Westmont Magazine Translating Texts with Gender Identity
A question from one of his students at Bethel Seminary in San Diego started Mark Strauss ’82 on a new area of research. “Why,” she asked, “do we translate the Greek word adelphoi as brothers when the context in the New Testament clearly means brothers and sisters?”
Why, indeed, Mark wondered. Approaching the issue as a linguist and a translator, Mark wrote what he now describes as a “rather naive” paper and read it at the Far-West Regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The presentation attracted little interest, but a year later World magazine published a series of articles attacking a gender-inclusive edition of the New International Version published in Great Britain. A group of American Christians banded together to oppose this translation. They held a conference and established a series of guidelines opposing the use of gender-inclusive language in Scripture.
Convinced these guidelines were flawed because they contradicted sound principles of Bible translation, Mark wrote another paper pointing out the linguistic and hermeneutical fallacies in the guidelines. He has been discussing and debating the issue ever since. In October 2002, Christianity Today published two views of the new gender-accurate translation of Today’s International Version; Mark wrote the article supporting it.
Mark explains his position fully in “Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy,” which InterVarsity Press published in 1998. He carefully evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of inclusive language, and generally supports translations that feature it.
For Mark, the key issue is capturing the meaning of the original text and expressing it accurately in contemporary English. Many New Testament references to man or men are more accurately translated by person or people, he argues.
His interest in inclusive language does not extend to pronouns referring to God or Jesus Christ. He believes those should remain masculine and does not support the feminization of Scripture.
He also contends that the debate over gender-inclusive language must be kept separate from the discussion about the role of women in the church. Too often, critics of gender-inclusive language make the mistake of linking these disputes.
While he supports and encourages women in full-time ministry, he does believe that men and women have different roles in the body of believers. “Men and women are different, and God has gifted us in different ways,” he says. “But I believe that God may call women to ministry, and I don’t think it is our role to block that. For me, it’s a peripheral issue that we have fought about enough.”
Despite his reputation as the “gender guy,” Mark’s real interest is in the nature of translation. A New Testament scholar, he has published works that relate mostly to the gospels. For example, he wrote the section on Luke in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary.
His other area of interest is preaching, and he served for three years as the interim preaching pastor at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. Since then, he has served for a year as an interim at Rancho Bernardo Baptist Church.
“I feel called to train pastors, and serving as an interim is good for my teaching. It helps me understand issues pastors struggle with and makes it easier to integrate practical ministry into my classes,” he says. “I used to focus almost exclusively on the meaning of the biblical text when I taught. Now I realize that pastors need to know how to cross the bridge from the first century to the present.”
Mark begins most classes with a devotional to show students how to take a text and bring it to life. “I’m training pastors, not academics, so this is an important skill,” he notes.
A psychology major at Westmont, Mark did research under Bill Wright. After he graduated, he felt called to seminary and earned master of divinity and master of theology degrees at Talbot School of Theology. He taught for a year at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon and then enrolled at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland to complete a doctorate in New Testament. He joined the faculty of Bethel Seminary in 1994.
“Westmont has its priorities straight,” Mark says. “Professors really teach students to think Christianly. They don’t just tell students what to believe, but show them how to approach life from a biblical world view. We were never expected to parrot back certain beliefs. Studying at Westmont was very freeing, as there was no legalistic spirit. That is the same approach I now cultivate with my students.”