The worst mistranslations in English Bibles relating to women

Andrew Bartlett has asked a good question: What is the worst mistranslation in our English Bibles relating to women?

Worst Translations: All in One is Andrew Bartlett’s answer to this question.

He discusses the question in four ways:

  1. Which mistranslation gets the prize for having the least shred of justification?
  2. Which mistranslation gives the most negative description of women?
  3. Which mistranslation is the most misleading?
  4. Which mistranslation has the greatest impact on women?

His article begins:

I started thinking about this question after I wrote “Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts” (IVP, 2019), where I reviewed the debates between complementarians and egalitarians. Trying to decide between competing interpretations, I kept finding that there were doubtful translations in past and even present English versions. Translations were sometimes distorted by unwarranted assumptions that were not in the text. I wasn’t surprised that there were some examples of this; what I hadn’t expected was that there were so many.

You may think that before my question can be answered I need to say what I mean by ‘the worst’. It could mean the mistranslation with the least shred of justification, or the one with the most negative description of women, or the one that is the most misleading, or the one with the greatest impact on women.

Instead of choosing between these categories, I’ll look at each in turn…

In his article he discusses:

  • the idea that a woman must dress her head or hair in a certain way as a sign or symbol that she is under man’s authority (1 Corinthians 11:10)
  • Junia being mistranslated as Junias in Romans 16:17
  • “little women” being mistranslated as “silly women” in 2 Timothy 3:6
  • translations of 1 Corinthians 7:4 that obscure the wife’s mutual authority over the husband
  • women being called “gossips” and “busybodies” in 1 Timothy 5:13
  • women being forbidden to teach men — the word authenteo in 1 Timothy 2:12 being translated as “exercise authority” or “usurp authority” over a man.

Read Andrew Bartlett’s article Worst Translations: All in One

Or, if you don’t want to read the “All in One” article because it is rather long, click here to find the four parts as separate articles.

Andrew Bartlett is the author of Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (IVP, 2019) [Affiliate link].


Further reading

God’s view of women who get targeted by abusive men (2 Timothy 3:6-7)

“Little women” have been called “silly women” which now contributes to misogyny in the church

Why did Paul call abused women ‘little-women’?

The false accusation of gossip

If I tell people about my husband’s abusive behavior, am I gossiping? (one of our FAQ pages)

Saying no to sex with one’s spouse (1 Corinthians 7:4)

12 thoughts on “The worst mistranslations in English Bibles relating to women”

  1. Thank you for this, Barbara. Some powerful reading. I’ve ordered Andrew’s book.

    I remember my husband’s attempt at an apology. He said “There were times when I could have loved and supported you and I didn’t. I just can’t give you what you want emotionally or materially.”

    First of all, I couldn’t understand how he was capable of holding back love.

    I was not capable of holding back love from him. His second comment made me feel needy and demanding. I was ashamed.

    However, today when I read your article on God’s view of women who get targeted by abusive men, I have a new understanding. I am so grateful for this, Barbara.

    I will re-read the article as I have a sense of freedom and understanding that I didn’t have before. I also feel a kinship with Eve. I’m sure I would have believed the serpent. To understand why I have suffered so, is freedom. I have been afraid to even consider another relationship as I don’t think I could survive that abuse twice. However I will live in hope that God has been teaching me trust and obedience in Him and perhaps, today I would tell the serpent to be on his way. And perhaps there’s an Adam out there who has suffered and learned. Either way, my soul took a step further out of captivity today. I pray God blesses you and Andrew for your work. Much love and gratitude. 💖

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

      1. Thank you, Barbara. That was the post I had just read, I think I linked through to it from the first. In my haste to respond, I lost my thread. I’ve just read it again. I love it. It makes so much sense to me and explains so much about my marriage. I spent decades craving love from a man who was capable of only emotional brutality.

        I am so grateful for this article and the peace and understanding it has brought me. I feel I’m there with Eve. I want to hug her and wash away her shame. I pray that the future holds love, peace and joy for all abused women and courage for men to choose love over control.

        It’s almost 3 a.m. in [country redacted] as I write this. Another night of no sleep but a companion in your work.
        Many thanks, Barbara. 💖

        [For safety and protection, the country was redacted. Editors.]

  2. I skimmed a few parts of the article by Andrew Bartlett that is linked to in the opening post….and I mean no disrespect to Andrew Bartlett with my comment….

    While I am definitely NOT a Bible scholar and I only skimmed a few parts of his article (Worst Translations: All in One), I still disagreed with a few of his assumptions.

    And while I understood what I read, the paragraphs of Andrew Bartlett’s article (Worst Translations: All in One) that stood out for me the most were:

    Difficulties of translation

    To retain a proper sense of perspective, let me emphasize that I am not suggesting that Bible translation is easy, nor should anyone think that I am trying to blame translators for not doing better.

    First of all, to produce a good translation is inherently difficult. Because of the very nature of languages, and because each language sits within a different culture, exact translation is an impossibility.

    Second, it is inevitable that translators are strongly influenced by their predecessors’ word choices. In a Bible translation project there simply isn’t time to spend hours on a single verse, reading around the literature which discusses it and re-investigating afresh every possibility of how it could be translated. If translators did that, no translation would ever get finished and published.

    Third, it takes confidence and courage to depart significantly from what others have done before, which readers have become accustomed to. It has rightly been said: ‘every translation of the Bible has been condemned by someone as soon as it rolled off the press. It is preeminently an act of selfless love that the translator engages in this task at all’.

    Most translations are very good most of the time, and we all owe a great debt to those who labor in this work.

    (I have added bold to the sentence in the above paragraphs that stood out for me the most.)

