God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

On Gender

With Zondervan’s announcement that the (T)NIV will be updated, the debate about gender, language, and translation is sure to rage anew.

According to a report in USA Today (thanks to BBB for noticing), Douglas Moo, chair of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation, promises that the committee will, “review every single gender-related decision” they have made.

Gender is a hot topic.

For example, Dr. Jim West laments that “If a translation sets out to adjust the text simply for modern tastes and sensibilities, it isn’t worth a pot. If it says ‘he’ translate ‘he’ and let the exegetes worry about whether or not it’s generic for ‘humankind’ or gender specific.”

Yet everyone agrees that Genesis 1:11 is about trees that bear fruit “with seed in it, according to their various kinds” (NIV), not “…with seed in him” (no one translates this way) or “…after his kind” (KJV). That’s because the Hebrew bo (“in him”) refers to any grammatically masculine noun. But in English, we use “his” only for nouns that are animate, preferring “its” for inanimate nouns. (English didn’t always work this way. That’s why we find “his” in the KJV.)

Once we agree that some originally gendered language has to be rendered non-gendered in English, we really do have to revisit every decision, hopefully in the light of sound linguistic theory, a topic I’ll turn to soon.

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September 1, 2009 - Posted by | Bible versions, translation theory | , ,

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