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The Bible Is a Man’s Book

The Bible is a man’s book. How can a book “of the men” and “by the men” be anything other than “for the men”?

Moses, David, Jesus and Paul are a few men whose stories fill the biblical text. Women like Rebecca, Esther and Mary only qualify for best supporting actress.

Men wrote most, if not all, of the Bible. Modern efforts to assert feminine authorship of some parts have not been widely accepted.

Another sign of this masculine orientation, some scholars say, is the struggle that lies just below the surface: the contest between the masculine god of war and the feminine goddess of fertility; Yahweh, the lord of hosts, versus Ashtarte, the queen of earth.

One current best-selling novel is described as “what the Bible would be if it were written by women.” Interesting thought.

As it is, men controlled the translation, interpretation and proclamation of the biblical message.  Only within the last generation have such positions of scholarship and authority been open to women.

This heightened awareness of gender is part of a broader cultural shift, of course. Many are now asking: How can a book “of the men” and “by the men” be anything other than “for the men”?

Georgia Sims is a high school senior in Nashville. She tackled these issues in a perceptive scholarship essay attached to her college application:

“As a young girl growing up in a Baptist church, I learned that with God all things are possible. I learned that God created both man and woman, and that Jesus loved us, no matter what our race or gender.

“As I got older, I began to struggle with subtle messages that conflicted with these basic principles. The hymns we sang and the scriptures we read in church all talked about God as a man, both through the metaphors of God as Father and Son, and through the masculine pronouns. God’s people were ‘mankind’ and Jesus was the ‘Son of Man.’

“This language confused me, and made me wonder how important women really were to God. About this time my church adopted a hymnal that used inclusive language, and I realized that it wasn’t God that was making me feel insignificant; it was the language.”

Such testimonies are prompting newer Bible translations to avoid masculine language when the text speaks of both male and female.

Consider this famous text from the King James Version (1611): “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.”

The Revised Standard Version (1952) changed it: “For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men.” It was not until the New Revised Standard Version, now in its third edition (2001), that more inclusive language was used:  “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

One of the first contemporary bibles was the 1966 New Testament called Today’s English Version. It was translated by Robert Bratcher (a 1941 graduate of Georgetown College) and distributed as “Good News for Modern Man.”

This TEV translation, later known as the Good News Bible, pioneered the use of inclusive language, but it was 1992’s second edition that replaced the word “men” with the word “people.”

“Many Bible readers have become sensitive to the negative effects of exclusive language; that is, to the ways in which the built-in linguistic biases of the ancient language and the English language toward the masculine gender has led some Bible readers to feel excluded from being addressed by the Scriptural word,” read the preface.

Roman Catholics use two modern language Bibles: The Jerusalem Bible (1966) reads: “You see, God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race.” The New American Bible (1970) adopts language similar to the NRSV: “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all.”

The last of the major translations to adopt inclusive language is the New International Version. This is important because the NIV accounts for half of all Bibles sales in the United States.

Edition one reads: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Edition two, due later this spring, reads: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”

The grace of God extends to all people; now the language of our Bibles makes that very clear.

Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.