During three decades of work with the American Bible Society, Barclay M. Newman has kept before him a question posed by the translators of the 1611 King James Version: "What can be more [important] than to deliver God's book unto God's people in a tongue which they understand?" An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Newman serves as lead translator for the Contemporary English Version of the Bible and as a worldwide consultant to missionary translators. CT Executive Editor David Neff spoke with Newman in August.
Why did the CEV translators use gender-generic language where the Bible uses masculine language for people of both sexes?
First of all, let me differ with the premise of your question. The CEV translators chose to do only one thing—to faithfully communicate the meaning of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts in a style and format most appropriate for the intended audience. And so whenever the language of the original documents signaled gender inclusiveness, we followed that lead in order to be faithful.
I prefer to call it gender faithfulness, which must be viewed in light of overall faithfulness to the meaning of the text. It's a subcategory, a single aspect of faithfulness in Bible translation. The sole concern is to produce a faithful text that reaches the people in their own language.
You have pointed out that gender sensitivity in English translations is as old as the King James Version. How so? The King James translators used, for example, "children of Israel" to express what is literally "sons of Israel" in the Hebrew. They did that because they were sensitive to the fact that in Hebrew you do not have a generic word for children; you have to use either a masculine word for children, sons, or a feminine ...1