Don Carson's promotion of gender-neutered Bibles...

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One reader e-mailed asking if I was being fair in this prior post where I listed Don Carson with Gordon Fee and Roger Nicole as being guilty of the "betrayal of the Word of God's authority?" The short answer is Don Carson was paid to do so-called "translation" for the production of the New Living Translation in which thousands of words with male meaning components (adam, aner, adelphoi, etc.) were deleted in order to pacify the itching ears of our feminist culture. Carson's NLT also deleted a number of occurrences of the words 'Ioudaios' and 'Ioudaioi' in order to pacify Jews working to get Bible publishers to remove Anti-Semitic "Christ-hatred" from John's Gospel.

After being paid to do this work, Don wrote a book defending gender-neutered Bibles.

Now for the longer answer...

Starting in 1996 or so (actually, my work opposing the NLT's gender-neutering started years before, at family gatherings), David and I worked hard privately and publicly to oppose a number of members of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) being paid by the International Bible Society, Tyndale House, and Zondervan, to remove the sex-markings of thousands of texts of Scripture in the Living Bible and the New International Version. At the time, the NIV was the Bible translation standard of the Bible-believing, English-speaking world, so it was the efforts to modernize this particular translation that were our main public focus.

Our opponents' plan was to put out an updated NIV called the New International Version Inclusive. Since then, they've updated their work giving it the name, Today's New International Version (TNIV) and now the New International Version 2011 (NIV2011). In all these versions of the NIV, Hebrew and Greek words such as adamadelphoi, and aner are stripped of their male grammatical component. These scholars, publishers, and corporate executives worked together to mute these words, ending up with new books called "Bibles" where thousands of changes had been made to render them innocuous to those of us raised in a feminized society in which it has become gauche to refer to mixed-sex groups using any word with a male marking. Thus in their book they called a "Bible," the word 'man' became 'humankind', 'brothers' became 'Christian friends' (NLT) or 'siblings' (NIVI), 'man' became 'person', and so on--thousands of times across the pages of Scripture.
As you'll see from the above reference to the NLT, the NIV was not the only Bible in wide use across the evangelical world being similarly updated. In an effort to update the Living Bible which was growing long-in-the-teeth, Tyndale House Publishers had hired a long list of ETS academics to produce the New Living Translation which, benefiting from millions of dollars in advertising and purchased product placement in national bookstore chains, was steadily gaining market share. (The writer is the son-in-law of Ken Taylor, owner of Tyndale House Publishers until his death several years ago.)

Partly because of the naturally lower expectations of accuracy the NLT inherited from its predecessor, the Living Bible; partly because the academics who had done the NLT's translation work likely expected it to be more a devotional than a study Bible; and partly because the NLT's publisher responded to expressions of concern over some of the more egregious mistranslations evident in the NLT's text with thoughtful consideration and, eventually, a number of changes to the text of the NLT's subsequent printings; the public battle was focused almost exclusively on the updated NIVI, its publisher Zondervan, and Zondervan's subsidiary (in a manner of speaking), the International Bible Society and her subordinate Bible Translation Committee.

The public became aware of the battle through the publication March 29, 1997 of Susan Olasky's cover article, "The Stealth Bible: the Feminist Seduction of the Evangelical Church," in World magazine. For almost everyone this was the first hint of Zondervan's plans and the response was a good measure of the profound theological divisions present within the vast entrepreneurial business park named "evangelicalism."

Predictably, one side decried Olasky's divisive spirit and focused their attack on World magazine calling for the Evangelical Press Association to rebuke World's editor and publisher for their purported journalistic misdeeds. Their effort failed but members of ETS picked up the cudgel in Zondervan's behalf and they continue their efforts to this day. Having been paid, themselves, to do gender-neutered Bible translations, a number of scholars went on radio and television, wrote articles and letters to the editor, and published books defending Zondervan's new gender-neutral Bible product.

