BIBle translations and women elders/pastors

Translation is important when it comes to understanding the scriptures. And this has a bigger impact on the subject of women in ministry than we may realise.

There are many good, even very good, translations available to us today. We are spoilt by the choices we have; the NKJV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, CSB, MEV, NLT, NASB, etc. and each of us will have our preferences. All of them are worth studying, but there is no such thing as a pure translation, that is, one without some measure of interpretation.

That might come as a bit of a shock to some. The fact is, there can’t be because of who we are. We are not perfect, and everyone of us has a tendency to approach things with some measure of presupposition and bias, however much we may attempt to step back from them – there have been times when I have read or heard things through such filters and refused to go down a particular route of understanding because of such presuppositions and bias.

John McKinley, associate professor of theology at Talbot School of Theology, put it this way, in Bible Translations and Theology (part 2):

“English translation of biblical text unwittingly presents more emphasis on men in a way that the original authors did not intend for their readers. Readers of some of today’s popular translations (ESV, NIV, NASB) hear an unwittingly distorted biblical voice that God speaks primarily to men about men, leaving women to the margin of the passages where females are unavoidably in view (such as narrative accounts with women characters.)”1

Having said that, it has to be said that some translations openly acknowledge their intention when going about the task. Regarding the role of women some bible versions have been translated with an acknowledged complementarian bias. That sounds shocking. But if we are not aware of this, we may read them and conclude from what we have read, that scripture is indeed complementarian in its teaching regarding the nature and roles of men and women and their relationship to one another in the home and the church.

The English Standard Version, most used by conservative Reformed Christians and churches, appears to fall into this bracket. As it says on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website concerning the Literary ESV: “The new ESV takes an unapologetically biblical stance on God’s gracious plan regarding the complementary roles of men and women.”2

In several places, the ESV translators have opted for a complementarian reading. For example, when Paul writes regarding Phoebe, in the eyes of the translators, she is a “servant” of the church and not a “deacon”; Junia, in Romans 16:7, is noted as being “well known to the apostles” and not “among them”; And in 2 Timothy 3:6, the ESV talks about “weak women” rather than “gullible.” The translations, “servant,” “well known to” and “weak,” suit and serve a complementarian agenda.3 In 1 Cor 11:3, the ESV has, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,” (emphasis mine), whereas nearly every other version has “the head of a woman is man…”

In Romans 12:6-8, a section about various aspects of ministry in the church, some versions have up to nine gender-specific references where there are none in the original, and yes, you’ve got it, they are all male. Interestingly, the ESV doesn’t use that many, but where it has used them, it says something. The two times it does are for the gifts of teaching and exhortation. This is translating to promote an agenda and is therefore being read into the text. Likewise, in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, there are numerous male pronouns and possessives in some versions that are not there in the Greek.

In studying this subject then, it is important that we diligently search the scriptures, and that means asking questions of the translators and their translations.

1 John McKinley, Bible Translation & Theology: part 2. Https:// July 30, 2021

2 Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,

3 “Bible Translations, Agendas, and Gender Bias” with Allison Barr and Scott McKnight. Podcast: A Pastor, and a Philosopher Walk into a Bar

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