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Avoid Gender Neutrality Like the Plague! Here’s Why

December 14th, 2010
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Keep in mind, friends, that the same gender neutrality that plagues the new NIV edition, also plagues the Kolb/Wengert Book of Concord, where, for example, in the Smalcald Articles, the translation intentionally distorts the original language to allow for women clergy. See the discussion on the pastor’s self-communion in the SA. Go ahead, track it down. In spite of this being drawn to the attention of the editors and translator and publisher, these egregious error stands to this day in the Kolb/Wengert edition.

And to illustrate the dangers of gender neutrality for theology, this is a very useful blog post by Denny Burk. The essay below appeared yesterday on the “Perspectives in Translation” website. It concerns how the Greek word anthrōpois should be translated in 2 Timothy 2:2. Craig Blomberg has argued that it should be rendered as “people” (as it appears in NIV 2011), but I argue that it should be translated as “men.” Here’s how other translations handle the term:

NIV (1984)

One other thing before moving on to my response. Two prominent egalitarian New Testament scholars agree with me on this translation—I. Howard Marshall and Luke Timothy Johnson. Johnson is an unabashed liberal in his view of scripture, but I think his comments on this text are apt:

“The phrase pistois anthrōpois could be translated as ‘faithful people,’ since anthrōpos is inclusive for all humans, in contrast to anēr, which can mean only males. I translate ‘faithful men,’ however, because that is clearly what the text means. In the case of the Pastorals, an attempt to create a gender-inclusive translation only camoflouges the pervasive androcentrism of the composition. For better or for worse, the assumptions of the author’s culture (or place within his culture) should be accepted by the translation. It is the task of hermeneutics to decide what to do about those assumptions” (The First and Second Letters to Timothy, p. 365).

Johnson thinks the text means “men,” even though he goes on to reject its normative significance for modern readers. Of course I disagree with his rejection of biblical authority, but his interpretation is certainly correct. My response to Blomberg is below.


Dr. Blomberg’s argument in favor of rendering anthrōpois as “people” is illuminating. 2 Timothy 2:2 has not been much of a flashpoint in the gender debate, and there is not much published material on the “men” vs. “people” question. Last week, I made my way through fourteen different commentaries on this verse. Out of the six of them that favored the translation “people,” not a single one of them put forth a sustained argument in favor of that translation. The most they have to offer is the observation that the plural of anthropos is regularly used generically. Thus Blomberg’s earlier post on this site is the most substantial argument in favor of “people” that I have read.

That being said, I do want to contest Dr. Blomberg’s conclusion that says “people” is “the only legitimate translation” of anthrōpois. It is true that the plural of anthropos is often used generically (e.g., 1 Tim 2:1, 4; 4:10; 6:5; 2 Tim 3:2; Tit 2:11; 3:2), but that fact is no argument for a generic referent in a given context. As Ray Van Neste pointed out in his post, if we want to understand the word’s appearance in 2 Timothy 2:2, we must look to context. So let me make some observations about the context that in my view tip the scales decisively in favor of the translation “men.”

First, there is precedent in the pastorals for Paul’s use of plural anthropos in a gender-specific way. In 2 Timothy 3:8, for instance, Paul writes, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose

the truth–men [anthrōpoi] of depraved minds,

who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.” The anthrōpoi here must be men since they are “worming their way into women’s homes” (Mounce, Pastoral Eptistles, p. 550). If this is correct, then the anthrōpoi of both 3:2 and 3:13 should be understood as males as well. Consider also the anthrōpoi of 1 Timothy 5:24: “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” In context, Paul is telling Timothy to be careful about whom he appoints as elders (v. 5:22: “Do not lay hands on a man too quickly”). Since Paul held to an all male eldership (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:2), the anthrōpoi of 5:24 must also be males. Given Paul’s use of anthrōpoi in a gender-specific way both in the pastorals and elsewhere (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:7), we have to allow for the possibility that context can determine anthrōpoi with a masculine referent.

Second, in the context of 2 Timothy 2, Paul is telling Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful anthrōpoi who will be able to teach others (2:2). Notice the one qualification that Paul has for the anthrōpoi. They must be qualified to teach “others.” This is significant because “others” is a masculine plural pronoun [ἑτέρους]. That means that “others” would consist of both men and women or of men only. Since Paul has already prohibited women from teaching Christian doctrine to men (1 Timothy 2:12), women would not be qualified to teach “others.” Thus, when Paul employs anthrōpoi here, he certainly has in mind males only. Contextually speaking, anthrōpoi must be gender-specific in this text. It seems that Paul wishes to emphasize the special responsibility that qualified men have to pass the faith on to the next generation.

