The Last Jedi and a Gender Inclusive NIV

Gender Words In The Bible Don't Always Translate Well

Earlier today Disney dropped the title and logo for Star Wars Episode VIII, revealing it to be: Star Wars The Last Jedi. The blog sites and YouTube exploded and the question on everyone’s mind was: to whom does the title refer?

The confusion is in the fact that “Jedi” is one of those words that could be both singular and plural, like fish. You could have one fish or many fish. And you could have one Jedi or a whole bunch of Jedi.

I watched about half a dozen commentators on YouTube speculate about “The Last Jedi.” Some think it is referring to Rey, others think it could be referring to Luke, while many think it could be referring to both Rey and Luke since Jedi can be either singular or plural.

But one YouTuber named Charlie had the foresight to look up the title as it was posted in another language. Here’s what he says:

“Sometimes when you look at the way they translate posters and titles into other languages you can find out what they intended based on male or female pronouns. So on the poster they released in Brazil it actually read male and singular, so that implies that the title is supposed to be for Luke, not for Rey and it’s not for both of them.”

The key is that in English it is very difficult to determine whether Jedi means many or one, and whether it’s referring to a man or a woman, leading to a whole bunch of speculation. But when you find out how it was written in a language that includes gender pronouns, the ambiguities fade away.

Back to the Bible

A whole lot of mountains have been made out of a little molehill by English speakers regarding the NIV’s 2011 update that many have called a “gender inclusive” Bible.

The problem is traditionally when a word in Greek like “brothers” (ἀδελφῶν) was translated to English it was translated literally as “brothers,” even though in Greek that word could mean “brothers and sisters” depending on the context.

For example, in Luke 21:16 the NIV previously read: “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.”

But since it’s 2011 update it now reads: “You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.”

While the 2011 edition is not as literal as the previous edition, it is more accurate. A Greek speaking person in the first century would have read or heard the word ἀδελφῶν in that context and understood it to be referring to brothers and sisters.

After all, “parents” refer to both dad and mom, “relatives” refer to people of both genders, as do “friends.” Does Jesus mean to imply that everyone will betray them except their sisters? Obviously not.

This example strikes at the heart of two common myths about Bible translations today. The first is that the NIV “changed” the Bible to make it gender neutral or gender inclusive. Where the NIV uses gender inclusive phrases it does so because the original language calls for it. The second is the myth that literal translations are more accurate. As we just saw, a literal translation of “ἀδελφῶν” in Luke 21:16 is not as accurate as to translate it dynamically.

Question: What other myths about Bible translations have you heard? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • It’s true, the original language text is different from what we have today. Detailed scrutiny will show some differences but the truth itself is without error. It’s still the inspired Word of God. It’s also helpful to determine the original intent of the text and then, how it applies to us today. The inerrant Word of God is trustworthy and doesn’t contradict itself (even though it has grammatical mistakes). Truth is what gives the Bible authority and sufficiency. I love 2 Tim 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”