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it’s a girl: the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

February 19, 2018

Greek New Testament translator Ann Nyland has the following footnote on Matthew 18.2:

Bible versions traditionally translate the personal pronoun here as ‘him’, but the personal pronoun in the Greek is “it” following the neuter grammatical gender of ‘child’. The gender of the child is not mentioned [by the narrator of the Greek gospel of Matthew], and the Greek provides no clues.

She herself translates the verse this way:

Jesus called a child over, and put the child down in the middle of them.

Dr. Nyland’s English is emphasizing the mystery or the non-specificity of Matthew’s Greek.

καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος παιδίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν

She could have translated it with it, the way Hebrew-Bible and Greek-New-Testament translator Julia Smith has:

And Jesus, having called a young child, set it in the midst of them,

Beyond how “Bible versions traditionally translate,” and apart from the few non-traditional versions such as Nyland’s and Smith’s, there are three versions that seem to get at something greater in Matthew. (For a quick look at the traditional, one can click here.)

That is, three Greek New Testament translators have regarded the larger context and the regular gendered contrasts of the Greek gospel of Matthew. These three highlight the plausibility that this male Rabbi called a little girl over and put her down in the middle of these men who were his all-male talmidim clamoring for the answer to their question about who could be the very greatest in the Kingdom of this God their teacher called his Father.

Let me end my post with these three. But first let me consider more what Dr. Nyland is advising and why that matters. Ann Nyland like Julia Smith advises that we pay close attention to gender in the Greek. Grammatically we all know how very important that is. Neither translator wants to over-translate the gender. For those readers inclusive of the LBGT community, Nyland has stressed how important getting gender in translation right is. For those readers inclusive of first-wave feminist activism, Smith’s translating has been remarkably important both for the facts that (1) she herself without the aid of a man translated not only the Greek Septuagint and the Greek New Testament but also the Hebrew Bible and that (2) her close reading of the original language texts have yielded an English version that brings to light gender in clearer ways (as noted in The Women’s Bible commentary here).

Neither woman translating wishes to read more gender into the Greek than the grammar necessitates. Nonetheless most translators default in English to the male-child gender. Nyland uses the English adverb traditionally to describe this male default in the rendering into English here:

“Bible versions traditionally translate the personal pronoun here as ‘him’, but the personal pronoun in the Greek is ‘it’ following the neuter grammatical gender of ‘child’. The gender of the child is not mentioned [by the narrator of the Greek gospel of Matthew], and the Greek provides no clues.”

She is correct of course that the Greek pronoun αὐτὸ is neuter. To say “it’s a boy” or to say definitively “it’s a girl” is to go beyond the clues Matthew provides his Greek readers here. He as author narrator does nonetheless provide an antecedent to the next pronoun αὐτῶν. That next pronoun refers back to the men asking their male Rabbi the question. And he, this Teacher, has been referred to by the very Greek pronoun that Matthew uses again in 18:2.  The singular (non plural) form of this same neuter pronoun in Matthew 2 actually refers to the child Jesus, to the boy, to the male son of Mary. There are nine pronominal references to this lad in the tight space of a very close context. There is no ambiguity. The clues are abundant. But in Matthew 18, the writer’s same pronoun “provides no clues.”

What I would like to suggest is that English translators have three choices, and the third choice is most compelling because of the larger context of the gospel. The first choice is almost no choice at all; it is to default male; and it is precisely how “Bible versions traditionally translate the personal pronoun here as ‘him’.”


The second choice is Nyland’s and Smith’s. That is the translator is providing the English reader the opportunity to attend to the importance of grammatical gender in the Greek. That is the Greek hides whether “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl.”


The third choice is to let the English reader see what Matthew and what Jesus have been doing with the Patriarchy, with the male-superior hierarchy, as the Greek gospel goes along. Already we have taken time to see this male dominance and predominance and default position in Matthew 15.21-29. And so when we readers come with Jesus and his disciples to their question about which one of them in their male only schooling gets the top position when they all go to Heaven, we readers are not surprised that Jesus continues to deconstruct their notions of privilege.


When he calls a child over and sets it in front of them, even though Matthew’s Greek at this point provides no clues as to whether he’s a boy child or she’s a girl child, we wouldn’t be too surprised by now if “it’s a girl.” Girls in comparison to boys had no statuses. They were never great like Jesus himself as a boy would be in his family. They were never great as a great disciple of a great Rabbi would be in the Kingdom of greatness.

Maybe by providing us his Greek readers with no clues as to the gender of this child Matthew is asking us to use our imaginations. And so we must. We cannot just imagine a sexless child. When we read a story that includes a child being stood up in front of a group of men, we don’t usually think of it as dressed androgynously or as having hair that gives no clues as to its gender. We picture a boy in boy clothes with boy hair if we think it’s a boy. And we picture in our mind’s eye a girl with girl clothes with girl hair if we think it’s a girl. Another way to put this is to imagine ourselves casting a play or theatre or film version of this very story. We would choose a boy or a girl to play this part of the child set in front of the men. And we would want the costume department and the make up department to provide clues to the audience in the theater whether he was a boy or she was a girl. This exercise would perhaps betray our default imagination. We might be biased. We might have implicit bias. We might even be deeply sexist participating in the systemic sexism of the social constructs of our society. We could even test ourselves for this thankfully.

But I want to suggest that Matthew is pushing our imaginations in the direction of the plausibility if not simply merely the possibility that Jesus calls a girl to stand in front of the gaze of these men. The end of Jesus’s teaching here is the repetition of his likely admonition against the “male gaze.”

There are three New Testament versions in English that also help us this way. They are the one by the Jesus Seminar, the one by Willis Barnstone, and the one by N. T. Wright. Here these are respectively:

Jesus Seminar’s version –


Willis Barnstone’s version –


N. T. Wright’s version –

Matthew 5:
27 ‘You heard’, Jesus continued, ‘that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I say to you: everyone who gazes at a woman in order to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye trips you up, tear it out and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than for the whole body to be thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand trips you up, cut it off and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than for your whole body to go into Gehenna.

