Australian passports have three gender options male (M), female (F) and indeterminate/intersex/unspecified (X). Today it’s possible to change one’s preferred sex! And the Western Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended leaving gender off birth certificates, as well as adding a third official option of “non-binary”. Meanwhile, Facebook has 71 gender options (see Appendix)! The reason for this is that the word “gender” has different meanings today. I thought that it meant whether one is biologically male or female. But now it’s also used for the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex and to indicate whether one feels male or female regardless of their biological sex.
Popular culture accepts the idea that gender is fluid and is disconnected from biological sex. If gender is fluid, a biological male can identify as a female. If gender is fluid, perhaps there are more than just two genders. And gender can be seen as more of a spectrum. Now gender is seen as a matter of choice – an expression of how we see ourselves and how we show ourselves in the world. But this can lead to stress and confusion if our gender doesn’t match our biological sex.
According to Corney (2016), there are four stages in the recent history of sexual politics in the West. These are:
– Stage one: The cause of women’s rights to equality.
– Stage two: The decriminalisation of homosexuality and Gay rights.
– Stage three: The legalization of same sex marriage.
– Stage four: The gender fluidity debate. This is the stage we are currently entering. Gender fluidity is based on two ideas; a sharp distinction between sex and gender and the claim that our gender identity is not determined by our biology or the prevailing social construct of heterosexuality but by individual choice.
What does the Bible say about biological sex?
The Bible says that God created humanity as male and female (Gen. 1:27; 5:2). As this happened before the fall of humanity into sinful behavior, it was God’s original perfect plan. Jesus repeated that “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’” (Mt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6NIV). So the Bible teaches that the biological sex of human beings is binary/dual – each person is either male or female.
Our biological sex is determined at birth. Every baby I know is called either a girl or a boy. There is no ambiguity about this. And it can’t change throughout life. Every cell in our body has either XX (female) or XY (male) sexual chromosomes. Our chromosomes are different. Our hormones are different. Our voices are different. Our body shapes are different. Our body strengths are different. Our reproductive systems are different. We think differently, learn differently, and are generally motivated by different ideas. And we can’t change that! It’s claimed that “up to 1.7% of people have intersex traits” (where it’s difficult to know whether a baby is a boy or a girl), but I don’t know anyone in this category. So, I think this figure is inflated. The figure mentioned for USA is 0.05% of the population.
What does the Bible say about gender?
The first gender role mentioned in the Bible is marriage: “That [the creation of woman] is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united [in marriage] to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). In this basic human relationship, the male’s role is as a husband and the female’s role is as a wife. As the first marriage (between Adam and Eve) happened before the fall of humanity into sinful behavior, it was God’s original perfect plan that gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex. Biblical marriage is between one man and one woman.
After the fall into sin, all God’s creation was flawed. So gender behavior didn’t always follow God’s plan. For example, there are examples of adultery, rape, and polygamy in the Bible. These are reports of what happened in biblical times and not commands or models for us to follow.
Jesus repeated God’s command for marriage that “For this reason [the two sexes] a man will leave his father and mother and be united [in marriage] to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Mt. 19:5; Mk. 10:7). So about 2,000 years ago, it was still God’s intention that gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex. But in a sinful world this is not always the case. For example, in Australia it’s legal for a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman (homosexual marriage, or “marriage equality”), even though this is against what God says in the Bible.
Jesus used one set of terms to refer to “male and female” – two biological sexes. He used a different set of terms to refer to a “man” and his “wife” – two gender roles. There are two sexes, and there are two genders. This strongly suggests that biological sex determines gender as the norm for human existence.
In Paul’s commands about marriage, he always assumes that marriage is between one man and one woman (1 Cor. 7:1-16; Eph. 5:22-33). And he repeated God’s command for marriage that “For this reason [the two sexes] a man will leave his father and mother and be united [in marriage] to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Eph. 5:31). This shows that under the new covenant, God’s plan is still that gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex.
Proper gender behavior in marriage is important because it symbolizes the relationship between divinity and humanity. In the Old Testament, God is symbolized as the husband and the nation of Israel is symbolized as His wife (Jer.3:14). Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus Christ is symbolized as the husband and the church (Christians) is symbolized as His wife (Eph. 5:22-32).
What does the Bible say about cross-dressing?
The Israelites were not to cross-dress: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this” (Dt. 22:5). According to the context of this verse it seems that the main reason for this law is that cross-dressing blurred the basic distinctions of gender duality (male and female) established in creation. The issue at stake is blurring the distinctions in external appearances between women and men. God is saying here that a man ought to look like a man, and a woman ought to look like a woman. The law is against the wearing of any item specifically intended for the opposite sex. The distinctives of each sex should be maintained and protected in regard to outward appearance.
At that time men probably wore a shorter skirt than women and may have carried weapons and tools. Whereas women’s clothing may have used finer materials, vivid colors and distinctive embroidery. This law under the Mosaic covenant isn’t mentioned in the New Testament. But Paul mentions a gender distinction in hair length (1 Cor. 11:14-15). So a possible conclusion is that God still wants His people to do their best to avoid any confusion over gender identity.
We are to respect and honor God’s perfect decision to create us as women or men. We are not to alter our clothing, accessories, cosmetics, hair styles, gait, body language, speech patterns, lifestyles, or anatomy in order to appear to others, or ourselves, to be the opposite sex. To do so is to tell God that His decision to make us a woman or a man was wrong. That is rebellion.
The Bible does not give us free rein to choose our sexual preferences and gender identity. Our culture has taken something simple and obvious, and made it complex and complicated.
The entire Biblical context is that of men and women each operating within the biology given to them by the one true God who created all things. God determines our biological sex. And there is no mention of us determining our own gender identity. Any mismatch between the two is a result of human sinfulness. Sin is when one actualizes their own desires that are contrary to God’s desires. When a person says they are a different gender than their biology indicates, they are saying “I know better than God”.
The Bible clearly differentiates between temptations to sin and the committing of sins (Jas. 1:12-16). To have “feelings” of confusion and to experience temptations to adopt a lifestyle of the opposite sex (either temporarily or permanently) is not sinful. But when one gives in to temptation and does anything contrary to God’s will, it’s sinful.
Meanwhile, our culture’s gender stereotypes are often too rigid. Masculinity isn’t only about sports, fighting and womanizing. And femininity isn’t only about dresses or ‘girly’ things. We don’t need a new body, and we don’t need to invent a new gender for ourselves because God doesn’t make mistakes. There is great diversity within the male and female genders, so we don’t need to go outside them to find ourselves.
Life is difficult and we all feel insecure at times. If we find our identity in things that don’t last, we will be disappointed. But we are all made in God’s image and we all have a unique genetic makeup in every cell of our body (Gen. 1:27). That’s a good start, but Christians have a new identity that’s eternal (2 Cor. 5:17). Christians are chosen, loved, accepted, forgiven, possessed by God, and indwelt by God (Eph. 1:3-14; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They are set apart for God and through Jesus they have direct access to God. And they are to serve God. God has given them this identity and purpose so they can reveal God’s identity to others. And they look forward to spending eternity with God. This is the only robust and secure identity that’s available to us (Heb. 6:19).
The reason we struggle to find our identity and meaning in life, is because we’re separated from God (Rom. 3:23). But Jesus bridged the gap so we can be reconciled with God (Jn. 3:16). If we chose to follow Him, our identity is in Jesus Christ.
The biblical perspective is that human gender is fixed and is connected to biological sex, which is binary (male of female). Gender diversity/fluidity is a rejection of God’s plans for humanity. It’s sinful to change our gender according to individual choice. According to the media, this kind of sin is becoming more prevalent. As believers, like Jesus we can love, help, and serve sinners without condoning, accepting, or compromising with behavior that God deems sinful (Jn. 8:3-11).
