Gender Neutral Translations?

knox_bible_openedThe Christian Standard Bible, the updated version of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, a Bible produced by LifeWay Christian Resources, which is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was recently released. Some are suggesting that the CSB uses gender neutral language. These suggestions tend to produce hysteria among conservative evangelicals. However, in my experience, most misunderstand what a gender neutral translation is. It is my goal in this post to explain fairly what gender neutral translations are so that one can make an informed decision about them. I am not endorsing or criticizing any translation nor am I commenting on the CSB in particular at which I have never even looked.

In order to understand the issue of gender neutral translations, we must understand some basics about translation methodology (Paraphrases are not translations; therefore, I am not discussing them). There are basically two translation philosophies: Formal or Dynamic Equivalence. However, even word for word translations sometimes use a more dynamic translation when necessary. The only pure word for word translation is an interlinear Bible.

The preface to the English Standard Version (ESV) describes the goal of formal or word for word translations: “In each case the objective has been transparency to the original text, allowing the reader to understand the original on its own term rather than on the terms of our present-day culture” (Note that the concern of the translators of the ESV is the “original text”). As far as possible, formal translations attempt to translate each original word with one word in the receptor language and to keep the syntax as close as possible to original text.

The New International Version (NIV) is an example of the dynamic equivalence philosophy. The translators of the NIV explain their primary concern in translation as “the accuracy of the translation and its faithfulness to the intended meaning of the biblical writers.” Clearly, there is a difference in philosophy between the NIV and ESV. The NIV first and foremost focuses on the author’s intended meaning while the ESV is focused conveying the words themselves. Thus, a dynamic translation is not as concerned with the words; instead, it is concerned with conveying the thought or meaning of the author to a contemporary audience. Translators who are producing a dynamic equivalent translation are naturally more likely to have to wrestle with the question of gender neutral language; however, even formal translations like the ESV have to find some way to communicate to contemporary readers that masculine references sometimes include women.

Of course, everyone will ask, “Which is the correct methodology?” My answer is that I do not believe that there is a correct methodology. Both methodologies have produced useful translations that better help one to understand God’s Word. I use different translations depending on my purpose. For example, for preaching, teaching, and in depth study, I use a word for word translation to enable myself better “to understand the original on its own terms.” In addition, I would use a dynamic translation for reading the Bible (especially large portions), for a better understanding of the meaning of a text, for new converts, and for evangelism.

With these basics, we are now in a position to discuss gender neutral translations. First, I will describe what gender neutral IS NOT. Gender neutral translations are not LGBTQ friendly versions. They do not change gender specific persons into the opposite gender persons. In other words, God the Father does not become God our Mother. In addition, gender neutral translations do not change every instance of mentioning gender into a gender neutral term. In fact, changing genders in this way is not gender NEUTRAL. Below are some examples from the updated NIV, which is a gender neutral translation.

  • Adam and Eve are still man and woman (“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Gen.1:27).
  • Husbands are still the head (“But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” 1 Cor. 11:3).
  • Wives are still called to submit (“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 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. 5:22-23).
  • The office of elder is still open only to men (“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” 1 Cor. 14:34-35, See also 1 Tim. 2:11-15, 3:1ff)

The preface to the New Living Translation (NLT), a gender neutral translation, explains well what these translations are attempting to accomplish: “One challenge we faced was how to translate accurately the ancient biblical text that was originally written in a context where male-oriented terms were used to refer to humanity generally. We needed to respect the nature of the ancient context while also trying to make the translation clear to a modern audience that tends to read male-oriented language as applying only to males. Often the original text, though using masculine nouns and pronouns, clearly intends that the message be applied to both men and women…” In summary, gender neutral terms are used when the original text intends the message to be for both men and women.  Obviously, the problem is that the ancient cultures used masculine terms in a different way then our culture does. Thus, there is a need to clarify the original meaning for modern persons. Please, note that the translators of the NLT only use these gender neutral terms when it is the intent of the original text. Below are some examples of gender neutral translations:

  • ”’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.”’ (Matt. 4:19 NIV)
  • “To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
    Grace and peace to you from God our Father” (Col. 1:2 NIV)
  • “And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child'” (Heb. 12:5-6 NLT).

While there may still be some legitimate objections against gender neutral translations, there is no reason for the hysteria that generally surrounds them. In addition, there may be some good reasons to use gender neutral translations. For example, when I taught about this issue in Sunday School, one student suggested that these translations could be useful in instructing Muslim women to demonstrate that God cares equally for men and women. I hope this post will help others to use discernment in choosing a translation of God’s word.

