The Importance Of Gender-Inclusive Language -- By: Julia Alford

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 14:4 (Fall 2000)
Article: The Importance Of Gender-Inclusive Language
Author: Julia Alford

The Importance Of Gender-Inclusive Language

People Are Sometimes Unable To Grasp Fully The Message Of Christ’s Love When We Use Language That Doesn’t Communicate.

Julia Alford

And David Mostol

Julia Alford and David Mustol are seniors at Wheaton College. Julia is a native of Illinois and has attended the last two CBE conferences; David is the son of missionaries in the Camores Islands. This article is reprinted with permission from Off the Record, a student publication at Wheaton (Feb. 2, 2000), and has been expanded and adapted for use in Priscilla Papers.

We as Christians have a responsibility to do our utmost to reach the world for Christ. This mission must be fulfilled through communication, and much of our communication is surely accomplished through language. That is the central issue of the gender-inclusive translation debate. What language is most effective in communicating the true meaning of Scripture? It is the language of the people with whom we want to communicate. We are at a point today where traditional Bible translations, with their male-oriented language, seem to many to be outdated.

It is apparent that our contemporary English-speaking culture has changed to the extent that many words no longer mean what they used to. The word man, for example, is no longer always understood as a generic term for both male and female. According to Dr. Herbert Wolf of the Bible and Theology Department at Wheaton College and a member of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) of the NIV, the definition of gender-inclusive language is that if “a term is generic in its intent, it should be translated in a generic way.” When a term such as man was used in Scripture to mean both men and women, it is generic. Yet, because of the way in which the language is changing, words such as men are no longer understood by the common public in the same generic sense. So, in order to maintain their generic form, these words need to be translated as men and women, people, brothers and sisters, and so on.

It should be noted that the CBT has no intention of interpreting any depictions of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit in a generic sense. In other words, God will not be called “mother,” and Christ will not be called “daughter.”

Julia’s personal experience: Despite the argument that our language is constantly changing, many would claim that the word man and other similar words are sufficiently generic terms for Bible translation. My own experience refutes this, however. I recall many times from my childhood when I read through Scripture in tears of anger and frustration, finding all of the verses that seemed to claim that Paul w...

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