putting gender on the agenda

A friend and I were chatting all things ministry the other day. In the spirit of Andrew Katay’s ‘If I ran the diocese…’ series, one question we entertained was If I ran a church, what Bible translation would I choose for public reading?


To my friend’s mind some of the key factors to be reckoned with included:

  • displaying a basic faithfulness and liveliness of translation,
  • finding an appropriate level and accessibility of language, and
  • highlighting OT allusions/verbal linkages wherever possible.

I agreed with pretty much all of this. But I wanted to add ‘attempting not to offend (or alienate) people through unnecessarily conservative translations of gender constructions — e.g., retaining references to the brothers or to being adopted as sons of God‘.

What’s your feeling? How much play should we give to an agenda like this when choosing a Bible translation for public reading? Am I being over-sensitive about something that most people just don’t really care that much about? What other factors should enter in?


  1. It’s worth pointing out — as has been pointed out to me — that almost no-one wants to offend or alienate people through retaining unnecessarily conservative translations of gender constructions.

    I suppose that’s probably true. (And the same could be said about the language of ‘subordination’ or ‘submission’ e.g. in Eph 5 — although I’ve been to a few weddings where it felt like the preacher was itching for a fight over this.)

    It’s largely a matter of what call you want to make about how necessary references to Christians as ‘brothers’ (rather than ‘brothers and sisters’) or ‘sons of God’ (rather than ‘children’ or ‘sons and daughters’).

    But it’s also a matter of how significant an issue you gauge it to be for ‘the man or woman in the street’. Obviously, I gauge it to be significant enough to opt for the NRSV over the ESV (for example).

    1. Well… I guess you explain the point when you’re preaching on it, and wear the non-specificity of the translation when it’s a text for public reading?

      My personal feeling is that context carries the day on most of those texts where we judge the ‘sons of God’ to be significant. Connotations of being an heir, for example, tend to get spelled out as the argument unfolds — cf. Rom 8.14-17.

      When it comes to Galatians 3, I think I’d want to say that the contrast between verse 25 and verse 26 does a whole lot of theological heavy lifting. Is that fair do you think?

  2. personally i am not a fan of the phrase ‘sons of God’ being replaced with ‘sons and daughters’ or ‘children of God’

    i like that God has adopted me as his son – the theological point is that i share in the sonship of Christ – i like that and don’t want to lose it!

    1. Fair point, Kate. The possibility of dulling the edge of this important theological point is the big risk in opting for a translation like the NRSV. Natalie keeps reminding me of this — and rarely tires of pointing out how the Bible does its gender bending in both directions: women (as well as men) are ‘sons of God’, and men (as well as women) belong to the church, ‘the bride of Christ’!

      All I would ask is, what do we mean by saying that both men and women share in the sonship of Christ? That we’re adopted and thus heirs? Sure — but I don’t see how retaining the specific word ‘son’ is the only way to bring this out. My own sense (and I may just be way off the mark on this one) is that it tends to obscure the equally important implication that both men and women get to share in this adoption and inheritance through union with Christ.

  3. thats true although I think Gal 3:28 might help us out on this one.

    there is no male or female… we are all one in Christ Jesus – is there an extent to which i can’t be one in Christ if I am a daughter and he is a son? also if you are a son and i am a daughter is your unity to Christ different from mine? are we now 2 groups within those united to him? Verse 26 has already answered these questions – we are all sons of God and are united to him in the same way.

    i think the real issue on my part is the language of ‘daughters of God’ has lead to all sorts of dodgy books which revolve around the so-called ‘Princess Theology’ – its stuff that young women soak up because it sounds great but i don’t believe its biblical and it feeds selfishness in us. (if you want to hear a great seminar about this Alli Street gave one at Equip this year) the only way to correct these untruths is to understand the true nature of our adoption to God through his son and therefore as his sons.

    1. I’m not sure what to say about the whole ‘Princess Theology’ thing — it hasn’t really made a big splash in my world.

      In terms of exegetical detail I may not be following you, but doesn’t the fact that Paul has to spell out the end of divisive difference in Gal 3.28 suggest that it’s not immediately obvious or explicit in v. 26? That is, if v. 26 supplies the answer to the questions you pose it only does so in principle, doesn’t it? Thus vv. 27-29 draw out its implications (ie. what was implicit in it).

      On another note, I find it fascinating that some differences seem to persist alongside our union with Christ — in many place in Paul’s letters, for instance, Gentiles are urged to display an appropriate ‘circumspection’ with respect to the Jews (recognising that they’re only ingrafted branches, etc). Likewise, in the pastorals the differences between various groups who make up the church remain important, without compromising our full and equal share in adoption and inheritance.

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