The Wartburg Project

September 29th, 2016

23. How does EHV deal with so-called “gender inclusive” or “gender accurate” language?

Our basis principle was stated before the project began: In the use of so-called “gender-accurate language” the translator will strive to be inclusive where the original is inclusive and exclusive where the original is exclusive. This means translators are to be guided by the intent of the inspired author as it is indicated by the immediate and wider context of the passage. It recognizes that translation is more of an art or a practical skill rather than mechanically following a rule book.

This principle can be illustrated by the range of usage for the Hebrew word ben, which is glossed by the English word son. Son is the default translation or starting point for a translation of ben, but the context may indicate that the term ben or its plural bnei includes a range of meanings and connotations covered by other English words than the word son.

If the text names the twelve sons of Jacob, it is clear that the translation is sons of Israel. The connotation is clearly exclusive. If the subject is the nation of people descended from Jacob, the traditional translation has been children of Israel. We were very happy with this for 400 years, and it is fine for experienced readers of the Bible. But some new readers of the Bible might be confused and think this refers to young children. So in contexts that refer to the nation the translations people of Israel or Israelites will be clear to all readers. If the text is a list of men being registered for military duty or priestly duty, male descendants  would be a good translation.

Sometimes the phrase son of king x refers to a successor of that king who is not a descendant. In this case successor would be a good translation, probably with a footnote: literally son. If a king calls the king of another nation my son, he is claiming that he is the superior in the relationship.  This is probably best handled by retaining the word son and explaining with a footnote:  the word son here implies a subordinate relationship. The sons of a city may be the citizens of a city whether men or women.

All of these translations may be used by EHV translators to clearly reflect the intent of the author.

A good example of making an exclusive-sounding translation more inclusive is provided by 1 Timothy 2:4. In NIV 84 this was translated God wants all men to be saved. This was not intended to be exclusive, but today some people might hear it that way. The Greek word anthropos frequently refers to groups of people which include men and women. It also is clear from the context of Scripture that God wants all people to be saved, male and female. Since that is the case, the inclusive translation God wants all people to be saved is a better reflection of the Greek and of God’s message and is the direction EHV will go.

For application of the EHV principle (be inclusive where the original text is inclusive and exclusive where the original text is exclusive) to other gender-related terms see the section of the EHV rubrics on gender issues or search other gender-related terms like fathers and brothers in the rubrics.