Ministers preach from the Bible, and so it is not surprising that the enemy wants to do what he can to dilute the source of all true ministerial authority. This is how we drifted from “thus saith the Lord” to “it seems to me.” Nowhere is this more evident than on the subject of feminism. Tim Bayly estimates that a good fifty percent of the Bibles in use by evangelicals today are Bibles that have accommodated themselves in varying degrees to feminist pressure. No less a leading conservative than John MacArthur is good with having his study notes published with an inclusive language Bible. But despite the drift, “sexuality is the confessional issue of our day.” A thousand amens, but we should not let the “amening” descend into mere sloganeering.
Centuries ago, there was a young woman named Margaret Wilson who was martyred in Scotland. She lost her life because she wouldn’t say “God save the king.” She was tied to a stake with the tide coming in, and they kept wanting her to say the formula that would save her life. And she would reply that she wished that God would in fact save the king. Nothing would make her happier. But she would not use their formula because it meant far more than the words added together. To use their formula would bind her allegiance and conscience in a way that she was rightly unwilling to do. The whole was greater than the sum of the parts. In situations like this one, context is everything. In other words, it was about more than just the words.
When it comes to gender-inclusivity, the problem is that we do not recognize the true nature of the problem. Here is a sample: Complementarian D.A. Carson defends a certain approach to “gender inclusivity translation” in his book The Inclusive Language Debate. He thinks the issue is simply one of having the academic chops and integrity to understand “linguistic theory and translation theory,” and then to translate from one language to another in a responsible manner.
Carson acts as though the issue is gender inclusivity alone. He cites the apostle Paul doing it in 2 Cor. 6:18: “And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” This is Paul’s rendering of 2 Sam. 7:14: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” Where did those daughters come from? Surely it is not a product of Paul’s “feminist agenda.” Right. It isn’t—because there weren’t any feminists then. There are now. The context has changed.
When we are told not to love the world, or the things in the world (1 Jn. 2:15), this requires a certain amount of “world literacy.” It is not enough to read the Bible saying not to love the world, you must also read what the world is offering you, and you must read it in order to not love it.
There is a certain kind of wooden thinking that supposes that all you have to read is the Bible and your own motives. If you do that, you’re good. But this is a babes in the wilderness approach. This is the kind of mentality that can look at the Middle East and not see the implications of a lynched ambassador. Some think this whole thing is about “hurt feelings.” Really?
This is like a harried parent in WalMart with a kid flipping out over a toy that he wants to have given to him, and now. Defending gender inclusive translation in the abstract, because Paul did it, is like defending “buying your child a toy.” Nobody objects to that. What they object to is buying a child a toy because he is lying on the tiles in WalMart drumming his heels on the floor.
I am prepared to cheerfully grant that D.A. Carson is vastly my superior when it comes to translation theory, and syntactical nuance. But that is not the only thing we have to read. We also have to read the culture. We have to read the feminists. We have to read the craven souls in the academy who think that life is like a seminar, refreshments to follow.
We can’t just read what is on the carton holding the toy. We also have to read the kid on the floor.
Language doesn’t change; people change. When people change, the way they speak changes. When that changes, over time, language also changes. Everything hinges on why the people are changing. Are they changing because somebody invented the printing press or cotton gin? Are they changing because of massive immigration? Or are they changing because under Queen Jezebel they decided to abandon the worship of YHWH?
People change for lots of different reasons. This means, going up the stairs a few at a time, that some language changes are entirely innocent (we needed a word for cheeseburger) and some changes are anything but (a feminist refusing the name of her husband, and retaining the name of her father). When the English language changes because we are also changing our gods, it is the duty of Christians to throw every conceivable obstacle in the path of that change.
When Jonathan Edwards says something like “it don’t signify,” that doesn’t bother me. I am not a linguistic fusser. When someone says that if someone doesn’t change the oil in their car, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, I for one am not ashamed of a plural (gender inclusive!) pronoun because I am not a fusser. But when the city workmen outside my house refer to the work of removing the “person-hole cover,” and they are doing this because of the serious bluestocking work being done up at the womyn’s study center, I for one am going to laugh and point my finger at them. Why? Not because of the pronouns, but rather because of why we are messing with these pronouns to begin with. It is because I don’t want to put the female equivalent of a a mash-up of Marcion, Pelagius, Arius, and Paul of Samosata in charge of the English language. Is this insensitive? That is what we are called to be.
Debatable matters are not to be defined by the mere existence of debates. Imagine a language that had no gender specific pronouns. Would it be lawful to translate the Bible into that language? Of course it would. That is not the issue, not even a little bit. The issue is why.
So in the meantime, I am still inclined to let gender-inclusive translations go forward. Modern evangelicalism hasn’t had any balls for a century or more. Why shouldn’t they have a Bible to match?