The New Testament of the Inclusive Language Bible. Notre Dame: Crossroads, 1994, vii + 297 pp., $19.95. The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version. New York and Oxford: Oxford University, 1995, xxii + 535 pp., n.p.
The publication of the New Revised Standard Version (1989) inaugurated a new era in Bible translation by endeavoring to produce a translation of Scripture without gender bias with regard to humanity. Two recent volumes follow suit but go beyond the selective policy of the NRSV by applying inclusive language to both divine and human characters and by eliminating pejorative references to race, color and religion.
Crossroads' Inclusive Language New Testament is marked by thrift in both style and format. The translation is generally straightforward and economical, avoiding technical terminology. It falls short of high literary or poetic quality but remains clear and understandable, and the wording is not unfelicitous. As in nearly all modern translations, paragraphs are divided by theme rather than verse. Verse numbers are printed in superscript in the text and descriptive titles appear in bold print at the head of paragraphs.
The volume is a no-frills NT. There are no "helps" common to most Bibles: no maps, charts or tables, no introductions to the various books of the NT, no footnotes, annotations or variant readings. Readers are given no information concerning why one reading is chosen over another, or even that variant readings are possible. "When in doubt, leave out" seems to be the rule with variant readings (e.g. the omission of John 5:4 or the doxology of the Lord's prayer in Matt 6:8). Occasionally, however, questionable variants are inexplicably included (e.g. Luke 22:43-44).
A one-page foreword justifies the translation along gender lines. The publishers accept the "imperatives that require us to change the language of the Bible" so as not to "perpetuate the inequalities between the sexes that existed in earlier societies" (p. vi). The foreword leaves unaddressed, however, the significant and subtle issues of language, culture and theology, and this is a serious omission given the agenda of the volume.
Oxford University Press' New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version is a finely bound volume intended for use in public liturgy. Not only does it include the Psalms in addition to the NT, but it also has a 15-page general introduction explaining its major differences from the NRSV and its rationale for inclusiveness. The text is handsomely presented with topic headings, variant readings where appropriate and superscript verse numbers in the text. Especially welcome is the sensitivity to hymns and creeds embedded in the NT, which are printed in verse format.
Like the Crossroads volume, Oxford's translation attempts to render negligible all references to gender, disabilities and racial differences. It not only attempts to anticipate developments in the English language but to accelerate them (pp. viii-ix). All language offenses, real or imagined, are drawn, quartered-and neutered. Jesus is no longer the Son (of God), but the "Child." References to "Lord" are severely diminished. Kingdom becomes "dominion"; King, "ruler" or "sovereign"; Son of Man, "the Human One." Devils and angels are emasculated to avoid either vilifying or glorifying men. References to darkness are translated out to avoid pejorative connotations to darkskinned peoples. "Right hand" is rendered "might and power" to avoid injury to lefties or leftists. John's frequent references to "the Jews" as opponents of Jesus have been replaced by "the religious authorities" in hopes of undermining anti-Semitic uses of the NT. Children need no longer obey their parents (Col 3:20; Eph 6:1), only "heed" them; and wives should be "committed to" their husbands (Eph 5:22; 1 Pet 3:1, 5), rather than submissive to them. In a fair shake to parenting, the names of wives have been added to the genealogies, although happily names have not been invented where unknown.
The translators of both volumes follow their methodological presuppositions with puritanical zeal. Given the "political correctness" parameters, it is not surprising that the translations are straitjacketed with idiosyncrasies. Oxford's translation of John 5:26-27 reads: "For just as God has life in Godself, so God has granted the same thing to the Child, and has given the Child authority to execute judgment, because of being the Human One. Do not be astonished at this." Who could help but be astonished? The language neuterers now make an additional step of exegesis necessary: The fixation with leveling out differences must first be decoded before the meaning of the text can be considered.
Under the goal of avoiding male-dominated language, some changes are of course understandable. Both translations render "the fathers [of Israel]" as "the ancestors" (Rom 9:5), which is a fair circumlocution. But at other points, particularly when applied to Jesus and God, the changes are invariably artificial and erroneous. At the head of the list is the dreaded "F"-word. To get around calling God "Father," Oxford opts for a eugenic hyphen, "Father-Mother." Whereas "Father" communicates God's nearness to humanity, "Father-Mother," a nonhuman hybrid, emphasizes God's distance and otherness (as the translators intended). In the Crossroads version, Jesus and believers must address God as "My dear Parent" (e.g. Luke 22:42; Gal 4:6). That reduces a profundity to silliness. Not only does no one speak this way, but "parent" is too objective and sociological for the intimacy of Jesus' (and believers') relationship with the Father.
Sensitivity to supposed gender issues often results in insensitivity or indifference to theological issues. In the Crossroads version of Matt 28:19, believers are baptized "in the name of God and the Son and the Holy Spirit." Apart from the puzzle why "Son" is allowable but "Father" is not, it is a theological error to attribute deity to the Father and not to the Son and Holy Spirit. The Oxford rendering calls for baptizing "in the name of the Father-Mother and of the beloved Child and of the Holy Spirit"which sounds more like a dysfunctional family than the Holy Trinity.
Similar changes flag down the reader on every page. Anyone with an ear for good English will find most of them contrived and trite. Those with a knowledge of the original languages will be alarmed by the revisionism involved. Such changes may appear innocuous, but the overall effect is a decidedly demoted Christology. Take the hymn of Col 1:15-20, where both versions resort to substituting "(Jesus) Christ" for "the Son (of God)." The translators effectively substitute a limited Christological title ("Christ") for a fuller one ("Son"), resulting in an obvious error. Jesus Christ-an historical person-did not "create everything in heaven and on earth" (Col 1:16). That was the work of the preexistent Son-just as the original says. The translators are willing to sacrifice correct Christology rather than offend readers with a gender twitch.
Both versions are single-agenda translations, with all the narrowness that attends it. What, for example, is gained in the Crossroads version by substituting "Sovereign" for "Lord" in Romans 10:9 ("Jesus is Sovereign")? "Sovereign" carries no less sense of domination, and perhaps no less sense of masculinity. Inevitably, the hypersensitivity to one issue results in blindness to others. One is surprised, for example, to continue to see sarx rendered as "flesh" in both versions. Would not "mortal life" (or some such) be a significant improvement over the conventional though inadequate "flesh"?
The attempt to satisfy every language bias is an endless treadmill. How parochial and timebound these translations will appear when the animal-rights folks take their turn with the Bible, and theirs will look the same when the pantheists have their day. Perhaps the greatest core of radical revisionism is the inevitable depersonalization of God. The resultant artificial renderings and concomitant theological errors augur that volumes such as these will be relegated to the curiosities of America's pluralistic religious spectrum. It is hard to imagine them playing a meaningful role in the Church (remember The Cotton Patch New Testament?). Nothing promises to revive sagging enrollments in NT Greek courses as much as efforts such as these.
James R. Edwards
Jamestown College, Jamestown, ND…