Appendix: Facebook’s 71 gender options
Agender (without gender identity; no gender identity)
Androgyne (a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics; ambiguous gender identity)
Androgynes (a combination of masculine and feminine characteristics; ambiguous gender identity)
Androgynous (a mix of female and male characteristics in appearance and dress)
Bigender (changes between masculine and feminine behavior for the situation)
Cis (“cisgender”, gender identity matches biological sex)
Cis Male (male with masculine gender identity)
Cis Man (male with masculine gender identity)
Cis Woman (female with feminine gender identity )
Cisgender (gender identity matches biological sex)
Cisgender Female (female with feminine gender identity)
Cisgender Male (male with masculine gender identity )
Cisgender Man (male with masculine gender identity)
Cisgender Woman (female with feminine gender identity )
Female to Male (female with masculine gender identity)
FTM (“female to male”; female with masculine gender identity)
Gender Fluid (experience an entire range or spectrum of gender identities over time)
Gender Nonconforming (do not dress, behave, or otherwise “fit in” with gender expectations)
Gender Questioning (exploring their gender identity and how to express it)
Gender Variant (gender identity does not conform to socially defined masculine or feminine gender norms)
Genderqueer (embrace a fluidity of gender identity)
Intersex (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female)
Male to Female (male with feminine gender identity)
MTF (“male to female”; male with feminine gender identity)
Neither (not putting a label on one’s gender identity)
Non-binary (nether masculine or feminine gender identity)
Other (choosing to not provide a commonly recognized label to one’s gender identity)
Pangender (inclusive of gender diverse people)
Trans (gender identity doesn’t match biological sex)
Trans Female (male with feminine gender identity)
Trans Male (female with masculine gender identity)
Trans Man (female wit masculine gender identity)
Trans Person (gender identity doesn’t match biological sex)
Trans*Female (male with feminine gender identity)
Trans*Male (female with masculine gender identity)
Trans*Man (female with masculine gender identity)
Trans*Person (gender identity doesn’t match biological sex)
Trans*Woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Transexual (through surgery and/or hormones, gender identity is opposite to biological sex)
Transexual Female (male with feminine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transexual Male (female with masculine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transexual Man (female with masculine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transexual Person (gender identity is opposite to biological sex)
Transexual Woman (male with feminine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Transgender Female (male with feminine gender identity)
Transgender Person (gender identity doesn’t match biological sex)
Transmasculine (female with masculine gender identity, but not wholly)
Two-spirit (individual spirits are a blend of male and female)
Asexual (lack of sexual attraction to others)
Female to male trans man (female with masculine gender identity)
Female to male transgender man (female with masculine gender identity)
Female to male transsexual man (female with masculine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
F2M (“female to male”; female with masculine gender identity )
Gender neutral (without gender; no gender identity)
Hermaphrodite (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female)
Intersex man (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female, with masculine gender identity)
Intersex person (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female)
Intersex woman (characteristics are not either all typically male or all typically female, with feminine gender identity)
Male to female trans woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Male to female transgender woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Male to female transsexual woman (male with feminine gender identity through surgery and/or hormones)
Man (male with masculine gender identity)
M2F (“male to female”; male with feminine gender identity)
Polygender (multiple gender identities)
T* man (female with masculine gender identity)
T* woman (male with feminine gender identity)
Two-spirit person (individual spirits are a blend of male and female)
Woman (female with feminine gender identity)
Dascalu, O (2014) “The rationale of the ban on cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5”, Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.
Corney, P (2016) “Gender and gender fluidity: A Christian response”
Written, September 2018
The rape and murder of Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon in July ignited national conversation about preventing violence against women. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that 30% of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner since the age of 15. We live in a world where power is often established through violence.
What can we do about this sad situation? An Australian media article suggested that parents can promote gender equality and help prevent violence against women. Is this the best we can do?
Violence is common in Australia—40% of people have experienced at least one incident of violence since the age of 15 (AIHW, 2018). Women are more likely to experience violence from a known person and in their home, while men are more likely to experience violence from strangers and in a public place. Although men are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, most victims are women. In a recent 12-month period, 99 women and 27 men were killed by a current or previous partner. And since age 15:
– 17% of women & 6% of men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner.
– 23% of women & 16% of men have experienced emotional abuse by a current or previous partner.
– 18% of women & 5% of men have been sexually assaulted and/or threatened.
Family violence is a leading cause of homelessness. Many women who experienced intimate-partner violence, suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders. And children exposed to family and sexual violence can experience long-term effects on their development and have increased risk of mental health issues, and behavioral and learning difficulties.
Our Watch (2015) claim that gender inequality sets the necessary social context for violence against women. This includes:
– Condoning violence against women.
– Men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence.
– Stereotyped constructions to masculinity and femininity, and
– Disrespect towards women and male peer relations that emphasize aggression.
Hamilton, Powell, and Pfitzner (2018) claim that violence against women is driven by gender inequality: “Rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity are key drivers of violence against women”. And “traditional attitudes towards gender are one of the strongest predictors of attitudes that support this violence”.
They distinguish between gender and a person’s biological sex. Gender is the way people think and act based on learned roles and social expectations. They recommend that parents challenge rigid gender roles and stereotypes by promoting gender equality and building children’s resilience to rigid gender stereotypes in early childhood. This includes monitoring the emotions and activities depicted in storybooks. And avoiding gender-specific toys.
They hope that supporting parents to promote more diverse concepts of gender with their young children may reduce rigid gender stereotypes tied to attitudes that support violence, and create a more gender equitable community in the long term.
What does the Bible say?
Violence began in the first family when Cain murdered his brother Abel when jealously escalated into anger. The Bible teaches that humanity inherits a sinful nature from our original ancestor Adam. All of us have a sinful nature that rebels against what God wants (Isa. 53:6). This is the source of all violence because the sinful nature includes: every kind of wickedness, evil, murder, hatred, fits of rage, drunkenness, rage and anger, lust, and those who kill their fathers or mothers, are abusive, are without love, are without self-control, and are brutal (Rom. 1:29-31; 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 12:20-21; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:31; 5:3-5; Col. 3:5, 8; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 2 Tim. 3:2-5; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). This includes verbal abuse (Col. 3:8). Our sinful nature drives the violence against women and every other kind of violence. And no amount of education, training or social manipulation can remove our sinful nature. So, according to God’s message in the Bible, the solution proposed in the article (gender equity) will only have limited success.
Jesus taught that all people have within them the potential for violence. The instinct and choice to be violent comes from our inner being (Mk. 7:14-15, 21-23). That’s the source and driver of all sinful thoughts and behavior. James confirms that fights and quarrels come from our inner desires (Jas. 4:1-3).
But God has provided a solution to the violence of this world. Jesus Christ was the only person in the history of the world who did not have a sin nature (2 Cor. 5:21). When He died, Jesus took the punishment for our sins. If we acknowledge this and follow Him we receive a new divine nature that produces: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal, 5:22-23NIV). These attitudes and behaviors are the opposite to violence against women and every other kind of violence. Solomon advised, “Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways” (Prov. 3: 31) and Jesus made this possible.
The Bible describes this godly love as follows: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Note that “it is not easily angered”, because it’s associated with “forbearance kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Husbands are to show this kind of godly sacrificial love: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph.5:25). And, “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19).
The cure for male aggression, oppression, and abuse is not gender equity. It’s the good news about Jesus, which can change our minds to produce peace, love, justice, and humility. Time with the Bible and God transforms us (Phil. 1:9-11; 2:13; Heb, 13:20-21).
The best way to reduce violence against women and every other kind of violence is to trust in Jesus and follow God’s teachings in the New Testament. This changes our lives and addresses the real source and not just the symptoms of violence.
AIHW (2018), “Family, domestic and sexual violence in Australia”, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Canberra, Australia.
Hamilton G, Powell A, Pfitzner N, (2018) “Parents can promote gender equality and help prevent violence against women. Here’s how”, The Conversation, July 30, 2018.
Our Watch (2015), “Change the story. A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia”. Our Watch, Melbourne, Australia.
Written, August 2018
Also see: Gender confusion
Narrow-minded, hateful, divisive, intolerant, bigotry, homophobia, backward theology that’s not in the spirit of Jesus; and sinful practices of exclusion, abuse and condemnation of the LGBTQ community. That’s how the statement has been attacked. And it’s been accused of causing LGBT people harm and rejecting the diversity seen in the broad spectrum of sexualities that reflects a diversity inherent in God’s creation.
The statement was drafted recently by some US evangelical theologians and pastors. The aim of the Statement is to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female. It’s a summary of what the Bible says about gender, homosexuality and marriage. It was written in response to a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage and transgender rights and to address the destructive consequences of modern inclusive culture. It presents the biblical approach to sexual ethics in a world being swayed by secular culture.
Know that the LORD Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves (Ps. 100:3 NASB)
Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for His glory, and that His good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for His creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.
This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim His way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?
We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for He made us for Himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing Him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.
We believe that God’s design for His creation and His way of salvation serve to bring Him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said He came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.
WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and His bride the church.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.
WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.
WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in His own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.
WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.
WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.
WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in His words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb” (Mt. 19:12). With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.
WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.
WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.
WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.
WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.
WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of His image-bearers as male and female.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.
WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond His reach.
Written, September 2017
Thousands rallied at Sydney Town Hall to campaign for same-sex marriage. And there are new laws against hate speech during Australia’s same-sex marriage postal survey. The survey, which is being mailed out now, asks the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The current marriage law says that marriage is between a man and a woman. But what did Jesus say about marriage? To investigate this topic, we will look at the books of Matthew to John in the New Testament.
I have previously written a blogpost on what the Bible says about gender and marriage, which shows that the early church taught that marriage is between one man and one woman. We will see that Jesus taught this truth as well.
Husband and wife
The Greek noun translated “man” (aner Strongs #435) means a male human being or a husband or a group of people, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “husband” or “husbands” in 8 verses in Matthew to John.
