God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

More Thoughts About Gender

Last week, I presented some theory about gender (first here and then here). Recent posts (from Damian Caruana on the lack of feminine language for Jesus, for example) show the issue is still on people’s minds.

To complement my theory-oriented introduction last week, here are three examples to think about:


  • Lord. Most modern English speakers think of “lord,” and, therefore, “Lord” (and “LORD”) as masculine. The term comes from British society, and though most lords were and are men, the word is actually gender neutral. So when Dame Mary Donaldson became mayor of London, her title was “The Right Honourable Lord Mayor.” Similarly, a woman who owned a manor was the “lord of the manor.” (The English word “Lord” was used to translate the Greek kurios, that Greek word being the most common representation in the LXX of the Hebrew tetragrammaton [yud-heh-vav-heh].)

    Which is more important: the common (masculine) understanding of the word or the (gender-neutral) technical definition?

  • President. There is no inherent gender in the English word “president,” and, as the word relates to positions in companies, both men and women are called “president.” Yet in the United States, we have yet to have a woman serve as president, so the term “President of the United States” has so far applied only to men.

    Which is more important: the de facto (masculine) use of the word, or the potential (gender netural) use?

  • Almighty. This is a fascinating one. The Hebrew, El Shaddai is one of those phrases that no one can agree on. The first word clearly means “God.” The second one is anyone’s guess. (The LXX tends not to translate it at all.) Curiously, the word sounds like it could be connected to “breasts.” (It also sounds like it could come from “plunder” or “demon.”)

    What are we to make of this vague connection?

September 13, 2009 Posted by | general linguistics | , , , , | 4 Comments