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A Simple Explanation of the Trinity

The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult yet crucial doctrine; consequently, Christians have engaged historically in much hard thinking in order to explain and understand this doctrine. The earliest creeds of Christianity dealt primarily with this doctrine (which See Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed). The need for hard thinking about this doctrine remains to the present; thus, the following article is an attempt to simply explain this crucial biblical doctrine and assist the believer in thinking biblically about our triune God.

The Bible teaches that there is only one God in both the Old and New Testaments (Deut. 6:4, 1 Cor. 8:4). And, it calls three persons God (the Father – John 17:3; Jesus Christ – John 1:1, Titus 2:13; and the Holy Spirit – compare Acts 5:3 and 4). Thus, the orthodox view of the trinity is that there is one God who is three persons. This is so difficult to understand because God is unique. There is no other being who is three persons to which to compare him. Ultimately, we have to do our best to understand what the Bible teaches and believe it even though we lack exhaustive knowledge of God. Truthfully, if we were able to fully comprehend God, then he wouldn’t be much of a God. The mysteries of Scripture should lead us to worship God because he is so great that we puny humans cannot figure him out completely.

One of the difficulties in understanding the trinity is that many mistakenly view God the Father as the one who is God. In other words, many think of the Trinity as, “Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit.” Consequently, when someone suggests that Jesus is God, they conclude that person is saying that the Father and Son are the same. But this is a mistake, for Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit are all God. Yet, the Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, and the Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.

What this means is that whatever we say about God applies equally to all three persons of the trinity. For example, God is eternal; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal. Another example, God is all-knowing; therefore, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all knowing. Thus, all three persons are one in essence.

Yet, differences exist between the persons. These differences have to do with their relationship to one another and their work in creation and redemption. The creeds speak of the Son being begotten and Spirit as generated. This language deals with the relationship between the persons of the trinity. Although all three persons in the trinity are equal, there is a chain of command. Thus, the Father is called father because he is “in charge.” The Son willingly submits to his Father in all things, and the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and Son to do their will. An example of the difference in their work is that the Father did not become a man and die on the cross. Jesus Christ, God the Son, did. If Jesus and the Father were exactly the same person, there would have been no one for Jesus to pray to while he was a man.

In summary, all three persons of the trinity share in whatever makes them deity, and only differ in their relationship and work. Understanding the trinity is vital to the Christian faith because in order for a sinner to escape eternal punishment, he has to put his faith in the death of Jesus Christ. If we place our faith in someone who is less than God, we are placing our faith in a Savior who cannot save. Jesus being fully God and fully man was able to pay the infinite price for sin that no human being could ever pay; consequently, he is able to rescue from eternal punishment all who have faith in him.


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On the Altar Call 2

As I explained in my previous post I do not believe that altar calls are biblical or helpful for many reasons, but between these two posts I will share only three of my most important reasons. In the first post, after some clarifying remarks, I explained that the single most important reason I reject the altar call is because the Bible does not command it as an element of worship. In this post, I will give two other reasons to reject altar calls.
First, altar calls undermine the biblical ordinances Christ instituted for his Church. Christ instituted only two ordinances for his church, namely, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While baptism symbolizes several aspects of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit, it is generally viewed as an initiatory rite and a public profession of one’s faith in Jesus Christ. However, in my experience, coming forward during an altar call is now viewed as more vital than being baptized. I have never had someone at a Baptist church tell me they doubted whether they were saved or not because they have not been baptized.  I have met numerous people who were filled with doubt because they were too afraid to respond to an altar call. (You may be object that these persons were mislead or misunderstood, and they just need properly instructed. I will respond to this argument below.) Even if not openly stated, altar calls, which are an invention of man, are more valued in the hearts of many Christians than God’s gift of baptism.

Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are undermined by the altar call, but the Lord’s Supper is especially so. Imagine someone suggesting that a church begin celebrating the Lord’s Supper every week. There will no end to the arguments against doing so. Yet, if someone suggested that the church discontinue the altar call just one time, there would be howls of protest that we have to have a time of examination and response. However, this is precisely one of the reasons Christ gave his church the Lord’s Supper. The altar call has replaced God’s good gift to the church. Sadly, too many churches only celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a quarter, yearly, and some seldom if ever have it. They would never dream of having an altar call once a year. When God’s precious gift is valued less than the inventions of men, there are serious spiritual problems.

