Are Some Bible Translations Unfair to Women?
I am a Bible translation junkie. I generally stick to one translation for devotions for one year and then switch it up in January - but I use MANY translations for study. This year, I’ve returned to my trusty Message: Conversations bible (which is coming off it’s hinges because I love it so much and it's now out of print).
In a quick read through 1 Corinthians, I ran into this beautiful verse:
Keep your eyes open, hold tight to your convictions, give it all you’ve got, be resolute and love without stopping. I Corinthians 16:13-14
I fell in love with the passage so deeply that I decided to build a seven-day study around it. My first step in studying a passage (especially if The Message or NLT is my starting point) is always to check it in many translations.
Here it is in the Common English Bible:
Stay awake, stand firm in your faith, be brave, be strong. Everything should be done in love.
And the NIV:
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14Do everything in love.
And the Contemporary English Version:
Keep alert. Be firm in your faith. Stay brave and strong. 14Show love in everything you do.
And the NET Bible (I’m a huge fan of the NET)
Stay alert, stand firm in the faith, show courage, be strong. Everything you do should be done in love.
But then….plot twist! Check out the ESV:
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
How did “be strong” become “act like men”?
I put that on my “to research” list and moved on with my day. Later that afternoon, someone sent me this article on how some bible translations tend to skew toward a patriarchal worldview. I recommend it - it’s a really good read. The article, combined with my earlier study, made me feel a little sassy toward the ESV and I determined to figure out why the translators were such blatant misogynists (I often veer toward passion-run-amok).
So I returned to study the “act like a man” situation, and I discovered that Paul used a word here that is used nowhere else in the New Testament.
It’s a cool-sounding word, I think, and it does in fact mean “to act like a man.”
The ESV (and KJV, NKJV, Amp, and several others) got it right. I mean, sort of. Because if it really says that and really means that, maybe all those other translators were the ones playing fast-and-loose with the truth. Was I about to become a dyed-in-the-wool ESV-thumper?
While the word andrízomai is not found anywhere else in the New Testament, it is used in the septuagint. Three different times it is translated “Be strong and take courage.” Every time andrízomai is used, it is connected to operating in great faith.
So, here’s what we know: The letter to the Corinthians was written to men and women. The Corinthian church was up against fierce opposition at the time from both religious and political establishments. It was a culture consumed by sex and power, so new believers were facing foes from without and within and they were easily falling prey to a deceptive worldview. I don’t believe for a second that Paul is telling the Corinthians to act like men instead of women - because in other passages he directs his instruction to each gender specifically. This section of his letter is not aimed at only men and so I don’t believe Paul is instructing the women to whom he’s also writing to stop acting like women and “act like men”. If so, he would be contradicting himself.
What makes much more sense in this case is that Paul is saying, “act like men instead of boys”. Act mature. In short: Grow up.
Discrepancies like this one are subtle to some and enormous to others. For me, they’re mostly a way to dig deeper and find not just the original definitions of words, but the original intent of the author.
My best advice is: be a responsible student of the Word. Use lexicons, sure, but also use common sense and leave some room for other opinions without vilifying them as chauvinists and patriarchal oppressors.
I don’t yet own an ESV bible and I’m not sure I ever will, but I do love the diversity and mystery in the beautiful Word of God. It is life to those who search it out.
Now, I’m going to work on actually following the words of Paul to ME, a woman in the 21st century, living in a country obsessed with sex and power, because I really need to learn to: Stay alert, stand firm, show courage, be strong…and let everything, everything, everything be done in love.
Author: Bo Stern | www.sheology.co | @bolovesjoe