This is a good passage to illustrate the difficulty of selecting appropriate gender neutral language for a modern translation. It’s particularly helpful because it takes it away from the more divisive issues like 1 Timothy 2:12. Here I compare the NIV84, ESV, HCSB and NIV11.
In verse 1 and 4, where the Greek phrase for ‘all persons’ is used, there is a clearly generic anthropos (‘man’ as ‘human’). Here is how are versions handle it:
- NIV84—“everyone” in verse 1, yet in verse 4 went for “all men”
- ESV—“all people” in both verses
- HCSB—“everyone” in both verses
- NIV11—“all people” in both verses.
In verse 6, where there was no noun in the Greek phrase “ransom for all”:
- NIV84—“all men” (supplying a noun)
- ESV and HCSB—“all” (not supplying a noun)
- NIV11—“all people” (supplying a noun).
So far, the ESV, HCSB and NIV11 all improve on the 1984 NIV, and are rightly more gender sensitive on anthropos in a way that is hard to argue against. The ESV is the most consistent on the translation of the phrases.
But we’ve skipped verse 5, which is tricky for translating anthropos. Here are the options:
- NIV84—“one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”
- ESV—“one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” with a footnote, “men and man render the same Greek word that is translated people in verses 1 and 4”
- HCSB—“one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus”
- NIV11—“one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”
The NIV is consistent in referring to ‘men’ all through, including the verse immediately before, but risks sounding today like it’s excluding women from Christ’s work. Its gender insensitivity is no longer acceptable to any of the more modern versions.
The ESV tries to make clear that the mediator was truly a “man” like the ones he was saving. But to say ‘people’ would lose the repeated word link in this verse, so they kept “men” and explained via footnote. But it could still sound sexist today to those who skip footnotes.
The HCSB goes for “man” both times, the first time being a collective ‘man’ for the plural. This retains the gender insensitivity without explanation and misses the verbal link to ‘all people’ (which it translates as “everyone” in verses 1 and 4).
In passing, I note the TNIV went for “one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human”. But this makes ‘human’ a bit abstract, not quite a specific person, a man. It also misses the link to “people” which it used in verse 4.
The NIV11 is happy from its study of English use today to use words like ‘mankind’ as part of a mix of terms available for collective anthropos (as human). This keeps it clear that Jesus is a real, particular human, a man. And it keeps a verbal link to those he ransoms—mankind. But it misses the verbal link to “people” which it used in verses 1 and 4. Overall, I think NIV11 probably does best on this one, with ESV as a very close second.