There are concerns from people about the language of the Bible and in fact, the King James Version of the Bible. There are claims that King James deliberately had translators remove change “UNISEX” words to masculine words to appeal only to men. Is that correct?
Short answer: It’s very INCORRECT.
The Bible was written in a patriarchy world yet the Bible was written to be very gender-neutral. If it was written today, maybe (or maybe not) it wouldn’t sound patriarchy but when the Bible was written, it was written in a culture where women weren’t usually counted. Women were seen as people who needed more protection, they were seen as treasures to be honored, cherished and limited in some ways. This makes sense why Peter would write
“Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” – 1 Peter 3:7 KJV
First, Peter considered women “weaker vessels” yet, he wasn’t undermining women, he was seeing them as “delicate” and treasure that needed protection. He further called wives “co-heirs” with their husband and even mentioned hindrance to prayer as a consequence for not honouring their wives. This cannot in any indicate “undermining of women”.
Also note, that the language in which the Bible was written are the language of this world and not the language of God. The cultures recorded are also cultures of men and not cultures of this world. God’s interest and the entire theme of the Bible isn’t to correct or change culture but to change our hearts and reconcile us to himself which in turn can influence cultures.
Cultures are the makings of humans and are subject to humans. Jesus lived in these cultures too but showed us that we can live above it. He loved women, gave women opportunities and allowed children access to himself.
Patriarchy might have made sense in the ancient world. The world was more toxic and barbaric, people survived mostly on physical strength, men were meant to protect their women and daughters. A few powerful women in the Bible were mentioned too. So it wasn’t even like there was a deliberate attempt to subjugate women.
Whatever happened was a means of protecting women. A good husband was always that husband who can protect his family. Women were not enrolled to go to war and till date women are hardly enrolled to war. In some culture, a man must prove his strength and capacity to protect his wife before he is allowed to marry her.
However, the world of today isn’t like their own world, the world of today is less barbaric and patriarchy no longer makes a lot of sense. Physical strength is no longer how to survive. That is why a Chimamanda Adichie who has never handled a gun or wield a sword can change the course of a community by just the power of her pen.
It’s like Polygamy in some cultures. It made sense then for some obvious reasons especially for survival but today it’s making less and less sense. People who champion polygamy today as a cure to their indiscipline do not understand the purpose of polygamy. Then, women usually needed protection and so it made sense a man marrying many wives and taking care of them.
When you read the Bible, you need to understand the context. No language is divine and every language has their limitations including the Hebrew language. For example, in old Greek, same word for being scared also means reverence. That’s why we see “fear and trembling” even though it meant “reverence”.
The messages communicated using these languages can be understood when you read in context. Ripping off a verse of the Bible and hoping to make sense out of it may confuse you or even mislead you. The Bible is meant to study in whole, book by book.
When you study the Bible, pay more attention to the message than the language in which it was communicated. The message is what is important. Maybe, someday in the future or onging, we would see a more unisex friendly Bible and as long as the message is not altered, it’s fine.
Let me give you two examples of how statements can sound “masculine”, yet the message been communicated are intact.
1. In French language, there are two variants of the word “they” which is “ils and elle”. I learnt this in my french class in secondary school. “Elle” is feminine, the other is masculine. So, if there are gathering of women, the feminine “they” (elle) is used and if there are gathering of everyone or only men, the masculine “they” (ils) is used. It doesn’t even matter if there are one thousand women and a little boy, the masculine “they” will be used.
Now if we want to say, “the people gathered in Church, they praised God”, we would say “les gens se sont réunis à l’église, ils ont loué Dieu”. Notice how ils was used for all gender and yet it’s masculine. But when we say “the women gathered in Church, they praised God”, we have “les femmes se sont réunies à l’église, elles ont loué Dieu”
So when you read the French Bible or literatures, you’d also notice how it played out. This is because these languages developed and evolved out of patriarchy cultures. Maybe, in the future it might change as languages continues to evolve but they are not what we get too worked up about.
2. The Bible is gender-neutral but it’s presentation were mostly done in a masculine perspective. So you may read “the Kingdom of God is like a man who has two Sons…” You must understand that it doesn’t in any way belittle daughters and the application can be applied both ways.
In Act 7:2, Stephen used the word “Brothers and Fathers” to an audience that included no women. The Original word there is “ἀνήρ, ἀνδρός, ὁ” or “anér” which means a man.
However, in some cases, these same words are also used in situations where persons of either sex are included.
Same word was used in Mathew 14:35, let’s read “And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him”- Matthew 14:35 NIV (I used NIV because it is even more unisex friendly than KJV being a newer English). The men here referred to people of both gender and not only the male folks. Yet, same word can be used for only male folks.
In Ephesians 4:8, we see something similar. The NIV says “…he gave gifts to people” although the original Greek says “…he gave gifts to men”. You’ll find “men” in KJV and some other translations. The same word “men” was used to refer to “People”.
So yes, although the Bible was largely presented in a masculine perspective, it didn’t in any way degrade women and this isn’t the making of King James. The original Bible was written that way.