In 1997, evangelical leaders met in Colorado Springs to debate the use of gender-neutral/gender-inclusive language in Bible translations.
“Over the past two months evangelical leaders have engaged in a serious debate concerning the use of gender-inclusive language in English Bible translation. Dr. James Dobson called a meeting of concerned individuals to discuss together and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit in these matters. Those who participated in this meeting give glory to God for His grace evident among us as we worked together this day, and with hope we offer the following statement with the prayer that it will be of use to the Church for the glory of God.”
The men involved in this debate were as follows:
- Ken Barker, Secretary, Committee on Bible Translation; Member, Executive Committee of Committee on Bible Translation
- Timothy Bayly, Executive Director, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Pastor, Church of the Good Shepherd, Bloomington, IN
- Joel Belz, Publisher, God’s World Publications
- James Dobson, President, Focus on the Family
- Lars Dunberg, President, International Bible Society
- Wayne Grudem, President, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
- Charles Jarvis, Executive Vice President, Focus on the Family
- John Piper, Member, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Senior Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN
- Vern S. Poythress, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Westminster Theological Seminary
- Bruce E. Ryskamp, President and CEO, Zondervan Publishing House
- R. C. Sproul, Chairman, Ligonier Ministries
- Ron Youngblood, Member, Committee on Bible Translation; Professor of Old Testament, Bethel Theological Seminary West
The guidelines they agreed upon were as follows:
A. Gender-related renderings of Biblical language which we affirm:
1. The generic use of “he, him, his, himself” should be employed to translate generic 3rd person masculine singular pronouns in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. However, substantival participles such as ho pisteuon can often be rendered in inclusive ways, such as “the one who believes” rather than “he who believes.”
2. Person and number should be retained in translation so that singulars are not changed to plurals and third-person statements are not changed to second-person or first-person statements, with only rare exceptions required in unusual cases.
3. “Man” should ordinarily be used to designate the human race or human beings in general, for example in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:2; Ezekiel 29:11; and John 2:25.
4. Hebrew ‘ish should ordinarily be translated “man” and “men” and Greek aner should almost always be so translated.
5. In many cases, anthropoi refers to people in general, and can be translated “people” rather than “men.” The singular anthropos should ordinarily be translated “man” when it refers to a male human being.
6. Indefinite pronouns such as tis can be translated “anyone” rather than “any man.”
7. In many cases, pronouns such as oudeis can be translated “no one” rather than “no man.”
8. When pas is used as a substantive, it can be translated with terms such as “all people” or “everyone.”
9. The phrase “son of man” should ordinarily be preserved to retain intracanonical connections.
10. Masculine references to God should be retained.
B. Gender-related renderings which we will generally avoid, though there may be unusual exceptions in certain contexts:
1. “Brother” (adelphos) and “brothers” (adelphoi) should not be changed to “brother(s) and sister(s).”
2. “Son” (huios, ben) should not be changed to “child,” or “sons” (huioi) to “children” or “sons and daughters.” (However, Hebrew banim often means “children.”)
3. “Father” (pater, ‘ab) should not be changed to “parent,” or “fathers” to “parents,” or “ancestors.”
C. We understand these guidelines to be representative and not exhaustive.
Why are these guidelines noteworthy? They are noteworthy in that a good number of Bibles used by evangelicals today fail to conform to them.
Specifically, they fail to conform to section B, the “don’t do this” section. B.1. says, “‘Brother’ (adelphos) and ‘brothers’ (adelphoi) should not be changed to ‘brother(s) and sister(s)’.”
Why does this guideline matter? And so why does it matter that it’s ignored?
Pastor Tim Bayly, an original signatory of the Colorado Springs Guidelines, adeptly explains why:
In the Old Testament, God names the race “adam” after the first man “Adam.” The first man and the race descended from him are both named by God using the same Hebrew word with an undeniably obvious male meaning component: “adam.” Only the context tells us whether Scripture is speaking of the race or Eve’s husband.
In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit inspires the Apostles to name the members of the church “adelphoi,” the Greek word “brothers.” When the Apostle Paul writes the church in Corinth, he uses this Greek word “adelphoi” to address the entire church, both men and women. This is the same word used for the members of the churches across the New Testament Epistles, both male and female. And like God’s name for the race in the Old Testament, this word “adelphoi” inspired by the Holy Spirit has an undeniably obvious male meaning component
These words “adam” and “adelphoi” are what we call male inclusives.
God didn’t name the race “adam-eve” or “eve,” but “adam.” He named the race after the man He created first and placed His Fatherhood upon—not the woman He created second and made to be the mother of all the living. God named the race “adam” and this name points to many weighty theological truths, including:
- Woman is the glory of man, yet man is not the glory of woman. Rather, man is the glory of God (1Corinthians 11:7).
- In Adam we all died. Not in Adam and Eve or Eve alone, but in that one man Adam (Romans 5:14, 19; 1Corinthians 15:21, 22). And this despite Eve sinning first.
- The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the Head of His Church (Ephesians 5:23). Marriage doesn’t have two heads, but one.
- The father is the head of the home, bearing the weight and glory of the Fatherhood of God we all confess when we say, in worship, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty,” and when we pray “Our Father, Who art in Heaven” (Matthew 6:9). The home doesn’t have co-equal leaders, but a father and a mother. Thus it was that God told Abraham to “command his household” to “keep the way of the Lord” (Genesis 18:19). God did not tell Abraham and Sarah to command “their” household. God did not tell Sarah alone to command “her” household.
We could continue all through Scripture outlining this truth God placed as the cornerstone of His creation: the male of the species is the head of the female of the species because God is the Father Almighty and the male of the species bears His glory in a way the female of the species does not. Even the animals bear witness to this truth when Noah’s ark is filled with the male of the species and “his female” (Genesis 7:2).
This is the meaning of God’s use of the male inclusive throughout His Holy Scriptures.
He names the entire race, both man and woman, “adam.” The Hebrew word “man.”
He names the entire church, both brothers and sisters, “adelphoi.” The Greek word “brothers.”
What does this practically mean?
Well, you can check it yourself. But, if this is a line that matters, and it is, then the NIV and CSB have both crossed it. This means that there are other, objectively superior Bible translations you should use.