Gender-Accurate Language in the NASB 2020

The NASB 2020 is gender-accurate, meaning the reader will no longer have to try to intuit which genders the biblical authors have in mind. Now the text will clearly communicate gender in modern English, while still remaining true to the context and original languages of the ancient manuscripts. It should not be assumed that everyone will “just know” if both genders are intended when reading gender specific English, and for that reason clarification is critical. The NASB 2020 is not gender-neutral because when the original context calls for a specific masculine or feminine term, it does not use a gender-neutral term instead. Likewise, changes such as the addition of italic “and sisters” following “brothers” are made only when it is accurate to the way both the language and context would have been naturally understood by the original audiences. The NASB uses italics all throughout the Bible to alert the reader to words and ideas added to the translation in order to be helpful for English. These words in italics are implied or understood in the text in original languages.

The current challenge

Accurately translating gender in the Bible will ensure that the Scriptures communicate properly and clearly for modern readers in the same way the original reader would have understood the text. The inclusive meaning of some gender-specific words used in traditional biblical translations is no longer accepted as inclusive to many of today’s readers.

The current reality is that some elements of the English language that were common and accurately understood when the NASB 1995 was released are either no longer as common or are on their way to being phased out completely. Many gender-specific words that were once traditionally understood as referring to both men and women have begun to lose their inclusive meaning. Additionally, some archaic words, such as “brethren”, are no longer used in everyday conversation at all.

The ultimate purpose

We know that longtime readers of the NASB 1995 love their version of the Bible, and it can be difficult to have something you love change. We are happy that there are readers who will keep using the NASB 1995 as their preferred version, and 1995 editions will continue to be available in both digital and print formats. But the NASB must continue to faithfully translate the original text in a way that is accurately understood by all English readers.

While we know that there are many emotions surrounding the recent trajectory of the evolution of the English language, our primary focus is to communicate the Word of God both clearly and accurately to any English reader who picks up a copy of the NASB. There are entire generations of people with grave spiritual needs who use a different form of English than that used in older Bible translations. We must ensure that the NASB 2020 is accurately understood by everyone, including those who—by accident or design—have never been taught about the historic gender inclusivity of masculine pronouns. Therefore, it is important to use modern English to communicate the meaning without sacrificing accuracy or truth.

Language must not be an obstacle for people reading the Bible, so once again we have worked diligently and faithfully to achieve a balance between accuracy and readability according to current English standards, just as we did with the 1995 update. Our prayer is that everyone who prefers a more modern English style will embrace the NASB 2020, as it continues to ensure accuracy to the original languages in today’s English.

For though I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may gain more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the Law, I became as one under the Law, though not being under the Law myself, so that I might gain those who are under the Law; to those who are without the Law, I became as one without the Law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might gain those who are without the Law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak; I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-24

“Brother” and “brothers” (Greek ἀδελφός, adelphós and ἀδελφοί, adelphoí)

The replacement of the word “brethren” has long been needed because it is archaic. It was used as the plural translation of the original Greek word for “brothers”. Unlike the English word “brothers,” the word “brethren” was traditionally used because, by definition, it can include both men and women in an organization. But that distinction is not always understood by many of today’s readers.

In the NT the Greek term “brother” is used affectionately for fellow Christians, both male and female, and it is difficult to find a single-word substitute for it that has the same significance. Since “brothers” has remained the preferred single-word translation in English, adding “and sisters” in italics to represent women in the Christian community is preferable, but only if the clarification is accurate.

The proper use of “and sisters” in italics to clarify “brothers” in appropriate contexts is accurate according to both the Greek and current English usage. Since the Greek word for “sister” does exist, the option of using “brothers and sisters” in all-roman type is not adequate because it would indicate that all three Greek words had been used in the original text instead of just the one. The better option was to add “and sisters” in italic type following the longstanding practice in the NASB of using italics to indicate that these additional words or ideas are implied or understood in the original language. Italic text is an important and unique translation distinction used in the NASB. This feature allows the NASB to provide an accurate translation that is also readable.

In order to guarantee the accuracy of the addition of “and sisters,” it was important to individually address each instance of “brothers” on a case-by-case basis. Both the context and the original language were considered. The main question to ask in each case was whether women were being specifically excluded. If so, it would only be accurate to translate the Greek as simply “brothers”. Usually this is very clear; one can tell who is present based on the context, and sometimes the speaker makes it clear by addressing his audience as “men brothers” in the Greek.

Among scholars, it is known that the plural of the Greek word for “brother” was sometimes used in Greek literature to refer to biological brothers and sisters together, and two important sources have been cited from the first and second centuries: the Oxyrhynchus papyri (97 AD) and Epictetus (1st-2nd century AD).

In the NT we have important indirect evidence that the plural of “brother,” when used to address a group of Christians includes women as well as men since we never see the combination of the Greek words for “brothers and sisters” used as a term of address in Greek. This is true regardless of the group, and it is highly unlikely that every group referred to in the entire NT was composed only of men. If there were examples of the phrase “brothers and sisters” being used in Greek, it could be argued that there is never a need to add “and sisters” because the author would have made the distinction himself whenever he desired.

We do, however, find the term “men brothers” (ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, ándres adelphoí) used as a term of address thirteen times in Acts to exclusively address men within a group. In these verses we believe it is best to translate the term strictly as “brothers,” without any indication that women are also being addressed since the text is specifically singling out men. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that while “brothers” (ἀδελφοί, adelphoí) was evidently used to address groups of Christian men and women without distinction, in some situations it was used in tandem with the Greek word for “men” to address men exclusively.

While there is a corresponding Hebrew word “brothers” in the OT as well, for the most part the words “countrymen” and “kinsmen” have been used when the word refers to the people of Israel, including both genders.

