RWC Part IV: Bible translations


(This post will make more sense if you’ve read the first, second and third parts of this series.)

The Bible is of vital importance to me, as to most Jesus lovers, I think. I have been trained as a Bible translator and we are heading towards working with a Bible translation organization in Mexico, where I hope to get actual experience in the work of my heart. I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that it is inspired by Him, breathed from Him, and inerrant in the original languages.

I am no Greek scholar. I read articles, I use my training to assess merit as far as that education goes, and beyond that, I try to find reliable sources; and when I learn something that shocks me, I look for several confirmations by several different scholars who do not borrow from each other. Although I have grown up with the complementarian belief system and know all of those arguments, I still look up scholarly discussions of translation issues and verses from the complementarian perspective to see how they hold up. I also read interlinear versions sometimes (where the Greek is translated word by word – glossed rather than translated – and I investigate individual Greek words in this way where I am upset about some discovery.)

I pray regularly over this study, that God will teach me what HE says and not what I want to hear.

I am grieved by this, but… after about 3 years of studying what the Bible has to say about women, I have a lot of trouble with the English translations of the Bible that we have today. Some are very accurate in so many ways – but not gender accurate.

Meaning, for example, that some translations change the name of Junia, a woman apostle, to a man’s name. Find her name in Romans 16 – this is a change made first by Jerome, who openly hated women and could not imagine that there could really be a woman in leadership of the church, even though she is mentioned in many extra-Scriptural documents of the early church and was very clearly an apostle, just as Paul said – and so he CHANGED HER NAME. Since his translation into the Latin, known as the Vulgate, was used for many, many English translations, Jerome’s blatant misogyny in this and other passages has become entrenched in our English Bibles, particularly the beloved KJV.

Or they say, “Brothers” everywhere where the Greek could just as easily mean “Brothers and sisters” – and Paul (and Peter and James) was clearly addressing the entire church, including women. Translators intentionally choose to exclude the women of the church.

Or they translate the same EXACT Greek word as “leader” when talking about men and “servant” when talking about women.

They translate authentein as “authority” (in 1 Timothy, when Paul says women should not have authentein in the church), though that word is never ever used for authority anywhere in the Bible (or for anything else – this is the only verse that contains this word); and outside the Bible, authentein means giving over to violence, killing or committing suicide by one’s own hand, or domineering.

And when I look at translations that ARE gender accurate (as opposed to those that are gender inclusive, which often go too far in eradicating ALL gender, even that which is in the original languages, and which I would never champion and will not address here), they have their own issues, mainly because they are usually “thought for thought” translations, which are not always accurate to the original languages and often contain interpretations that I don’t think are necessarily communicated by the original languages. In the case of the 2011NIV, they straight up change the text to eliminate perceived or actual contradictions (such as population numbers) within the Bible – with no footnotes!

So we have to choose then between Bibles that do not translate the original Bible accurately when it talks about women, or Bibles that do not translate the original Bible accurately when it talks about other things. (I choose women, because at least I know where to be on my guard. But it took me years of painful learning to know! What about all the people who don’t? I want to cry for my 14 year old self who read all these verses without KNOWING, and who struggled desperately to reconcile Who she knew God to be, who she knew herself to be in Christ – but who was not to be trusted to speak in church or participate in decision making on an equal footing with her husband. My ultimate solution is to just learn Greek… but I want to read my precious Bible in my heart language… and I cannot share a knowledge of Greek to everyone who wants to read an accurate Bible.)

As long as the Church does not see women and our roles as equal to men, we will never have a Bible that is as accurate as possible. And this is a very large and very real problem to me. It’s momentous.


Published by Nikki Holland

I am a Quaker wife, mother, pastor, and writer. I work as the country branch director of a fabulous NGO in Belize City and I recently graduated with an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. I love my family, and I love my community.

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