Matthew 18:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus. ‘So, then,’ they said, ‘who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2 Jesus called a child and stood her in the middle of them. 3 ‘I’m telling you the truth,’ he said. ‘Unless you turn inside out and become like children, you will never, ever, get into the kingdom of heaven. 4 So if any of you make yourselves humble like this child, you will be great in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And if anyone welcomes one such child in my name, they welcome me.’ 6 ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to trip up,’ he went on, ‘it would be better for them to have a huge millstone hung around their neck and be drowned far out in the deep sea. 7 It’s a terrible thing for the world that people will be made to stumble. Obstacles are bound to appear and trip people up, but it will be terrible for the person who makes them come.’ 8 ‘But if your hand or your foot causes you to trip up,’ Jesus continued, ‘cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter into life crippled or lame than to go into eternal fire with both hands and both feet! 9 And if your eye causes you to trip up, pull it out and throw it away. Going into life with one eye is better than going into hell with two!  10 ‘Take care not to despise one of these little ones. I tell you this: in heaven, their angels are always gazing on the face of my father who lives there.

(with added illustration here at blt, I’ve reposted from here)

changing the very face

February 13, 2018

This year blogger Abram K-J is reading through the canonical Christian gospels in Greek. He’s posted about that here and has started a private forum here. There, after reading how the Greek in the gospel changes the very face of power, I posted the following:

de-privileging great faith

Matthew 15:21-29 is fraught with privilege. The two stories are bound together by it.

The second story ends by counting men (besides women and children). This crowd is one that Jesus had deeply and instantly and involuntarily felt his unique pity for. He’d healed all their loved ones with ailments. Then he cannot stomach how hungry these 4,000 men are (besides their women and their children).

The first story ends by counting a woman. This is a dog whom Jesus has refused to hear. He reserves his healings not for her child, not for a female’s female offspring, not for an afflicted girl of a girl of the goyim. She is multiply de-privileged. She is born into the wrong race, the wrong sex, the wrong class. She never appears on any census. She has to beg for compassion. None of the men need to feel anything for her.

And yet in this context of hierarchies, of males over females, of sons over daughters, of Israelites over gentiles, of healthy healer over sick and demonized, Jesus gives in famously and surprisingly to this resistance:

Ὦ γύναι,
μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις·
γενηθήτω σοι ὡς θέλεις.

It should have brought the crowd back to the Lord’s Prayer in the sermon on the mount; it should take Matthew’s Greek readers back:

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·
Ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου· ἐλθάτω ἡ βασιλεία σου·
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου

Jesus has deconstructed the Patriarchal conception of the One God of the One chosen race of men.

He has put this nameless female with her afflicted female child of an unkosher people group so far below heaven and on the last lowest rung of unkosher animals (did she call herself a “bitch”?) up with “Our Father” and with “whatever he wishes is what we must pray for.” And he has said to her “what you’ve wished for really does count. You and your child, though woman, though merely a not-son daughter, really do count!”

Post Script:

This month in the United States has been called Black History Month, or as the President decrees it “National African American History Month.”

As we read these two stories in Matthew today, it may be useful to recall why the black woman Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw got us Americans looking at intersectionality more closely. Here are two notable articles:



“It’s not about supplication, it’s about power. It’s not about asking, it’s about demanding. It’s not about convincing those who are currently in power, it’s about changing the very face of power itself.”

Happy International LXX Day

February 8, 2018

In this 21st century folks of the International Organization for Septuagint & Cognate Studies decree February 8 “International Septuagint Day” because of a decree given 20 centuries ago by the Emperor of Rome in this month on that day:

This decree was intended not only for those communities that had requested the Greek translation [of the Hebrew Bible], but the emperor ordered his secretary Areobindus to proclaim it in all the provinces also (Feb. 13, 553; Novella 146, περὶ Ἑβραίων). The emperor had personal relations with one of the leaders of the Jews, a certain Theodosius, who was highly respected by the Christians; this Theodosius took part in a disputation on Jesus and refused to be converted (Suidas, s.v. Ἰησοῦς).

Women who taught Jesus (and what he learned from them)

January 25, 2018

Ann Durham taught him (these lessons: to live among & to learn to love and appreciate people who are very different from you religiously, racially, linguistically, socio-economically, sexually – because they’ve taken us in when our family was vulnerable and far from home; to resist folk who doubt your birth certificate and incessantly sneer about your legitimacy; to be okay with yourself when your father leaves the scene after you reach puberty; to be a community organizer & somebody who taps resources to give food to people who are poor and can’t manage well for themselves, or who just won’t for whatever reason, and to do all that with compassion and without judging their motives).


Oh, wait. Ms. Durham is Barack Obama’s mom. I meant Mary, the mother of Jesus, taught him (these lessons: to respect the Egyptians who didn’t throw the family out when they were refugees, in de facto deportation from home because of the actions of the leader of the land; to resist the rumors of illegitimacy and to trust that angels had spoken to your parents; to listen to your mother when your father’s absent; to help out at a wedding, to make a miracle when the so-so wine has waned and the people at the party are already tipsy and there’s only water left to give them;  to use what you’ve learned there to serve more people generously and from your deep reserve of compassion and out of the deep resources that they’d never earn for themselves, without judging their motives).

Hillary Clinton taught him (these lessons: to break the Billy Graham Rule; to find yourself alone with a woman everybody loves to hate on; to listen to her with respect; to enjoy a give-and-take with her actually; to forgive her; to encourage her to help others, in compassion, whether they deserve it or not; to change an entire village and to recognize it takes a village).


Oh, wait. Ms. Clinton is Billy Graham’s friend. I meant some unnamed mixed-race woman, in an unnamed village in Samaria, taught him when foolishly Jesus found himself alone with her, tired with her, hungry with her, thirsty with her (these lessons: to trust her to have the resources to slake you and your parched mouth; to listen to her with respect; to enjoy a give-and-take with her actually; to forgive her; to encourage her when she spontaneously runs back to a man who’s not respected her sexually, and to all the others; to support her in her efforts to be an evangelist, a village changer who believes in the power of a village to help folk and to change the world).

The Rev. Father Wil Gafney taught him (these lessons: to listen. Despite what Euro-American seminary-chancellor-disciple John Piper was urging men like you otherwise, just to listen & learn & be moved, then, to action).

Oh wait. That professor teaches seminary men and women elsewhere. I meant that the woman whose daughter got caught up in #metoo taught Jesus. You know, that woman, yes, from those foreign sh-thole countries, Tyre and Sidon, Syrophoenicia, or was it Canaan? Anyway, it’s in Matthew 15 or in Mark 7, in those canonical gospels if we have to go there. She taught him (these lessons: to listen. Despite what your pure-race “make Israel great again” followers are urging men like you otherwise, just to listen & learn & be moved, then to action despite the ostensible cost to the fatherland).

Lottie Moon taught him (these lessons: to trust her to get the good word out when the men are nowhere to be found).


