The New Living Translation and Christian brotherhood...

Error message

When I first saw the galleys of the New Living Translation at my in-laws home in Weaton, back in the mid 90s, I was sickened to see that adelphoi (which over the centuries has always been translated "brothers") was changed to "Christian friends" throughout the New Testament Epistles. This was my introduction to Evangelicals neutering the text of Scripture and it came long before I had any association with "World," Focus on the Family, or CBMW in opposing the NIVI--the TNIV's predecessor.

This false translation of 'adelphoi' in the NLT caused serious exchanges with my father-in-law, Ken Taylor, and my brother-in-law, Mark Taylor---respectively Chairman of the Board and CEO of the NLT's copyright holder and publishing company, Tyndale House Publshers. In our discussions, I explained that my opposition to their action went beyond the matter of the loss of the sex marking of adelphoi. Of even greater concern to me was the loss of the family context and identity at the heart of the Church...

In a day when families are so destructive, believers in our Lord need to be presented with the precise gift the Spirit of God had placed at the center of the Epistles: namely, their adoption into the Family of God as sons of God and consequent status as "brothers" one of another. In other words, when we confess Christ and are adopted into the Family of God we are given back all the intimacy, trust, instruction, discipline, and love we longed for, but never received, within our human family.

So replacing the primary word, 'brothers,' that denotes this family status in the Epistles, and substituting the immeasurably weaker language of affinity, 'Christian friend,' was to rob believers of one of their principal spiritual blessings in our time. We don't choose our brothers, and they're for life; but a friendship can be severed at any time for any reason.

A few months later Mark called and said there would be a number of changes to the text of the NLT in future printings including the substitution of 'brothers and sisters' in most of the passages where the first printing had used "Christian friends." I responded that I was greatly relieved they had gone this far towards restoring accuracy, but that it still was not a satisfactory translation since they had obscured the federal headship of Adam that is communicated all through Scripture by the habitual use of male-marked terms to designate groups of mixed sex.

Several years later I was working on the staff of our church with Pastor David Wegener, a dear friend whose knowledge of doctrine, church history, and Scripture I continue to hold in the highest regard, and I asked him whether he thought 'brothers and sisters' was an adequate translation of adelphoi. He responded, "Yes."

Then I followed up by asking whether he would still think it was a good translation if I could point to a meaning in the Greek not carried through into the English by that translation? He responded, "No."

I pointed out that the Greek word adelphoi reinforces the doctrine at the center of the Genesis account of the Fall, namely the federal headship of Adam. That God has decreed that the universe will follow and model His Divine Fatherhood such that every man and woman was present and tried, not in Adam and Eve, but in Adam alone. And that the race is not to be called "adam-eve" but adam--the Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the first man as well as all his descendants, male and female.

Continuing, I pointed out that Adam was held accountable for the sin in the Garden. In that "one man" alone we all died (Romans 5:19). Throughout Scripture God deals with the human race according to the rebellion of Adam--as He also deals with nations, tribes, families, and wives according to the faith or unbelief of their patriarch.

So then, calling Christian girls and women "brothers" in the Epistles continues this lesson in a way that calling them "brothers and sisters" does not. Did he then still hold that "brothers and sisters" was an adequate translation?

"No, it's not" David responded. "I see your point."

Years later, it has only become more clear to me that this is the precise point to focus our defense of God's Word and Words in this present battle. This is not, at heart, a battle to leave to translators, linguists, and other academics, but it's a battle that those who love God the Father and the thousands of markings of His archetypal Fatherhood that flow throughout Scripture must own as our own. At the heart, whether consciously or unconsciously, those opposing the use in Scripture of male-marked terms to designate mixed-sex groups are opposing the patriarchy God has ordained throughout adam's race, the patriarchal language that leads us to "God the Father from Whom the whole family gets its name" (Ephesians 3:14,15).