This Article Contains
- New Revised Standard Version
- The Common English Bible
- New International Version (2011 Edition)
- New Living Translation
- Contemporary English Version
Overview Of 5 Gender-Neutral Translations
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The NRSV is a revision of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and was first published in 1989. Even though it does not use the term in its marketing, it is often described as the first explicitly 'gender-neutral', English translation of the Bible. As stated in its Introduction:
The NRSV stands out among the many translations because it is 'as literal as possible' in adhering to the ancient texts and only 'as free as necessary' to make the meaning clear in graceful, understandable English. (...) It differs from the RSV in four primary ways:
- updating the language of the RSV, by replacing archaic forms of speech addressed to God (Thee, Thou, wast, dost, etc.), and by replacing words whose meaning has changed significantly since the RSV translation (for example, Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 11.25 that he was 'stoned' once)
- making the translation more accurate,
- helping it to be more easily understood, especially when it is read out loud, and
- making it clear where the original texts intend to include all humans, male and female, and where they intend to refer only to the male or female gender.
Many people like the NRSV because it is the updated version of the classic RSV with a particular focus on gender-neutral references to humanity. Despite continuing to use male-specific language in reference to God, it is one of the better 'inclusive-language' texts.
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The Common English Bible (CEB)
The CEB, completed in 2011, was born out of the desire to offer a Bible that 'is both faithful to the original languages and accessible to the general reader'. To achieve this goal, it uses a combination of language that is 'clear and natural' as well as language that is 'literary and beautiful'.
With regard to the use of pronouns, the Editorial Board of the CEB explains:
In ancient Hebrew and Greek, a pronoun is often bound with the verb. If the translator is too literal, the English reader loses the antecedent of the pronoun so that one cannot tell who is speaking or acting in the sentence or paragraph. This problem occurs throughout much biblical literature. The CEB addresses this issue by substituting a noun for a pronoun, but only when the antecedent is clear. Because this problem and its resolution are so common, the CEB usually does not offer footnotes to identify these substitutions. CEB translators also use gender-inclusive or neutral syntax for translating pronouns that refer to humans, unless context requires otherwise.
One controversial aspect of the CEB is its use of the term the 'Human One' as a translation of the terms 'ben adam' (Hebrew) and 'huiou anthropou' (Greek), both of which have traditionally been translated as 'Son of Man'. For example, the CEB uses 'Human One' throughout the New Testament to refer to Jesus, probably to emphasise the humanity of Christ as an integral part of the Incarnation. The language of Jesus as Son of God is retained, though.
Here is the CEB's own explanation of this translation choice:
Why 'Human One'? Jesus’s primary language would have been Aramaic, so he would have used the Aramaic phrase bar enosha. This phrase has the sense of 'a human' or 'a human such as I.' This phrase was taken over into Greek in a phrase that might be translated woodenly as 'son of humanity.' However, Greek usage often refers to 'a son of x' in the sense of 'one who has the character of x.' For example, (...), in the Greek of Acts 13:10, Paul calls a sorcerer 'a son of the devil.' This is not a reference to the sorcerer’s actual ancestry, but it serves to identify his character (…) Human or human one represents accurately the Aramaic and Greek idioms and reflects common English usage. Finally, many references to Jesus as 'the Human One' refer back to Daniel 7:13, where Daniel 'saw one like a human being' (Greek huios anthropou). By using the title Human One in the Gospels and Acts, the CEB preserves this connection to Daniel’s vision.
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New International Version (NIV) – 2011 Edition
The 2011 edition of the NIV is a significant revision of the NIV first published in 1978. It is one of the most widely read Bible versions in the world, and it is favoured by many for its readability. The 2011 translation has also been praised by many for its gender-inclusive language. One example of this is its use of the term 'brothers and sisters' to refer to the Christian community. Another example is its use of the term 'believers' to refer to all Christians, including both men and women.