The Greek noun translated woman (gune #1135) means a female human being or a wife, with the preference being indicated by the context. According to the ESV, it is translated “wife” or “wife’s” in 37 verses and “wives” in one verse in Matthew to John.
Is heterosexual marriage a command, a model or a report?
The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not necessarily worth following today. For this post, all the verses in the ESV that included any of the words, “husband”, “wife”, or “marriage” were examined.
Heterosexual marriage commanded
When Jesus was asked about divorce He replied, “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them (people) male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together (in marriage), let no one separate (in divorce)” (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9NIV). Jesus goes back to the time before sin came into the world to show God’s original intention for marriage. Then He says that humanity was created in two genders: male and female (Gen. 1:27). That should be obvious to us. When a baby is born, it’s announced as being either a boy or a girl. There’s no gender ambiguity at birth! Our gender is determined by our genome and we can’t change that. Then the two genders are given as the reason (“For this reason”) why marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s easy to understand. In this way, marriage is linked to God’s creation. “United” means that there is a strong bond between husband and wife. “One flesh” means sharing all of life together, like a body that doesn’t separate until death. God designed husband and wife to complement each other. Jesus recognizes that the first marriage was between Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman). It wasn’t between Adam and Steve or between Madam and Eve! The pattern of marriage was established in the Garden of Eden, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). So according to the Bible, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Jesus quotes this verse and adds that because God has joined the couple together in marriage, it’s meant to be a lifelong union (“let no one separate”). Jesus showed that God’s original intention for marriage still applied in a sinful world. In fact, it applies until we go to heaven (Mt. 22:29-30; Mk. 12:24-25; Lk. 20:34-36). So, Jesus answers the question on divorce in the context of marriage being heterosexual.
This is Jesus’ definition of marriage. And same-sex marriage isn’t included. Jesus never discussed same-sex marriage because the way he defined marriage already excluded it! So the term “same-sex marriage” is a contradiction, an oxymoron.
Adam and Eve were commanded to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 1:28). This means that one of the important functions of the first marriage was to produce and nurture children. This is the example of marriage that Jesus tells those in the first century AD to follow. Of course, it only makes sense in the case of heterosexual marriage. There was no way to produce children from homosexual relationships.
Whenever Jesus taught about adultery (Lk. 16:18) and divorce (Mt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10:2-12; Lk. 16:18), He assumed that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But what about models of marriage in the gospels that aren’t commands?
Heterosexual marriage modelled
There are other verses that indicate that the pattern of marriage in the time of Jesus was monogamous and heterosexual and that Jesus approved of this pattern for marriage.
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist (Lk. 1:5-24). And Jesus’ family had a father and mother, Joseph and Mary (Mt. 1:20, 24). One of the woman near the cross was Mary the wife of Clopas (Jn. 19:25). And when Jesus listed a man’s family He included a wife and children (Mt. 19:29; Lk. 14:26; 18:29).
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus said that the servant had a wife and children (Mt. 18:25). In the parable of the ten virgins, the women were waiting to celebrate a wedding banquet. As a bridegroom is mentioned, the marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 25:1-10).
Jesus performed a miracle (turned water into wine) at a wedding feast in Cana (Jn. 2:1-11). As He attended the feast with His mother and disciples, Jesus clearly approved of marriage. Also, because the marriage involved a bridegroom (v.9), it was between a man and a woman. Jesus also used weddings in His parables and metaphors (Mt. 9:15; 22:1-12; 25:1-10; Mk. 2:19-20; Lk. 5:34; 12:36; 14:8). And John the Baptist used a bride, bridegroom and best-man in an illustration (Jn.3:29).
But what about when marriage is reported in the gospels and it isn’t necessarily an example to follow?
Heterosexual marriage reported
The prophetess Anna became a widow after seven years of marriage to her husband (Lk. 2:36). And when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, they both assumed that a woman like her usually had a husband (Jn. 4:16-18).
When they asked Jesus about divorce, the Jewish religious leaders assumed that marriage was between a man and a woman (Mt. 19:3; Mk. 10:2). And the Sadducees asked Jesus a hypothetical question which involved a woman marrying seven brothers in turn under the levirate marriage law (Mt. 22:23-28; Mk. 12:18-23; Lk. 20:27-33). Although this looked like serial monogamy, in each case the woman was widowed before she remarried.
John the Baptist denounced the marriage of Herodias to Herod Antipas, after she had been married to Herod Philip (Mt.14:3; Mk. 6:17-18; Lk. 3:19). Pilate was married (Mt. 27:19). And Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household, was married to Joanna (Lk. 8:3).
These verses indicate that the most common pattern of marriage when Jesus was alive was monogamous and heterosexual, where a man was married to a woman.
Other types of marriage?
I am not aware of any other verses between Matthew and John in the Bible that are related to marriage. So, the Bible doesn’t teach any other pattern for marriage besides a man and a woman. This means that homosexual marriage is a human invention, whereas heterosexual marriage is God-ordained.
Clearly, all the marriages referred to above involved the union of one man and one woman. It involved both genders (heterosexual marriage), and not only a single gender (homosexual marriage).
How do we know what Jesus thought of same-sex marriage (or homosexuality) when it’s not mentioned specifically in the gospels? We can find out from the Old Testament because it describes the principles and practices of Judaism. Jesus was a faithful Jew who lived under the Old Testament law. He obeyed the law of Moses (Jn. 8:29,55) and He didn’t sin in any way (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pt. 2:22). So, He would have followed the laws of Moses about unlawful sexual relations, such as:
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (Lev. 18:22).
“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable” (Lev. 20:13).
So Jesus would have prohibited any homosexual sexual activity as it was against the laws of Moses for sexual relationships.
We have seen that according to Jesus, marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman. Consequently, the term “same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron.
Written, September 2017
Europe is fracturing over how to handle hundreds of thousands of immigrants fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. Many people don’t want refugees in their neighborhood. They look differently, speak differently and there is a lot of resentment. There is a cultural clash – the role of women in society and dress. The Dutch, Danes and French are in favor of gender equality, while the Muslim immigrants see differently.
The Christians in Galatia were being fractured by Jewish legalism. They were adding their previous religion to Christianity. So Paul corrected them vigorously. In this post we look at the meaning of the verse, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28NIV). We will see that instead of discriminating against each other, Paul tells them to concentrate on what they have in common.
The first Christians were Jews and Jewish proselytes (Acts 2:5, 8-11). After Christianity spread to other nations, the question arose as to whether the new Christians needed to follow Jewish practises. This was resolved at a meeting in Jerusalem in AD 49-50 (Acts 15). It was agreed that Jewish practices associated with the law of Moses, like male circumcision, weren’t required for salvation. This is the topic that’s being addressed in Paul’s letter written about AD 48-50 to the churches in Galatia. The theme is the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ.
The major divisions of Paul’s letter are:
– Introduction (1:1-10),
– Paul defends his authority (1:11 – 2:21),
– Christian doctrine (3:1 – 4:31),
– Practical application of the doctrine (5:1 – 6:10), and
– Conclusion (6:11-18).
Galatians 3:28 is in the section on doctrine, which contains the following teaching:
– Faith or works of the law (3:1-14)? This contrasts Christian faith and “the works of the law” (3:2, 10).
– Law versus promise (3:15-22). God’s promise to Abraham was unconditional; it didn’t depend on works at all. The law was given to the Israelites to show humanity’s sinfulness.
– Children of God (3:23-4:7). After the day of Pentecost, Jews and Gentiles could be children together in God’s family. Both Jews and Gentiles as mature sons can inherit God’s blessings promised to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ.
– Paul’s concern for the Galatians (4:8-20). They were seeking God’s favour by following legal observances. While Paul sought their spiritual welfare, the Judaizers wanted to isolate them from Paul.
– Hagar and Sarah (4:21-31). Hagar represented the law and Sarah represented God’s grace. Hagar’s son (Ishmael) was a slave, while Sarah’s son (Isaac) was free. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the Judaizers persecuted the Christians. So don’t mix law and grace. Instead, get rid of the legalism.
Galatians 3:28 is in the subsection on “Children of God”, which teaches:
– Christians aren’t required to keep the law of Moses today. But in the Old Testament times the Jews were viewed as being under the guardianship of the law (3:23-25)
– Christians are children (“sons” in ESV, HCSB, NET) of God through faith in Christ. They share a kind of unity and the inheritance promised to Abraham which was fulfilled in Christ (3:26-29)
– The Christian Jews had changed from being slaves to the law to being sons of God. They have a great inheritance awaiting them (4:1-7).
In Galatians 3:28 Paul tells the Galatian Christians “you are all one in Christ Jesus”. What does this oneness mean? In this case it means a unity in Christ amongst their diversity. At that time “you are all one” was used to signify a common characteristic that was present amongst diverse objects. For example, those who plant and those who water share a common purpose (1 Cor. 3:8), God the Father and God the Son share divinity (Jn. 10:30), husband and wife share “one flesh” (Mt. 19:6; Mk. 10:8), and all Christians share a corporate body in Christ (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 10:17). In all these cases the word “one” describes a unity between diverse people, not between similar people. So it means that the diverse believers in Galatia were united in oneness in Christ. They had unity, not uniformity or unlimited equality.
