Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Why masculine pronouns can be misleading in English Bibles and in the Church

Why masculine pronouns can be misleading in English Bibles and in the Church

1. Grammatical Gender and God

I was searching for articles about God and gender today and saw this suggestion offered by Google at the top of page 1 of my search. (See screenshot above.) This excerpt mentions that “God is spirit and is neither male nor female”, but then adds that the pronouns for God in Scripture are “consistently male”, and that this is how “God has communicated through Scripture” to us about himself. I used the feedback facility to tell Google that this information is misleading.

In almost all English translations it is true that the pronouns that refer to all members of the Trinity are male (or masculine), but this is not true in the Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Old and New Testaments.

For example, the Greek word for “Spirit” (pneuma) is grammatically neuter, and so, for purely grammatical reasons, Greek neuter pronouns (as well as neuter articles, adjectives, and participles) are used in relation to the Holy Spirit to grammatically “agree” with the word pneuma. These neuter pronouns are then translated into masculine pronouns in English translations, mainly because the English neuter pronoun “it” is too impersonal.

The Hebrew (and Aramaic) word for “Spirit” is grammatically feminine, so any words used in relation to the Spirit in the Hebrew Bible will be feminine. The Syriac Church used feminine pronouns (corresponding to “she”) when speaking and writing about the Holy Spirit until about 400 AD. (Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic.)

Masculine pronouns have often been used in English in a generic way. So it is reasonable, yet not entirely satisfactory, to use masculine pronouns for God in English translations of the Bible. But, just to be clear, God is not male, nor is he consistently spoken of in masculine language in the original languages of the Scriptures.[1] Yet we tend to use masculine pronouns when speaking about him in English.

I always use masculine pronouns when referring to God, and I don’t plan on changing this custom. I have chosen to be content with the limitations of language on this issue. However, I do not like using masculine pronouns such as “he” when speaking generally about people, which brings me to a second, somewhat related issue.

2. Grammatical Gender of Groups and Individuals

In the Bible, masculine pronouns are also used when referring generically to a person. This is true for both the original languages, as well as for English translations, even when the person being written about, or addressed, could be either a man or a woman. (The “default” grammatical gender when speaking about people in general in Hebrew and Greek is masculine.) The inclusiveness of women is usually (but not always) understood by people who are familiar with the grammar of Hebrew and Greek, and who understand the nuances in the texts. But the possible or actual presence, or inclusiveness, of women is obscured in many English translations of certain verses when masculine pronouns are used and understood literally by the reader.

The famous verse John 3:16 contains a phrase with three grammatically masculine words in the Greek: πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων. Thankfully, every English version that I have seen translates this phrase in a gender non-specific way such as “everyone who believes” (NRSV). The translators have recognised that, despite the masculine grammatical gender, this verse applies to all people, both men and women, and they have translated this intent clearly. But in other Bible passages, this gender inclusivity has not been made clear by English translators who have chosen to use masculine pronouns.

For instance, in Romans 12:6-8 there are 9 masculine pronouns in the NASB, 6 in the KJV, and 8 in the NIV 1984 edition. Yet many of the phrases in Romans 12:6-8 that are translated with the masculine pronouns have a similar grammatical construction as that of John 3:16 (i.e. the singular nominative masculine article and participle). Newer translations such as the NRSV and the NIV 2011 edition have translated Romans 12:6-8 without any masculine pronouns, thus conveying a more faithful and inclusive meaning as intended by Paul, the original author.

In some Bible verses, however, it is not possible to avoid pronouns altogether. So how can we use pronouns that do not convey a gender bias?

3. Gender Inclusivity and Plural Pronouns

In modern English, it is becoming less acceptable to refer generically to a person (who could be either male or female) as a “he”. But, unfortunately, English does not have a singular third-person pronoun that can refer to both a man or a woman; we only have “he”, “she”, or “it”. One way English speakers and writers get around referring to a person, without specifying gender, is by using plural pronouns such as “they” or “their” or “them” even when referring to one generic or representative person.

