God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Gendered Culture and Gendered Language

In another discussion of gender, John challenges: “Given something like Acts 7:32 ‘I am the God of your fathers [pateres], the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’, who would have the burden of proof? Was it the God of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel? If the one writing this text was of a gender neutral mentality, isn’t that what he would say?”

I think we have to distinguish between gender bias in culture and in language. It’s pretty clear that Acts here (apparently quoting Exodus 3:6, which, curiously, has “…God of your father [sic],….”) only refers to the men. But this doesn’t necessarily tell us what pateres means, because we have two options that are both supported by the text:

1. The word pateres only means men.

2. The word pateres means ancestors of any gender, but in this case only the men were important.

In other words, the specific listing of the men and not the women may be evidence of a gender bias in the language or in the culture (or both). To put it another way, we can admit that the writer was not “of a gender neurral mentality” without coming to a conclusion about what pateres, means.


September 17, 2009 - Posted by | translation theory | , , , ,

1 Comment

  1. Do you think Moses had two fathers, in Hebrews 11. I don’t think you can make any sense at all out of any Greek narraative if you assume that the plural had a male meaning.

    That would make Cleopatra and Ptolemy brothers, rather than brother and sister, and Moses would have two fathers, and the nation of Israel would be called in English the “sons of Israel.” But at some point, we just translate these terms in a gender neutral way, when that is the only way to make the narrative have meaning.

    Comment by Sue | September 17, 2009

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