Oh wait. Ms. Moon, who taught hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of men, was that evangelist in China whose name has been used by the Foreign Mission Board or the rebranded International Mission Board to raise funds each Christmastime in Southern Baptist Churches across the US. Fortunately the Southern Baptist Churches are finally apologizing for their race based slavery and are distancing themselves from other groups latched on to white supremacy and are slowly entertaining the notions of what it might be like for women evangelists to teach the male seminarians. I meant Mary Magdalene taught him (these lessons: to trust her to be the first to get the word out when the fellas are all hiding out in some upper room somewhere, doubting).

It’s possible other women taught Jesus (other things too). This may not be the exhaustive list. Who could teach us (more)?

quick review: Anne Carson’s Nay Rather

December 21, 2017

three notes, or four, for a quick review:

Three years or so ago, or a bit more perhaps, I learned that Anne Carson’s talk (with Alexander Nehamas in 2005) on “The Question of Translation,” that had been published with some substantial revision as her essay “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent” (in A Public Space, Issue 7 / 2008), had been republished as her exercise book or her notebook or her cahier, Nay Rather (as her talk-turned-essay-newly-revised with her revised seven retranslations of the poet Ibykos’s poem she called, “A Fragment of Ibykos”). What’s added is a colophon and, on it, a warning after the text copyright mark before author Anne Carson’s name (although she’s a translator as well) and after the Images copyright mark before artist Lanfranco Quadrio’s name (and he may be a translator too), is the following, which must be reproduced as the following quotation: “No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the prior permission of the author or the publishers.” And, without the prior permission of the author or the publishers – or of the artist whose new works inspired by the author’s work are included, I may have just reproduced in some form some part of that publication. (Nay rather, am I not a translator also?)

And I would have purchased this little cahier right away. Except the price, in the United States, where I lived, was too high. Now that sellers are stocking it on this western side of the Atlantic, the prices are far below what I finally agreed to pay. Publishers and their authors and their artists must make a living, mustn’t they? (Nay rather, translators and their translators must also earn a penny or two too, right?)

On page 12 of the newer version (and we may reproduce a bit of a form of it again here) Carson writes:  “Francis Bacon does not invoke the metaphor of translation when he describes what he wants to do to your nerves by means of paint, but he does at times literally arrive at silence, as when he says to his interviewer, ‘You see this is the point at which one absolutely cannot talk about painting. It’s in the process’.2” (I won’t be silent that there’s a version of what Carson says and now writes available to us for free out on the internet here. And there, nay rather, that goes this way: “When I say Francis Bacon wants to translate sensation to your nerves by means of paint I’m using the verb translate metaphorically. In our usual usage, to translate is an operation of language, not paint. Silence also is something proper to language and Bacon does at times evoke it literally, as in interviews when he says (more than once), ‘You see this is the point at which one absolutely cannot talk about painting. It’s in the process.’ (4)”

What is of note is the variations of “metaphor,” “of translation.” Nay rather, “translate metaphorically.” There’s Greek rooted English, there’s Latin based English. How different are these?

The Pope and 7 Other Translators

December 9, 2017

Pope Francis in a tv interview recently suggested a particular translation of what we know as Matthew 6:13a. For what’s in The Lord’s Prayer, for this Greek in the New Testament,

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν

he likes this Italian:

non lasciarci entrare in tentazione.

Here’s how Ann Nyland puts the Greek into English:

And do not put us through an ordeal.

Here’s how Richmond Lattimore puts it:

And do not bring us into temptation.

Here’s N. T. Wright‘s translation:

Don’t bring us into the great trial.

Here’s how Willis Barnstone seems to follow the KJV:

Do not lead us into temptation.

Here’s how the Translation Panel for the Jesus Seminar makes it for the Scholar’s Version:

And please don’t subject us to test after test.

Here’s what J. B. Phillips does with the Greek in his Modern English:

Keep us clear of temptation.

And here’s Clarence Jordan‘s Cotton Patch Version:

And from confusion keep us clear

I wanted to offer these renderings that are not in the main stream of Christian Bible translation publishing houses because of this blog post:

Human Agency and the Lord’s Prayer

The blog post author starts with this:

Caveat: I am neither a theologian nor a specialist in Biblical Greek (my specialty is Homeric Greek). 

And yet the author also gets, by the post title, the issue for the Pope. Is the issue of human agency engaged by the Greek prayer (ostensibly a Hebraic Hellene written transposition/translation of spoken Hebrew Aramaic). With all the news in the USA of public American men being accused by women of sexual improprieties, the question of being led into temptation, or not, is timely for a Pope, a Papa, who is speaking on behalf of God as a Father.


The passive aggressive voice of Harvey Weinstein’s Denial

October 16, 2017

has a post up today entitled, “The Strange Language of Harvey Weinstein’s Denial,” in which the linguist does a great job of giving readers his explanation of the “very peculiar flavor to the grammar of the statement released by Harvey Weinstein (via the spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister).” He also includes a link to a much earlier post of his (“Fear and Loathing of the English Passive”) to try to get us past the tired notion that “the passive voice” must be responsible for “awkwardly evasive prose of this kind.”

What Pullum does not do is to help us consider how the passive voice is frequently a socially constructed way for our English speaking societies to perpetuate systemic sexism, to enable men to violate women sexually. He gives us, for example, no reference to the twitter campaign #nametheagent. Nor does he regard the problems of the social uses of the passive voice that male feminist Jackson Katz does regard.

Katz regards many English speakers’ uses of the passive voice to be a way of protecting the men who rape women. He says (with my emphases in bold font):

We [English speakers and writers] use the passive voice all over the place in discussions about violence, and gender violence in particular. So we talk about, for example, how many women in Colorado Springs were raped, or at colleges in Colorado or something, were raped last year. Not how many men raped women. Or we’ll say things like, how many girls in a Colorado Springs school district were harassed or abused last year, not how many boys harassed or abused girls. …

In each case, the use of the passive voice has a political effect and the political effect is to shift focus off of boys and onto girls. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is a problematic term — there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s just something that happens to women, like the weather.

And he writes (again with my emphases):

Men’s role in rape is characteristically hidden in mainstream journalism through a variety of linguistic conventions. One of the more significant of these is when [English language] writers and speakers use the passive voice – consciously or not — to talk about incidents of sexual violence (e.g. “200,000 women have been raped since the conflict began.”). In addition, men’s central responsibility for the rape pandemic escapes critical examination whenever writers and speakers use gender-neutral terminology to talk about perpetrators, who are overwhelmingly men. An August 12 New York Times article reporting on Secretary Clinton’s trip provides a good case study of these phenomena.

