Saturday, September 10, 2005

Don't Fear Man, and Definitely Not People

For those who don’t know, there’s an interesting conversation going on amongst evangelicals over the translation of Bible language relating to gender. As popular English has shifted away from masculine-centered language, e.g. “mankind,” some evangelicals have called for a Bible of gender-neutral language wherever possible. That is, at any point where it is not essential that translation refer to masculine gender, the Bible should shift to gender-inclusive language. Where Paul says “brothers,” for example, in introducing a number of his epistles, the translation should read “brothers and sisters” or “fellow believers.” This principle makes good sense in part, for Paul certainly wasn’t addressing his letters solely to male Christians. And yet this philosophy of language runs into difficulty at certain points. Here’s one I’ve thought up. The Bible talks about the need to fear God and not man. “Fear of man,” as the phrase goes, is one of the central problems of the human heart. People naturally concern themselves with what other people think about them, rather than giving first priority to the opinion God has for their actions and thoughts. Such behavior is clearly a problem, for while people can affect us for a short time on earth, God holds our souls in His hands. First priority must be given to Him and His call on us to love Him and hate our sin.

Sermonizing aside, this is all relevant to this particular blog because the phrase “fear of people” just doesn’t really do it for me. The phrase “fear of man” has some gravity. It relates one to a great mass of humanity and suggests that one fears this mass as a whole. You can almost see a lone person standing before a teeming crowd of unfriendly faces. “Fear of people,” on the other hand, sounds altogether psychological. It sounds like you’re afraid to carry on normal conversations with others and takes away any sense of gravity. God isn’t displeased with sinners because they’re bad at small talk. He has wrath for them because in their sin they care more about people than they do Him. I’m sure that there are positive aspects to the gender-neutral philosophy, but one can’t help thinking of examples like the one above that show the inadequacy of neutralized language.


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