What if God’s Word is too much altered by the culture wars it finds itself within?
Beth Allison Bar writes (sidenote: Patheos is the worst coded website in the whole world, right?! Friends don’t let friends on the ad-clogged, slow, Patheos! Lookin’ at you, D.G.) in “Deconstructing the ESV“:…Samuel Perry (co author with Andrew Whitehead of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States) published a fascinating article in the Sociology of Religion Journal (Volume 81:1, pp. 68-92). Titled The Bible as a Product of Cultural Power: The Case of Gender Ideology in the English Standard Version, Perry analyzed 16 biblical passages often used in the complementarian/egalitarian debates, comparing the ESV with the RSV. He found that while 7 of the passages were mostly unchanged, the remaining 9 were altered in the ESV to support a complementarian reading. As Perry writes, “nine of these gender passages were changed and each was altered in the direction of favoring a more complementarian, traditional gender interpretation.” For example, the RSV describes Phoebe in Romans 16:1 as a deaconess of the church at Cenchrea; the ESV describes her as a servant.
That’s an interesting and important claim. Is it true that there is cultural bias that might affect the way we read the Word of God? Let’s look at several Bible translations of Rom 16:1 down through time.
King James Bible (1611)
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
New King James Version (1982)
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,
American Standard Version (1901)
I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church that is at Cenchreae:
Revised Standard Version (1971)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cen′chre-ae,
English Standard Version (2001)
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,