Writing the “non-sexist” Bible”
Several readers kindly sent additional materials on the subject of addressing God as “Mother”—of which we commented in an earlier article. The articles dealt not so much with our address to God, as with translations of the Bible which used this same kind of terminology. The National Council of Churches in this country has been working on a translation of the Bible which will remove all of its “sexist” language. Part of its work has been published—and reviewed by different churches and writers. An article from the New York Times, Oct. 15, 1983, presents some of the comments on, and reaction to, this new “translation”:
A new translation of Bible readings designed to eliminate references to God as solely male was released yesterday by the National Council of Churches.
The Bible readings are for voluntary, experimental use in services by some of the country’s leading Protestant churches. The changes include references to God as both the mother and father of humankind, and one of the best-known verses of the New Testament reads: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, that whoever believes in that Child should not perish, but have eternal life.”
. . . Though many recent editions of the Bible have tried to put the Scriptures into more familiar language, this lectionary is the first designed to meet such a specific concern as that over what is seen as sexism in the Bible.
When Scriptures are read in services, said Dr. Susan B. Thistlethwaite, a professor who teaches theology at seminaries in Chicago and Boston, “one of the purposes is to create the Christian community.” If the language of the Scriptures is exclusively masculine, women feel left out, she said.
Echoing her sentiments, a growing number of ministers say women in their congregations feel excluded when religious language uses masculine words at places where all of humankind is meant. To remedy this, many churches have tried to use more inclusive language in their worship services. As a consequence, informal editings of the Scriptures are becoming increasingly common.
“People have already done what we are doing,” said Dr. Thomas Hoyt, Jr., a professor of Old Testament at the Hartford (Corm.) Seminary Foundation and a member of the committee. “We want to help them do it responsibly.”
. . . Dr. Gold, a professor at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, said the committee and its advisers believed the lectionary was “consistent with the original languages of Scripture” even if it was not a literal translation.
For instance, the committee explained, the word used in the Genesis story about the creation of the first human being is the Hebrew “ha-adam.” The translators say the word lacks a particular gender, though it has often been translated “man.” In the same way, the Greek word “anthropos,” is also translated “man” in the Revised Standard Version but can mean an individual man or humankind, the form preferred in the new lectionary.
Changes include the substitution of the words “Sovereign” or “God the Sovereign One” for “Lord” or “King” and the addition of women’s names to the text in such verses as the one in the Gospel of Matthew that reads, “We have Abraham as our father.” To that verse, the phrase “and Sarah and Hagar as our mothers” has been added to include the wife and servant of the Old Testament patriarch.
. . . The most striking of these metaphors is the phrase “God, Father and Mother,” which is used often.
. . . But editors of the new lectionary contend that using “father” as a metaphor for God ascribes to God a sexual identity not supported by close study of the Scriptures. They also say it fosters a male-oriented theology.
Not all agree to these radical changes—which are not translations at all. The above article quotes, for instance, Dr. Bruce Metzger, a Princeton Theological Seminary professor who is chairman of the committee planning future editions of the Revised Standard Version, also under the National Council of Churches:
“It is necessary to tell people that God is not an old man,” Dr. Metzger said, “but to explain that God transcends differences of gender is the work of the religious educator, not the Bible translator.”
He said the alterations in the language about God in the new lectionary were tantamount to rewriting the Bible,” adding, “Such changes are in my view altogether unacceptable.”
According to Dr. Metzger, coming editions of the Revised Standard Version would avoid using “man” when “humanity” or “humankind” might be appropriate. “But to remove the patriarchal setting is to change the Bible,” he said in a telephone interview.
Another interesting comment is made in the Grand Rapids Press in the syndicated column written by James Kilpatrick. He also objects to the new translation—though not on theological grounds. He states:
It is probably a waste of time, energy and indignation to denounce the latest effort to castrate the Holy Bible, but vandalism of this magnitude ought not to go unremarked. The National Council of Churches is out to take the sex out of Scripture . . . .
. . . The rewriting urged by the National Council of Churches is indefensible. One example will suffice. In Matthew’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus announces that He is about to be betrayed, and the apostles ask, Lord, is it I? The King James version continues: “And He answered and said, ‘He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. The Son of man goeth as it is written of him; but woe unto that may by whom the Son of man is betrayed!’ ” . . . .
The NCC’s new lectionary would put it this way: “Jesus answered, ‘The one who has dipped a hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Human One goes as it is written, but woe to that person by whom the Human One is betrayed!'”
The first trouble with that abominable revision may be stated simply: Matthew never wrote it that way. The Gospels were written in Greek. I will not be drawn into an argument about divine inspiration and the word of God; theology is off my beat. But I know something of the art of translation and of the respect that is owed to an original author.
It is patent dishonesty—it is an act of corruption in the most literal sense—to put into the mouth of Matthew words that Matthew did not say . . . .
The council’s recasting is not only dishonest; it is the product of an essentially mistaken notion that “man” is invariably a sexist noun. This is nonsense. Only the most wildly militant feminists believe that “Man does not live by bread alone” applies to males only. Who is so blockheaded as to argue that “mankind” excludes women? The NCC revisers evidently are that blockheaded. . . .
Perhaps it seems unnecessary to comment even on the nonsense which proceeds out of the NCC. Still, this sort of nonsense gains a wide acceptance among men (or ought I say, “humankind”?). This is in very reality a new “version” of the Bible—man’s (humankind’s?) idea of what the Word of God ought to say. It is man’s correction of God’s Word. It is not only that the translator corrupts Matthew’s word, it is a corruption of what God has to say. This represents one more attempt to undermine and destroy the truth of the Divine inspiration and infallibility of Scripture. One could almost laugh at it all if it were not so terribly serious.
There is not only the attempt to make the Bible less “sexist,” but there is the renewed drive to approve an ERA amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It has been introduced again into the House of Representatives in Congress. Some are convinced that the amendment has less of a chance of passage this time than it had last time—when it fell short of ratification when three states less than the necessary amount approved. What is particularly disturbing are remarks of those favoring this amendment. Not all are agreed as to what it really means. In fact, many insist that ultimately the courts, perhaps the Supreme Court, will have to determine the meaning and application of this amendment. Christianity Today, Oct. 21, 1983, states,
. . . Hatch asked her if single-sex institutions would be effectively eliminated by ERA, and she said yes, except for women’s colleges. “That would be the only exception,” she said, as long as they were fulfilling their original affirmative action goals. This brought an incredulous response from pro-ERA Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, who told Shalala, “I am not at all in agreement that it is justifiable for women’s schools to discriminate.
Other ERA proponents share Shalala’s opinion. Judy Goldsmith, president of the National Organization for Women, said women’s schools could continue to operate because they are “advantaging the disadvantaged.” She denied that ERA would have any effect on religious institutions, but that is contradicted by NOW’s stated opposition to the rights of churches to differentiate. NOW advocates sexual equality in seminaries, denial of tax exemption to churches that do not ordain women, and federal intervention to stop churches from discriminating.
Perhaps the ERA amendment will not pass this second time. Yet what many are trying to do is obvious. The “rights” movement can quickly turn into an attempt to silence the church and drive it from existence—unless it submits to the decrees of “humankind” and renounces certain of Scripture’s teachings. But God will preserve His church!