Using inclusive plural pronouns, rather than “he” or “his”, is important when we are speaking about people, both men and women, in the church, otherwise it can sound as if women are being left out. And some English translations of the Bible are adopting plural pronouns to avoid conveying a false gender bias in verses where there is none (e.g., NRSV, CEB, and NIV).

It is not acceptable to use language that gives the false sense that women are not included in certain Bible passages, or that they are not included in church discussions and sermon illustrations, etc. It is not acceptable to imply or assert that Christianity has a masculine feel. It doesn’t! (See, for example, Galatians 3:28 and Acts 2:17-18.) The gospel is equally applicable to men and women, to both our sons and our daughters. So we must be careful that we don’t insert a gender bias where there is none in the original text.

In this short, entertaining video, Tom Scott explains why we need to use gender-inclusive plural pronouns so that we do not imply a gender bias when none is intended.

 

Footnote

[1] The Greek word for “voice” (phōnē) is grammatically feminine. This word is used of God’s voice in Matthew 3:17, 17:5, Mark 1:11, 9:7, Luke 3:22, 9:35-36, and John 12:28. Plus, a feminine participle that means “saying” (legousa) is used in three of these verses, grammatically agreeing with the feminine phōnē: Matthew 3:17, 17:5, Luke 3:35. There is no implication, however, despite the feminine words, that God spoke with a feminine voice. God’s voice sounded like thunder according to one account (John 12:29; cf. 2 Sam. 22:14; Job 37:7; Psa. 81:7; Isa. 30:30; Joel 2:11; etc). “Thunder” (brontē) is a feminine word too.
Similarly, the Greek word for “arm” (cheir) is grammatically feminine. It is used for God’s arm(s) and Jesus’ arm(s) (e.g., Matt. 3:12; Luke 24:50). But that doesn’t mean Jesus’ arms had feminine musculature. God doesn’t have any arms at all because he is spirit.
The same applies to other feminine words used in reference to God. In John 12:27, Jesus speaks about his soul, or life-force (psychē), which is a feminine word.
With all these words, feminine articles, participles and adjectives, when they are used, will be feminine.


Postscript: November 18, 2020

Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 390 CE) was the archbishop of Constantinople and a famous theologian. He was a native Greek speaker and much admired for his superb abilities in rhetoric. In a discussion on the relationship between God the Father and Son, he poses rhetorical questions intended to show the absurdity of linking grammatical gender in Greek with the actual gender of God. (The answer to these rhetorical questions is “no.”)

Here is my mostly literal translation.

“One must not … suppose that it is necessary to transfer the whole meaning of nouns used below [on earth], including those of family relations, to the divine sphere. Or would you readily suppose, according to this reasoning, that our God is indeed male because he is called ‘God,’ and also ‘father’? And that ‘the Godhead’ is female on the basis of it being a feminine noun? And that the ‘Spirit’ is neither [male or female, but neuter] because it is sterile?”
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 31.7; PG 36, 140-141.

Note that the Greek words theos (“God”) and patēr (“father”) are grammatically masculine nouns used of God; theotētos (“godhead/deity”) is grammatically feminine (cf. Col. 2:9); pneuma (“spirit”) is grammatically neuter.

Here is the translation on New Advent.

“For it does not follow that … it would also be necessary to think that all the names of this lower world and of our kindred should be transferred to the Godhead. Or maybe you would consider our God to be a male, according to the same arguments, because he is called God and Father, and that Deity is feminine, from the gender of the word, and Spirit neuter, because It has nothing to do with generation.”
Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 31.7. Translated by Charles Gordon Browne and James Edward Swallow. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. (Online Source: New Advent)

The following translation is in William J. Abraham’s book, Divine Agency and Divine Action, Volume III: Systematic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 51.

“Do you take it, by the same token, that our God is a male because of the masculine nouns ‘God’ and ‘Father’? Is the Godhead a female, because in Greek the word is feminine? Is the word ‘Spirit’ neuter in Greek, because the Spirit is sterile?”
Oration 31.7 (Online Source: Google Books)

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Related Articles

Is God Male or Masculine?
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Ben Witherington explains the issues surrounding gender-inclusive language and plural pronouns in the NIV here.