The paragraph v.26-29 is all about being children (or sons) of God. Paul describes how it happens (v.26), when it happens (v.27), what is changed from being under the law of Moses (v.28) and the resultant inheritance (v.29).
Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
The subject of verse 28 is those “in Christ Jesus” (Christians), who are referred to as “you” in verses 26-29. This is in contrast to the previous paragraph (v.23-24) which is addressed to Jews who are indicated by “we”. So there had been a change from living under the law up to the Day of Pentecost to becoming children (or sons) of God through faith in Christ after the Day of Pentecost. Paul told the Galatians, “you are all children of God through faith” (v.26). They had a new spiritual status through their relationship with Christ.
Then Paul explains that the new spiritual status started when they were “baptized into Christ” (v.27). Although it takes place at the time of conversion (the baptism of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor. 12:13), it’s confessed publicly in water baptism. This public identification with Christ is like a soldier being identified by his uniform: they had clothed themselves with Christ (v.27). Paul has used this metaphor elsewhere for exchanging an old way of life for a new one (Rom. 13:12-14; Eph.6:11-14; Col. 3-10).
Then Paul says that true Christians are united through their common relationship with Christ – they are “all one in Christ Jesus”. In this respect there is no difference between “Jew” and “Gentile”, “slave” and “free”, or “male and female”. Each pair represents all of humanity. These are binary categories of people divided according to race, social class and gender.
We need to interpret Galatians 3:28 in terms of the contrast between the law of Moses and faith in Christ (which is its context). The implication is that in Christianity there is a unity within the categories of people that is absent under the law.
What kind of a unity is this? The doctrinal portion of Galatians (Ch. 3-4) is mainly about the differences between the law of Moses and the Christian faith. These were ways to enter into a relationship with God before/after the day of Pentecost and what that brings. So the unity involves entering a relationship with God and the resultant blessings. It meant that the way of salvation is the same now for both Jew and Gentile. And for both slave and free. And for both male and female. This is consistent with Paul saying that God’s salvation is equally available to everyone regardless of race (Rom. 10:11-13) and that this salvation removes ethnic barriers (Eph. 2:15-16).
Furthermore, all Christians have the same position in Christ regardless of their race, social class and gender. They are all born again, justified, forgiven, redeemed, adopted, a child of God, spiritually alive in Christ, a new creation, in God’s spiritual kingdom, citizens of heaven, seated with Christ, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and headed for heaven. Each also has eternal life and peace with God. So no one has an advantage in the kingdom of God because of their race, social class or gender.
Equality of inheritance of all God’s blessings maybe Paul’s main point because it’s the subject of the next verse: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (v.29). This means that no race or social class receives more inheritance than another and that males don’t receive more inheritance than females.
In the New Testament, salvation is described metaphorically as an inheritance which anyone may personally receive. Under the law of Moses, inheritance of land left by their fathers was restricted to Jewish free men (Dt. 21:15-17). That’s probably why Paul introduces slaves (or social class) and women (or gender) into Galatians 3:28. He’s saying that in Christ, Gentiles, slaves and women receive the inheritance in the same way as Jews, the free, and men. So everyone who receives the inheritance of salvation receives it in the same way.
On the other hand, under the law of Moses, Jews were privileged over Gentiles (Dt. 7:6; 14:1-2), and society was hierarchical and patriarchal, with a free man more favoured than a slave and a man more privileged than a woman. Jews were the children of God, while Gentiles were sinners (Gal. 2:15). What a contrast!
Principle and application
According to Grant Ritchison, the principle of Galatians 3:28 is “God does not recognize human distinctions in those who are in Christ”. Then he makes this application:
“Human role distinctions (1 Cor. 14:34; 1 Ti. 2:11-15; Eph. 5:22-24; 6:1-8) have nothing to do with our spiritual significance before God. Christian feminists completely miss the point of this passage which says the male has no spiritual privilege over the female. Every person, male or female, rich or poor, has the same spiritual status before God”.
“When we make distinctions in people, we form a basis for prejudice against them, making some superior and others inferior. Christians should not make race, economic status, or gender a measuring stick of acceptance”.
“However, God maintains differences in roles within society. God designed differences in sexual roles so there are functional differences between men and women. He did not create unisex; He created gender difference. If so, where is the distinction? Spiritually, men and women are the same. Physically and functionally, they are different. Spiritual blessing is one thing but human function is another thing”.
What does it mean today?
Today it means that the diverse believers in any place are united in a oneness in Christ. As the context is one’s standing before God and one’s spiritual relationships and blessings and not one’s functions or roles (in the family, in the church or in society), it means that racial, social and gender distinctives are irrelevant to salvation (entering into a relationship with God). These distinctives are also irrelevant to position before God and the blessings that accompany salvation.
Consequently, because of what we share in Christ, believers should accept Christians of a different race and respect their customs. It’s unity amidst ethnic (or cultural) diversity and not showing ethnic (or cultural) bias or favoritism. Paul rebuked Peter at Antioch because Peter was following the prejudice of His previous religion (Gal. 2:11-14).
Because of what we share in Christ, believers should accept Christians of a different social class and respect their position in society. It’s unity amidst social diversity and not showing social bias or favoritism.
Because of what we share in Christ, believers should accept Christians of a different gender and respect their gender. It’s unity amidst male and female and not showing gender bias or favoritism.
The same applies to all other differences between people that don’t affect salvation like: rich/poor, younger/older, literate/illiterate, socialist/capitalist etc. Christians who differ in these respects should also be accepted without bias or favoritism.
After all, Paul encouraged the Jewish and Christian believers in the church at Rome to live harmoniously (Rom. 15:5). His guiding principle for them was “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7). If Christ has accepted a person, then we should also accept them. Then he reminds them that the ministry of Jesus Christ includes Jews and Gentiles, and the implication is that we should welcome both as well (Rom. 15:8-13).
India is a large country with a range of races, languages, cultures, customs and religious faiths. It is multiracial and multicultural. In spite of this diversity, there is a sense of national unity and oneness among all the Indians that keeps them bonded together.
What doesn’t it mean today?
Be careful of using Galatians 3:28 to over-ride other verses in the New Testament. For example, it doesn’t mean that:
– we ignore or remove all ethnic or cultural customs, or
– we ignore or remove all social differences, or
– we ignore or remove all gender differences by assuming that their roles are identical. If this aspect is elevated to override the rest of Scripture, it can be used to justify homosexuality.
So the Christian faith wasn’t designed to abolish racial, social and gender distinctions. In fact, it’s impossible to obliterate one’s race or gender.
“You are all one” doesn’t mean you are all equal. Because people are equal in one respect (salvation and its blessings), it doesn’t follow that they are equal (the same) in other respects. For example, it doesn’t mean that men and women have interchangeable roles in the home and church.
Instead, the New Testament does recognize the distinction between races (Rom. 15:27; Gal. 2:14) and between slaves and masters (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22 – 4:1). It also recognizes the distinction between men and women. For example, the elders that lead the early church were always male (1 Tim. 3:2; Ti. 1:6). In order to practice the teachings of the early church it’s important not to be deceived by the emphasis on gender equality in the western world.
Instead, let’s accept a diversity of customs and social class and distinct male and female roles without unbiblical bias or favoritism. After all each of us has a particular race, a particular social class and a particular gender. But these differences don’t matter in one’s relationship with God.
Paul has expressed similar thoughts to this in other Scriptures.
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Col. 3:11). This verse refers to the “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (3:10). It follows references to the believer’s standing and state (or position and practice). He wants their state to be consistent with their standing (or their daily behavior to be consistent with their Christian faith). Verse 11 teaches that as far as their standing before God is concerned, all believers are on the same level. Christ “is in all” in the form of the Holy Spirit. So no-one is spiritually superior to anyone else. And Christians can no longer blame and excuse wrong conduct (such as anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying, v. 8-9) on racial background (“Gentile or Jew”) or social class (“barbarian, Scythian, slave or free”).
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Each Christian is different (like a part of a body), but they share the fact that each is baptized by and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is the case regardless of their race (“Jews or Gentiles”) or social class (“slave or free”). So as far as salvation goes, ethnic and social distinctions are irrelevant.
So in AD 55 and AD 60, Paul told those in Corinth and Colossae that race and social class were irrelevant to salvation and wrong behaviour. And we have seen that in AD 50 Paul told those in Galatia that race, social class and gender were irrelevant to the way of salvation and their position “in Christ”. So Paul’s teaching is consistent over this ten-year period.
