these women

The Greek that is translated “these women” in English, referring to Euodia and Syntyche from the previous verse, was translated in the Mandarin Chinese “Peking Version” translation (publ. 1872) via affixing shì (氏) to Euodia’s and Syntyche’s names. In classical Chinese, shì could notify female gender but was likely obsolete in spoken Chinese in the 19th century already as it is today. When Katharine Bushnell (1855-1946) read this translation after arriving in China as a medical missionary in 1879, she likely didn’t understand shì that way (particularly because the “Nanking Version,”the other Mandarin Chinese translation available then, and the “Delegates Version,” the most common Literary or Classical Chinese version used more transparent translations). Instead she assumed that the gender of Euodia and Syntyche was simply dropped. She herself recounts what happened:

“Finding a sex-biassed translation in the Chinese translation of the Bible, I one day asked a male missionary about it. He said that undoubtedly it was so rendered because of pagan prejudice against the ministry of women. I was shocked. It had never before entered my mind that such a thing could be. This led to my tracing other signs, both in the Chinese and the English Bible, that pointed in the same direction, when I consulted my Greek Testament. Could it be possible that men allowed prejudice to color Scripture translation?” (Source: Katherine Bushnell in A Brief Sketch of Her Life, 1932 ).

This caused Bushnell to “devote [herself] to more careful and critical study of the Greek New Testament, and later, of the Greek Old Testament; and [she] added the study of Hebrew for comparison in the Old Testament” (source: see above), resulting in the highly influential God’s Word to Women, beginning in 1908 and finally as a 100-chapter study in book form in 1921.

Bushnell states in the book: “Supposing women only had translated the Bible, from age to age, is there a likelihood that men would have rested content with the outcome? Therefore, our brothers have no good reason to complain if, while conceding that men have done the best they could alone, we assert that they did not do the best that could have been done. The work would have been of a much higher order had they first helped women to learn the sacred languages (instead of putting obstacles in their way), and then, have given them a place by their side on translations committees.” (God’s Word to Women, p. 146, accessible here )