Here is a short article from Oxford Dictionaries that explains the use of the singular they/them/their, and that its use “is historically long established. It goes back at least to the 16th century, and writers such as Shakespeare, Sidney, Byron, and Ruskin.”

26 thoughts on “Why masculine pronouns can be misleading in English Bibles and in the Church

  1. “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath”.

    This verse troubles me because it implies that only male parents are spoken to here…There is no verse like this for women.

    Is it therefore permissible for women to provoke their children to wrath or is “Fathers” like another generic “he”?

    I have seen this verse used to imply that only the father is the priest of his home, and not the mother, despite the teaching of the priesthood of ALL believers…any ancient Greek experts to clarify this?

    1. Hi Judy,

      Ephesians 6:4 specifically addresses fathers, not mothers. There is a separate Greek word for “parents”. No parent should exasperate or provoke their child to anger, but perhaps fathers are mentioned here because fathers were more likely to be guilty of this than mothers.

      The Bible does not provide instructions for every scenario and every situation in life. But there are enough guidelines in the Bible to give us an overall idea of how to live, with love, mercy and justice being key. So, just because mothers are not mentioned in this verse does not mean that they are allowed to provoke their children.

      Ephesians 6:4 was written because the author saw a need to make this statement to fathers. Yet as a mother, I have certainly avoided exasperating my children, and it was extremely important to both me and my husband that we bring up our children “in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Our children are grown now, and I still try to nurture their faith.

      Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the father is the priest of his home. You may find this article useful: Leading Together in the Home.

      1. I think Eph 6:4 is a case where Paul is being deliberately ambiguous, so that one way to read it is “Fathers” and another way to read it is “Parents”. That is, I think Paul wants one group of readers to read it as Fathers and another to read it as Parents. The first group are those that want to make sure the household code specified seems to conforms to Roman law, the second group are those that are willing to read and reread the text and realize that Paul may mean Parents based on what Torah teaches. I think Paul is very smart and came up with a way that the text could be read in 2 distinct ways.

        1. I must respectfully disagree with the author. It ill-behooves people who claim to love the Bible to engage in chronological snobbery, as if our feminist age is truly a wise and needed corrective to a benighted past.

          Spanish-speakers have no problems calling “parents” by the term “padres”, which literally means “fathers” (as in madres y padres).

          Was the Holy Spirit of God foolish in giving the world His word through a bunch of Hebrews and their Hellenophone descendants, and hence giving it in languages with very clear genders? Why didn’t he wait until he knew how hurt so many people would be by using “mankind” instead of “humanity”? Forgive my choice of pronoun. I’m a grandfather, remember clearly the Silly ‘Sixties and Sillier ‘Seventies when the triumphant march of folly through Western institutions began; and the first English Bibles I read were produced by people unashamed to distinguish masculine and feminine as much as the English language allowed. Further, I had an English teacher who insisted on pronoun agreement: If someone is in trouble, help him, not them (that’s what SHE said, explaining how the “him” there is gender ambiguous).

          I spent a good portion of my life in countries where I had to speak Mandarin, Hakka, and Thai. These languages do not have gendered pronouns at all (Well, Mandarin added equivalents of “he”, “she”, and “it” in 1919 to keep up with “progressive” Europeans, but they are indistinguishable when spoken, and seen only in writing). However, the speakers of these languages can be every bit as male chauvinist piggish as anyone who speaks a highly gendered Semitic or Indo-European language. Lack of grammatical gender surely did not help all those ladies from the Tang Dynasty on down to modern times who had their feet broken, bound to cater to upper class male tastes; or who were sold into concubinage–until Christian missionaries who grew up on non-inclusive Bibles and who would be called “fundamentalist” and “cultural imperialist” today preached against it from one end of China to the other.