Practical applications in Galatians
Galatians 3:28 is in the doctrinal portion of this letter (3:1-4:31). The practical applications made in the letter are:
– Don’t tolerate legalism, like requiring believers to follow the law of Moses (5:1-12)
– Serve one another humbly in love (6:13-15)
– Express the fruit of the Spirit, not the acts of the flesh (5:16-26)
– Share each other’s burdens (6:1-6)
– Do good to all, especially to believers (6:7-10).
Note that none of these applications relate to gender roles or functions in the church. In fact, there is no mention of gender roles in the whole letter. Therefore, to apply Romans 3:28 to gender roles or functions in the church is “cherry-picking” (in this case taking a verse totally out of context and reading in a meaning that wasn’t intended by the author).
More on slavery and gender
We have looked at what Paul wrote (~ AD 50) in Galatians 3:28 about slavery. The Bible contains additional instructions for slaves that were written about AD 60-64 (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-25; Phile.; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; Ti. 2:9-10; 1 Pt. 2:18-21). These mainly involve obeying, serving and respecting their master. If Galatians 3:28 meant abolishing slavery, then we would expect this to be mentioned in some of these passages which were written 10-14 years afterwards. But it isn’t. This is consistent with Galatians 3:28 teaching that slaves and their masters can share the same Christian faith and have the same inheritance in Christ. This is equivalent to saying that people in all social classes and positions in society can share the same Christian faith and have the same inheritance in Christ.
We have also looked at what Paul wrote (~ AD 50) in Galatians 3:28 about gender. The Bible contains additional instructions for women that were written about AD 55-64 (1 Cor. 11:3-16; 14:34-35; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; 1 Ti. 2:9-15; 1 Pt. 3:1-6). These mainly involve godly behavior, including submission to husbands. If Galatians 3:28 meant abolishing gender roles, then we would expect this to be mentioned in some of these passages which were written 5-14 years afterwards. But it isn’t. This is consistent with Galatians 3:28 teaching that women and their husbands can share the same Christian faith and have the same inheritance in Christ.
We have seen from Galatians 3:28 that in Christianity, ethnic (cultural), social and gender differences are demolished with regard to our salvation, our position before God and our inheritance. That’s why the labels that can separate believers are often replaced by the words “brother” and “sister”. All believers are saved the same way and all are entitled to the same privileges as children (sons) of God.
So, instead of discriminating against other Christians like the Galatians, let’s concentrate on what we have in common.
Hove R. W. (1999) “Equality in Christ? Galatians 3:28 and the gender dispute”, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois.
Ritchison G. <www.versebyversecommentary.com/galatians/galatians-338>, 1 March 2016
Written, March 2016
Also see: May we go in there?
Gender was invented by God. In the beginning He created male and female people, male and female animals, and some plants are male or female (Gen. 1:27). Gender is involved in the reproduction and propagation of a species.
Males and females are generally similar, but they have some differences. In the animal word, males and females can have different roles. Usually females spend more time caring for offspring than males. But in a minority of species these traditional roles are reversed. For example, male sea horses get pregnant and some male birds, fish and frogs take care of the eggs and newborns. What about humanity? In this article we look at what the Bible teaches about gender roles in the family and the church.
Similarities and differences
According to the Bible, men and women have equal value in God’s sight. They were both created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27; 5:1-2). Children were commanded to honor both their father and their mother (Ex. 20:12). And Jesus died for the sins of both men and women.
Gender makes no difference in terms of salvation (one’s standing before God) and its blessings (Gal. 3:28; 1 Pt. 3:7). In the promised inheritance there is no distinction between male and female.
But men and women are different genetically. They have different sex chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell of their bodies (XX for females and XY for males). And it’s the mother who carries the child from conception to birth, and not the father. Mothers have a unique role in bringing children into the family.
In the family
Paul describes the relationship between husband and wife as, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior” (Eph. 5:23NIV). Consequently, the husband is to love his wife “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v.25) and the wife is to submit to her husband “as the church submits to Christ” (v.24). This is repeated “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (v.28) and “wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (v.22). And it is summarized, “each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (v.33). Another example of this respect was Sarah’s respect for Abraham (1 Pt. 3:5-6).
A similar message is given to the church at Colossae, “Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:18-19). And to the church at Corinth, “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is (the) man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). When we look at these three relationships we see that male leadership is to be like Christ’s leadership of mankind; sacrificial and servant-like (Phil. 2:1-8). And female submission is to be like Christ’s submission to God; joyful and willing (Mt. 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 26:39, 42; Mk. 14:36; Lk. 22:42; Heb. 12:2). It is evident that the ordered relationship in the trinity is to be mirrored in an ordered relationship in humanity. Also see Titus 2:5 and 1 Peter 3:1.
God’s design is that the husband be the leader of the marriage and family. In particular, the husband is to love and protect his wife and the wife is to respect and support her husband. This enables order and unity in the marriage and the family.
In the days of large families (before birth control), the care of infant children would have taken a major portion of a mother’s life. This is consistent with the biblical instruction for young wives to “manage their homes” and “to be busy at home” (1 Tim. 5:14; Tit. 2:5). So it is understandable that she spent most of her time at home. Now that we have birth control and labor saving devices at home, she is able to spend more time away from home.
So the biblical pattern for marriage and the family is loving leadership by the husband and respectful submission by the wife and children.
Paul also describes gender roles within the local church.
In the church
He says that the church should be led by a team of men (elders or overseers) – (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). Each elder is to be “faithful to his wife”. Also, Paul prohibits women teaching men (1 Tim. 2:12). Of course they can teach women and children.
In the church, particular men are leaders and teachers. The rest of the congregation (men, women and children) are to respect these men because of their role in the local church. Note, all men aren’t leaders or teachers in the local church.
In the church a woman is to respect her husband and the church elders and teachers. In particular, Christian women are to be characterized by good deeds such as bringing up children well, kindness to strangers, serving other believers humbly, and helping those in trouble (1 Tim. 5:89-10). On the other hand, a man is to love his wife and respect the church elders and teachers.
So the biblical pattern for the church is male leadership by the elders, male teaching at combined meetings and respectful submission by the rest of the congregation. This enables order and unity in the church.
This pattern is consistent with the pattern of gender roles in the family. The male leadership role is indicated by the use of the Greek verb proistemi (Strongs #4291) to describe how a father is to lead his family (1 Tim. 3:4, 12) and how an elder is to lead the church (1 Th. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17).
Order of creation
Another difference between the first couple, Adam and Eve, was that Adam was created before Eve (instead of at the same time) and Eve was to be Adam’s helper (Gen. 2:18, 20). According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexion, the Hebrew noun translated “helper”, ezer (Strongs #5828) means “one who helps”. This word is used elsewhere in the Pentateuch to describe how God saved Moses from the sword of Pharaoh (Ex. 18:4) and saved the Israelites from their enemies (Dt. 33:7, 26, 29). God acts like a servant when He helps people like this. In these instances, He undertook a humble role despite His supreme status. So Eve was created to help Adam; and not Adam to help Eve. She supported him. This doesn’t mean that she was inferior (like a servant) or superior (like God). Adam and Eve were marriage partners; together they were complete. But since the fall into sin, the marriage relationship is distorted whenever there is male dominance or female independence (Gen. 3:16).
So the ordered relationship in humanity, which mirrors the ordered relationship in the trinity, was established when Adam and Eve were created. That’s why the husband is to have a leadership role in marriage and the family (1 Cor. 11:8-9). The same reason is given for the pattern of male leadership in the church and male teaching in church meetings when women are also present (1 Tim. 2:13). So the order and reason for the creation of the first male and female are the principles that are behind these practices.
Just as Adam was the leader amongst equals in the first marriage, a husband is to be the leader amongst equals in marriage, and each elder is to be a leader amongst equals in the church. It’s a pattern of loving and protective male leadership.
In this way, men and women are like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. They fit together. One is incomplete without the other. They enhance and complete each other. They are like instruments combining harmoniously in a band or orchestra.
We have seen that the Bible’s teachings about gender roles in the family and the church are based on the fact that Adam was created first and Eve was to be his helper. Because of this, in marriage and the family the wife and children are to respect and submit to the husband’s loving leadership. And in the church, the congregation are to respect and submit to the godly leadership of the male elders and the godly teaching of male teachers at combined meetings. These relationships enable order and unity in the family and in the church.
Husbands, do you have a godly vision for your families? Do you serve your wife sacrificially? Wives, do you support your husbands?
Men, if you are qualified, are you willing to take leadership and teaching responsibilities at church? Men and women, do we respect those who lead and teach at church?
Let’s promote harmony, order and unity in the family and in the church.
Written, January 2016
In part 3 of this evaluation of the NIV 2011 Bible, we assess some criticisms of this translation by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW)
The CBMW issued “An Evaluation of Gender Language in the 2011 Edition of the NIV Bible” in mid-2011. They are concerned that “the 2011 NIV … unnecessarily removes male-oriented terminology that was present in the 1984 NIV — especially the use of generic masculine forms of expression”.