The best-known example of this academic circling of the wagons was Don Carson's book titled, The Inclusive-Language Debate: A Plea for Realism, published in 1998--one year after the battle was joined by Olasky in the pages of World. Long considered one of Carl F. H. Henry's most likely successors as the leading evangelical theologian, Carson took the posture of wise and impartial observer as he defended gender-neutral translations of Scripture. Claiming his defense was the only sane position for those knowing the intricacies of translation work, Carson denied outright that these changes were contrary to the plain sense of God's Word as the Holy Spirit had inspired it.

At the time I had just taken on the position of Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and was chagrined to have Carson resign from CBMW when we became publicly aligned with opposition to this new trend in Bible translation. Having received his resignation, I suspected there was more behind his resignation than the gender-neutral Bible controversy, but I called him and, introducing myself, asked him to reconsider his resignation.

Carson was dismissive of my request saying that he was unwilling to align himself with an organization that took a position on the use of inclusive language in Scripture that would cause him to "laughed off the platform" of those secular universities where he regularly spoke. A year later, Carson came out with The Inclusive-Language Debate: A Plea for Realism.

Both the more liberal element and those lacking discernment within evangelicalism took Carson's work as an edict from on high and have not troubled themselves with this issue since Carson pronounced his judgement.

A couple years later Westminster Theological Seminary's Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Vern Poythress, wrote a response to Carson, and those who have read Poythress's arguments against gender-neutral Bible translation note that Poythress is every bit Carson's equal in academic credentials and expertise in the academic disciplines pertinent to this debate. The case he builds in The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words, along with the contributions Poythress' co-author Wayne Grudem makes to the work, combine to deal Carson a decisive blow.

One critical aspect of Carson's work that has yet to be publicized and condemned as it ought is his failure to reveal to his readers that he had a prior commitment in the matter at hand, and that he could make no claim to be an impartial judge.


Because a few years earlier Tyndale House Publishers had paid Carson to produce a gender-neutral translation of the book of Acts for the New Living Translation. And it's interesting to note it was Carson's Acts in which, arguably, the worst example of gender-neutral Bible translation technique occurred. The first edition of the NLT's version of Acts 1:21,22 read: "So now we must choose someone else to take Judas's place. It must be someone (from Greek 'aner' meaning gender-specifc 'man') who has been with us all the time that we were with the Lord Jesus--from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us into heaven. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus' resurrection" (NLT-First Edition).

As noted above, the Greek root is 'aner' and the New American Standard Bible translates it properly: "Therefore it is necessary that of the men (andrwn) who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us--beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us--one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection" (NASB-95 Edition).

It is no small thing to remove the male semantical component from the verse dealing with the selection of a new man to hold the apostolic office and it's good to be able to report that Tyndale House Publishers chose to revert to the meaning of the original Greek in subsequent printings of the NLT. Still, the significance of this mistranslation occurring on Carson's watch cannot be overemphasized in considering Carson's credentials as an expert judge of the legitimacy of the whole gender-neutering enterprise.

When Carson issued his book and when the work was reviewed in the pages of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, why didn't anyone note Carson's failure to disclose his prior commitments through which he profited financially from doing gender-neutral Bible translation? Can anyone seriously argue that this information is not pertinent to Carson's credentials as an impartial judge in this matter?

Regardless of how disillusioned one might be to learn how lax evangelical publishers are about requiring authors to divulge their own conflict of interest, another aspect of this debate didn't come to light for a couple years and has yet to receive the publicity it ought to receive across the evangelical world.

A short time back an article in the Jewish Telegraph told of the growing success of an 18-year campaign by retired Jewish publisher Irvin Borowsky to alter New Testament language he describes as "excessively faulting all Jews for the suffering and execution of Jesus."

Seventy-six-year-old Borowsky founded the American Interfaith Institute in 1982 to urge Christians to cleanse the New Testament of "hate language." According to Borowsky these efforts are finally bearing fruit: "History will record that the scholars and the president of the American Bible Society who published the first Bible that contained no anti-Judaism in nearly 2,000 years were the first to record accurately the historical events of the first century."

