Is the ESV Literal and the NIV Gender Neutral?

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Bert Perry's picture

One can make two, five, or fifty categories, but really, what you've got is a spectrum in either "literality" or "gender equivalence", no?    Must admit that I am wrestling with "at what point does a translation cross a line into a twisting?", and sometimes I'm at a loss to make a decision between obvious twistings like the old TNIV (or "New Gelded Version") and the NWT, and simple paraphrases like the Good News Bible.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


Sometimes it's difficult to say when a translation crosses the line. Two examples, one clear-cut and the other not:

  • Crossing the Line:

 1 Pet 2:2 (KJV): As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:

The bit I highlighted ("of the word") is not in the Greek text. This isn't a textual critical issue; it's not in the TR, the BYZ or the UBS-5. It isn't there. Tyndale didn't have it either. The KJV translators assumed Peter was referring to Scripture, so they added it to help the reader. The text actually doesn't identify the milk. This is an unacceptable crossing of the line for a translator. It could be referring to Scripture, but the text doesn't say. Bad move.

  • Difficult to Call:

1 Pet 1:24-25 (KJV):  For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

The word translated "word" doesn't have to mean "an individual word." It can also mean "message." I believe the context of Peter's quotation from Isa 40:6-8 means the word ought to be translated something like "message." Many exegetical commentaries agree. There is plenty of precedent for translating the word here as "message," or something similar. See, for example, Peter in Acts 10:36, and note the difference between translations - the same word translated "word" there in the KJV is at issue in the 1 Peter quotation. But, in Acts, it clearly isn't an "individual word;" it's a message. The lexical data depends on context to point the way. I believe the context in 1 Pet 1:24-25 points to "message." I translated it that way, and taught it that way yesterday in Sunday School.

Crossing the line? I don't think so. It is a fallacy to claim "the literal meaning of the word means 'word,' so it ought to be translated that way." That is ridiculous. Context is critical; you can't rely on lexical data alone. For example, if I wrote, "Our whole family went out last night and had a ball!", what does the word "ball" mean? Does it mean a literal, round shape? Is it a formal dance? Or, is it a figurative idiom that means "a great time?"

You'd never argue that the "literal" meaning of "ball" is a round shape. That would be foolish - that's not how language works. Lexicons give you a semantic range, but context largely determines meaning. Sp it is with 1 Pet 1:24-25; I don't believe the context allows you to render it "word" there; I think "message" is better. Of course, people disagree. That's why translation is an art, not a science. It is not objective; there are too many nuances. I'm not a Greek "scholar." I've taken the normal seminary load of NT Greek. But, I am think I'm competent in a workman-like way. I translate a passage and classify all syntax every week for my Sunday School class. I see what Mounce is talking about every week. It's not a black and white issue.

So, when do you cross the line? Difficult to say, and each case has to be judged on its own merits.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Jim's picture

  • "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness" (ESV) 1 Timothy 4:7
  • "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; ...." (NIV) 1 Timothy 4:7
  • "But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women ..." (NASB) 1 Timothy 4:7
  • "But reject profane and old wives’ fables, ... " (NKJV) 1 Timothy 4:7


Greek: τοὺς δὲ βεβήλους καὶ γραώδεις μύθους παραιτοῦ γύμναζε δὲσεαυτὸν πρὸς εὐσέβειαν

  • γραώδης is a hapax legomenon which means "old womanish"
  • μῦθος is fable or myth