Their accusations against the NIV 2011 are summarised below, including the verses referenced.
It adopts feminist-leaning translations – 1 Tim. 2:12
“The 2011 NIV changes some key verses on women’s role in the church so that they favor an evangelical feminist position, especially in translating 1 Timothy 2:12 in a way that differs with all other commonly-used modern English translations and that gives women a wide open door to serve as pastors and elders in churches, contrary to the actual teaching of the New Testament.”
Rom 16:7; 1 Corinthians 14:33-34; Romans 16:1
It incorrectly changes “father” to “parent” or something else – Proverbs 15:5; 1 Samuel 18:2
It incorrectly changes “forefather” to “ancestor” – Joshua 19:47
It incorrectly changes “mighty men” to “mighty warriors – 2 Samuel 23:8
It incorrectly changes “son” to “child” – Proverbs 13:24; Psalm 8:4
It incorrectly changes “man” to a gender-neutral term – 1 Kings 9:5; Proverbs 27:17
It incorrectly changes “brother” to “brother or sister” or to other non-family words –
Luke 17:3; Deuteronomy 22:1
It incorrectly changes “mighty men” to “mighty warriors – 2 Samuel 23:8
It incorrectly changes “he” and “him” to “they” and “them” – John 14:23
It loses many more masculine singular pronouns than the “Translators’ Notes” suggest –
Proverbs 28:19; John 6:40; John 15:6; Proverbs 5:21; Romans 4:8; Matthew 10:24; Matthew 12:35; Matthew 18:15; Revelation 3:20
It incorrectly changes “women” to “weaklings” – Nahum 3:13
It waters down or omits details of meaning that modern culture finds offensive – They object to the removal of male examples to teach general truths, by removing words such as “father,” “son,” “brother,” “man,” and “he/him/his.”
Most of these accusations have been responded to generally by the NIV translators and specifically by Decker (2011).
The translator’s response is summarised below.
- The NIV translators have never been motivated by a concern to avoid giving offense. We were simply following what wide-ranging, objective research tells us about the state of modern English.
- It is the scholarship that has influenced the translation decisions – not a modern agenda of any kind.
- The CBMW review betrays a simplistic understanding of word meaning.
- Why single out the NIV for criticism for translation decisions that, to some degree, are being widely adopted by modern translators? We, along with translators of other modern versions, are not trying to “avoid” certain words. Rather, positively, we are trying to find the right word in contemporary English to represent the meaning of ancient Hebrew and Greek words.
Dr Rod Decker is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania USA. His response to the CBMW report is summarised below.
The CBMW is a very vocal single-issue group that has determined that one of the primary ways to champion their position is to advocate a single approach to translation: formal equivalence with explicit objection to “gender-neutral” translation. Their single issue is defending a complementarian view of men and women and opposing egalitarianism. I personally hold a complementarian position, so my objection is not to the position itself but to some of the ways in which CBMW has attempted to advance that cause.
The tone of their official review of the NIV 2011 is unhelpful, and the methodology employed is designed more for rhetorical effect than it is for a substantive engagement in the issues. The methodology essentially collates a large quantity of data presented in summary form. This gives the uninformed reader the impression of thousands and thousands of errors. In reality there are a few basic issues in regard to how gender-related language should be translated. These get too little attention in the review. One sometimes sees a parallel in the manner in which “KJV-only” advocates defend their preference against all comers.
More specifically, 1 Timothy 2:12 is not a feminist-driven translation choice. To say that “in one stroke the NIV 2011 removes the Bible’s main barrier to women pastors and elders” is ill-advised rhetoric. Decker also quotes Paul Wendland:
The CBMW overstates the case when it claims that the NIV 2011 translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 will give “an open door” to women pastors since “in one stroke it removes the Bible’s main barrier to women pastors and elders. As soon as a church adopts the 2011 NIV, the debate over women’s roles in that church will be over”. The NIV 2011 still says that the husband/man is the head of the wife/woman and that an elder/overseer in the church is to be “faithful to his wife.” How has a wide open door been given to women pastors when NIV 2011 says these things? Just as gender roles could be taught on the basis of the KJV, in spite of “usurp authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12, so it will be possible to teach gender roles on the basis of NIV 2011.
Also, I do not find the CBMW’s argument convincing when they say that ‘assume authority’ must be understood as ‘assume authority on one’s own initiative.’ If I would say in a conversation, “The president assumed office today,” would anyone think, “He means the president is assuming office on his own initiative”? I have a hard time believing it.
Moo has stated “that in order to have or exercise authority, it must first be assumed”. You could even argue that “assume” is stronger than “have” or “exercise”. You can have authority but never exercise it. You could exercise authority without having it (in any official, designated capacity). But you can’t have or exercise authority without first assuming it.
Decker also addresses the linguistic concerns of the CBMW, including:
- To state that Luke 17:3 incorrectly changes “brother” to “brother or sister” “is biased and ill-informed”.
- To suggest that eliminating a “male-oriented” term (i.e., generic “man”), as in Proverbs 27:17, is capitulating to the feminist agenda is foolishness.
- To ask why is the male meaning that is present in the source text of John 6:31 eliminated makes an unwarranted semantic assumption.
People like the CBMW are concerned about neutering masculine pronouns. John 6:44 is an example of a masculine singular pronoun (“him”) being replaced by a gender-neutral plural pronoun (“them”). In this instance they think that a corporate element is being added to a verse that originally had an individual focus. However, the “them” in this verse does not refer to a group of people, but to the “one” referenced in the start of the verse. The NIV 2011 verse is worded exactly how people speak today!
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference|
|No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day||No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day||John 6:44|
However, there is a verse in the NIV 2011 that I think would be improved if it was translated like John 6:44. Revelation 3:20 is not worded how people speak today. Is there any reason why “them” can’t be used in this verse instead of “that person'”, because “them” is much more readable than “that person”.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||My suggestion||Reference|
|Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me||Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.||Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.||Revelation 3:20|
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)
Other opposition has come from the US SBC, which passed a resolution opposing the NIV 2011 at their annual convention in June 2011. The heart of the 2011 resolution claims, “this translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language.” It also references a 1997 resolution on translation that condemns “gender inclusive translation”. It is understood that the CBMW report would have given the 2011 resolution momentum. The resolution has also been used to claim that the NIV 2011 undermines the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible (God supernaturally guided the biblical authors to write the exact things that He wanted expressed).
The NIV translators and Decker (2011) have responded to this accusation.
The translator’s response is summarised below.
- We object strongly to the accusation that the NIV “alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language.” Our concern is always, in every decision we make, to represent God’s unchanging Word accurately and naturally in modern English.
- We object strongly to the accusation that “the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards.” In fact, our translation standards are exactly those followed by professional translators around the world. We employ these standards in combination with the best biblical and linguistic scholarship to render God’s eternal Word accurately into modern English. This mandate is what guides us in all our decisions — not any other agenda.
According to Decker (2011):
Unfortunately, neither “gender-neutral” … nor “gender inclusive” in the 1997 resolution are defined. Definition is the heart of any such statement … It appears that the resolution assumes a very broad definition of the term and applies it to a translation that itself uses a very narrow definition. .. the only changes in the NIV 2011 that may be termed “gender inclusive” are those that the translators understood to be inclusive of both men and women in the original text. That is hardly objectionable. It is unfortunate that the SBC has not issued a more accurate statement …
The 1997 resolution of the SBC that is referenced in the 2011 resolution indicates that their concern is with regard to “gender inclusive language” in “Bible translations with the intent of translating the Scriptures into the current language of the people”. In their opinion this is a deviation from the historic principles of biblical translation. As translations such as the KJV were in the current language of their day, this seems to be a bias against translating the Bible into modern language. Instead they prefer to retain the language of a previous era and reject aspects of current language, which is similar to how the Amish view aspects of technology. This is acceptable provided their view is not forced on others with a differing opinion.
As the SBC doesn’t provide any biblical examples of its concern or any reasoning, it could be difficult to convince others of their viewpoint. Instead they only provide a brief statement. This may have been due to their reliance on the CBMW report.
It is instructive to compare a selection of verses in different translations. Here we see that translations like the ESV and HCSB, which are accepted by the CBMW, sometimes make similar choices to the NIV 2011. However, they are not as consistent as the NIV 2011.
As these criticisms of the NIV 2011 by the CBMW and the SBC have been answered adequately by the NIV translators and Decker (2011), the criticisms appear to be weak in view of current biblical scholarship. As most of their claims were linguistic, it is appropriate that they be answered by biblical linguists. Furthermore, according to Dr Daniel Wallace, a professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, the NIV 2011 is a well-thought out translation, with checks and balances through rigorous testing, overlapping committees to ensure consistency and accuracy; the scholarship is excellent both in text and translation decisions; and it has great readability. Dr Wallace is an expert in Greek grammar and New Testament textual criticism and a strong complementarian. It would be helpful if more biblical linguists confirmed this to help counter the negative comments by non-linguists on the internet.
