Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Inclusive Language Debate: A Plea for Realism

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Inclusive Language Debate: A Plea for Realism

Article excerpt

The Inclusive Language Debate: A Plea for Realism. By D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998, 221 pp., $13.99 paper. Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy. By Mark L. Strauss. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998, 240 pp., $12.99 paper.

The other day, my six-year-old daughter Lauren and I read the gospel account in which Jesus promises to make his followers "fishers of men" (or so it read in the NIV that we were using). My daughter commented: "Daddy, Fm going to be a fisher of women," and then adding, with customary "generosity," "Tahlia [her younger sister], she can be a fisher of men." I was struck by the perceptive nature of my daughter's remark: unaware of the recent inclusive-language controversy, she had unwittingly yet intuitively picked up on the need for Bible translators in this day and age to be sensitive to how they render gender-related terms in Scripture.

The "inclusive language debate" that first erupted in the spring of 1997 is one of the most recent controversies that has pitted sincere, godly, card-carrying evangelicals against one other who defend with equal fervor the validity of their respective viewpoints. Who is right? Here are two authors, both complementarians-though Strauss's comment that "Adam's priority in creation may perhaps mean that he is to function as leader in the relationship (1 Tim 2:12-13)" does not exactly sound very convinced (p. 139, emphasis mine)-who argue forcefully that a gender-inclusive approach to Bible translation is not only not necessarily in conflict with a high view of Scripture, but alone does justice to the requirements of proper translation, Because of the significant overlap between these works, this review, after a brief sketch of the contents of both works, will focus primarily on Carson's contribution owing to the perhaps more influential nature of his treatment and refer to Strauss only where this is called for in light of additional information provided by him or a variance in viewpoints.

Carson moves from a thumbnail sketch of the recent debate (chap. 1) and a presentation of two largely competing sets of guidelines on the translation of gender-related terms of Scripture (chap. 2) to a discussion of the nature of Bible translation with special emphasis on the rendering of gender-related language (chaps. 3 and 4). This is followed by a brief evaluation of the guidelines produced by the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), which is responsible for both the NIV and the NIVI (an inclusivelanguage version of the NIV first published in the UK in 1995) and the Colorado Springs Guidelines (CSG, crafted at a May 1997 meeting convened by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family; chap. 5) and a treatment of some additional OT and NT passages, as well as some critical passages with important doctrinal issues at stake (chaps. 6-8). After addressing the effect of changes in the English language on the translation of Biblical terms related to gender (chap. 9), Carson concludes with several "pastoral considerations" (chap. 10). Carson's book also has a general and a Scripture index (both unfortunately missing in Strauss's volume).

Strauss likewise begins by seeking to set the present controversy into historical perspective (chap. 1), which is followed by a survey of gender-inclusive as well as feminist versions (chaps. 2 and 3); the latter is, perhaps appropriately so, not deemed necessary for inclusion in Carson. The remainder of the book is given to critique. This includes a discussion of the nature of Bible translation (chap. 4), inclusive language related to human beings: generic "man" and "he" (chap. 5, plus an excursus on contemporary English usage; Carson devotes an entire chapter to this), other generic terms (chap. 6), and language related to God and to Jesus Christ (chap. 7). The final chapter presents Strauss' conclusions (chap. 8) and is followed by two appendixes on the CSG and a comparison of gender-inclusive versions. …

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