          So, all this call for gender-inclusive Bibles in languages which have gendered pronouns is just creating a false consciousness, reveals chronological snobbery (which does not befit people who claim to honor a book which got started in the Bronze Age), and also a highly provincial mindset which knows only its own present context.

          1. Kepha, Since you have so much experience, you will know that English is mostly not a gendered language, except for a few nouns and pronouns, and that, unlike Spanish speakers, we usually don’t call parents “fathers.”

            English Bibles must be translated in a way that the average English speaker will understand. It must be written in their vernacular.

            The Greek New Testament was written in the vernacular that the average first-century person living in the Roman Empire could understand. And Greek as well as Hebrew scripture do use words for “humankind” or “humanity”. It is up to English translators to decide if they should translate these words as “mankind” or “humanity”.

            “Chronology” is only the issue in as much as the English language evolves over time. “Man” is no longer understood as a gender-inclusive word, so “man” should not be used in Bible verses that are gender-inclusive in the original languages.

            “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”, is one example of a verse that is likely to be understood by modern readers as applying only to men. I have personally seen verses such as this one cause confusion among young people.

            The “present context” is provincial if one regards 21st-century English-speakers that way. I make no claims about other modern languages in this particular article. I am not the one who is engaging in snobbery.

            And since you mention the Holy Spirit, should we insist on pronoun agreement and use “she” (in the Old Testament) or “it” (in the New Testament) when referring to “him” in English Bibles?

  2. Hi Marg, Great article, I have been noticing some of these inconsistencies in various translations e.g. R.S.V.Rom 16:7 inserts the word ‘men’ when it is not even in the Greek, but in the N.R.S.V.(1989) they omit the word ‘men’ because Junia is a woman. Rom 12 and 1 Tim 3 are other interesting examples.
    I appreciate your research and enlightening comments, God bless, Warwick

    1. Hi Warwick,

      The ESV refers to Andronicus and Junia as Paul’s “kinsmen.” This is an unfortunate translation considering that “relatives”, or something similar, is easier to understand and without a masculine bias. In the context of the book of Romans, however, “fellow Jews” is a better translation.

      Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are important passages about ministry, and both are completely free of masculine personal pronouns in the Greek. (However, even if they did include masculine pronouns in the Greek, this would not necessarily rule out women being included.)

      I’ve written about 1 Timothy 3:1-7 here:
      https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/

      And I mention Romans 12:6-8 in endnote 5 here:
      https://margmowczko.com/equality-and-gender-issues/towards-biblical-equality-my-story/

      Romans 12:6-8 has made a big impact in my own life.

  3. Marg, I have a question.

    When I read Romans 12. 6-8, I see the masculine pronouns attached to each of the gifts Paul lists, as you mention above. However, when I read the text in the ESV, masculine pronouns are only used twice, connected to the gifts of teaching and extortion. For all the others, the translators used neutral pronouns or none at all. This concerns me. It concerns me that the translators of even a more modern translation are manipulating the original text to reinforce gender roles and the patriarchal structure we have grown accustomed to. Your thoughts?

    Kyle Lutz

    1. Hi Kyle,

      Yes, you’ve picked up on one of the more blatant displays of gender bias in the ESV translation. It does seem like a deliberate manipulation of the text. I’ve mentioned it here: https://margmowczko.com/best-bible-translation/
      (You may want to look at endnote 1 of that article.)

    2. I think the ESV is a sexist translation and untrustworthy in its translation of anything to do with sex or gender. I use it as a type of reverse oracle in the area of sex or gender; if the ESV says X, then I think the Greek or Hebrew may mean something that is not X. My take on their blatant sexism in Romans 12:7-8 is that it is a result of all their translators wearing blue (masculinist) glasses and when they read it, they actually see blue in the text and simply do not see that they added it.

  4. Here’s another article about the singular “they”:
    https://www.dictionary.com/e/they-is-a-singular-pronoun/

  5. Heresy.
    God is the father. (Matthew 23:9) And the father is only male.
    Unless you want to teach people God making them male and female is also ‘wrong.’ (Genesis 5:2)

    Then there is the greater heresy, denying Christ. Who, as the Bible instructs, existed forever as did the spirit, and the will (Father); all existing as one entity before, and for all, time. Denying the trinity is a denial of revelation, the word of God. Denying Christ, is a one way ticket to downstairs.

