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A Prophetic Word from 1974

March 1, 1997

From Joseph T. Bayly, "Revise Our ‘Sexist' Scriptures?''
in Out of My Mind: The Best of Joe Bayly, ed. Timothy
Bayly (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 135-38.


In a previous issue of CBMWNEWS (Vol. 1, no. 3 [June 1996]: 3-5), Wayne Grudem provided a brief critique of the New Revised Standard Version ("What's wrong with ‘gender neutral' Bible translations?''). He concluded that the NRSV is in many cases not an accurate translation, because it seems to adhere to the principle that "if the way the Bible says certain things is offensive to parts of our culture, then we can simply change what the Bible says in order to take away the offense. But once this happens, we are no longer simply translating, or even interpreting, we are willfully changing the text of Scripture'' (p. 5).

But there is at least one man who saw these problems at the very inception of the NRSV over twenty years ago: Joe Bayly, the father of the new CBMW executive director. Following is a reprint of a column he wrote in 1974 for Eternity magazine.

A recent news release indicates that the Revised Standard Version is to be revised yet once more, this time to eliminate sexist language.

What is sexist language? "Sons of God,'' which will become "children of God.'' "If any man thirst,'' which will be changed to "If any person thirst.'' "He who endures to the end will be saved'' will be either "He or she,'' or "They.''

I happen to think the whole idea is stupid, the sort of tampering with the Scriptures that Bible-burners accused the RSV translators of twenty-five years ago.

Before persons begin to write letters accusing me of being a M.C.P., please listen to me say that I think women have a valid and serious cause for complaint in our present American society. I'm for gymnasiums at Christian colleges for women as well as men, equal sports facilities and equipment at Christian camps, women on boards of directors of Christian organizations, equal pay for women for the same work-in Christian as well as secular situations, opportunity for women to advance along with men to executive positions.

And a lot of other things, more basic.  

If a woman works all day at employment outside the home, elemental justice would indicate that her husband should share the work of the home.

No husband should be content to flower while his wife vegetates. Every Christian married man is responsible to see that his wife realizes the potential God has built into her life.

But it's not just husbands who must free women to be themselves, to achieve the goals they'd like to achieve. Women's libbers (including many of the Christian ones) need to learn the same lesson. Their scornful put-down of interest in motherhood, in providing a warm and beautiful home, in being a "traditional'' wife and mother-forcing a contented wife and mother into a "meaningful career'' outside the home, or imposing guilt-is as destructive to many women's freedom as a husband who thinks his wife only exists to further his goals.

Now back to the Bible.

Up to the present time, men have pretty well known who they were, and women have known who they were. There were clear distinctions, both in the Bible and in the general culture.

Nobody felt the need of unisex or bisexuality. In fact, the Bible clearly warned against blurring the lines between the sexes.

Now Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem come along, and part of the Christian community begins to feel guilty that we are not keeping up with the world. So revisionists take over the Bible and set to work to change it. (I have intentionally chosen a pejorative word; Christian revisionists are comparable to communist revisionists, in my opinion. Both represent an attempt to rewrite history for their own purposes, and tamper with source material.) Some of the changes-such as the ones I suggested in the second paragraph-aren't too important although I think it's stupid to change a grammatical usage, such as the generic "man.'' We need a term such as mankind; "chairperson'' may be all right, but "personkind'' is flawed, in my opinion.

But where will the revisionists stop? Will Adam come from Eve's rib, the serpent tempt Adam, Sarah lead the pilgrimage out of Ur and have a daughter by Abraham's servant, Mrs. Hosea track down a male prostitute husband, Jesus have six women along with six men disciples, Paul travel with a woman doctor? Will the prodigal son become the prodigal daughter (or person)?

Granted that we have stressed God's maleness too much (He is compared to a mother in Scripture, as well as a father), but does the Incarnate Son become a Daughter? Do we erase the Creation-based, not Fall-based, distinction St. Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 11?

When you start to rewrite history, you're in trouble, whether it's communist history or biblical history. It would be more honest to say, "They were wrong; we've discovered new truth in the twentieth century,'' or "Times have changed, and we must reflect those changes,'' than to tamper with source material.

In defending the Bible as it stands, I'm not implying that it wouldn't be different in many places if God were revealing Himself today instead of millennia ago. With girl runaways outnumbering boys, the prodigal might well be a daughter, if Jesus were telling His story today. With women's education equal to men's, today's Bible might have books written by holy women. Surely the exploits of women missionaries would be headlined. And Herod might be a woman.

But these changes, reflecting the times which God was burdened in His self-revelation, would not obscure the original Creation, nor the peculiar identities of men and women. Biblical principles about sex are unchanging. Thank God for making women different from men. I think an awful lot of men would agree with me. Men like Abraham and Moses and Aquila and Gloria Steinem's husband, if she's married.

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