Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Strauss on Masculine Generics

In answering the argument that masculine generic terms were simply part of the grammatical structure of the biblical languages, they (Poythress and Grudem) claim that all of the connotations and associations of the language are divinely established and controlled:

"In a broader sense these passages are all the more meaningful because of the fact that God in his sovereign control of history did choose that just these resources would be available to biblical writers. What is not a choice from the standpoint of a human author [i.e., the presence of masculine generic terms]... is still a choice form the standpoint of the divine author who controls language, culture, and history and uses it as he wills." [bracketed text and second italics are mine]

In other words, P&G are arguing that God intentionally established and ordained masculine generic terms in Hebrew and Greek in order to affirm the priority of males...

...[It won't] do to argue that, because God is absolutely sovereign, he controls the development of all languages. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant to the discussion, since all languages remain imperfect instruments of communication. Gender systems around the world differ dramatically, making it impossible to reproduce the formal gender distinctions of Hebrew and Greek...(P)ersonal pronouns do not have any gender distinctions in the language of the Isan people of Northeast Thailand. Think of the loss of masculine nuances there!

If we suppose that the formal characteristics of the biblical languages are God-ordained, we open an impossible Pandora's box for translators. Greek, for example, does not have a present progressive form. Does this mean we should never introduce a present progressive in English translation so as to accurately reflect God's revelation? Of course not. The ultimate goal of translation is to reproduce meaning, not form. (Mark Strauss, p131, 132 Chapter 4: Current Issues in the Gender-Language Debate, in "The Challenge of Bible Translation" ed Scorgie, Strauss, Voth)


Andy Hunter said...

I know what you're saying about drawing too many conclusions from imperfect (maybe 'inadequate' would be a better word)human language. Yes if you are translating into a language without gender specific pronouns then certain things will be lost.

However, that's different from saying where gender specific pronouns etc can be translated across - that it is nonetheless quite alright to make an interpretive decision to discard them. God could have chosen to reveal Himself other than a 'He' or 'Father' - which, yes, would have been very counter-cultural (just as when He refused to reveal Himself by any visual representation: total counter-cultural, I mean, how were former slaves in Egypt going to relate to that!) but He didn't.

The fact is that God chose to reveal Himself as 'masculine' (as much as people might dislike that notion. The problem with gender 'neutral' Bibles is (a)they over-rule God's self-revelation (i.e. how God chose to make Himself known, and (b) they compound the undermining of male leadership by removing all sense of male functional priority in how God ordained creational structures.

Nick Mackison said...

I agree that God revealed himself as masculine. The gender accurate translations NEVER mess with biological gender.

For example, you would always speak with the generic singular 'they'. That doesn't lead you to denying God's fatherhood in your prayers does it?

I fail to see how gender neutral bibles undermine male headship either.

Straw man arguments Andy. I say this in love...