Inclusive N.T. translation frees text
The Inclusive New Testament, Produced by Priests for Equality, PO Box 5243, W. Hyattsville, MD 20782-0243, 1994, 470 pages, $24.95 hardbound, $14.95 softbound.
By Nancy Sylvester
When I saw the flier advertising The Inclusive New Testament, I immediately sent away for it. My first casual review of it pleased me very much. I opened to the Gospel of John and read, "A couple had been caught in the act of adultery, though the scribes and Pharisees brought only the woman...." Finally, I thought, an account of that story that I can relate to.
But it wasn't until I took it with me on my retreat that I realized the power of the translation. I felt I was on the road to Emmaus and could say with the disciples, "Weren't our hearts burning inside us as Jesus talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?"
I felt the scripture breaking open for me in a way that had not happened in a very long time. Freed of having to do my own translation, I could let the words engage me and speak to me as a woman, as a feminist. New insights came to me. I allowed Jesus to come alive in the stories of the early Christian community and made connections with what is happening today in my own life and in the struggles we face as a people and a church. Unlike other attempts I have made to return to scripture, only to be forced to close the book because of sexist and patriarchal language, this time the translation enabled me to experience the text as a life-giving moment.
This translation is a project of Priests for Equality, an organization of men and women that works for the full participation of women and men in the church and society. The organization began this work in 1988. Although one of the original goals of the group was to "eliminate sexist language," this translation goes far beyond that; it is, in the translators' words, "a reimagining of the holy scriptures and our relationship to them."
The introduction to the text explains the translators' approach, what guidelines and criteria they used and their process. They tried to stay faithful to the original Greek. They tried to understand the ancient truth and then searched for a nonsexist way of expressing it. Of course, this wasn't always possible. They acknowledge that there were some places, particularly in the epistles, where "the point of the passage was so encrusted that to remove the sexist language would necessitate removing the text itself." Although such an admission of the underlying patriarchy of the time is painful, I appreciate the honesty of coming to terms with it. By not glossing over the serious problems Christianity faces from the feminist critique, the translators gain credence.
This translation also has a different look. The translators felt that the familiar divisions of the books of the Bible into chapter and verse did not make for good reading. So they created three levels of section breaks within each gospel and epistle: one to show major shifts in theme or time, one to reflect a shift in scene or topic, and one reflecting minor groupings such as parables, sayings and pericopes. It does retain the traditional chapter-and-verse numbering but in very small type.
Although such a format de-emphasizes the book's "bibleness," I would have preferred the traditional numbering in bolder type and longed for a way to locate a specific gospel or epistle more easily. I guess I want it to be my Bible and longed for tabs.
But more important than format is how this translation heightens our awareness of the power of words. The translators consciously used language to humanize and equalize those relegated to society's margins. They remind us of how the dignity of individuals is enhanced or demeaned by the way we address them. The introduction states, "we do not identify people as their afflictions, impoverishments or infirmities. We do not refer to 'the poor' but rather, 'poorer people' or 'people in need'--to show that poverty is not an absolute, easily delineated category of people, but a relative condition that touches everyone."
The translators also choose "to use the language of mutuality of human relationships to restore the role and status of women. For example, in Luke 1:7, Elizabeth is no longer described as 'barren'; instead they (Elizabeth and Zechariah) were 'unable to conceive.'" Finally, they acknowledge the many forms in which God appears in our lives, choosing words that express relationship rather than patriarchy and representing Jesus Christ's humanity rather than his maleness.
It is this sensitivity to those who have and continue to be marginalized that removes so many of the regular stumbling blocks I encounter when reading the "official" translations of these texts. This translation frees the text so that you can listen to the Spirit within. This is a book you don't have to read cover to cover, but who knows, you just might do that.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Sr. Nancy Sylvester is vice president of her congregation and lives in Monroe, Mich.