The particular Bible Borowsky is here referring to is the American Bible Society's Contemporary English Version (CEV). Adoption of inclusive gender language in the CEV has been common knowledge for years. Almost unknown, though, was the willingness of CEV translators to alter New Testament words referring to the Jewish people.

Yet the American Bible Society is not the only Bible publisher to bow the knee in deference to Borowsky, and to avoid "excessively faulting all Jews." What other recent translation has incorporated the same changes Borowsky praises in the CEV?

About a year ago (and quite by accident), I discovered Tyndale House Publisher's New Living Translation ( NLT) had joined the American Bible Society's CEV in obscuring the meaning of the Greek word 'Ioudaios' and its cognates in the Gospel of John. At times the NLT changed the translation of the Greek word 'Ioudaios' from "Jews" to "Jewish leaders." At other times, the NLT dispensed with any Jewish semantical component at all, simply translating Ioudaiois as 'people."

The fact that these changes to the words of the New Testament were quietly slipped into the NLT is remarkable for several reasons. First, the CEV has never been known as an evangelical translation: CEV translators were not culled from Evangelical ranks whereas NLT translators were. Obviously, the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture was not an issue for CEV translators, while Tyndale House Publishers stresses that the translators of the NLT "are evangelicals who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God."

Second, the NLT made clear its preference for inclusive gender language from the very outset. Before inclusive language became a major issue in the evangelical world, the NLT had publicly stated in the introduction of its first edition:

The English language changes constantly. An obvious recent change is in the area of gender-inclusive language. This creates problems for modern translators of the ancient biblical text, which was originally written in a male-oriented culture. The translator must respect the nature of the ancient context while also accounting for the concerns of the modern audience. Often the original language itself allows a rendering that is gender-inclusive.... There are other occasions where the original language is male-oriented, but not intentionally so. (New Living Translation, 1996 edition; Introduction)

The gender violence done Scripture by the NLT at least had the virtue of complete disclosure. So we took the NLT translators at their word, that it was only gender markings related to the generic Hebrew 'adam' (man) they wanted to obscure or delete. Well we were wrong. And why are we surprised to learn this, given the intensity of our culture's hatred for anything smacking of anti-Semitism?

It's not surprising the New Living Translation did not stop with muting the patriarchalism of Scripture, but also muted the texts which have been accused by Jews of leading Christians to call them "Christ-killers." The same men who saw nothing wrong with "muting patriarchalism" are unlikely to see anything wrong with muting "Ioudaios" and "Ioudaioi."

It never ceases to amaze how men of impeccable evangelical scholarly credentials think nothing of changing thousands of words in Scripture in order to diffuse or hide the language of patriarchy or purported anti-Semitism. Yet at the same time these same men see no need to cash in their inerrancy credentials. And tragically, no one has the courage to tell them they ought to do so.

Stop and think for a moment: if the Holy Spirit meant to say "Jewish religious leaders," would He not have breathed "scribes and Pharisees" or some similar construction as He has done in so many other New Testament passages? When there are so numerous places in the New Testament where what the Holy Spirit has inspired is the equivalent of the NLT's "Jewish religious leaders," is it not imperative to communicate that, for instance, in John 10:31-32 this is most decidedly NOT what He breathed? Similarly, look at John 1:19; 2:18; 5:10; 5:15; 5:16; 5:18; 7:1,2... Then notice other places where Jewish markings have entirely disappeared from the NLT: John 2:13; 2:20; 3:1; 6:41; 6:52; 7:2....

There is no logical end to this censoring of God's Holy Spirit. Once we set ourselves up as authorities over the Word of God, thinking that we can communicate more accurately the meaning of the Holy Spirit by hiding His words, we rightly come under God's judgment.

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(This post was originally published in 2004. For a number of books and articles that rightly divide the Word of Truth on these matters check out edited by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Dionne, pastor of Trinity Pres. in Spartanburg, SC. Also, here's an article from the Banner of Truth web site.)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!