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Lifeway Research ignores Luther and Calvin

October 4, 2011

Lifeway Research has published their recent Bible Readers Survey,  showing that most Bible readers prefer a word-for-word translation and a literal translation of masculine words. They also prefer a translation with “total accuracy.” Unfortunately, the Lifeway Survey did not write the questions with “total accuracy.” For example, it says,

Bible readers are overwhelmingly opposed to gender-neutral translations of Scripture. A full 82 percent prefer a literal translation of masculine words that describe people in general rather than a more inclusive translation like “humankind” or “person.”

Study participants were told: “Bible translators have to make choices regarding gender issues. For example, the original Greek and Hebrew versions of the Bible often uses masculine words such as those literally meaning ‘man’ to describe people in general. Some translators think these should be translated literally as ‘man’ while others think they should be translated into gender-inclusive terms such as ‘humankind,’ ‘human being,’ ‘person’ or ‘one.’ Which do you prefer?”

Luther differentiated between “man” and “human” by using Mann and Mensch, as did Calvin, who used homo and vir. I am not sure why Lifeway wrote what they did, implying that the word that is translated as “human” by Luther and Calvin, really means “man.” I wonder if Lifeway finds the translations of Luther and Calvin to be untrustworthy or whether these men are simply ignored as translators.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. John Radcliffe permalink
    October 4, 2011 8:44 am

    “the original Greek and Hebrew versions of the Bible often uses masculine words such as those literally meaning ‘man’ to describe people in general.”

    In a court of law, I think prefacing a question with such a statement would be described as leading the witness.

    In effect, the participants were asked, “Should a word that means ‘man’ be translated ‘man’?” Consequently, it doesn’t surprise me that the majority said, “Yes”. However, the results might have been somewhat different if they had they been asked: “Should a word that means ‘human being’ be translated ‘man’?”

  2. October 4, 2011 9:18 am

    Generally, a reputable research institution would release the survey itself so that the questions could be reviewed. I cannot find the actual survey questions anywhere except scattered around in articles. I did, however, dig up this:

    “In order to be part of the survey, the 2,000 readers, who were polled through an online panel that demographically represented the Christian population in the United States, had to already read the Bible at least once a month on their own or as part of a family activity, and not only in a church or worship setting.”

    I recognize that as a zoologist I’m not an expert in survey samples of humans but this sets off all kinds of sampling bias alarms in my head. If anyone does get a hold of the survey questions or the method of weighting responses from this poll I’d be fascinated to look them over.

    I suspect that the method of including respondents in the poll will be as biased as the questions themselves, and I suspect that the form will be overly-short with all the similar questions clustered (which produces uniformity whereas breaking similar questions apart with dissimilar, and sometimes pointless, material is more likely to show differences due to the wording of the question). I’d also suspect that, even though the survey was conducted online (with all the problems of non-random recruiting that come from that) no effort was made to randomize question order to reduce priority effects. So if you happen to have access to any of the inner workings of the survey those are some markers of awfulness to look for.

    Mostly I suspect this because LifeWay Research seems to be really good at getting responses that say something like, “Generally, real Christians love the stuff LifeWay loves.”

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    October 4, 2011 10:37 am

    What bothers me is that the desire to marginalize women is so strong that basic academic accuracy is so easily put aside. This hufts.

  4. October 4, 2011 11:06 am

    Thanks for bringing attention to the language of this survey and how it disregards the gendered language of the Reformers in their translations of the Bible.

    John and Eric,
    Yes, the survey language does defy both legal and scientific standards for research.

    What’s becoming clear is the agenda behind the survey:

    For example,

    LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer, commenting on the survey, told The Christian Post: “I think what people are trying to figure out is what’s the best translation for where they are (spiritually).”

    In survey-speak, that goes like this: “(Spiritually), where are you personally — oh survey taker — when the Hebrew and Greek originally uses masculine words such as those literally meaning ‘man’ but when some translators think these should be translated literally as ‘man’ while others think they are not literally ‘man’ and — ignoring the literal ‘man’ of the Greek and Hebrew and the corresponding option of the English literal ‘man’ — should be translated into gender-inclusive terms such as ‘humankind,’ ‘human being,’ ‘person’ or ‘one’?”

    See: “Many Christians not keen on gender inclusive Bible translations – study

    Lifeway, the Southern Baptist distributor of Bibles, was told by a recent SBC resolution at the national convention not to sell NIV 2011 bibles because they are gender inaccurate. In September 2011, at the largest SBC seminary, there was another SBC conference to address gender and the Bible. Gender “accuracy” is in the Baptist mind these days. The Lifeway survey just reflects that. The publication of the survey and of its results follows the “Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Conference on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood aimed to cut through chauvinist and feminist rhetoric and examine the biblical definitions and distinctions of gender roles” by addressing “topics such as women teaching in the church, mothers in the workplace, Christian romance novels, gender-neutral Bible translation and the future of the debate in the SBC”:

  5. October 4, 2011 11:24 am

    I agree with the previous comments that there are serious questions about this survey. My main question is how a set of “2,000 Bible readers” was assembled. Although a “demographically representative online panel” is reported, I doubt it satisfied scientific standards; rather I suspect sampling error.

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