The article appeared beneath the fold on page A8, in the International section. It was headlined “Clinton Presents Plan to Fight Sexual Violence in Congo,” by Jeffery Gettleman. The passive voice began in the first paragraph: “…Secretary Clinton…met a Congolese woman who had been gang-raped while she was eight months pregnant.” Passive sentence structures that hid male perpetration appeared in subsequent paragraphs: “…hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the past decade.” “…countless women, and recently many men, have been raped.” “Hundreds of villagers have been massacred.” “The aid worker told Mrs. Clinton that an 8-year-old boy who had strayed out of the camp was raped the other day.”

This brief catalogue of passive sentences is not an attempt to single out the New York Times reporter for criticism. He was merely a vehicle for the transmission of the dominant ideology, which routinely obfuscates men’s culpability for rape through both conscious and unconscious omissions. Victims themselves often use passive voice. Gettleman quoted one woman, Mrs. Mapendo, who said “Our life is very bad. We get raped when we go out and look for food. “Another woman said “Children are killed, women are raped and the world closes its eyes.”

What I hope we might do is to consider that is Harvey Weinstein’s denial in English is, unfortunately, not strange at all. It is unmarked sexist and unmarked masculinist and unmarked rapist language. It is not strange. It is the sort of language that those using #nametheagent and those like Jackson Katz call to our attention.

So let’s call our attention back to Sallie Hofmeister’s use of the passive voice in English to speak on behalf of Harvey Weinstein:

Any allegations of nonconsensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein.

As Pullum notes, this is a rather strange use of the passive voice. But what is hardly strange at all, and Pullum could have pointed to this fact too, is English speakers’ and writers’ use of the passive construct in the context of talking about men having raped women.

“Women were raped (by Mr. Weinstein)” is what is alleged (and what is further denied by Mr. Weinstein).

So do you see what I just did? That’s right, I tried to show the weaselly implications in the construction of Ms. Hofmeister’s use of the passive on Mr. Weinstein’s behalf.

It is normal, and unmarked, to write and to say things like “women are raped.” Period. To leave it there and not to name Mr. Weinstein as the subject of the sentence, to merely imply that a someone, not named, was the rapist is not strange. Not strange at all.

And for Ms. Hofmeister to say, in English, this phrase — “any allegations of nonconsensual sex” — is not strange at all either. What her construct implies is a passive voice. And she uses this passive implication to implicate those making allegations. The language implicates those “alleging” as abusers of Mr. Weinstein. This turns the tables on them. They are taking away Mr. Weinstein’s reputation. They are threatening to rob him of his chance to go to rehab, to rehabilitate himself, to gain for himself a “second chance.”

“Women were raped.”

“Mr. Weinstein was accused, was made the poor victim (of mere allegations by alledgers).”

We listeners and readers, speakers and writers, of the English passive voice for what happens to women (“like the weather”) do not yet find it strange at all to protect the perpetrators of rape. Ms. Hofmeister seems to hope, on Mr. Weinstein’s behalf, that we will hear and read her English as implying that the women bringing the allegations are in that unmarked position of power, as we too normally allow rapists to be. We are used to the passive voice in the context of women being raped (by men); we find it commonplace to let this passive voice hide rapists and their aggression. We allow hardly stop to think about this passive aggressiveness and our complicity in it through our not strange language.

It would be stranger, perhaps, for Mr. Hofmeister to assert this this way:

Eva Green, Florence Darel, Melissa Sagemiller, Juls Bindi, Katherine Kendall, Angie Everhart, Minka Kelly, Tara Subkoff, Sarah Ann Masse, Claire Forlani, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Barth, Lea Seydoux, Cara Delevingne, Rose McGowan, Heather Graham, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Asia Argento, Louisette Geiss, Rosanna Arquette, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, Mira Sorvino, Emma De Caunes, Judith Godreche, Elizabeth Karlsen, Lauren Sivan, Jessica Hynes, Romola Garai, and Lysette Anthony actively, publicly, courageously, and unequivocally state that Harvey Weinstein without the consent of any of them sexually assaulted them individually, and now I Sallie Hofmeister say that he denies that he did that.

When will feminist activism, the bringing of rapists to justice, finally not be strange?

The ESV Goes Beyond Mars and Venus

June 29, 2017

Carolyn Custis James has written a fun and funny blog post, “The ESV Takes One Small Step for ‘Mankind’!” In it she tells a personal story of a man who had “an annoying habit of pontificating on his [malestrom] views of women, often flinging verses at me [Carolyn], to make sure I knew my place.” She explains how she’d get him reading a verse that particularly indicts “men” apparently and not all of mankind. When she read that same verse translated by the male-only team of ESV translators, nonetheless, she makes a discovery.

And she shares with all of us on this planet under the moon “a significant breach in the ESV’s firm commitment to retain ‘man’ and ‘men’ in universal statements to preserve a so-called ‘masculine feel’ to the Bible.” Read her post here.

Now I’d like us to look at more ESV verses. Let’s start with a set of verses that the ESV editors say point us back to the exact one that Carolyn Custis James has discovered. Let’s begin by looking at what Paul has written in Greek to Jews and Greeks and perhaps to barbarians in Rome. Is he, a male, a man, a Jew, a Roman citizen, writing only just merely to others of his kind, to men only, just to other males, simply to the guys and not the gals? Is this for Men from Mars and not Women from Venus?

Well, we might think so in the context as we read Romans 2. And continue then into Romans 3. Let’s look:

I’ve highlighted the word man and the word one. The ESV men translating are rendering Paul’s Greek, respectively the word ἀκροβυστία and the word ἄνθρωπος.

The consensus of most lexicographers studying the former word of Paul’s is that it refers to the tip of the penis, to the foreskin of the male genital. And readers of the Septuagint, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Hellene writing, can be sure of this too. For example, Genesis 17 has this for the end of verse 10 and the beginning of 11: περιτμηθήσεται ὑμῶν πᾶν ἀρσενικόν, καὶ περιτμηθήσεσθε τὴν σάρκα τῆς ἀκροβυστίας ὑμῶν. Later Jerome looks at the Hebrew scriptures (and possibly at this Greek translation too) and renders that in Latin as follows: et semen tuum post te circumcidetur ex vobis omne masculinum, et circumcidetis carnem praeputii. I mention the Latin for two reasons. First, Paul is snubbing official use of Latin as a citizen of Rome when writing to his fellow Jews and to those who identify as Greeks, using the old lingua franca of the previous Greek empire. Second, for us English only readers today the cognates with this newer imperial language may be more obvious: semen, circumcision, masculinity, carnivore/carnal, and prepuce. The Torah context is G-d’s institution of male circumcision on the eighth day of boy’s life as the physical sign of the sons of Abraham. Paul is writing about that boy-only, male-only, man-only body part. And so the ESV men translating his Greek phrase ἡ ἀκροβυστία make the full phrase “a man who is uncircumcised,” for a male individual retaining penis foreskin into adulthood.

