taking the words of Jesus seriously

Have you ever noticed how every day language is used to manipulate and shape rather than describe reality? Here is one example. I used to swim several mornings a week, and as I walked from the locker room to the swimming pool, I encountered a large candy machine along the way. It wasn’t enough to have to walk around this temptation in an effort to gain physical exercise. But, to make matters worse the candy machine was lit up with huge words that read “Nutritious Food.” Of course, the machine did not dispense food but candy, and it was far from nutritious! The language used to sell candy was deceptive and harmful. I once complained, but realized that my objection was less persuasive than the profit from candy sales.

The stewardship we give words is a moral responsibility that either furthers or diminishes the purposes of Christ and the cause of justice, truth, and love of neighbor. Hence, precision with words is integral to our work as egalitarians. The meticulous use of language is, in my opinion, at the core of the TNIV debate, which is perhaps one reason the debate over accuracy in Bible translation has been so heated.

Using words accurately is challenging, not only because language is living—it is always changing—but also because of the effort required to give words their real meaning, when personal gain is always a temptation. Chandler McEntyre notes in her recent Christianity Today article, “The practice of precision requires not only attentiveness and effort: it may also require the courage to afflict the comfortable and, consequently, tolerate their resentment. The practice of precision is a spiritual discipline that requires courage. Precision is an aspect of the ‘renewal of mind’ that Paul commends.”

To be renewed in mind is to use language accurately and in ways that impart dignity and respect to all people. Here is one example. During the Civil Rights movement, men of color, regardless of their age, were referred to as “boys” while adult white males were referred to as “men.” Adult females have encountered the same hurdle in that they are often referred to as “girls, ” when in fact they are adults and therefore women. And, of course in Bible translation and every language, when the context includes women what prevents us from making their gender visible? For example, in Romans 3:28 Paul said that an “anthropos is justified by faith.” The Greek word anthropos means “person” (not man) in this context, and so most translations read, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law (Rom. 3:28, NRSV). Certainly, we want all readers to understand that both men and women are saved by faith in Christ which is why the biblical author selected a gender-accurate term.

In the same way, candy is not nutritious food, nor are adult men boys, nor are women men. Let us use language accurately as a spiritual discipline and a form of moral integrity that reveals the love of God, the fruit of Calvary, and the stewardship of the gospel.

Mimi Haddad is President of Christians for Biblical Equality

About The Author


Dr. Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (Summa Cum Laude). She holds a PhD in historical theology from the University of Durham, England. Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University awarded Mimi an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity in 2013. Haddad is part of the leadership of Evangelicals for Justice. She is a founding member of the Evangelicals and Gender Study Group at the Evangelical Theological Society, and she served as the convener of the Issue Group 24 for the 2004 Lausanne III Committee for World Evangelization. She has written more than one hundred articles and blogs and has contributed to ten books, most recently Godly Woman - An Agent of Transformation published by the Evangelical Fellowship of India 2014 and The Fragrance of Christ published by the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief 2011. She is an editor and a contributing author of Global Voices on Biblical Equality: Women and Men Serving Together in the Church. Haddad has contributed to Coming Together in the 21st Century: The Bible's Message in an Age of Diversity, edited by Curtiss Paul DeYoung. Haddad is an adjunct assistant professor at Fuller Theological Seminary (Houston), an adjunct assistant professor at Bethel University (Saint Paul, MN), and an adjunct professor at North Park Theological Seminary (Chicago). She serves as a gender consultant for World Vision and Beyond Borders. She and her husband, Dale, live in the Twin Cities.

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