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:: Tuesday, February 22, 2005 ::

TNIV, "Inclusive Langugage" and a comment on another's blog

Tim Bednar of E-Church has an interesting post on the relative merits of using the TNIV: a translation that is becoming more well-known for dealing with the masculine pronoun problems of the original NIV.

I think the TNIV could be a translation I use a lot - since I grew up on the NIV. It's one I could memorize and recite without so many of the gender questions being thrust to the forefront when I use it. But I also feel some ambivalence. Here's the comment I dropped on Tim's post.

Good thoughts on the TNIV. I grew up on the NIV, but I used the NRSV extensively in Seminary. As a language nerd, I use Greek a lot now for most stuff in the NT. I can't wait to get my hands on a TNIV - it'll be easier than stumbling to fix the gender questions all the time in public reading of scripture.

I would observe one thing that makes me a bit ambivalent about the inclusive language work: Take Galatians 3:26, ff. The NIV, and a bludgeoningly-literal translation of the Greek say "You are all SONS of God through faith in Christ Jesus... there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus."

Now, the NRSV says "in Christ Jesus you are all CHILDREN of God through faith." Perfectly reasonable inclusive-language translation, and very commendable. Much easier if you want to read it and not have to explain that "sons" means everyone.

But allow me to be the picky scholar for a moment: could it be that by translating "Children" rather than "sons" we have inadvertently dropped some of the radicality of what Paul was saying to his original hearers for the sake of today's hearers?

In Paul's day, only sons (typically) could inherit anything from their father. In this passage (Gal. 3:15 - 4:7), Paul is using an extended inheritance metaphor to describe our relationship to God by faith. By saying to both his male and female listeners that they are all SONS of God he is making the bald-faced declaration that all women have been RAISED to the status of inheritors just like the men. It is a statement of (not merely) equality between men and women but that all women (and for that matter, younger brothers) have the opportunity to receive what only the highest of the hierarchy could hold!

To take it one step further, the Greek for "children" (there are actually several different Greek words that we translate "children" in English) does NOT imply inheritance, only paternity. Of course, such a distinction was profound in the first century. One could (most definately) be one's biological child without sharing in the inheritance.

Perhaps for today, too: instead of being sired by an absentee father who wants us all to get along because we're really all alike, we are being called inheritors of all that God is and has.

All of which gives me pause. I will use the TNIV and NRSV, I speak in terms of "person" and "humankind" rather than "him" and "mankind" in daily speech: I just wonder if by solving one real, important problem, we're causing another.

Further thoughts?

:: Matt 2/22/2005 09:02:00 PM :: permalink :: ::
By way of introduction, I blogrolled my way here several months ago and have been reading on and off since then. So, you don't know me (although I did live in Champaign in the 60's and 70's - ouch, that was a long time ago).

I read your post this morning, thought, "that's interesting" then went downstairs to start on school work with my kids. The first thing we do is bible reading. We listen to audio and follow along in our bibles making notes and discussing. We are listening to the NIV, but I am reading out of the TNIV so often notice the differences between the two translations. (It's certainly not just gender changes as some people seem to imply.)

In any case, today we did Romans 8 and as we got to verse 15 the TNIV said "... the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship." with a footnote reference to "the Greek word for adoption to sonship was a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted mail heir in Roman culture." This naturally got me to thinking about your post again, so once we were finished I came up and gave it a second look. In looking at the Galatians 3:26 - 4:7 reference I noticed that the term adoption to sonship and the same footnote were also there (4:5), and then in 4:6 it still says "sons" rather than children. So, I'm wondering if even though it doesn't say "sons" in 3:26 if it doesn't really become apparent that it was talking about raising us into what would be considered an exclusive inheritance, when read in context.

Of course, I wonder too, if many modern people (especially Americans) won't have a strong sense of what it is like to be "the younger, not eligible for inheriting brother" because we do not daily see evidence of what this actually means to someone (or ourselves). Is that imagery going to make much sense to us in other translations that aren't using gender neutral words?

So perhaps it's important to say that understanding the culture in which the bible was written is a must no matter which translation you are using. Footnotes and context can help to keep the original meaning clear when it might seem that the gender neutral word doesn't convey it quite right. The translators must've thought about it since they left some of the references to son rather than changing them to child.

Hope I haven't rambled too much. Very interesting post. Cheers!
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