The consensus of most lexicographers studying the latter word of Paul’s is that it refers to mortals in contrast to gods in its earliest uses. As such both men and women are included in the sense of the Hellene phrase. Sometimes, oftentimes, the ESV male only translators will nonetheless make it refer only to men, and not to women. Here’s just one example we’ve noticed before. What we can see, however, is that the ESV for Paul in Romans 3 lets the phrase refer to any “one” whether male or female. The constrast with God is emphasized for “everyone.”

Now, the editors of the ESV get us readers of Paul’s Romans 3 jumping back to the Psalms. They get us looking not just at the verse Carolyn Custis James has shared with us. But they also get us looking at another verse in Psalms. Let’s follow note “c” on this Romans 3 phrase “every one”; and we see that it takes us here:

Again the highlights are mine. What we may want to know in the original Hebrew for Psalm 62:9 is that there are two different phrases we might transliterate as “Adam” and “Ish.” We might put these in stark contrast with “Eve” and with “Isha.” In other words, the two Hebrew words are most of the time, by the ESV translators, rendered as referring only to men, not to women. Even the LXX translators of the Hebrew into Hellene open of the possibility that the reference is only to men:  οἱ υἱοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων and οἱ υἱοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων (or the “sons” of “humans”.)

But here again for the ESV translators, in Psalm 62, there’s the generic English: “Those” and “those.” So when men are mere breaths, mostly deluded, and all liars then, in the ESV, they are also women. Or maybe we could say that at certain points the ESV goes beyond those distinctions of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.

Not Nonsense

June 16, 2017

When I was a kid, my mother taught us a number of songs that had been popular when she was younger. I still sing them sometimes.

We gotta get goin, where we goin,
What are we gonna do?
We’re on our way to nowhere,
The three of us and you.

We sang this one whenever we all needed to get going somewhere, or get going on some project like cleaning the house. I thought of it as a fun, silly song that had a nonsense-syllable refrain.

What’ll we see there, who will be there
What’ll be the great surprise?
There may be senoritas
With dark and flashing eyes!

So I was singing this the other day, as I was putting on my shoes and getting ready to head out for an errand….

We’re on our way
Pack up our pack
And if we stay
We won’t be back
How can we go
We haven’t got a dime
But we’re goin’,
and we’re gonna have a happy time! Sooo…

…when I realized, while singing the first syllable of the refrain that I’d sung dozens of times before, that it wasn’t nonsense after all!

¿Cuánta le gusta, le gusta, le gusta,
le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta?
¿Cuánta le gusta, le gusta, le gusta,
le gusta, le gusta, le gusta, le gusta?

It was wild: the syllables left my mouth differently, now that I understood that I was singing Spanish. There were breaks between the words now, and I knew roughly what they meant (“How much do you like?”). And they were spelled differently: I’d learned the refrain phonetically as


I’ve been gradually learning Spanish using Duolingo for a few weeks (I’m on a 21 day streak, but I had a broken streak before that), and these “(pronoun) gusta” phrases have been used a lot. (I took a year of Spanish in 8th grade, but I don’t remember learning that idiom then. Hermana Carmen was teaching us Castilian, not Latin American Spanish, though; maybe it’s not a common idiom in Spain? Or maybe it just didn’t stick, since the French that I’d studied for longer, and was much more common in the community, had no similar construction.) And I’d hit the “cuanto, cuando, cual” question words a few lessons back. So I had all the pieces at hand to recognize what I was singing.

At present, my mental map of the phrase is still flexible: I can go back and forth between “Cuanta le gusta” and “Quan-tolly-goose-ta” depending on which I fix in my mind before I start to sing. But if I stick to my Spanish lessons as I plan to, I expect I’ll lose the gooses after a while.

To finish this post off, I figured I’d find and include a recording of this piece. When I searched for it, I discovered that the words vary a bit from what I recall, and also from recording to recording. I think the version I learned may have been a combination of the Andrews Sisters (“the three of us”) and Eddie Cantor (“senoritas”). Here they both are:




both of whom are apparently covering the original by Carmen Miranda, in the 1948 musical “A Date with Judy”.



I must say, the most fun and surprising part of the video search was the discovery that caballeros are available as an alternative to senoritas! 🙂

I hope you enjoyed this story of nonsense transforming into language as much as I did while it was happening.

Co-Winners of the 2016 Willis Barnstone Translation Prize

April 11, 2017

For the 15th annual Willis Barnstone Translation Prize, there are co-winners. Congratulations go to Michele Herman and Rebekah

What translation of a poem did you enter?

Mine was God Birthing, a rendering of the Theogony.

Reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Translanguaging

April 5, 2017

Which language(s) will we readers read when we read Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain?

Is it standard American English as we construct that language socially? For example, isn’t it English in the standard variety in America that we’re reading when we read this excerpt?


What language, then, are we reading on the page before that brief excerpt? Here it is:

As we read might it be the case that the novelist has more than one language and is herself using all of her voices. It could be that she has us her readers reading her translanguaging as well. If so, do we sense that she’s clearly demarcating her languages on purpose? Do we feel that somehow one language is superior to another or that “sub standard” ought to enter our minds in the uses of language in the novel?

I’m asking because a bit of a conversation around the question of the translanguaging of Susan Rice yesterday. I posted on that here then. And the discussion is going on there at Language Log.

Getting Susan Rice’s Language Right

April 4, 2017

At Language Log, linguist blogger Mark Liberman writes a quick post in which he starts in with a clip “[f]rom Susan Rice’s interview today with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC.”

The clip is to show what he describes merely as “an interesting example of emphatic multiple negation:”

I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.

Susan Rice’s language may be more fully described as translanguaging. Ofelia García and her colleagues describe that this way in their article, “Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics“:

Translanguaging is the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries of named (and usually national and state) languages.

Susan Rice is deploying a full repertoire of linguistic skills.

