Thursday, March 22, 2007

brothers, sisters, and the TNIV

This post is a response to a comment by Milton Stanley on the poll in the margin of this blog:
If Paul wrote adelphoi, we ought to translate it "brothers" and allow the reader to make the jump, now as then, to include sisters, too.
Yes, I know, many of us are tired of hearing about "brothers" and "sisters" and the TNIV. But there are some facts about the Greek of the New Testament which sometimes have not been correctly understood when the TNIV has been discussed. I'll try to keep this short.

As you probably know, Greek has grammatical gender, masculine, feminine, and neuter. The Greek word adelphos (masculine gender) means 'brother' or 'sibling'. Its plural adelphoi means 'brothers' if the group it is referring to is only composed of males. Otherwise, adelphoi means 'siblings'. In English 'brothers and sisters' means the same as 'siblings.'

The Greek word adelphe (Greek adelfh) is grammatically feminine and means 'sister'. Its plural only means 'sisters'.

Greek has no way to refer to 'siblings' (a mixed group of males and females) other than by using the grammatically masculine plural form, adelphoi. When a Greek speaker or author used this plural to refer to a group which included both males and females, the word did not mean 'brothers.' This is where some people have made a serious error in discussions about the TNIV. It is inaccurate to say that the Greek word "brothers" can also include women. Greeks knew the difference between males and females just as well as we English speakers to. But they did not have the same language forms to refer to brothers, sisters, and siblings as we do in English. When Greek speakers use the grammatically masculine plural adelphoi to refer to a group that includes both males and females, the word does not mean 'brothers,' but, rather 'siblings.' We have the word "siblings" in English, which is a different word from the two words "brothers" and "sisters". Greek did not have a separate word meaning 'siblings'.

So, in response to Milton, the Greeks didn't make a jump from "brothers" to include sisters. Sisters were already included in their gender-inclusive word adelphoi when sisters were part of the group a speaker or author was referring to. In such a context, the Greek word meant 'siblings' not 'brothers.'

The ESV footnote is accurate when it points out the meaning of adelphoi in Rom. 12:1. The ESV text of Rom. 12:1 is not accurate when it uses the word "brothers" *unless* the ESV translators believe that Rom. 12:1 was only addressed to male believers, or unless they believe that the word "brothers" can include females. But I have field tested with many speakers of English and I have yet to find anyone who actually refers to their sisters and brothers with the word "brothers." I have corresponded with the translators of the HCSB, which, like the ESV, was translated according to the Colorado Springs Guidelines (CSG) which were created to guide English translators in trying to retain masculine sounding words in English translations as much as possible. An HCSB translator responded saying that they believe that Rom. 12:1 is addressed to both males and females. Apparently they believe that their word "brothers" in Rom. 12:1 can include females.

For me, one of the best features of the TNIV is that it handles translation of such gendered words more accurately than other more traditional English Bible versions. When the biblical text refers to a male, the TNIV uses a clearly masculine word. When the biblical text refers to a person who could be either male or female (such as our English indefinite pronoun "anyone"), the TNIV is accurate, using wording which makes sure that the reader clearly understands that the term is gender-accurate as well as gender-inclusive. The same holds true in the TNIV when the biblical text refers to groups which include both males and females. In such cases the TNIV does not use a masculine term which, at least today, does not accurately communicate that both males and females are included.

The TNIV is a gender-accurate Bible. It has not neutralized masculine gender in the Bible, in spite of such claims from Dr. Grudem and a few others who believe as he does.


Gary Zimmerli said...

I appreciate that explanation, Wayne. I think that makes things abundantly clear!

Too bad they didn't translate it "siblings" when it referred to both.

But that would sound funny, wouldn't it? ;-)


Kevin said...

Wayne, it’s just too bad the other translations like the HCSB and ESV did not use the "brothers and sisters", while its translators knew that the gender-inclusive word adelphoi can refer to both men and women in Rom. 12:1. I guess it's those in control of the editorial positions and those who set the guidelines who can determine what gets scholarly treatment and what does not. It's just too bad for the readers who will be kept in the dark a little bit longer until the next further editions.

Damian said...

Wayne, that was one of the best/brief explanations I have read for explaining why adelphoi means "brothers and sisters" when the signified includes males and females.

One small point. You write "It is inaccurate to say that the Greek word 'brothers' can also include women." While I understand your point, it would be clearer to simply say - there is no greek word "brothers"!

Mabel Figworthy said...

As a Dutch speaker I, like the Greeks, have no word for "siblings". I have a word for "brother" and a word for "sister" and both have a plural. But just because there is no word for sibling does not automatically mean that the masculine plural is actually gender-neutral -- if I use "broers" in Dutch it definitely does NOT include sisters, whatever the context; I'll have to explicitly say "broers en zussen". This means it is possible for a language to simply have no word for the concept of "sibling" -- and even if Greek allows the word adelphoi to include sisters in some contexts, I'm not sure that justifies saying it is in essence a gender-inclusive term .