The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Bible translations that are gender-accurate, and those that are not.

Not all English translations of the Bible are created equal. Some follow the oldest available manuscript evidence; others follow copies and translations that were written after the 4th century AD. These later versions introduce patriarchal or androcentric language that can make the Bible appear to be sexist. What follows is a comparison of English translations that do or do not contain added sexist language in a number of Old and New Testament passages.

Genesis 1:27
The Good: “God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” (Common English Bible)

The Bad: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (King James Version)

The Ugly: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (English Standard Version)

The Hebrew used here, “ha’adam,” is properly translated “the human being” or “humanity.” It is not a specifically masculine term. This agrees with the Greek Septuagint’s use of “anthropon,” which is also not specifically masculine.

Genesis 2:7
The Good: “the LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.” (Common English Bible)

The Bad: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (King James Version)

The Ugly: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (English Standard Version)

Once again, older manuscripts use language that is not specifically masculine.

Isaiah 3:12
The Good: “As for my people—oppressors strip them and swindlers rule them. My people—your leaders mislead you and confuse your paths.” (Common English Bible)

The Bad: “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.” (King James Version)

The Ugly: “My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths.” (English Standard Version)

Our oldest available manuscripts (Greek Septuagint, Aramaic Targum Jonathan) use language referring to “creditors, usurers, or swindlers” here, not “women.” “Women” appears in the Latin Vulgate, which was completed in the early 5th century AD.

Judges 19:2
The Good: “But she became angry with him, went back to her father’s house in Bethlehem, and stayed there four months.” (Good News Translation)

The Bad: “And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months.” (English Standard Version)

The Ugly: “And his concubine played the whore against him, and went away from him unto her father’s house to Bethlehemjudah, and was there four whole months.” (King James Version)

The GNT agrees with the Greek Septuagint (2nd-3rd century BC) and the Aramaic Targum of Jonathan (1st century BC), while the KJV and ESV agree with the later Masoretic Text (6th-10th century AD). A 1st century AD commentary written by the Jewish historian Josephus also agrees with the older translations. This commentary said that the woman left her partner due to frequent brawls; it does not describe her as being either “unfaithful” or a “whore.”

Romans 16:2
The Good: “Welcome her in a way that is proper for someone who has faith in the Lord and is one of God’s own people. Help her in any way you can. After all, she has proved to be a respected leader for many others, including me.” (Contemporary English Version)

The Bad: “That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” (King James Version)

The Ugly: “Receive her in the Lord’s name, as God’s people should, and give her any help she may need from you; for she herself has been a good friend to many people and also to me.” (Good News Translation)

The Greek New Testament word used here in reference to a woman named Phoebe is “prostatis.” It is the noun form of the word used by Paul in the following verse: “if [your spiritual gift] is to lead (proistamenos), do it diligently” (Romans 12:8). In ancient Greek, a prostatis was a leader, patron or benefactor; not a “succcourer” or a “kind friend.”

Romans 16:7
The Good: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (New International Version)

The Bad: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” (English Standard Version)

The Ugly: “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (New American Standard Bible)

The NIV agrees with our oldest available Bible translations and commentaries, which refer to Junia as a woman. It also agrees with the Greek grammar of the passage, which portrays her as “outstanding among” the apostles, not merely “well known to” them.

Unfortunately, English translations that are gender-accurate in one passage, may not be in another. For example, the Good News Bible is accurate with regard to the woman who was “angry” with her partner in Judges 19:2; but it then refers to Phoebe not as a leader, but rather as a “kind friend” in Romans 16:2. As a result of this type of inconsistency, it is difficult to recommend one English translation of the Bible that is entirely gender-accurate.

If you want to know if your English translation handles passages concerning women accurately, you may find it helpful to examine how it deals with the verses reviewed in this article: Genesis 1:27, Genesis 2:7, Isaiah 3:12, Judges 19:2, Romans 16:2 and Romans 16:7.

Other verses have also been handled very poorly by certain English translations. For instance, the New Living Translation makes 1 Peter 3:1 appear to tell wives to “accept the authority” of their husbands. In the Greek language of the passage, there is no mention whatsoever of a husband’s alleged “authority.” You can read more about this translation issue in the following article: 1st Peter 3 Does Not Teach “Male Authority”.

Also, only the International Standard Version makes an attempt to acknowledge that a Greek verb used by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12 (authentein) likely had nothing to do with women “exercising authority” over men in the church. You can read more about that translation issue here: Other 1st Century Jewish Authors Who Used Greek Words Like “Authentein”.

All English translations of the Bible are not created equal. My hope and prayer is that you will find English translations that will help you to receive encouragement from God, without having to contend with the painful obstacle of human sexism.

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