Anti-Homosexual Translator Bias

As you may know, I’ve been laying out the case for gays and lesbians in Luke 17:34-35.  I’ve read a number of reactions to the fact that the verses can easily be understood to refer to gays and lesbians, and I’d like to focus on responses from three contemporary translators: Robert G. Bratcher, Bruce M. Metzger, and Mark L. Strauss.

Robert G. Bratcher

Robert G. Bratcher (translator of Good News for Modern Man) wrote A Translator’s Guide to the  Gospel of Luke, and advised other translators to avoid translating Luke 17:34 as “there will be two men in one bed.”

two people: in Greek the pronouns that follow (one…the other) are
masculine, but it is not necessary to say “two men sleeping in the same
bed”–a statement which could be objectionable. (p 287, emphasis added)

Bratcher doesn’t explain why it would be objectionable. He seems to assume that they will simply understand.  What we do know is that for whatever reason, according to Bratcher, for the Bible to refer to “two men sleeping in the same bed” here in Luke is objectionable.

Bruce M. Metzger

Bruce Metzger was one of the premier Bible translators of the twentieth century, yet his personal bias against homosexuals finds expression in both the RSV and the NRSV, which he supervised as editor. Bias? In 1978 Metzger compared homosexuals seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church to “whores,” and his objections to gay ordination boiled down to a very familiar set of  base arguments: 1) Their plumbing is wrong; 2) They are abnormal, mentally ill; and 3) the question, “Would you want one preaching in your church?”

What he wrote was,

If one follows Kant’s suggestion for testing the legitimacy of a principle by inquiring what would happen if the principle were universalized, the question could be asked if the majority of the task force whether the proverbial “whore with a heart of gold” may also be permitted to seek ordination while still plying her trade?

Even without taking into account the complementary physiological structure of men and women, or the disputes among psychiatists whether or not homosexuality is an abnormality, or the question of how a self-affirming, practicing homosexual could function in the role of pastor to all in a congregation, the above-mentioned exegetical and theological deficiencies of the policy statement presented by the majority of the task force make it obvious how biased and out of focus it is.  (Monday Morning, 1978, p. 11)

On two separate occasions Metzger highlights the fact that he eliminated “men” from verse 34 in the 1971 revision of the RSV. Once was in his article, “The Revised Standard Version,” in the Duke Divinity School Review (1979), and again in his article published by Dallas Theological Seminary’s Biblioteca Sacra titled Persistent Problems Confronting Bible Translators (1992). This seems to have been an accomplishmentof some importance to him–dealing with the nagging, centuries-old problem of verse 34’s “two men in one bed.”

In neither article does Metzger spell out why the “two men in one bed” reading needed correction. We simply understand that verse 34 was an example of where you need to be careful to avoid a rendering that could be “understood in the wrong way,” and that the “intrusive word” (man) needed to be deleted “for obvious reasons.”

Again, like Bratcher, Metzger doesn’t bring himself to discuss why the undesirable implications of the text are undesirable. He seems confident in the knowledge that his audience will understand and concur.

Mark L. Strauss

Mark Strauss, professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego, is a translator for the NIV and the TNIV.  In 2001 another translation came out, the English Standard Version, which did not add any so-called clarifying words (mill, corn, meal, etc) to Luke 17:35, but simply translated what was there: “there will be two women grinding together.”

This was Strauss’ reply at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2008:

Grinding Together”?!

Luke 17:35 ESV “There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.”

Comment: In contemporary English, “grinding together” suggests seductive dancing or something worse. (Perhaps both should have been taken for judgment!)

Strauss’ number one criticism of the English Standard Version, at the very top of his list of over 200 critiques, is that “In contemporary English, ‘grinding together’ suggests seductive dancing or something worse.” Strauss goes a little further than Bratcher or Metzger in broaching the unspeakable topic, but not much.

That “something worse” is, of course, lesbian love-making. Strauss confirms the theological implications of one member of a lesbian couple to be taken and the other left. Regarding lesbians and the rapture he quips: “Perhaps both should have been taken for judgment!”

Note: this is an abridged and edited version of a previous post.

[For the fuller treatment of translator bias and the NIV, click here.]

[For all posts on translation bias, click here.]

[For all posts on Gays and Lesbians in Luke, click here.]


About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
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6 Responses to Anti-Homosexual Translator Bias

  1. S. Roebuck says:

    Wow. As for the 3 men quoted above…..I am having trouble seeing their Christianity, for all their arrogance blinding my eyes. Wow.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      I do detect the sarcasm.

      I don’t think comparing gays seeking ordination to “whores” is okay. I don’t think ridiculing the salvation of lesbian believers is okay, and it is sad that the rough equivalent of a “gay joke” is acceptable at a meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society.


  2. tanya says:

    2 woman grinding GRAIN!!! re read it!


  3. David says:

    Hello. I’m writing a paper on biblical translation. I am actually writing about one of the clobber passages. I’m discussing how 1st Corinthians 6:9 is not about homosexuals but about child molesters. I was wondering where you got your facts about Bruce M. Metzger. I want to be able to make a connection to his translation of arsenokoitai as sodomites and his comments about gay ordination.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      Thanks for your request, David. I’m happy to work with students at any level with their research. I’ve actually been hoping that undergrads and grad students would pick up some of the research I’ve done and begin to develop it.

      I’ve replied by email regarding the Metzger sources.

      Take care and God bless!


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