In my research for The Silent Queen, I was often amazed at how a single word in the Bible could be translated different ways leading to radically different conclusions. Here’s a simple example from 2 Timothy 2:2:
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (NIV 1984)
Note the word in bold: men. It sounds like Paul is saying that only men can be teach, but this is not what the apostle said at all. The word he used was anthrōpos which means a human being or a person, regardless of gender. A more accurate translation of this passage is as follows:
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. (NIV 2011)
Man or people; it’s a subtle difference, but an important one. The first translation gives the impression that faithful women can’t teach, while the second translation says they can.
Verses like these led me to wonder, how many other times have translators added gender-specific words to the Bible?
How sexist is your Bible?
Turns out there are at least thirteen New Testament verses that are sometimes altered in ways that are detrimental to women. These scriptures are Acts 18:26, Romans 12:6, 16:1, 7, 1 Corinthians 14:36, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 4:15, 1 Timothy 2:11, 3:1, 5, 2 Timothy 2:2, 3:17, and 2 Peter 1:21. Some of these alterations are minor, like the examples above; others are blatant, as when notable women in ministry are turned into men or servants.
To assess the extent to which a gender bias has been introduced into our Bibles, I examined these thirteen verses in 25 different Bibles to calculate a “Sexism Score” for each translation. Full details explaining what I did and how I did it are outlined in the free Study Note that accompanies this article. Check it out!
Below is a summary of the results.
As you can see, some Bibles exhibit more gender bias than others. The Pure Word translation along with the KJV and its derivatives, the AKJV and the NKJV, were found to be the most biased Bibles in the study. At the other end of the scale, the 2011 version of the NIV was found to be the least biased.
Should you ditch your King James Bible?
Do the results of this study mean you should trade your sexist Bible for a less sexist alternative? Not at all. The KJV, which scored poorly, is a masterful translation filled with some of the greatest phrases in the English language. It would be criminal to dismiss a book that has helped countless people encounter the love of God.
But readers need to be aware that the KJV contains gender-specific language not found in the original text.
Christians believe what they read in the Bible. After all, the Bible is Holy Scripture and God’s Word. Many churchgoers have the attitude, “If the Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it.” The problem is, what the Bible says and what specific translations say are often very different things.
If your Bible is sexist, there’s a danger you’ll be sexist too. The remedy is to recognize that no translation is flawless and to read more than one translation.
Typically these sites allow you to read several versions of a verse side by side making it easy to compare translations. These tools also provide useful information on the meaning of the original words.
What the Bible actually says about women
Jesus came to set people free from all forms of bondage including sexual discrimination. Because Jesus and the men who followed him took a stand against patriarchy, the women of the New Testament church enjoyed unprecedented freedom.
Sadly, it didn’t last.
Within a few hundred years, the Church Fathers pushed women back into silent servitude. Theologians with Greek mindsets began introducing Aristotelian concepts of subservient womanhood into the church, while translators added them to the Bible. Some even omitted words from scripture. The damage was catastrophic.
The time has come to confront our sexist heritage. One way to undo the damage is to challenge those traditions and translations which are contrary to the liberating Gospel of Jesus.
A good place to start is to find out what the Bible actually says about women, their value to God, and their place in the world.