Originally published on CBE International

In regard to certain passages of scripture that can serve to either empower women or subordinate them, one can sometimes identify misleading changes in translation with the use of these methods: adding of words (interpolations), removal of words, withholding of information that would alter translation decisions, and inconsistencies in translation in which identical words in similar contexts are defined differently. Other important differences may simply be gaps in translation.

1. The interpolation of “a veil, a symbol of” before “authority” in 1 Cor. 11:10:

In 1 Corinthians 11:10 instead of translating the word exousia (ἐξουσία) for authority in the active sense as it has been translated throughout the letter (1 Cor. 7:37; 8:9; 9:4, 9:5), here not only was it changed to a passive use but words were added.[1] In Kaiser’s words: “But in one of the weirdest twists in translation history, this one word was rendered ‘a veil, a symbol of authority’!”[2] The NIV (1984) retained the words “a sign of” that were added.[3] Though the NIV (2011) and the CEV (1995) corrected this in their newer translations, they continue to keep it in the footnotes as though it is valid. The NRSV (1989) and the NASB (1995) have kept “a symbol of authority.” This small addition of a word changes whether or not it is the woman who has authority over her own head or whether it is someone else.

2. Instances of Phoebe being translated “servant” instead of “deacon” in Rom. 16:1:

It’s been noted Phoebe’s title is hidden with certain translations.[4] Though Phoebe is called a diakonos (διάκονος), it is translated “servant” in the NIV (1984), NASB (1995), ASV (1901) though the plural form of this same word Διακόνους is translated “deacons” in 1 Timothy 3:8 and 3:12 in these same translations.[5] Similarly, diakonos is translated “leader” in the CEV (1995) while the plural form of the same word is translated “church officers” in 3:8 and 3:12. The NIV (2011) corrected their previous translation of “servant” with “deacon,” though they retain it as a valid option in the footnotes. The NRSV (1989) correctly has “deacon” and “or minister” in the footnotes.

3. Misleading uses of male pronouns in 1 Timothy 3:1-16 are gender-inclusive in Greek:

A number of English translations (NLT, NIV, NASB, NRSV, TLB, NKJV) misrepresent 1 Timothy 3:1-16 to be gender exclusive by their use of many male pronouns. There are 13 occurrences of “he” “his” and “men” in the NIV (1984) and also 13 occurrences of “man” “men” “he” and “himself” in the NASB (1995) which are either non-existent or gender inclusive in Greek.[6] The CEV (1995) took this into account and used “anyone” (3:1) and “they” (3:4, 3:5, 3:6). In contrast, the NASB reads in 3:1: “If any man [anyone] aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he [one] desires to do.” The NIV (2011) makes this change for verse 1, but not in succeeding verses. Also, the word ίδίου which is used in reference to the three phrases of managing the household in verses 4, 5 and 12 are personal possessives meaning “one’s own” or “their own” (household) not specifically “his own household/family” (v. 4a, 5), and “his children”(v. 4b). The English male pronouns are misleading because there is no intentional use of the Greek male pronoun αύτός (autos) to require that overseers and deacons be male.

4. The Hebrew-feminine-singular in Judges 5:1 indicates it was Deborah’s song:

In the English translation one cannot identify the difference in Hebrew regarding the verb in this verse: “On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song” (5:1). In English it appears that both Deborah and Barak sang this song, however the word translated “sang” in Hebrew is not found in the plural, but is in the feminine singular.[7] It may be related to the same song mentioned in 5:12 where she is being summoned to sing to awaken the army and the song mentioned in 5:3 which was used to taunt her enemies at the scene of Mt. Tabor. The use of “I” using אָנֹכִי two times in 5:3 also emphasizes Deborah was the one who sang that day.[8]

5. The word “submit” in Ephesians 5:22 does not exist, but is supplied from verse 21:

While it is not unreasonable to supply a word for smooth translation, here the NIV (1984) and NASB (1995) created the false impression that a new section began in verse 22 with a directed imperative toward wives: “Wives, submit (be subject).” Yet, in the original Greek the word “submit” in verse 22 is not even there, but is borrowed from verse 21.[9] This entails that the meaning of “Submit” for men (and women) in verse 21 must carry the exact same meaning for women, since they literally share the same verb.[10] Not only did these translations sharply divide this same sentence from verse 22 [literally: “wives to their own husbands”], but a heading was placed between them.[11] Though the NIV (2011) corrected the heading, it still reads as if the supplied word “submit” is a separate imperative.

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[1] Kaiser, Walter “Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women” Pricilla Papers 19 (Spring 2005): 6; cf. Katharine Bushnell, God’s word to women: One hundred bible studies on woman’s place in the church and home (Minneapolis, MN: Christians for Biblical Equality, 2003), 100.

[2] Kaiser, “Correcting Caricatures,” 6.

[3] Ibid., 6.

[4] Belleville, Linda “Women Leaders in the Bible” In Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, eds. Ronald Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis, 110-125 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 121; Cf. Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton, Why not women? A fresh look at scripture on women in missions, ministry and leadership (Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2000), 150.

[5] Caldwell, Kristen “When Phoebe, Pricilla and Junia Arrive at Ephesus: Three Women who Defied Three Prohibitions” Ashland Theological Journal Vol. XLIV (2012): 47-48.

[6] Ibid., 48.

[7] Bushnell, God’s word to women, 286.

[8] Kohlenberger III, John R, The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 86.

[9] Dan Crabtree, “Women in Ministry” Class lecture (Springfield, MO: Central Bible College, 2005); Craig Keener, Paul Women and Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), 169; Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible says About a Woman’s place in Church and Family (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 124.

[10] Crabtree, “Women in Ministry.”

[11] Cf. Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 124.

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