With this interpretation in mind, we are in a position to answer Blomberg’s arguments in favor of “people.”

1. Blomberg argues that “people” is a grammatical “slam dunk” because the plural of anthropos is “regularly” used in a gender-inclusive way. Nevertheless, the regular use of anthropos in a gender-inclusive way is not argument for its meaning in a given context. Gender-specific uses of anthropos are also within the term’s range of possible meanings, so the argument for “people” has to be developed within the context of 2 Timothy (and the other pastorals). I do not think Blomberg has provided such an argument yet.

2. Blomberg argues that translating anthropois as “people” would not “infringe on those restrictions” Paul set up to prohibit women from teaching men. The problem with this argument is twofold. First, the term “others” is masculine plural, so the teaching of both men and women is in view. Thus, Blomberg cannot placate complementarian concerns with the suggestion that only the teaching of women and children is in view. Second, most English readers will read “people” in a gender-inclusive way. If Paul did not intend to be gender-inclusive in this text, why obscure the point for English readers?

3. Blomberg says that the translation “faithful men” will be heard by most readers as gender-specific, not as gender-inclusive. In this context, he is certainly right about this. But those who favor the translation “faithful men” do not do so because they believe “men” to be gender-inclusive. On the contrary, they favor “men” because they believe males are in view.

4. Blomberg also mentions his experience in parachurch organizations for whom this text is a staple. In those organizations, this text is a touchstone for understanding the organic disciple-making process that is incumbent upon all Christians, both men and women. I would argue that such organizations can still access this text in support of such disciple-making ministries. But when they do so, they should find that support in a legitimate implication of the text, not as Paul’s original meaning. In context, Paul is addressing the special responsibilities of church leadership who are supposed to be examples to the rest of the flock (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).

Finally, let me offer a word about how this text has been rendered in the NIV and its revisions since 1984.

Text of 2 Timothy 2:2 Marginal Notes
NIV 1984

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

TNIV 2002

And the things you have heard me say

in the presence of many witnesses

entrust to reliable peoplea who will also be qualified to teach others.

a 2 Or men
TNIV 2005

And the things you have heard me say

in the presence of many witnesses

entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

NIV 2010

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

Only one word has been changed in this verse from the 1984 NIV to the 2010 revision. “Men” has changed to “people.” The initial change occurred in TNIV 2002, and a marginal note was added to give the alternate interpretation from the NIV 1984. In the TNIV 2005 and in the NIV 2010, there is no indication in the notes at all about another possible interpretation of this text.

If my interpretation is correct, then anthrōpois should be rendered as “men” in the text of NIV 2011. Short of that, the marginal note that appeared in TNIV 2002 should be restored to show that there is another possible translation of the text.

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  1. pastor Taras Kokovsky
    December 14th, 2010 at 11:15 | #1

    thanks for useful post!

  2. December 14th, 2010 at 11:42 | #2

    The Smalcald reference mentioned at the beginning of this post (for those of us who couldn’t remember where it was off the top of our heads) is found in Kolb/Wengert at 302.8 or Triglot 464.8 or Concordia Reader’s Ed. 265.8. Thanks Pastor McCain for keeping this topic in front of us.

  3. Steve
    December 14th, 2010 at 13:10 | #3

    When does a bible become a paraphrase and not a translation?

  4. Veit
    December 15th, 2010 at 03:43 | #4

    Interestingly, in the 1545 edition of Martin Luther’s German translation (http://www.bibelcenter.de/bibel/lu1545/c2timo.htm) the word is rendered as “Menschen”, not “Männer”, i.e. in a gender-neutral way.

  5. December 15th, 2010 at 10:11 | #5

    I agree, of course, with everything that was written above, however it is also true that ESV engages in a little gender neutering of its own. 1 Co. 2:14 in ESV reads, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, …” As was stated above, because the Greek word being translated here is anthropos, one would expect to see “The natural man does not receive …,” as is the case in the KJV, RSV, and NKJV.

    I would also add, that while their are issues with Kolb/Wengert: gender neutering, the text they used, particularly in the AC & AP, their inclusion of the baptismal & marriage booklets, etc., I find their critical apparatus to be very helpful, particularly because they made every attempt to cite references to both the American Edition of Luther’s Works and to the common English translation of the Church Fathers.

    Although one must be aware of the bad, one sometimes has to take the bad with the good. Fortunately, we do not have to rely anymore on just one Bible translation or one English translation of the Bible. Plus, we now have ready access to the original languages as well.