    1. Adding on to my comment of 26TH JANUARY 2021 – 1:05 PM (where I quoted from Andrew Bartlett’s article Worst Translations: All in One):

      Most translations are very good most of the time, and we all owe a great debt to those who labor in this work.

      I laughed part way through the writing….and reading….and re-writing….and re-reading….and re-writing….and re-reading….loop (which seemed to repeat ad nauseum (aka an infinite loop)) that occurred while I was writing my 26TH JANUARY 2021 – 1:05 PM comment.

      Then I became overwhelmed with sadness….

      For me, when I am writing (whether I am writing a comment, an email, or a whatever), I cannot seem to get it “right”. Where many (or probably most) other people would (or would most likely) consider the final product “good enough”, it takes me such a very long time to reach what is, for me, “good enough”.

      When I communicate, I am always considering my target audience….and even if my target audience is only one person, I still communicate as though I am writing for (or through) many.

      If I (mis)understand the person to whom I am communicating (and I try to take into account my own personal and / or their (sometimes false) perspectives), and also taking into account that I might (or might not) (mis)remember (and that the same thing can apply to the other person), perhaps (general) you can understand why I frequently (or pretty much always) remain silent.

      And even attempting to write this “simple” comment makes me want to cry….the (re)writing-(re)reading loop never seems to end….very big sigh….

    2. Hi, Finding Answers, I’m curious to know which of Andrew Bartlett’s assumptions you disagreed with.

      I know it is very difficult for you to write comments, so please do not feel obligated to reply. 🙂

  3. Barbara,
    I hope you don’t mind me sharing this with you. You don’t need to publish it if you don’t feel it reflects your message.

    I recently completed a “Trauma Healing Course”, run by my church. We were online and as part of the homework we had to write a Psalm. As I was reading mine out I became overwhelmed and started to cry.

    A Pastor’s wife was also attending and in an attempt to comfort me she said “God never intended this (my husband’s abuse) for you, Auriel.”

    I felt my spirit lurch inside me. If God hadn’t intended that for me, was it my fault that I ended up in that marriage? I didn’t respond to her, but her comment troubled me until now.

    I definitely did ignore red flags in the beginning of the relationship but the bigger, gravitational pull that you describe, is exactly what drew me into the marriage and kept me there, even although I was being harmed.

    I hope that through my suffering God has refined me, shown me my true worth and built strength and courage into my character.

    I’m sorry I seem to be replying to you under the wrong post again. I just wanted to share that with you and let you know how it clarified things for me. 💖

    [Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]

    1. Dear Auriel, I think your comment is great!

      I relate very much to what you said here:

      Pastor’s wife was also attending and in an attempt to comfort me she said “God never intended this (my husband’s abuse) for you, Auriel.”

      I felt my spirit lurch inside me. If God hadn’t intended that for me, was it my fault that I ended up in that marriage? I didn’t respond to her, but her comment troubled me until now.

      When I was separated from my first husband and providing our daughter to him every fortnight for access, he would often say and do things to her that disturbed her deeply. When she came back to me it could take me days to help her unwind and process the trauma. On one such occasion, I asked an Elder of my church to come over and talk to me and my daughter. I hoped that the Elder would say some kind and wise things to my daughter, to help her. I told the Elder the account of what the abuser had lately done. He said to my daughter: “This is not supposed to be happening.” I felt gutted. His words knocked the wind right out of me. I thought he meant that it was MY fault my daughter was being subjected to the trauma. I didn’t have words to reply to him. The pain I felt just sat in my belly and my heart.

      Much later, I came to realise that that Elder was most likely not a genuine Christian. He was a proud and paid up member of the Loyal Orange Lodge which is a ‘C’hristianised form of Freemasonry. I do not trust that Elder any more. I would not trust him with anything. I sense that there is something deeply wrong with his spirit.

      Those words your pastor’s wife said to you seem to have had a similar effect on you to what the Elder’s words had on me.

      I think that women have been enculturated by society and the church to accept blame that does not belong to us. When we are targeted by abusive men, those abusers build on that conditioning: they brainwash us to accept all the blame for the difficulties in the marriage. Thus, a so-called helper can easily say something which they mean to be helpful….and we automatically hear their statement as blaming us.

      I believe this is why it is vital for church leaders and lay Christians to learn about the tactics of abusers and how the male abuser surreptitiously brainwashes his target-woman to accept all the blame.

      If your pastor’s wife is open to learning, you might like to suggest she read my Don Hennessy series and watch my video about Don Hennessy’s latest book How He Wins.

      Your pastor’s wife might also find this helpful: Respecting & Listening to Victims of Violence: A handbook for those who are supporting women who have been abused by an intimate partner

      1. Thank you, Barbara. It’s wonderful when someone understands those moments. I’m very grateful for your reply and I will think about the best way to approach her.
        I’ve felt better the last couple of days as I’ve considered your articles / [posts], and I’m still reading “How He Wins”. I feel as though my struggles were part of bigger things. I’ve been able to take a different perspective and I’m very grateful for that.
        Sending you love and gratitude, Barbara. I pray that God will bless you doubly today. 💖💖

  4. What translation of the Bible would you recommend for study? Are any of the translations corrected to a better extent?

    1. Personally, when I’m choosing a Bible translation for regular study, gender issues are not my first priority. For some people I know, egalitarian or gender-neutral translation is their first priority in selecting a Bible translation; from what I gather those people often seem to prefer the CEB or NRSV or 2011 NIV.

      I know that the ESV is definitely biased in favour of complementarianism and for that reason I steer clear of it for regular study. But I sometimes consult the ESV Study Bible notes on topics that are not related to gender.

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.