
Poor little girls. The translators need to change the words of the Bible so our feelings don't get hurt. Boo hoo. Women are so easily offended. Sorry, . . . but changing the words of the Bible because you think some women might be offended by its language is downright patronizing.
7. It calls God's attitude toward women into question:
Making changes to gender language is based on the premise that God ought to have given gals and guys equal air time. Trying to minimize the discrepancy suggests that God didn't care enough about women to take our feelings into account. The natural conclusion is that He obviously loves his boys more than He loves his girls. The conclusion is wrong. And the premise is wrong.
8. It calls God's wisdom into question:
Poor God. His bad. He needs our help. He wasn't smart enough to get the words right. He obviously isn't as enlightened as people living in the new millennium. We have to step in and update His image, to make the Bible more palatable to woman's modern sensibilities.
9. It encourages further changes to Scripture:
I know of at least one Muslim that is aghast that Christians would have the audacity to tamper with the wording of our Holy Book. And since we're audacious enough to tamper with gender wording for humans, it won't be long till we're audacious enough to tamper with gender wording for God. Translators will undoubtedly feel the need to update God's names so that HE becomes more gender inclusive. Terms like "Mother-Father God," "Jesus, child of woman and man," "Great Source of Being in the Sky" and our "God-Goddess" communicate the concept of a gender-inclusive deity much better than the male-gendered language of the Bible. Don't be naive. I've studied feminist theology long enough to know that naming self leads to naming the world leads to naming god. It's audacious indeed!
10. It leads women away from truth:
I care about women. Deeply. I long to see them experience healing and wholeness in Christ Jesus. I do them a disservice when I apologize for the Bible, fail to embrace its unvarnished beauty and power, and shrink back from sharing the Words that are perceived by some as foolishness and a stumbling block, yet are actually the power and wisdom of God for righteousness and sanctification and redemption. I fail women when I try to make God or His Word more palatable. I empty the cross of its power (1 Cor. 1:17-30).
Gender and gender language is important. It touches on the essence of a woman's identity, the essence of the character of God, and on the essence of the gospel. We get things so very wrong when we think we can improve on the Bible's teaching on gender or the gender language it uses. The big picture informs us that from the very beginning, God's plan for gender has very little to do with us and very much to do with Him. And we need to trust that even if we don't fully understand them, the words, images and means He has chosen to display His glory are not only right, they are also good. Very good! And also very good for women!
A Battle Worth Fighting
I understand that language changes over time, and that translation is not always an easy task. But I am saddened that Christians seem so eager to jump on the cultural bandwagon to update God's Holy Book with inclusive language. I don't think they realize what is at stake. I have had students struggle with understanding concepts about God because their native language did not lend itself to translating/expressing the gendered concepts that exist in the original languages of the Bible. We will lose something very critical and essential if we lose the linguistic concepts afforded us by the gendered nature of English. Retaining gender distinctiveness in our language is a battle worth fighting. There is a great deal at stake.
So ladies, please don't jump on the gender-inclusive Bible bandwagon. Be hip. Be courageous. Be politically incorrect. Insist on a Bible that acurately translates gender language- like the ESV, Holman Christian Standard, or New America Standard. Because in the end, inclusive language, and inclusive language Bibles, are very, very bad for women.
Mary Kassian is an author, speaker and professor of women's studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared on her website, GirlsGoneWISE.com. Born and raised in Canada, she lives with her husband in Edmonton, Alberta.
© Mary Kassian