In this very context, she is speaking political standard American English and personal person-centered African American English.

Oftentimes, these have to be segregated. In the history of the US, unfortunately, and in the present, just as unfortunately, these two languages must be kept apart, as different, as unequal. And so the speaker and the audience are taught to believe that one language is better than than the other and/or that different contexts demand that the two be spoken separately. For example, in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, the white children Jem and Scout call out their black housekeeper Calpurnia for using different languages in different places; and the three together denigrate “colored-folk’s talk” as not “talkin’ right”:

But June Jordan might take exception to this sort of segregation. And when talking of what she calls Standard English and what she calls Black English, June Jordan gives examples of the latter as characterized by “person-centered values” through “the delivery of voice.”

She speaks of translating between the two and of the consequences to punctuate the “person-centered” characteristics:

You cannot “translate” instances of Standard English preoccupied with abstraction or with nothing/nobody evidently alive, into Black English. That would warp the language into uses antithetical to the guiding perspective of its community of users. Rather you must first change those Standard English sentences, themselves, into ideas consistent with the person-centered assumptions of Black English.

Notice her own translanguaging. She uses “nothing/nobody” as a Black English part of her essay also written in Standard English.

When we read her essay, we also see how the characteristics of Black English she enumerates include features much richer than simply “emphatic multiple negation”:

8. In general, if you wish to say something really positive [using Black English], try to formulate the idea using emphatic negative structure.

S.E.: He’s fabulous.
B.E.: He bad.

9. Use double or triple negatives for dramatic emphasis.

S.E.: Tina Turner sings out of this world.
B.E.: Ain nobody sing like Tina

She has already explained the sense of Black English as person-centered, as less abstract than Standard American English must be:

Our language devolves from a culture that abhors all abstraction, or anything tending to obscure or delete the fact of the human being who is here and now/the truth of the person who is speaking or listening. Consequently, there is no passive voice construction possible in Black English. For example, you cannot say, “Black English is being eliminated.” You must say, instead, “White people eliminating Black English.” The assumption of the presence of life governs all of Black English. Therefore, overwhelmingly, all action takes place in the language of the present indicative. And every sentence assumes the living and active participation of at least two human beings, the speaker and the listener.

And the Black English title of her essay is a tribute. It’s a tribute to a person whom she describes in her essay. It’s “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future of Willie Jordan.” The “nobody” in this much-Standard American English essay translanguages into the personal.

When Susan Rice speaks to emphasize, then, she is translanguaging. She’s emphasizing, in Standard-English Black-English, how very respectful and how very personal she must be in her duties as a public servant, the 24th United States National Security Advisor of the US:

I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.

Ben Carson v The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetesses in America: when slaves are immigrants

March 24, 2017

The day before I posted “Ben Carson v Frederick Douglass: when slaves are immigrants,” there were many already making much of some many more siding with Dr. Carson and his repeated stubborn assessment of slaves chained in the dark and dank holds of ships crossing the Atlantic as immigrants. For the Washington Post, for example, one Eugene Volokh, an immigrant himself from Ukraine to the United States when a seven-year-old accompanied by his parents, was quick to name those whose words in print and in speech echoed and mirrored those of Dr. Carson, namely Lolita K. Buckner Inniss and Rhonda V. Magee and Geoffrey Heeren and Martin W. Burke and even President Obama.

So let us then add to the voice of the slave named Frederick Douglass the voice of another. But let this addition be in no way some attempt to balance the scales or to make equal the sides. The voice is that of a mere poetess, if many tried her to deny her that name and title.

Here (after a note about her perhaps, an excerpt of a letter by Phillis Wheatley):

Here (a quite different note on Phillis Wheatley, an excerpt from a poem/essay by June Jordan):


If we were to think, to think critically, it could be a little more apparent that what Dr. Carson (and those many others with him) is doing is not unlike what the writer of The Gentleman Magazine is doing. Theirs is an epistemological doing. Their doing is a colonizing construct, an imperial imperative.

“The only way to promote their civilization, to make them serviceble in their generation, and happy in themselves,” the writer writes, “is to introduce them into a state of activity and industry.” And Dr. Carson says, likewise, that they “worked even longer, even harder, for less, [in order to…] pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The writer goes on: “Yet most of these try have been compelled by necessity to leave the place of their nativity.” And so does Dr. Carson: each of them can be called “an involuntary immigrant.”

Their doing is an influencing by names: “Instead of SLAVES, let the Negroes be called ASSISTANT-PLANTERS.” And instead of “slaves” per se, “other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even harder.”

The undoing of the imperial, colonial project comes when slaves like Frederick Douglass clearly show how the legal category of “immigrant” used by colonists “neither described nor applied to slaves… for the slave [not being fully human like the immigrant is] could not owe service or make a contract.”

But the undoing of the imperial, colonial project comes when slaves like Phillis Wheatley clearly shows by her poetry and through her letters how hurtful it is for any human whether ancient Egyptian or modern British colonist to value others for their economic benefit as commodities.


Anne Carson on Poetry

March 22, 2017

Yesterday was “World Poetry Day.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016 was a day when Anne Carson in an interview on her most recent publication, Float, accepted the invitation to offer “a personal definition of what poetry is”:

If prose is a house, poetry is a man on fire running quite fast through it.

Ben Carson v Frederick Douglass: when slaves are immigrants

March 7, 2017

As the 45th President’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson gave his first public address in which he said slaves were immigrants.

At the 18-minute mark he says:

There were other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.

Later on twitter he makes as clear as possible his intent and his definition, repeating what he told the public through his subsequent conversation with a caller on the Armstrong Williams Show:

Carson insists:

You can be an involuntary immigrant.

And there is history to his interpretation and his definition. There is Carson’s own history of making and repeating his interpretation of slaves as immigrants. And there is the history of this interpretation against what Frederick Douglass said in a speech much earlier, in which Douglass reminds listeners that slaves were not considered by their owners to be human beings much less immigrant human beings.