    This is the problem of people who worship idols. They will corrupt and pervert the truth to satisfy their own desires, instead of satisfying God’s.

    Repent, or you will burn for eternity.

    1. Take a breath, Jay. No one is denying Christ and no one is denying the Trinity. My beliefs are here.

      And no one is denying that, following Jesus’ example, God is called Father in the New Testament. Also, I mention every verse in the Hebrew Bible that uses the metaphor of father for God in endnote 1 here: https://margmowczko.com/is-god-male-or-masculine/
      Yet, God the Father is not male. He is spirit.

      Human and animal fathers are of the male sex. Is God male like human and animal fathers? Does God have male chromosomes or male genitals? This sounds like blasphemy to me. In what way is God male?

      Not sure what your problem is with Genesis 5:2. This verse indeed states that God made humans as male and female: “He created them male and female; when they were created, he blessed them and named them humankind.” Genesis 1:26-28, also states that God made humanity male and female. On the other hand, God never says he is male. Ever.

      In reality, God is our maker. In reality, he is not our actual father. I have a male father and a female mother, and I was conceived and born in the usual way. I’m assuming you were conceived and born in the usual way too, and that a human father and mother were involved. God is our metaphorical Father and he is not male. On the other hand, God is Jesus’ actual father. Jesus was conceived by God the Holy Spirit and Mary (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:31-33, 35).

      Anyway, throwing out completely unrelated concepts such as “idolatry” and “burning for eternity” helps no one. But I’m guessing your aim was not to help. Your ignorant, emotional and overblown comments add nothing constructive to the conversation and I won’t be approving any further comments from you.

      I wish you peace.

  6. Hi Marg,

    Thank you for such an interesting read!

    Please could you elaborate on why you won’t use ‘they’ pronouns for God despite not believing God is male? I think it could be just as harmful to speak as if God is male, as it plays into the misconception that men are somehow more similar to God or more suited to leadership in church. So why not just use ‘they’ when you speak about God?

    1. The misconception that God is male is potentially harmful. I agree.

      In answer to your question, many of my readers come from conservative backgrounds, even fundamentalist backgrounds, and I don’t want to alienate them by using “they/them/their” or “she/her.” I want them to keep reading my articles. So I’m sticking with “he/him/his.”

      Also, I’m not uncomfortable with masculine pronouns for God because I understand that they are due to the limitations of language. When I use “him” for God, my mind isn’t thinking, “God’s a guy.” Non-English speakers understand that “he” doesn’t necessarily refer to a male.

      This video, with a focus on the Spirit, explains why it’s dangerous to do theology based on the gender of nouns.

      I think “they” works very well for a generic person, but if I know a particular person is a male or female, I will usually use masculine or feminine pronouns.

  7. Hi Marg, I have read this and some of your other articles. You seem to operate under the understanding that a spirit is genderless by definition. Just out of curiosity, how did you arrive at this proposition?

    Also, if it turns out that a spirit can have a gender then does your entire argument fall apart?

    1. Hi James,

      The Holy Spirit is not male or female (sex), but we don’t really know if the Spirit is masculine or feminine (gender). Since we don’t know, I can’t say positively that the Holy Spirit is genderless.

      My argument in this article is about grammatical gender, and the example of the Holy Spirit demonstrates that grammatical gender is not necessarily an indication of actual gender. The word for “spirit” is feminine in the Hebrew Bible and neuter in the Greek New Testament, the original scriptures. And paraklētos, used for the Spirit in John’s Gospel, is masculine. The gender of these words does not in any way indicate that the Holy Spirit is masculine or feminine or neither.

      Grammatically gendered language used for the first person of the Trinity is also no indication of sex or gender. I’ve written about whether God is male (sex) or masculine (gender) here.