As a result of this 3-part series it is clear that most of the changes between 1984 and 2011 are improvements to the accuracy and understandability of the NIV Bible.
On the whole, this assessment of the statement by the NIV translators, of the paper by an independent New Testament scholar, Decker (2011), and of criticisms by the CBMW and the SBC, indicates that the NIV 2011 is an improvement on the NIV 1984.
Written, January 2013
See the previous articles in this series:
– Improvements in the NIV Bible between 1984 and 2011 – Part 1
– Improvements in the NIV Bible between 1984 and 2011 – Part 2
In part 2 of this evaluation of the NIV 2011 Bible, we assess a statement by an independent New Testament scholar. In order to avoid duplication, points already made in Part 1 of this series will not be repeated.
Dr Rodney Decker is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. This is a conservative Bible college which serves a (theologically) conservative constituency. He teaches courses in New Testament (NT) Greek language and NT textual criticism.
Rodney Decker has a doctorate in NT Theology from Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minnesota USA. His 1998 doctorate dissertation was titled, “Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the Gospel of Mark in Light of Verbal Aspect”. He is the author of numerous journal articles on linguistic, exegetical (explanatory, expository), and theological topics and has written text books on Koine Greek, which is the original language of the New Testament. Rod holds a complementarian position where men and women have complementary roles that include male leadership in the home and in the church (as Paul’s instructions on men and women were intended for all times and cultures), whereas egalitarians believe that men do not have the sole rights as leaders in the home or church (as Paul’s instructions on men and women were intended only for his time and culture).
Further information on Rod’s activities is available on his website: NT Resources.
Assessment of evaluation done by Dr. Rodney Decker
“An Evaluation of the 2011 Edition of the New International Version” (Themelios 36, 3, 415-456) was published in November 2011.
Decker explains the two general approaches to translation – “formal equivalence” (attempts to reproduce the word order, grammar and syntax of the donor language as closely as possible in the receptor language, with minimal changes for intelligibility) and “functional equivalence” (attempts to accurately communicate the same meaning in the receptor language, while it may relax the form of the source language). All translations include both formal and functional equivalents to a certain degree. The NIV balances both approaches, whereas the ESV and HCSB are more “formal” and the NLT more “functional” on the translation spectrum. Every translation, including the most formal, makes many substantial revisions to the form of the source language.
Decker explains that an update of the NIV Bible was necessary because “our language has changed”. With regard to changes in the NIV 2011 in English usage, advances in scholarship, and improved clarity, he agrees that most of these changes are “very good ones that contribute to understanding the Word of God in English”.
Changes related to gender language
If a translation intends to communicate in contemporary English, then that translation is fully justified to make changes that reflect current usage. The change in English usage of gender language was determined by a study based on the Collins Bank of English—a 4.4 billion-word database of English usage worldwide based on both print and audio recordings. This is the first time that such an objective approach has been used in Bible translation. For example, of the current terms referring to both men and women, about 70% use “people” or “human” and about 15% use “man” or “mankind”.
The principle involved in the NIV 2011, as is the case with a number of other evangelical translations (e.g., ESV, HCSB, NET, NLT), is that wording in the source language that is not gender specific should not become gender specific in the receptor language. In this respect, the receptor language for a passage should match the donor language. If one is addressed to men and women then so should the other. Likewise, of one is addressed to men (or women), then so should the other.
Seven guidelines were used to revise gender language in the NIV 2011. Decker lists these and gives some examples using NT passages. In all cases he is in agreement with the approach adopted by the translators.
Decker did a sample comparison between the NIV 1984 and the NIV 2011 using the book of 2 Timothy. Some of the changes he found are given below.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference / Note|
|ignoble||common||2 Tim. 2:20
|weak-willed||gullible||2 Tim. 3:6
|forefathers||ancestors||2 Tim. 1:3
|reliable men||reliable people||2 Tim. 2:2
|workman||worker||2 Tim. 2:15
|a man||those who||2 Tim. 2:21; 3:13
|the man of God||the servant of God||2 Tim. 3:17
|the servant of God||the brothers and sisters||2 Tim. 4:21
He didn’t think that any of these seven gender changes are controversial. However, he did identify three potentially controversial passages.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference
|I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servanta of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.||I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a deacona of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.||Romans 16:1-2|
|a Or deaconess||a Or servant|
Whether one objects to this translation, will probably depend on how deacons function in their church. The NIV 2011 has reversed the text and marginal translations that were found in the NIV 1984. In this case Decker prefers the NIV 1984. Of the changes in 12,000 verses between 1984 and 2011 (most of them are minor), this is the only one that Decker quotes where he prefers the 1984 version. Whether a technical term (“benefactor”) is used in this verse or a general descriptive (“great help”) is probably a minor matter.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference|
|Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.||Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding amonga the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.||Romans 16:7|
|aOr are esteemed by|
In Greek only a difference of accent distinguishes between Junias (male) and Junia (female) and accents were not part of the original text. There are arguments for either accent pattern. Contemporary NT scholarship appears to favor the feminine form, but it is not certain.
The issue is not with Junia being a woman, which seems likely, but the nature of the statement made about her. Decker provides evidence that it may have been better if NIV 2011 had reversed the text and marginal readings, though including the alternative reading is an improvement over the NIV 1984.
1 Timothy 2:12
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference
|I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.||I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.||1 Timothy 2:12|
The Translators’ Notes explain the reasoning behind this change as follows. Much debate has surrounded the meaning of the rare Greek word authentein … The exercise of authority that Paul was forbidding was one that women inappropriately assumed, but whether that referred to all forms of authority over men in church or only certain forms in certain contexts is up to the individual interpreter to decide. “Assume authority” leaves the question open … until we discover more conclusive evidence.
Decker states that from a translation perspective, this position is defensible. Given the uncertainty in meaning, it is most appropriate for a translation not to decide the issue. Instead, one’s conclusions regarding this text must come not from one word but from the immediate context, Paul’s teaching elsewhere, and a biblical theology of the subject.
It is a translation that allows multiple interpretations (“assume” may be read in either a positive or negative sense), but that may be a wise choice in this case. Those who want to proof-text certain positions (whether that position is valid or not) may not be happy, but we must be honest with the text and acknowledge that this is an issue that must be resolved on a much broader basis. He also states that this is not a feminist-driven translation choice.
Changes related to “Messianic” texts
Decker looked at the most commonly cited example of changes related to “Messianic” texts, the use of Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference|
|What is man that you are mindful of him,||What is mankind that you are mindful of them,||Psalm 8:4|
|the son of man that you care for him?||human beings that you care for them?a|
|5You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings||5You have made thema a little lower than the angels||Psalm 8:5|
|and crowned him with glory and honor.||and crowned thema with glory and honor.|
|a 4 Or what is a human being that you are mindful of him, a son of man that you care for him?|
|a 5 Or him|
This is a typological OT text that does not specifically prophesy Messiah directly but that the NT identifies as typological in relation to Jesus.
Decker thinks that the NIV 2011 more accurately reflects this text than the NIV 1984 and other similar translations. When Psalm 8 is interpreted on its own (without reading any NT use back into the OT text) the psalm refers only to human beings. This is the original meaning – what it meant to the original readers and hearers. The point of the psalm is that even though humans are puny beings in comparison with God, we are God’s special creations with privilege and responsibility to rule over the rest of creation (v. 5-8). Both “man” and “son of man” refer to the human race, not to any specific person. As such, using English plural pronouns (“them”) following them is appropriate. There is no hint here of anything Messianic. If we had only Psalm 8, we would never suspect that it had any relevance to Jesus.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference|
|But there is a place where someone has testified:||But there is a place where someone has testified:||Hebrews 2:6|
|“What is man that you are mindful of him,||“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,|
|the son of man that you care for him?||a son of man that you care for him?|
|7You made him a little lower than the angels;||7You made them a little lower than the angels;||Hebrews 2:7|
|you crowned him with glory and honor||you crowned them with glory and honor|
|8and put everything under his feet.”||8and put everything under their feet.”b||Hebrews 2:8|
|In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.||In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.9But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.||Hebrews 2:8b-9|
|b 7,8 Or 7You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor 8and put everything under his feet.”|
Hebrews 2:6-8 quotes Psalm 8:4-6. Once again it’s all about human beings, although “at present we do not see everything subject to them” (v.8b). The dominion over the rest of creation given to humans has never been properly administered. This problem is solved in v.9 where Jesus is introduced as the One who became human to fulfil the typology of Ps 8 – He will demonstrate this dominion in His coming kingdom. The incarnation began demonstrating how someone who is fully human should and will exercise the dominion God intended.
This means there is nothing obscured in the NIV 2011 version of Psalm 8. A generic reference for humanity is thus valid for Psalm 8:4-8 and Hebrews 2:5-8. Only in Hebrews 2:9 does the reference become Christological and singular, and at that point the NIV 2011 is perfectly clear.
