Mike Grondin notes on the Gospel of Thomas email list that the Patterson and Robinson translation gets a little overenthusiastic in its use of gender-neutral language and I agree that in a translation of parables like the Hidden Treasure and the Assassin with the Sword it makes little sense to use the word “person” when it’s clear that the story is about a man, not a woman. In addition, since it’s not possible to recast these stories in the plural, using “person” instead of man has the effect of suggesting that “people” are male, so while it’s gender neutral, it ceases to be inclusive and is not at all helpful to the cause of including women as equals in church and society. I suspect that in the case of the Patterson and Robinson translation of Thomas, this is totally unintentional.
I was, however, reminded of some of the recent discussion on Iyov’s blog about the ESV which he and a number of other people don’t like very much for a number of reasons. In the comments, Suzanne (sometimes posting as Sue) makes an interesting point.
…the NIV, and older translations still used the word “men” to mean “people.” The ESV and HCSB do not. They use the word “people” for people and the word “men” to exclude women. Oddly they are translating the same Greek word [anthrwpos] , so it is the decision of the translator to exclude women.
She indicates that 2 Tim. 2 is translated in the ESV as:
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men (anthrwpois) who will be able to teach others also.
She then says that she asked Dr Packer, one of the members of the translation team about this and was told that the translation team thinks it means men, not people. Now, I can understand how it is possible to argue that there are circumstances where aner is clearly intended by the authors to mean men only and not to include women, but I find it very difficult to see that, given the choice between a word that means “people – male and female” and another that means “people of the male gender only”, you would choose the former if it actually mattered that people knew that women were excluded.
I keep forgetting how far my denomination has moved on in this regard, although there are people in our congregation who really don’t want us to call a woman minister, so perhaps we haven’t moved all that far. I also find it fascinating that women stay in churches that run this kind of line. I know a lot who have moved out of them, and often out of the church altogether, which I find sad, but so many women actually believe that God doesn’t want them to use their very obvious gifts for teaching etc!!
Note that this is not intended as a comment on the ESV as a translation. I haven’t looked at it, so I can’t comment. It is a reflection on the kind of theological approach that would do this kind of thing and the harm it has done to the church and to women.