My new preaching Bible the NLT, contains some gender-inclusive language–long a code phrase that makes people like me nervous. In general, to use inclusive language means using words that do not belittle or exclude women from respect or the conversation. With reference to Scripture, it means that if it’s clear that the original author meant his words to apply to men and women–even if he only used a male word like “brothers” or “men”, that translators make the wording say so. However some inclusive translations also alter the meaning of passages such as Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Timothy 2:12 (not NLT) which they perceive as slighting women by giving only males the responsibility to shepherd their homes and churches.
Since the purpose of any Bible translation is to make the original author’s message clear, translators have to wrestle with what the author meant–as well as what he said. Their job is to be clear to readers who don’t understand the language it was first penned in, and who don’t live in the culture of those who first read it the letter.
So, in this Sunday’s text when Paul wrote to immature Christians in Galatians 1:11, he wrote in Greek to, “brothers”. Just to the male members of the church? Of course not so in my English NLT it’s translated “brothers and sisters” because Paul meant for his message to be received by the women as well as the men. Since some people might not realize that today when they hear “brothers”, the NLT clears it up by adding “sisters” even though the word was not in the original text.
Similarly in the following verse (12), whereas in Greek Paul says he did not receive the gospel from any “man”, in my NLT it says “I received my message from no human source…”. Again, translators want to make sure readers understand the divine origin of Paul’s gospel, not rule out any male origin while leaving the door open that a woman may have given him the message.
To Muslims, the Qur’an is to be learned–often memorized. Since their Book is too sacred to be translated from its original Arabic, even those followers who can’t speak Arabic must learn it in a foreign language. To Christians, the Bible is to be understood since it is God’s revelation of Himself. Not only can it be translated, it must be. So that readers may say, “Ah, now I understand who God is, who I am, what he wants from me, and what he promises me.”