The NIV 2011 more often explicitly represents the conjunctions compared with the NIV 1984, which often left them untranslated for reasons of English style (see Rom. 1:16). Also some passages that have been debated and for which there are multiple options have been left open (see Rom. 1:17). Decker thinks most of these of changes are improvements that contribute to understanding the Bible in English.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference|
|I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God||For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God||Romans 1:16|
|For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed||For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed||Romans 1:17|
In Part 1 of this series, it was noted that the Greek word “sarx” was usually translated as “the flesh” in the NIV 2011 instead of “the sinful nature” as in the NIV 1984. Although this was because “sarx” can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin, I expressed some uneasiness about this change. Decker thinks that this change encourages some people to think of the physical body as sinful and is inclined to think the earlier choice was better in many cases, but “sarx” does not always have the same meaning. However, “sinful nature” remains in Romans 7:18, 25.
Decker also evaluated the NIV 2011 in terms of its accuracy, clarity, naturalness, and appropriateness. He rates it high in terms of accuracy as the meaning is communicated accurately. By taking a mediating position between formal and functional equivalence (though tending closer to the formal end of the spectrum), the NIV 2011 has been able to produce a text that is clearer than many translations, especially those weighted more heavily with formal equivalence. It excels in communicating clearly in the language of the average English-speaking person. By using expressions that a receptor-language speaker would use, the NIV 2011 sounds much more natural than many other translations. Also, it is as well-suited for expository preaching as it is for public reading and use in Bible classes and children’s ministries.
In Decker’s opinion, the NIV 2011 is a usable translation in many situations. It continues the NIV tradition largely unchanged, though improved in many small ways. It is not perfect, but no translation is. Overall, however, it improves an otherwise fine translation. He thinks that many churches would find it helpful in ministry. It is of sufficient quality and accuracy to serve as the primary Bible in the local church, just as was the NIV 1984. So long as one realizes that the purpose of gender accurate language is to accurately reflect the language in the original texts of Scripture, it is hard to fathom objections.
One group of churches that uses the NIV 1984 is of the opinion that if a church began using the NIV 2011 in public reading tomorrow, most congregation members wouldn’t even notice the change.
In this part of an evaluation of the NIV 2011 Bible, the contributions of an independent New Testament scholar, Dr Rodney Decker, have been presented. As Professor of New Testament and Greek at a US Baptist Bible Seminary, Dr Decker has provided expert input on the linguistic aspects of this evaluation including grammar and syntax (the rules that govern the ways in which words combine to form phrases, clauses, and sentences). Dr Decker confirms that the NIV 2011 is an improvement on the NIV 1984.
Written January 2013
See the next article in this series:
– Criticisms of the NIV Bible
It’s important for people to be able to read and hear the Bible in their own language.
How the Bible came to us is described in the blog, Can we trust our Bibles. The steps in the process are:
- God-breathed: The original text was “God-breathed” via the prophets and apostles
- Preservation: Faithful copies of the original text have been preserved
- Scholarship: Textural scholars have reconstructed the original text
- Translation: The reconstructed text has been translated into various languages
The two most recent translations of the NIV Bible were done in 1984 and 2011. The process of translation involves transferring the message from a source language to a receptor language. In the case of the NIV2011 the source languages are Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) and the receptor language is everyday English. New translations are needed from time to time because all languages are constantly changing.
This evaluation of the NIV 2011 Bible looks at:
- Part 1 A statement by the committee that did the translation
- Part 2 A statement by an independent Bible scholar
- Part 3 A statement by a group that is critical of the NIV 2011
Assessment of statement by the committee that did the translation
The update reflects advances in biblical scholarship and changes in the usage of the English language between 1984 and 2011. Some examples of these are given below (italics added to highlight the changes). About 95% of the text is unchanged between 1984 and 2011.
Changes in English usage
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Sample reference|
|ankle chains||anklet||Isaiah 3:20|
|heart will be glad||he will be glad||Exodus 4:14|
|overweening pride||great . . . arrogance||Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:29|
Advances in scholarship
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Sample reference|
|inn||guest room||Luke 2:7|
|demons||false gods||Psalm 106:37|
|richly ornamented robe||ornate robe||Genesis 37:3|
|something to be grasped||something to be used to his own advantage||Philippians 2:6|
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Sample reference|
|when Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother …||when Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban …||Genesis 29:10
|If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both||If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together||Job 9:33
Explains the second clause.
|I can do everything through him who gives me strength||I can do all this through him who gives me strength||Philippians 4:13
Stops misapplication outside the context of v.12 (to be content in all circumstances, whether in riches or in poverty).
Improved accuracy in gender language
About 25% of the changes related to gender. The Collins Bank of English was used to determine current usage of gender language. Some of the guidelines used were:
- ‟Ancestors” usually replaced ‟forefathers”.
- When it was clear that a passage addressed both men and women, ‟brothers and sisters” usually replaced “brothers” (Greek “adelphoi”). In this sense, the NIV 2011 is more gender accurate than the NIV 1984.
- When the Greek word “anēr” (‟man” or ‟person”) refers to both men and women, this is made explicit.
- A variety of words were used to replace words that referred to both men and women. For example: ‟people”, ‟humans”, ‟human beings”, ‟humanity”, ‟human race”, ‟mankind”, and ‟man” (which has been retained for some memorial phrases, such as ‟The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”, Mark 2:27). Here is an example of some of these changes.
Examples of texts that now have ‟mankind” where they didn’t before include:
- ‟Let us make mankind in our image” (Genesis 1:26a);
- ‟Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); and
- ‟For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Some other examples are given below (italics added).
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference / Note|
|I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.||I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.||Romans 16:1-2
According to current scholarship, “diakonos” means “deacon”, not just ‟servant” and “prostatis” means patron or benefactor not just someone who was a ‟great help” in some unspecified way.
|For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.||It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels||1 Corinthians 11:10
‟a sign of” did not correspond to anything explicitly in the Greek.
|I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.||I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.||1 Timothy 2:12
There is uncertainty in the meaning of the rare Greek word “authentein”. Other alternatives are “exercise authority” and “usurp authority”.From the context, I assume that “authentein” includes the authority of an elder in the local church (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
|In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.||In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything||1 Timothy 3:11
From the context, it is possible that these women were either deacons’ wives or women deacons.
Some other improvements include:
- ‟Saints” often becomes ‟God’s people,” ‟the Lord’s people,” ‟the Lord’s holy people” and the like.
- In the Gospels and Acts, when associated with the coming deliverer of the Jews, ‟Christ” has often been changed to ‟Messiah.”
- In the New Testament, ‟spirit” has been capitalised whenever a reference to the Holy Spirit made good sense in a given context.
- Most occurrences of ‟sinful nature” have become ‟flesh”. Especially in Paul’s letters, “sarx” can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin. In an effort to capture this latter sense of the word, the NIV 1984 often rendered sarx as ‟sinful nature.” But this expression can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx. The updated NIV uses ‟flesh” as the translation in many places where it is important for readers to decide for themselves from the context whether one or both of these uses of sarx is present.
Some well-known texts that have been updated are given below.
|NIV 1984||NIV 2011||Reference / Note|
|Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me||Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me||Psalm 23:4
“shadow of death” is a metaphor
|‛I hate divorce,’ says the Lord God of Israel, ‛and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the Lord Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.||‛The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‛does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.||Malachi 2:16
The beginning of the verse is hard to translate.
|Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!||Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!||2 Corinthians 5:17
It is likely that Paul is making a much more sweeping claim than just the salvation of the individual believer.
|For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.||For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.||1 John 2:16
Returns to KJV rendering.
It is clear that most of the changes mentioned above are improvements to the accuracy and understandability of the NIV Bible. As I am not qualified to comment on some aspects of the linguistic changes, these have been omitted above.
With regard to the word “mankind”, I prefer to use the word “humanity”. Other changes that may take a while to get used to are “the flesh” (from “the sinful nature”), “impure spirits” (from “evil spirits”) and “forbearance” (from “patience”). I need to investigate these further.
As the changes to 1 Corinthians 11:10 and 1 Timothy 3:11 move the verses closer to the Greek text, they are an improvement.
The change to Romans 16:1-2 was based on current scholarship, although I suspect that whether Phoebe was a deacon in the local church will be debated by some. On the other hand they would probably accept a woman as the coordinator of a children’s ministry at church, which could be deemed to be the role of a deacon (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 3:8-13).
The change to 1 Timothy 2:12 has some ambiguity, but this may be appropriate as there is uncertainty in the meaning of the rare Greek word “authentein”.
On the whole, this assessment of the statement by the committee that did the translation indicates that the NIV 2011 is an improvement on the NIV 1984.
Written January 2013
See the next article in this series:
– Improvements in the NIV Bible between 1984 and 2011 – Part 2