One of the main reasons the task of Bible translation is never finished is the change in our own language, English. Although a basic core of the language remains relatively stable, many diverse and complex linguistic factors continue to bring about subtle shifts in the meanings and/or connotations of even old, well-established words and phrases. One of the shifts that creates particular challenges to writers and translators alike is the manner in which gender is presented. The original NIV (1978) was published in a time when 'a man' would naturally be understood, in many contexts, to be referring to a person, whether male or female. But most English speakers today tend to hear a distinctly male connotation in this word. In recognition of this change in English, this edition of the NIV, along with almost all other recent English translations, substitutes other expressions when the original text intends to refer generically to men and women equally. Thus, for instance, the NIV (1984) rendering of 1 Corinthians 8:3, 'But the man who loves God is known by God' becomes in this edition 'But whoever loves God is known by God.' On the other hand, 'man' and 'mankind,' as ways of denoting the human race, are still widely used. This edition of the NIV therefore continues to use these words, along with other expressions, in this way.
So, it's worth noting that this inclusive-language edition doesn't go as far as other translations in terms of revisions. However, the NIV still counts as one of the better gender-inclusive translations.
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New Living Translation (NLT)
The NLT was published in 1996. It is a significant revision of the Living Bible, published in 1971. The editors describe it as 'a Bible translation for everyday life'. It uses language that is 'clear, natural, and contemporary' and is particularly intended to be 'easy to read'. Like other gender-inclusive translations, the NLT has been praised and criticised for its use of gender-neutral language.
It uses a dynamic-equivalence translation (or thought-for-thought translation) that attempts 'to produce in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the message expressed by the original-language text – both in meaning and in style'. The main intention of this translation is to have 'the same impact on modern readers as the original had on its own audience'. In this way, the NLT seeks to be both exegetically accurate and idiomatically powerful.
With regard to gender concerns, the Introduction states:
One challenge we faced was in determining how to translate accurately the ancient biblical text that was originally written in a context where male-oriented terms were used to refer to humanity generally. We needed to respect the nature of the ancient context while also trying to make the translation clear to a modern audience that tends to read male-oriented language as applying only to males. Often the original text, though using masculine nouns and pronouns, clearly intends that the message be applied to both men and women. One example is found in the New Testament epistles, where the believers are called 'brothers' (adelphoi). Yet, it is clear that these epistles were addressed to all the believers – male and female. Thus, we have usually translated this Greek word 'brothers and sisters' in order to represent the historical situation more accurately.
We have also been sensitive to passages where the text applies generally to human beings or to the human condition. In many instances, we have used plural pronouns (they, them) in place of the masculine singular (he, him). For example, a traditional rendering of Proverbs 22:6 is: 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.' We have rendered it: 'Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older they will remain upon it.'
One criticism is that the translators have drawn a very distinct line as to how far this version of the Bible includes women in all aspects of Christian faith and practice. For example, while they stress in the context of salvation that both men and women are equal before God, their word choice in other places of the Bible often implies that spiritual authority and church leadership is a possibility only for men. Nevertheless, the NLT is one of the few, relatively gender-neutral translations on the market.
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Contemporary English Version (CEV)
The CEV, published in the 1990s, is sometimes referred to as the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Bible. It uses contemporary, conversational English that 'is clear and easy to read' for everyone who wants to study the Bible.
The Bible's language is simplified into more common terms and phrases in this translation. Exodus 20:14 provides an example, where the commandment against adultery is interpreted favourably in terms of marital faithfulness. Furthermore, the CEV frequently paraphrases to make the underlying sense of a paragraph evident.
With respect to gender concerns, the CEV uses gender-neutral language for humanity, but not for God. It is a simple Bible translation that is perfect for primary school students, second-language readers, and those who want a simple modern and gender-neutral version.
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To learn more about the topic of gender inclusivity in the Bible, check out this related article: Gender-Neutral Bible Language: Biblical References to People And God. It gives an overview of the following points:
- Arguments For And Against Gender-Inclusive Bible Language
- Gender-Neutral Language In Biblical Contexts
- References To Individuals, Groups Of People And Humanity
- References To God And The Names Of God
- Three Biblical Examples Where Gender-Inclusive Language Really Matters
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