In 1997, Dr. Ben Carson gave his first address at the National Prayer Breakfast at the invitation of President Bill Clinton. There he introduced the notion that African slaves and European immigrants were the same. He repeated portions of this speech in one of his books published a couple of years later:

Then to help his new bid to run for president of the United States, he writes a new book in which he repeats his interpretation. This time he gets very personal, defending his self-identification with Europe “as an African American” by identifying European immigrants, again, with African slaves:

To Carson, the equation of European immigrants and African slaves is a very personal thing indeed. When the first African American president invited him back to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, Dr. Carson took the opportunity to slight President Obama and his policies that would somehow make African Americans not in the family with European Americans. Dr. Carson there gives a parable, insinuating that the Democratic president uses government to favor African Americans over European Americans unfairly:

Here’s a parable: A family falls on hard times. Dad loses his job or is demoted to part time work. He has 5 children. He comes to the 5 children, he says we’re going to have to reduce your allowance. Well, they’re not happy about it but – he says, except for John and Susan. They’re, they’re special. They get to keep their allowance. In fact, we’ll give them more. How do you think that’s going to go down? Not too well. Same thing happens. Enough said.

But, Dr. Carson would attempt to remind, African Americans are equal with European Americans when all are given equal education (and not when government treats them unequally); African slaves, after all, were also hard working immigrants just like hard working European immigrants. Again Carson makes this personal:

Two hundred years ago when slavery was going on it was illegal to educate a slave, particularly to teach them to read. Why do you think that was? Because when you educate a man, you liberate a man. And there I was as a youngster placing myself in the same situation that a horrible institution did because I wasn’t taking advantage of the education.

Carson is saying that African slaves who took advantage of their opportunities were just like European immigrants who took advantage of their opportunities. To fail to live and to thrive is simply merely a failure to seize the hard work of hard work and the hard work of self education. Now perhaps Carson was thinking of Frederick Douglass, an African slave, who was taught to read by a European American owner of him and other African slaves.

What Carson fails to acknowledge, however, is that Africans were not considered by Europeans to be human beings. Europeans considered Africans whom they enslaved to be property, to be beasts, like cattle.

Douglass lived through this ontological segregation, this white European view that his black African body was the body not of another human being but of a mere animal.

And so Frederick Douglass gave a different sort of speech than the sort that Ben Carson has given. On October 22, 1883, Douglass said this:

In the dark days of slavery, this Court, on all occasions, gave the greatest importance to intention as a guide to interpretation. The object and intention of the law, it was said, must prevail. Everything in favor of slavery and against the Negro was settled by this object and intention. The Constitution was construed according to its intention. We were over and over again referred to what the framers meant, and plain language was sacrificed that the so affirmed intention of these framers might be positively asserted. When we said in behalf of the Negro that the Constitution of the United States was intended to establish justice and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, we were told that the words said so but that that was obviously not its intention; that it was intended to apply only to white people, and that the intention must govern.

When we came to that clause of the Constitution which declares that the immigration or importation of such persons as any of the States may see fit to admit shall not be prohibited, and the friends of liberty declared that that provision of the Constitution did not describe the slave-trade, they were told [by white European American owners of slaves] that while its language applied not to slaves, but to persons, still the object and intention of that clause of the Constitution was plainly to protect the slave-trade, and that that intention was the law. When we came to that clause of the Constitution which declares that “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due,” we [black African Americans] insisted that it [that is, the notion of an immigrant] neither described nor applied to slaves; that it applied only to persons owing service and labor; that slaves did not and could not owe service and labor; that this clause of the Constitution said nothing of slaves or the masters of slaves; that it was silent as to Slave States or free States; that it was simply a provision to enforce a contract; to discharge an obligation between two persons capable of making a contract, and not to force any man into slavery, for the slave [not being a human being] could not owe service or make a contract.

Trump vs. McGee: contrastive readings of John 15:13 in light of radical Islamic terrorism

March 2, 2017

This week American President Trump quoted John 15:13 in his first address in the US Capitol. He was regarding, as a martyr, “a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William ‘Ryan’ Owens, [who] died as he lived, a warrior, and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.”

In 2008 and again in 2015 an Irish monk of Worth Abbey, West Sussex, Father Martin McGee also quoted John 15:13 in his books Christian Martyrs for a Muslim People  and Dialogue of the Heart: Christian-Muslim Stories of Encounter. He was regarding individuals too: “In 1996 on the night of March 26/27 seven monks from the Trappist monastery of Tibhirine, 96km south of Algiers, were kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists, and 56 days later, on May 21, all of them were beheaded.”

Already, we may see the contrast of interpretations by Pres. Trump and by Fr. McGee. If you will look more closely with me here, I think you’ll agree that the contrast is very stark. The President, quoting the words of Jesus, begins to sound like the very ones he intends “to demolish and destroy” and “to extinguish from our planet.” The Father, quoting the words of Jesus, begins to sound much different, as he intends “[t]o engage in… interreligious dialogue [that] requires ‘an open and neighbourly spirit,’ a willingness in other words to recognise that whatever our religious differences we all share a common humanity.”

So let’s look more closely together.

President Trump called out “radical Islamic terrorism” and particularly “this vile enemy” namely “ISIS, a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians and men and women and children of all faiths and all beliefs.” As Commander-in-Chief he authorized a military operation against this enemy, and he sent Ryan Owen into harms way. Here’s his recognition:

We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens.  Ryan died as he lived:  a warrior, and a hero –- battling against terrorism and securing our nation. I just spoke to our great General Mattis, just now, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”  Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you. Thank you. And Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he’s very happy because I think he just broke a record [for the length of a standing ovation during my speech].  For as the Bible teaches us [in John 15:13], there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country, and for our freedom –- and we will never forget Ryan.

Father McGee, in contrast, wrote of heroes who sent themselves as non-Muslims to learn from and to serve Muslims. One of these non-Muslims was protected from extremists by a Muslim, who gave up his own life in the act of protection. In turn, this non-Muslim and his cohort stayed on living among Muslim sisters and brothers at risk to their own lives. Here are two pages from the respective two books:




In summary, we have encountered two different uses of John 15:13.

President Trump, on the on hand, quotes the words of Jesus, and adds to them, to say that his military effort to “to extinguish [his] vile from our planet” necessitated his sending “a U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William ‘Ryan’ Owens” into harm’s way, and that his death due to that enemy’s defense of itself, nonetheless, made him “part of a highly successful raid,” and that for this he is in heaven, happy at America’s applause, the recognition of a national martyr.

Father McGee, on the other hand, quotes the words of Jesus, in order to ask with Father Christian the rhetorical question, “Do we [non-Muslims attacked by terrorists] love them [e.g. the Algerian Muslims also attacked by terrorists] enough?” And he suggests, “as Western society struggles to find a way of responding to the fanatical  wing of Islam,” that extreme, obsessive militarized attempts at demolishing, destroying, and extinguishing extremists from the planet bears less fruit than does Muslims and Christians laying down their lives for each other in learning from one another and in giving to one another.