Finally, altar calls hide Christ. This happens in two different ways. One way that Christ is hidden by the altar call is when one believes that responding to the altar call is a work he must perform in order to be saved. Here is where the previous objection is relevant. One friend in discussing altar calls said to me that we just have to explain that coming forward does not equal salvation just as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or good works. The problem with this response is baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and good works are commanded by God whereas responding to an altar call is never commanded. Thus, we are adding non-essential extra hoops or steps to salvation that cause confusion. We are hiding Christ. When using an altar call, we are in danger of sending sinners to the altar instead of to Christ. I reject the altar call to be rid of this danger altogether.

The other way altar calls hide Christ is when a Christian is lead intentionally or unintentionally to doubt his salvation because he did not respond to an altar call. Even though I was never a fan of altar calls, I still used them initially in my ministry because I wanted to avoid any unnecessary arguments and because I was not convinced of the regulative principle of worship. Of course, embracing the regulative principle changed my mind, but the experience of seeing one of my church members struggle for many years with assurance made me adamantly opposed to altar calls. He was too afraid to respond to an altar call when he was a child and had been taught that his fear of coming forward was evidence that he was not a true believer. After many years of struggling, I was able by God’s grace to help him come to an assurance of his faith in Christ. All of this struggling was caused by unnecessary invention of man.

I reject the altar call because God did not institute it, because it undermines the ordinances God commanded to be observed, and because it hides Christ behind an unnecessary ritual. I hope you will consider these arguments as you think through this issue.

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On the Altar Call

Recently, some friends and I were discussing some of the issues in the Southern Baptist Convention in light of an article from Christianity Today explaining the numerical decline of Southern Baptists. All of us agreed that a lack of personal evangelism is at least part of a complex problem. One point we discussed at length was the altar call. Consequently, I have been thinking about this issue and decided to share these thoughts with others.

I do not believe that altar calls are biblical or helpful for many reasons, but I will share three reasons. They are in order of importance: 1. The Bible does not command it as an element of worship, 2. Altar calls undermine the biblical ordinances Christ instituted for his Church, 3. Altar calls hide Christ.

Before I expound these three arguments, let me be clarify a few issues. First, for me, the rejection of altar calls is not because I hold a certain view of God’s work in salvation. I’ve never really liked altar calls even when I was a young Christian and did not have a coherent soteriology. I have always thought that they are psychologically manipulative and did not see the point. Obviously, as I’ll explain my belief has matured, and I am not simply dismissing the altar call as a preference. Second, I absolutely believe (and practice) inviting people to faith in Christ whenever I preach. It is also appropriate to give time for a response to the gospel and/or the sermon, but that response does not need to be made publicly or at an altar. I do not believe it is spiritually helpful or biblically required for a sinner to walk an aisle, come forward, or raise his hand to be saved. So, I am 100% for inviting sinners to respond to Christ, but it is unbiblical and unhelpful to require or pressure a sinner to come to the front of the church.

First, I do not use the altar call because the Bible does not command it. This argument is the decisive one for me. Even if there were no other arguments against the altar call, the fact that the Bible does not command it is sufficient reason to reject its use. The Bible teaches that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by Himself…He may not be worshipped…[in] any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures.” [1] This regulative principle is plainly taught in Deuteronomy 12 (See especially verse 32). Moreover, the death of Nadab and Abihu illustrate the danger in ignoring this principle (Lev. 10:1ff). God teaches us how he desires to be worshiped throughout Scripture. There are five main elements commanded in Scripture for the New Testament church: reading/preaching the Bible, prayer, congregational singing, observing the two biblical ordinances, and collecting offerings. Adding or subtracting from the biblical elements of worship is unbiblical and spiritually dangerous.

I’ll deal with arguments two and three later. 

[1] The Baptist Confession of Faith. 22.1.

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The Resurrection of All the Dead 

1-corinthians-15-22-clouds

This is a recent sermon I preached at our church, Two Rivers Community Church, The Resurrection of All the Dead. The text is 1 Corinthians 15:35-58.

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The Obligation of the Christians to Convert the Heathen 2

The following is the next section from William Carey’s work “The Obligation of Christians to Convert the Heathen.” Since posting the previous section, I read a short biography of Carey and learned that his book from which these section are shared was the best researched book on missions at the time. Carey’s book and example inspired generations of missionaries. May it continue to do so today.

