Translations + Marketing = Gender Roles?

Bibles are an important clue in any church-shopping venture. So, the first thing I scope out when visiting a church for the first time is the pew Bible, the all important indicator of any church’s theology.

For example: no pew Bible probably means there isn’t going to be consistency in the translation used and really, they most likely don’t want you to look too closely at the Scripture anyway. If the NIV is the chosen choice for a congregation, it says: we are leery of any nods toward inclusivity in language, in theology, in what it means to be a Christian. On the other hand, If you find a church that provides the New Revised Standard Version, you are probably in a mainline denomination and you will more likely sing hymns in worship.

OK. I admit I’ve painted with strokes that are too broad, and thus not entirely fair or accurate.

On the other hand, I think the Bibles we read matter, and they matter quite a bit. Here’s why: translations are created by people who have already established their own thinking about God, about church, about Scripture and there is no way in which these ideas are separated from how the group interprets and translates from the original languages. Most of us, I think we’d admit, do not read our Bibles in Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic. Instead, we rely on the translations of others so that we can read in English. The key here is that we are trusting translation—thus, meaning—to others.

And in many ways, this given hardly seems worthy to note, especially in a blog about women and images.

In previous posts Melanie and I have both called attention to Bibles with particular marketing niches: Melanie’s on The Princess Bible and mine on The True Identity Bible. We both pointed out the marketing aspects of the texts, not on the particular translation. But here is where I’ve started to suspect a connection. Have you ever wondered why most niche Bibles use either the NIV (New International Version) or a paraphrase such as The New English Version or the older Living Bible? Is it possible that there is a relationship worth exploring? Is there a reason most marketed Bibles deliberately avoid using the New Revised Standard Version deemed by most biblical scholars to be the most accurate English translation to date?

My hypothesis is rather simplistic, but could, nevertheless be interesting to explore. Is it that people who read the NIV or a paraphrase are more likely to attend churches where gender roles are prescribed and thus people are eager to buy marketed Bibles that support such notions: the girl as princess, the man as a Promise Keeper, the young woman in need of finding her identity? And, that those who read something other than the NIV or a paraphrase are probably less inclined to purchase a niche Bible because she or he participates in a church where gender roles are not prescribed?

In any case, in the midst of this conversation about Bibles and the important place they play in our understanding of who God is and who we are called to be in response, I’d like to offer up an alternative to consider: The Inclusive Bible published by Sheed & Ward and translated by the group Priests for Equality.

To pique your interest, consider the following two translations:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” NIV

“Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those of you who are in committed relationships should yield to each other as if to Christ, because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body—the church—as well as being its Savior. As the church yields to Christ, so you should yield to your partner in everything.” The Inclusive Bible