    R. Lawson

    • December 15th, 2010 at 10:41 | #6

      Couple comments. I’m not as bothered about rendering a word, in Greek, which is clearly intended to be inclusive of both men and women. In the example in the blog post, that clearly is not the case.

      As for K/W. I’m sorry that you are not more troubled by a willful distortion of the original language, changing singular male pronouns, to plural non-specific plurals, to accomodate women’s and gay ordination. This is a horrible problem, symptomatic of others. As for the texts used in K/W, they are not necessarily those contained in the actual Book of Concord. Another huge issue. Then you have the importation into the footnotes of the K/W edition the revisionist history of what happened after Luther’s death and before the FC was written in 1577, to the point of inventing the word “Crypto-Philippists” which is absurd.

  6. Karen Keil
    December 15th, 2010 at 10:36 | #7

    Reading all this about the problematic 2011 NIV has brought back memories of the NIV. I was introduced to the NIV via the 1973 New Testament and then the 1978 whole NIV Bible, followed by the 1984 revision, which formed a definite part of my teen years and early 20s. I was not quite at ease even then about the ‘dynamic equivalence’ translation approach and was torn between the more literal translations and the NIV.

    I did not care about gender sensitivies even then–just wanted the most accurate translation of the Bible as humanly possible, complete with the original gender tenses. It was fine to have it translated as ‘people’ when the text did give the sense of ‘people’ (e.g. KJV sometimes did translate as “men” for places when it was actually people) but no further.

    When the TNIV came out, the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm, Lifeway, refused to stock it in its stores because of the gender neutral renderings. I don’t know if Lifeway will stock the 2011 NIV with its problematic renderings brought over from the TNIV. They may promote the Holman Christian Standard Bible even more strongly, copyrighted by Southern Baptist Convention. The HCSB is a much more conservative translation.

    Very good question about when does a Bible become a paraphrase and not a translation! It’s a slippery slope!

  7. December 15th, 2010 at 12:25 | #8

    I’m afraid I was misunderstood. I agree that the problems in Kolb/Wengert are significant and I agree that they present some very serious problems. In fact, Kolb/Wengert drives me nuts, though I use it in my personal study. In our congregational studies we use the new Concordia, though not surprisingly I don’t find that to be a perfect book either. Nevertheless, all of the members own one and we use it often in Sunday morning Bible study. Right now we’re reading through Article IV of the Apology. I myself prefer Jacobs, but, again, neither Concordia nor Jacobs provide any sort of critical apparatus, and therefore one is forced either to Tappert or Kold/Wengert. Of those two, I agree with Erling Teigen of Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, MN, that Kolb/Wengert is superior.

    As to the ESV rendition of 1 Co 2:14, “the natural man” is clearly a reference not to some generic person, but to our old Adam, therefore I find “natural person” to be troubling.

    Look, the only point I was trying to make with my first post, is that we don’t have to defend every decision that an editor author makes in order to make use of their material. What we do have to do, is to be aware that not everything we read, even from trusted sources is as it could or should be.

    R. Lawson

  8. Lindsey
    December 15th, 2010 at 14:18 | #9

    Hey Paul, this is kind of off the subject, but what do you think of Amplified Version?

  9. Randy Keyes
    December 16th, 2010 at 10:57 | #10

    As one here in Michigan, whose undergrad is from Cornerstone U which is in GR (home of the CRC), I find it sad that what was once a great gift from the mind of some dedicated believers in the Christian Reformed Church has degenerated into this “gender-neutral” insanity. Has it never occured to any of these folk that if God had wanted “gender nuetrality” he would have only made…one gender?

    Our Senior Pastor has the leadership reading Gene Veith’s _God at Work_ right now and it really opening my eyes and is directly applicable to this discussion. When we understand “vocation” then we can see how would directly apply to translating the various sections of scripture in 1 Timothy without becoming a “well, that’s not fair” session which results in translation that divests itself from the vocational intention of the passage.

    @Lindsey: The Amplified Bible is a project of the Lockman Foundation (as is the New American Standard Bible). If you were not dispensational in your end time theology, you were not allowed to work on the translation. Thus, no Lutherans, conservative Anglicans, or conservative Presbyterians were allowed to work on those projects, so it’s basically a Bapti-metho-costal translation (for lack of a better term and yes I realize some Baptists such at A.T. Robertson and some methodists are amill or are historic pre). :)

  10. December 20th, 2010 at 13:10 | #11

    I agree with Johnson. It is the responsibility of the translators to translate scripture regardless of how “sexist’ it may appear. The apparent sexism of the Bible must be addressed by pastors and theologians, not those translating God’s word.

Comments are closed.