FOURTHLY, As to the difficulty of procuring the necessaries of life, this would not be so great as may appear at first sight; for though we could not procure European food, yet we might procure such as the natives of those countries which we visit, subsist upon themselves. And this would only be passing through what we have virtually engaged in by entering on the ministerial office. A Christian minister is a person who in a peculiar sense is not his own; he is the servant of God, and therefore ought to be wholly devoted to him. By entering on that sacred office he solemnly undertakes to be always engaged, as much as possible, in the Lord’s work, and not to chuse his own pleasure, or employment, or pursue the ministry as a something that is to subserve his own ends, or interests, or as a kind of bye-work. He engages to go where God pleases, and to do, or endure what he sees fit to command, or call him to, in the exercise of his function. He virtually bids farewell to friends, pleasures, and comforts, and stands in readiness to endure the greatest sufferings in the work of his Lord, and Master. It is inconsistent for ministers to please themselves with thoughts of a numerous auditory, cordial friends, a civilized country, legal protection, affluence, splendour, or even a competency. The flights, and hatred of men, and even pretended friends, gloomy prisons, and tortures, the society of barbarians of uncouth speech, miserable accommodations in wretched wildernesses, hunger, and thirst, nakedness, weariness, and painfulness, hard work, and but little worldly encouragement, should rather be the objects of their expectation. Thus the apostles acted, in the primitive times, and endured hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; and though we living in a civilized country where Christianity is protected by law, are not called to suffer these things while we continue here, yet I question whether all are justified in staying here, while so many are perishing without means of grace in other lands. Sure I am that it is entirely contrary to the spirit of the gospel, for its ministers to enter upon it from interested motives, or with great worldly expectations. On the contrary the commission is a sufficient call to them to venture all, and, like the primitive Christians, go every where preaching the gospel. It might be necessary, however, for two, at least, to go together, and in general I should think it best that they should be married men, and to prevent their time from being employed in procuring necessaries, two, or more, other persons, with their wives and families, might also accompany them, who should be wholly employed in providing for them. In most countries it would be necessary for them to cultivate a little spot of ground just for their support, which would be a resource to them, whenever their supplies failed. Not to mention the advantages they would reap from each others company, it would take off the enormous expense which has always attended undertakings of this kind, the first expense being the whole; for though a large colony needs support for a considerable time, yet so small small a number would, upon receiving the first crop, maintain themselves. They would have the advantage of choosing their situation, their wants would be few; the women, and even the children, would be necessary for domestic purposes; and a few articles of stock, as a cow or two, and a bull, and a few other cattle of both sexes, a very few utensils of husbandry, and some corn to sow their land, would be sufficient. Those who attend the missionaries should understand husbandry, fishing, fowling, &C. and be provided with the necessary implements for these purposes. Indeed a variety of methods may be thought of, and when once the work is undertaken, many things will suggest themselves to us, of which we at present can form no idea.

FIFTHLY, As to learning their languages, the same means would be found necessary here as in trade between different nations. In some cases interpreters might be obtained, who might be employed for a time; and where these were not to be found, the missionaries must have patience, and mingle with the people, till they have learned so much of their language as to be able to communicate their ideas to them in it It is well known to require no very extraordinary talents to learn, in the space of a year, or two at most, the language of any people upon earth, so much of it at least, as to be able to convey any sentiments we wish to their understandings. The Missionaries must be of great piety, prudence, courage, and forbearance; of undoubted orthodoxy in their sentiments, and must enter with all their hearts into the spirit of their mission; they must be willing to leave all the comforts of life behind them, and to encounter all the hardships of a torrid, or a frigid climate, an uncomfortable manner of living, and every other inconvenience that can attend this undertaking. Clothing, a few knives, powder and shot, fishing-tackle, and the articles of husbandry above-mentioned, must be provided for them; and when arrived at the place of their destination, their first business must be to gain some acquaintance with the language of the natives, (for which purpose two would be better than one,) and by all lawful means to endeavour to cultivate a friendship with them, and as soon as possible let them know the errand for which they were sent. They must endeavour to convince them that it was their good alone, which induced them to forsake their friends, and all the comforts of their native country. They must be very careful not to resent injuries which may be offered to them, nor to think highly of themselves, so as to despise the poor heathens, and by those means lay a foundation for their resentment, or rejection of the gospel. They must take every opportunity of doing them good, and labouring, and travelling, night and day, they must instruct, exhort, and rebuke, with all long suffering, and anxious desire for them, and, above all, must be instant in prayer for the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon the people of their charge. Let but missionaries of the above description engage in the work, and we shall see that it is not impracticable. It might likewise be of importance, if God should bless their labours, for them to encourage any appearances of gifts amongst the people of their charge; if such should be raised up many advantages would be derived from their knowledge of the language, and customs of their countrymen; and their change of conduct would give great weight to their ministrations.

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The Obligation of the Christians to Convert the Heathen 1

The following is an excerpt from William Carey’s work “The Obligation of Christians to Convert the Heathen.” This section answers three objections concerning the practicallity of reaching the heathen with the gospel. The entire work is not lengthy and is worth taking the time to read. Although Cary lived in the 18th and 19th century, his work is still relevant. Cary was a Reformed or Particular Baptist; thus, his zeal for missions destroys the caricature that Reformed Theology destroys evangelistic zeal.

