Does “brothers” mean men only? Guest post by Gary Shogren

Gary Shogren and his wife are missionaries in Costa Rica and professors in a Bible College and Seminary.  Gary  is an expert in the Greek New Testament with a PhD from Aberdeen University. He has written an exegetical commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Recently, Gary sent me a post on the NIV 2011 edition of the Bible and how it has been vilified as an inaccurate translation, especially when it comes to the English pronouns “he” and “she.” He wrote another excellent guest post on a similar topic here. Below is a nugget from his latest post:

Is it an error to translate masculine gender pronouns as generic English pronouns? Not necessarily, and all English translations do so at one time or another, even the King James Version. Here is what we encounter in the Greek New Testament; I will be taking my examples from 1 Corinthians:

  1. Masculine gender words that refer to men. The NIV 2011 translates them as “he”, “him” or “man” in English. For example, 1 Cor 7:18 – “Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised.” Only male circumcision is in view, so he’s talking about men, not women.
  2. Feminine gender words that refer to women. The NIV 2011 translates them as “she” or “her” in English. For example, 1 Cor 7:4 – “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband;” 7:13 – “if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.” What we see in Group 1 and Group 2 is proof that the NIV 2011 is not some “unisex” Bible. Women are women, men are men, and (Group 3) people are people.
  3. Masculine gender words that, in context, refer to men and women or both. The NIV 2011 tries to translate them literally into English, that is, making them refer to men and women, boys and girls, without restricting the reference to “man = adult male”. In today’s English, “man” refers to a male, and an adult; the original Greek includes people of both sexes and all ages, for example “if anyone is in Christ”, 2 Cor 5:17. As Mark Strauss, editor of the NIV 2011 states, “A simple definition of a gender-inclusive translation is a translation that seeks to avoid masculine terminology when the original author was referring to members of both sexes.

All the controversy over gender neutrality in the NIV 2011 has to do with Group 3. Every single English Bible version in use today employs “gender neutral translation” to some extent. That includes the ESV, the NASB and yes, the original King James Version, see below. In other words, the difference between the KJV, ESV and the NIV 2011 is a relative difference of degree, not an absolute difference in translation philosophy.

1 Cor 1:10. See also 1:11; 1:26; 2:1; 3:1; 4:6; 5:11; 6:8; 7:15; 7:24; 7:29. Here and in many other verses in the New Testament, Paul address the Christians as “brothers and sisters” rather than just “brothers” or “brethren”. One website insists that this is silly, since everyone knows that the term “brothers” includes women. But is this so? When someone asks me, “Do you have any brothers?” a proper answer might be, “Brothers? Yes, I have one brother.” I would not say, “Brothers? Yes, I have a sister.” It’s as simple as that: “brothers” no longer includes “sisters”, as it did in English centuries ago.

Exegetical Commentary by Gary Shogren

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