  8. Ok. So three observations:

    1. You seem intent on making a distinction between sex vs. gender. Where does the Bible make a distinction between sex vs. gender? Why can’t two different types of beings (i.e. God vs. man) have the same gender?

    2. You say:
    “The God of the Bible is neither male nor female (sex), nor is he masculine or feminine (gender). If God is understood in gendered terms, this would contradict the affirmation that God is Spirit (John 4:24)”

    But then you say:
    “…we don’t really know if the Spirit is masculine or feminine (gender). Since we don’t know, I can’t say positively that the Holy Spirit is genderless.”

    Since this is clearly a contradiction. Can you help me understand which of these two propositions you wish to uphold?

    3. Your proposition “that grammatical gender is not necessarily an indication of actual gender” seems no more certain or correct than its opposite:
    “grammatical gender may very well be an indication of actual gender.” Yet your entire article seems to thrive on laying the groundwork from which one is able to draw insinuative conclusions from this uncertainty (e.g. “we need to use gender-inclusive plural pronouns”).

    Based upon your own rationale, you are offering up suggestions that are potentially wrong. If it turns out that God does have a gender then your advocacy to use gender-inclusive pronouns is really bad advice. In other words, your advice seems as uncertain as the language-to-gender observations you mean to glean from Scripture.

    1. Hi James, You’re right, I haven’t been clear on a couple of things in my previous comment. But I don’t understand why you are concerned with my article.

      (1) The word “intent” is too strong and inappropriate. It doesn’t reflect the strength of my resolve on this. I am not pedantic about this. Biological sex and gender, however, are not the same even if there is some overlap.

      Two different types of beings can indeed have the same gender. They can also have the same sex: dogs and snakes can be male and they can be female. It’s not just humans that have sex and gender. Most animals and some plants have biological sex, male or female, with the corresponding male and female parts. This is so that they can reproduce sexually.

      (2) The Bible gives us quite a lot of information on God, including both masculine and feminine imagery; it doesn’t give us as much information on the Holy Spirit. I actually can’t see how the Holy Spirit can have gender, but I thought you were implying that he does, so I was being gentle in my response.

      What we do know with 100% certainty, however, is that neither God nor the Holy Spirit has biological sex, they are not male or female. They do not reproduce like plants and animals. And apart from Jesus, they are not man or woman.

      (3) “Thrive,” again, seems an inappropriate word. In gendered languages, gendered pronouns grammatically agree with the gender of the noun they stand for. So you can get neuter pronouns for a person or people when the main noun is neuter, and neuter pronouns for “Spirit” which is a neuter word in Greek. (As I say in the article “Spirit” is feminine in Hebrew). However, masculine and feminine pronouns are often used when “man/men” or “woman/women” is the implicit noun and meaning.

      The grammar rules around this are still more nuanced and complicated and I have no wish to explain this further. Like all languages, grammar rules are best learned, understood, and applied from actual experience with the language.

      James, you have misunderstood my article and its purpose. Nowhere in the article do I say or imply that we should use gender-inclusive pronouns for God! What I do say, however, is that in the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew and Greek, God is not just spoken of with grammatically masculine language including masculine pronouns. Grammatically feminine and neuter language is also used for God.

      This is what I do say: “I always use masculine pronouns when referring to God, and I don’t plan on changing this custom. I have chosen to be content with the limitations of language on this issue.” So I really don’t understand your concern.

      I see no reason for continuing this conversation. I have said everything I have to say on this topic. If I say more, I’ll just be repeating myself.

      1. Marg, thanks for the detailed reply, and thanks for admitting that more clarity is needed. It is a refreshing gesture and shows that you are genuine in the desire to assist readers who may seek a more refined understanding of what you have written.

        It is however unfortunate that you do not wish to continue discussing some of the potentially misleading issues in your article. I only mean to seek clarification because this topic matter seems very relevant for our time and sometimes authors are not keen to identify verbiage that can mislead the reader. In your writings, more nuance is clearly needed. Even now, for undiscussed reasons, it remains unclear whether you really believe that language is a reliable means for conclusively identifying one’s gender.