The replacement of “man/men” in the NT and OT (Greek ἄνθρωπος, ánthrōpos); Hebrew אדמ (adam), אֱנוֹשׁ (enosh), אּישׁ (ish)

Even in past editions, some occurrences of these words were translated in gender-accurate terms such as “person,” “people,” “mankind,” “one,” etc. Now, in order to maintain gender accuracy, more occurrences of “people” or “person” have replaced “men” or “man” (in the NT) where ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos) is found. However, the masculine terms have been retained in occurrences where the context makes it clear that the Greek word is, in fact, referring explicitly to males. There is also a word in Greek, ἀνήρ (anḗr), which specifically refers to men, and it is never translated in a way that includes women. Similarly, some simple alternatives such as using the pronouns “someone” and “anyone” have been avoided because they existed in the Greek and were commonly used. We expect that the original writers would have employed them instead, if that is what they intended.

Updating gender terms in the OT was a little more complex. The Hebrew words אדמ (adam) and אֱנוֹשׁ (enosh) are similar to the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos) in focusing on humanity rather than an indication of gender—as compared to the Greek ἀνή (anḗr). The references to the original man, Adam, in the early chapters of Genesis and elsewhere are unique. In a number of places though, the context favors “person” or “people” for gender accuracy, where “man” or “men” had previously been assumed to be sufficient. When the context calls specifically for “man” or indicates that only men are being referred to, masculine terms are retained.

The Hebrew word אֱנוֹשׁ (enosh) is different in that it most often refers to mankind (i.e. the human race), but in some contexts it simply refers to an individual. The context determines whether it is a person of either gender or a man specifically.

The most challenging Hebrew word to update for gender accuracy was אִשָּׁה (ish). This is a word that is oriented toward the male gender, but it is also used impersonally, virtually equivalent to an indefinite personal pronoun. Another unusual aspect is that it often means “each,” as well as many other translations, due to its frequency and flexibility. In many cases where the context indicates that the gender is not exclusive to men, the terminology has been changed for accuracy and understanding according to current English. Of course, when the context shows that only men are referred to, masculine terms are retained. As in Greek, there is also a Hebrew word גֶּבֶר (geber) that refers only to males, and this is never translated in a way that includes women.

Third-person singular pronouns

English does not have a universally accepted third-person singular pronoun that refers to both males and females, so the NASB 2020 maintains the practice of using “he” or “him” when referring to a singular, non-gender specific antecedent such as “person”. The alternative would be to use plural pronouns (often called “the singular they“) that would change the subject of the sentence from a singular to a plural. Maintaining the singular pronoun form most accurately represents the original language, which is important to maintaining textual accuracy. We realize this may create a dissonance for some readers who are used to a more modern style of writing. Current writers have the advantage of creating all new material. However, we do not feel that modern strategies, such as using “they” or alternating between “he” and “she”, are available to us as faithful translators. For example, changing the subject of a sentence from “he” to “they” requires an additional change to correct the grammar by making the previously singular verb plural as well. This not only changes the structure of the sentence, but a change from singular to plural also has a dramatic impact on how the verse is read and understood by the reader.

Making these grammatical changes thousands of times across the entire Bible is in direct conflict with the second principle of our longstanding Fourfold Aim and, therefore, is a red line to us. We could have added “or she” in italics as we did with “and sisters”, but while “brothers” may appear several times in one book, masculine pronouns can appear several times in one sentence, for sentence after sentence after sentence. We decided that these repetitive changes would create a bigger distraction, so keeping the text as it is remained the best course.

“He who”

In many places, “he who” has been replaced with “the one who” or “one who” to conform to current English usage, so as to ensure a clear understanding by today’s reader. Greek and Hebrew very often used an article (“the”) with a participle—or just a participle—to describe someone, and it was common practice to translate this using “he who” with a verb (e.g. “he who sins”). Neither this construction in the original languages, nor the translation “he who” found in the NASB 1995, was actually intended to refer exclusively to men. The new phrase, “the one who”, is not only gender-accurate, but also closer to the original sentence structure because it directly translates the Greek and Hebrew articles (“the”), when present, instead of simply replacing them with a pronoun.

For example, Matthew 13:9 now reads, “The one who has ears, let him hear.” Since the direct translation from the Greek would be “The having ears, let him hear,” this new translation more accurately represents the Greek when compared to the prior translation of “He who has ears, let him hear.” Note that in this example “him” was kept as explained above under “Third-person singular pronouns”.

Gender specific pronouns are also kept when the context indicates a specific gender, which ensures the verse is accurately translated and understood.

Adjectives or participles referring to a person

Finally, another case of changes for gender accuracy addresses a practice that was followed in previous editions of the NASB, as necessary, when the original Hebrew or Greek has constructions that would seem incomplete in English when translated literally. Most often this happens when the original languages have an adjective or participle referring to a person. In earlier editions, including NASB 1995, the word “man” or “men” was often added, which traditionally was not meant to refer exclusively to men. However, in the NASB 2020 this practice has been changed to translate these cases as “person” or “people,” which follows modern English standards and avoids confusion.

Summary

The NASB 2020 is a Bible that is accessible to all readers and is presented in a way that clearly and accurately communicates the content, so it is understood in the same way it would have been to the original audience. By striving to be gender-accurate, we believe that we have furthered that goal by providing the reader with a translation that will help them accurately understand the Bible in a way that was self-evident to the original writers. Most importantly, our desire is to provide a literal translation of the Bible that clearly communicates God’s message to the modern English reader so that everyone can continue to grow in their knowledge and love of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, and we strongly believe the NASB 2020 accomplishes this goal.