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Southern Baptists Update Bible's Language On Gender


Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the country, and they're holding their annual convention this week. Their congregations are mostly in the South and mostly conservative. But like other denominations, Southern Baptists are working to adapt to the times. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports on how they are trying to change their language.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: On the eve of the convention, the president of the Southern Baptists pastors, Dave Miller, announced he'd be quoting from a new translation of the Bible, one issued by the denomination's own publishing house.


DAVE MILLER: We are using the new Christian Standard Bible. Tomorrow night, if you come back, the first 2,000 people in the door will receive a gift Bible, a very nice gift Bible. I've switched to the Christian Standard Bible. I love that Bible.

GJELTEN: Advertisements for the new Bible say it's more readable than prior translations, but the changes go deeper. Religion writer Jonathan Merritt and a colleague theology professor dug through the new version and found the text used more gender-neutral language.

JONATHAN MERRITT: There was not one or two of these shifts. There were hundreds of them.

GJELTEN: One example - Matthew 23:8 previously had Jesus saying, you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. In the new Bible, it's - you have one teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. Moving to a more inclusive approach would seem to be significant, given the Southern Baptists' traditional views on gender roles. But Denny Burk, a professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, a Southern Baptist institution, says the original brothers actually referred to both men and women.

DENNY BURK: That's what they've done - is they've just sort of updated the language. But it's not for an ideological reason, just trying to be accurate to the original and picking an English idiom that reflects that.

GJELTEN: These very changes, however, were rejected by the Southern Baptists just a few years ago. And Jonathan Merritt cites other examples of modernizing steps. Women are gradually being moved into leadership positions, and just last year, the Southern Baptist Convention rejected any display of the Confederate flag. That move was promoted in part by Jonathan Merritt's father, himself a former Southern Baptist president.

MERRITT: If you take all of those shifts together, I think you have to admit that the Southern Baptist Convention has been evolving on a range of issues that were, even five or 10 years ago, not up for discussion.

GJELTEN: To be sure, it is still a conservative denomination. Among the resolutions to be voted on this week is one calling for defunding Planned Parenthood. Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUANTIC'S "TIME IS THE ENEMY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.