        1. James, I’m all for clarity and transparency and honesty. And I think my blog post is fine. And remember it’s a blog post, it’s not a detailed or nuanced essay or the final word on the issue of gendered language in the Bible.

          I have no intention of further explaining or illustrating why grammatical language in some verses does not indicate the gender of a person or group, let alone a deity, and why in other verses it does. This would take an enormous amount of work, with complicated technical explanations, numerous examples, and the vast majority of readers would not be interested. I’ve already mentioned this in a previous comment to you: “The grammar rules around this are still more nuanced and complicated and I have no wish to explain this further.”

          I gave my reason for not continuing this conversation: I don’t want to repeat myself, yet this is what I’m doing in response to your comment.

          I do not “believe that language is a reliable means for conclusively identifying one’s gender.” Here’s a quotation from a comment I made to you previously that I think is clear, “the example of the Holy Spirit demonstrates that grammatical gender is not necessarily an indication of actual gender.” Again, I am repeating myself. And it’s not a matter of what I believe, it’s a matter of how the Hebrew and Greek work.

          I’ve just now reread the first section of this blog post on “Grammatical Gender and God.” These are still my thoughts. I see no reason to change them.

          Let it go, James. Move on and have a good day.

  9. How does the use of pronouns impact eldership/leadership qualifications in 1 Timothy 3? I had a bible professor tell me years ago that most job type descriptions in ANE literature were written from an androcentric perspective even when females could have filled those positions? I have searched for source material on this issue, but come up blank. Any thoughts?

    1. I write about pronouns, and a couple of other points, in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/
      Note, however, that there are no masculine personal pronouns in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

      The original 1st-century author didn’t use masculine personal pronouns in this passage. But translators have used them, including 21st-century English translators.

  10. hello, I just read your post and replies.

    Question: Why do we need to change gender pronouns in our English Bibles?

    Let me quote you:

    “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”, is one example of a verse that is likely to be understood by modern readers as applying only to men.”

    If people read this verse and think that it only applies to men, why can’t we just teach them that the verse refers to all mankind just like when the declaration of independence declares that “all men are created equal” refers to all mankind?

    Instead of changing pronouns, why not use someone’s misunderstanding as a teaching moment?

    Just a thought.

    1. Hi Douglas,

      Did the authors of the declaration of independence really believe that all men, or all people, are created equal? Did the authors and signatories treat their wives, or women, as equal partners in life? Didn’t some of them own slaves? Are any women or slaves or people of colour even signatories? I don’t think the authors of the declaration of independence actually had all people (slaves and women) in mind when they wrote that all men are created equal. But I could be wrong.

      The issue, however, isn’t an American document written in English. The issue is the translation of a holy collection of ancient documents, the Bible, which was written in classical Hebrew and ancient Greek, with a smattering of Aramaic.

      There is no Greek word meaning “man” or even “person” in 1 Corinthians 5:17, and there are no Greek pronouns, let alone masculine pronouns. A correct translation of this verse is, “Therefore if anyone, or someone, (τις) is in Christ, a new creation has come …
      See here: https://biblehub.com/text/2_corinthians/5-17.htm

      So how about we translate the Hebrew and Greek correctly and not add masculine words and masculine pronouns where there are none in the original languages? And how about we translate verses that include men and women in a way that indicates it includes men and women?

      The Bible was originally written in a way that ordinary people could understand. This should be the goal in translations too. Few people have the luxury of having someone on hand every day to explain what Bible verses mean.

      Some Bible verses do need a teacher to explain what’s happening. But we shouldn’t have to rely on a teacher to point out that the original authors didn’t say “men” or “he” in certain verses when a correct translation can sort this out. And is a teacher going to list every verse that is gender-inclusive but uses masculine language? People need translations they can rely on.

      If translations get it right in the first place, there’s no reason to change.

  11. Love your post, Marg! And can I just say, the Youtube was delightful?

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