For further research on what might motivate the contrastive views of John 15:13 of Donald Trump and of Father McGee respectively (and some other not unrelated items):

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s view of women in military with men (implying that the national military martyrs must be men, who may be survived by their widows) “26,000 unreported sexual assaults in the military-only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?

The GOP 2016 platform on women in combat: “We reiterate our support for both the advancement of women in the military and their exemption from direct ground combat units and infantry battalions.

The ISIS view of women in combat: “They are not allowed to fight [even if those recruited from the West for marriage to the male fighters since they] are obviously attracted [both] to a medieval ideology, and at the same time,… some attitudes [that] are very Western.

Father McGee’s view that Muslims sometimes practice what Jesus taught before non-Muslims do: “There were also deeply personal reasons why [Father] Christian should be willing, if necessary, to lay down his life for his friends. While on national service in Algeria in 1959, during the Algerian war of independence, he had befriended a local policeman, Mohammed, a father of 10 and a devout Muslim. One day an attempt was made on Christian’s life. Luckily Mohammed managed to shield him and save his life. The following day, however, his friend was found assassinated by the roadside. This incident left an indelible mark on Christian. He could never forget that an Algerian Muslim friend had sacrificed his life for him.”

Father McGee’s view that extremely religious people are not the only ones to practice what Jesus taught and neither are extremely nationalistic persons either: “This insight is not just shared by Christians but has been lived out by many ordinary Tunisians who courageously risked their lives to save innocent tourists from the IS inspired gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui. One man, Ben Aisha, put it succinctly: ‘You have to understand, I don’t save them [guests] because they are foreigners, but because we are all the same. A Tunisian, an English, an Italian, we have the same body, we have the same soul, we have the same dreams, we are the same people.’

An American’s recent view on self-denying actions of love: “I am touched by this expression of interfaith – and human – solidarity, and awed by the selflessness of the Muslim community.  In return, I am asking more of myself and more of my own [non-Muslim] faith community.

Jesus translating sex and transgendering

February 24, 2017

Since the Federal Government is at work to make America great again for transphobic citizens this week, it seemed good to review how some Bible readers are likely to respond.

The majority of Bible readers self-identifying as Southern Baptists have for nearly two years been as clear as they can be publicly on their stance against how “some public school systems are allowing access to bathrooms and locker rooms according to a child’s self-perception of gender and not according to their biological sex.” And so in their own self-perception they have read Jesus reading Genesis as employing a strict and precise binary of “male / female” so that they may, then, as a society of Bible readers, resolve to “affirm God’s original design to create two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6).”

To be absolutely clear, Southern Baptists once upon a time also regarded a strict and precise binary of “master / slave,” invoking the Bible to point to God’s design to create two distinct and complementary classes of human economics; and they’ve now re-read Genesis and Matthew more carefully, in order to re-verse themselves and to apologize:

  • for, “Our relationship to African-Americans… hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention [by white male masters of slaves]”
  • and for “our Southern Baptist forbears [having] defended the right to own slaves, and either [having] participated in, [having] supported, or [having] acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery”
  • and for their having “failed, in many cases, to support, and [for having] in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans”
  • and for their “Racism [that] has led to discrimination, oppression, injustice, and violence, both in the Civil War and throughout the history of our nation”
  • and for “Many of our [white] congregations [who] have intentionally and/or unintentionally excluded African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership.”

The majority of Southern Baptists have made these declarations, assuming the binary.

Not all white-privileged, white cis-gender male Southern Baptists have always read the Bible in such a strict and precise binary sort of way. Some have read Genesis, for example, the way Jesus might have read it, with regard to human sexuality and human economic classes. And so I want to go to one of these, one Clarence Jordan. He earned a Ph.D. in Koine Greek just to translate the gospels of Jesus into Southern American English.

Here’s Dr. Jordan’s translation from Matthew 19:


And here’s another cis-gender white male Greek scholar translating the same passage similarly. This is from Dr. Richmond Lattimore, who grew up speaking Chinese in China coincidentally and who, while translating the Gospels, became Roman Catholic; here’s from his Matthew 19:


Now, if we go back to the original, to Matthew’s gospel, we read him going back to the original, Moses’s first of five books of the Bible. And Matthew is recording the speech of Jesus, including the quotation of the Hebrew Bible, in Greek. In all likelihood, Jesus was speaking neither Koine Greek nor the old Hebrew of the Scriptures. Nonetheless, he speaks not only of “male/female” but also of this other group of individuals, who, like him, are not ever in a complementary male-over-female marriage. Likely he called them by this phrase:


An important way to read this Greek word for the Semitic phrase of Jesus is with the help of Esther, the Septuagint translation, as follows:

τῷ εὐνούχῳ τοῦ βασιλέως τῷ φύλακι τῶν γυναικῶν

A function of the castrated boys was to be the cis-gender male King’s protectors of his harem of girls and women.

Jesus’s discussion of marriage from the beginning between those grown up being boys and those grown up being girls is followed by a discussion of a different sort of sexual human. And that further discussion describes the choices made about their biological sex parts from the beginning, and imposed by others, and elected by themselves. There is not just the birth sex male, in marriage, over the birth sex female. There is also gender determined, by the birth process, or by others, or by the individual.

The sex “normal” is categorically challenged by Jesus here. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Lattimore are looking not at a purely Semitic phrase סָרִיס. Rather they both consider the translational Greek phrase εὐνοῦχοι. They read this, in this context, not as some sort of “guard” of the “bed” of the King, where he has his orgiastic hetero-sexual sex with virgins and other kept females. Rather, they read what others transliterate as “eunuch” to be those rendered to be without sexual capacity or those who are made sex-less men. This certainly is one way to emphasize the whole discussion of Jesus in Matthew in Greek translation. Since it is Greek, we may find ourselves tending toward the binarying, given how much about sex  – in the binary mode – male Greek ancients such as Aristotle were prone to write. But then we would be forgetting how other Greeks, such as Sappho and Aspasia, talked about and wrote about and represented gendering in vastly more dimensioned ways.

Now without a whole lot of trouble some can read the discussion of Jesus here as applying to getting beyond this problem of narrow and precise binarying. And without too much inference there can be applications made to transgender human beings as well as to cis gender ones.

And so I just want to offer this now as a tweetable response to what the President is now doing to so many by fiat. Here is a reasonable translation of Matthew 19, if you can accept it:

Some aren’t biologically “boys” at birth; some are re-sexed by others; some transgender for heaven’s sake. Accept it if you can.Matthew19:12