THE impediments in the way of carrying the gospel among the heathen must arise, I think, from one or other of the following things;—either their distance from us, their barbarious and savage manner of living, the danger of being killed by them, the difficulty of procuring the necessaries of life, or the unintelligibleness of their languages.

FIRST, As to their distance from us, whatever objections might have been made on that account before the invention of the mariner’s compass, nothing can be alleged for it, with any colour of plausibility in the present age. Men can now sail with as much certainty through the Great South Sea, as they can through the Mediterranean, or any lesser Sea. Yea, and providence seems in a manner to invite us to the trial, as there are to our knowledge trading companies, whose commerce lies in many of the places where these barbarians dwell.

At one time or other ships are sent to visit places of more recent discovery, and to explore parts the most unknown; and every fresh account of their ignorance, or cruelty, should call forth our pity, and excite us to concur with providence in seeking their eternal good. Scripture likewise seems to point out this method, Surely the Isles shall wait for me; the ships of Tarshish first, to bring my sons from far, their silver, and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord, thy God. Isai. lx. 9. This seems to imply that in the time of the glorious increase of the church, in the latter days, (of which the whole chapter is undoubtedly a prophecy,) commerce shall subserve the spread of the gospel. The ships of Tarshish were trading vessels, which made voyages for traffic to various parts; thus much therefore must be meant by it, that navigation, especially that which is commercial, shall be one great mean of carrying on the work of God; and perhaps it may imply that there shall be a very considerable propriation of wealth to that purpose.

SECONDLY, As to their uncivilized, and barbarous way of living, this can be no objection to any, except those whose love of ease renders them unwilling to expose themselves to inconveniences for the good of others. It was no objection to the apostles and their successors, who went among the barbarous Germans and Gauls, and still more barbarous Britons! They did not wait for the ancient inhabitants of these countries, to be civilized, before they could be christianized, but went simply with the doctrine of the cross; and TERTULLIAN could boast that “those parts of Britain which were proof against the Roman armies, were conquered by the gospel of Christ”—It was no objection to an ELLIOT, or a BRAINERD, in later times. They went forth, and encountered every difficulty of the kind, and found that a cordial reception of the gospel produced those happy effects which the longest intercourse with Europeans, without it could never accomplish. It is no objection to commercial men. It only requires that we should have as much love to the souls of our fellow-creatures, and fellow sinners, as they have for the profits arising from a few otter-skins, and all these difficulties would be easily surmounted. After all, the uncivilized state of the heathen, instead of affording an objection against preaching the gospel to them, ought to furnish an argument for it. Can we as men, or as christians, hear that a great part of our fellow creatures, whose souls are as immortal as ours, and who are as capable as ourselves, of adorning the gospel, and contributing by their preaching, writings, or practices to the glory of our Redeemer’s name, and the good of his church, are inveloped in ignorance and barbarism? Can we hear that they are without the gospel, without government, without laws, and without arts, and sciences; and not exert ourselves to introduce amongst them the sentiments of men, and of Christians? Would not the spread of the gospel be the most effectual mean of their civilization? Would not that make them useful members of society? We know that such effects did in a measure follow the afore-mentioned efforts of Elliot, Brainerd, and others amongst the American Indians; and if similar attempts were made in other parts of the world, and succeeded with a divine blessing (which we have every reason to think they would) might we not expect to see able Divines, or read well-conducted treatises in defence of the truth, even amongst those who at present seem to be scarcely human?

THIRDLY, In respect to the danger of being killed by them, it is true that whoever does go must put his life in his hand, and not consult with flesh and blood; but do not the goodness of the cause, the duties incumbent on us as the creatures of God, and Christians, and the perishing state of our fellow men, loudly call upon us to venture all and use every warrantable exertion for their benefit? PAUL and BARNABAS, who hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, were not blamed as being rash, but commended for so doing, while JOHN MARK who through timidity of mind deserted them in their perilous undertaking, was branded with censure. After all, as has been already observed, I greatly question whether most of the barbarities practiced by the savages upon those who have visited them, have not originated in some real or supposed affront, and were therefore, more properly, acts of self-defence, than proofs of ferocious dispositions. No wonder if the imprudence of sailors should prompt them to offend the simple savage, and the offence be resented; but Elliot, Brainerd, and the Moravian missionaries, have been very seldom molested. Nay, in general the heathen have shewed a willingness to hear the word; and have principally expressed their hatred of Christianity on account of the vices of nominal Christians.

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