NIV 2011: Gender-inclusive language in Matthew 18:15-17

I am happy how it handles gender-inclusive language in using singular (“The one who. . . ,” “the person who. . . ,” “‟whoever. . . ,” and the like) instead of the awkward plurals (“they, their, etc.”).  The Committee’s translators’ notes says:

While the Greek word anēr (‟man” or ‟person”) was frequently translated with masculine forms in English, it is clear in several contexts that the word refers to men and women equally (an option endorsed by major dictionaries of the Greek NT).

Being contextual is not for the sake of trying to be gender-inclusive.  We need to look at facts when the writer or the speaker being quoted is intentionally speaking to both men and women. This is the way most of us speak in real life anyway, isn’t it?  In our everyday speech, how many of us direct our speech only to men?  Maybe some times but for the most part, I think I speak to both men and women when I preach and teach.

Let’s take a look at Matthew 18:15-17 to see a difference between the NIV 1984 and NIV 2011.

NIV 1984:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

NIV 2011:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Was Jesus speaking only to men or to both men and women?  Is gender-inclusiveness only for the sake of being gender-inclusive?  Or is gender-inclusive because Jesus, the speaker being quoted, was directing his teaching to the entire group of listeners?  If we are being gender-inclusive only for the sake of being neutral even if the speaker’s intention was directed to men, then I want nothing of it.  But if it was the speaker’s original intention to speak to both men and women, then “Yes!  I’m all for the changes in the updated NIV 2011.

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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

8 thoughts on “NIV 2011: Gender-inclusive language in Matthew 18:15-17”

  1. I guess that’ll always be the trouble with gender inclusive decisions. While I certainly agree that the principle stated in this passage applies equally to men or women, is that what Jeaus said? And if it isn’t, maybe I’m wrong and this type of dispute resolution is only for men and women must have some other type of resolution (or maybe women don’t have these types of conflicts). So confusing. Who is right?

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  2. The previous remark is true. If Jesus is talking to his male disciples who were known to squabble his first reference may indeed be males not “brothers and sisters”.

    Another case is Acts 6:3. The NET translation note states “It is not clear from a historical standpoint (but it is unlikely) that women would have been involved in the selection process too. For this reason the translation “brothers” has been retained, rather than “brothers and sisters” (used in contexts where both male and female believers are clearly addressed).”

    The NIV update opts for “brothers and sisters” when it’s obvious they really have no proof if that’s what’s meant at all.

    I generally think the NET does a superior job at gender related translation than the NIV.

    So far the NIV update hasn’t “sold me”. It seems to have an axe to grind.

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  3. John, women don’t seem to have any way of resolution and will remain voiceless if they’re continually ignored in bible translations. Maybe it’s a problem in the way we translate bibles into English?

    Chuck, Acts 6:3 is a good example of where ἄνδρας (“andros”, men) is correctly translated as “men”. However, ἀδελφοί (“adelphoi”, brothers) could also be referring to both brothers and sisters. Historically speaking, there is no solid proof either way, but at least this is still a better rendering that the NRSV’s generic use of “friends”.

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  4. Hi Kevin, I share your concerns. The problem with inclusive language is the tendency to make the singular into plural (“he” to “they”). Even though the context may suggest either a man or woman is in view, the plural has the tendency to generalize or broaden a commandment or teaching while the singular makes the saying more particular and specific as the context demands.

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  5. Kevin S. says, “John, women don’t seem to have any way of resolution and will remain voiceless if they’re continually ignored in bible translations.”

    A translation does not have the obligation to do what the original Greek did not have to do. The original Greek is a “sexist” text by today’s standard because adelphoi (literally “brothers”) can refer to a group of mixed genders whereas adelphai (Greek for “sisters”) cannot be used to refer to a group of mixed genders. That is pretty much the same as the traditional English usage of “brothers” or “brethren.” If certain women (or men) stumble because of a perceived sexism in non-gender inclusive English translations, what would they have done if they were born in the Greek speaking culture of the 1st century where the language was just as “sexist”? The priority of the masculine in grammar is rooted in biblical theology. The Hebrew word for mankind is “Adam” not “Eva.” Our God is “Father” not “Mother.” We become adopted by God becoming a “huios” (son), which literally means “son” and “child” by implication. The same cannot be said of the word for “daughter.” So it’s not the translations that have “ignored women.” Blame the Greek if you think women have been ignored. But the Greek is inspired.

    “Brothers and sisters” is a poor translation of adelphoi because although adelphoi could include sisters, it may not. To add “sisters” is to potentially add information that is not in the Greek. The only word in English that could properly convey the meaning of adelphoi in gender inclusive language is “sibling.”

    For example, the statement, “Adelphoi, listen to me!” could illustrate either of two possible situations:
    #1: a situation where the speaker is addressing only men.
    #2: a situation where the speaker is addressing both men and women.

    When the statement is translated, “Brothers and sisters, listen to me!” situation #1, which is allowed in the Greek, is excluded.

    The translation, “Siblings, listen to me” however, allows for both situation #1 and #2. The address to siblings could be an address only to men, or it could be an address to both men and women.

    The traditional rendering, “Brothers, listen to me” is also correct because the Greek word is literally “brothers” with sisters implied by extension, just as how when we say “fraternal twins” we include female twins even though “fraternal” literally means brothers.

    So in the order of accuracy, the most accurate is “siblings,” next is “brothers” then in last place is “brothers and sisters.” The ESV does the right thing by having “brothers” in the text but supply footnotes saying that the word could imply sisters also.

    I would be all for these gender-neutral changes if the Greek was totally gender-neutral and it’s the bad English translations that have skewed the Greek. But that’s not the situation. The traditional English is closer to the Greek.

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  6. Lou, I agree that traditional translations are still accurate with only masculine language. My issue with these translations is with the original intent of the writers. If they intended to write to their readers/hearers as both men and women, then how are we to translate their intentions?

    If you were to speak in everyday language to both men and women on the street and tell them something like: “Men, listen to me.” The women would think you were speaking only to the men. The women would ignore you because you were not addressing directly to them.

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