Sunday, November 20, 2005

Gender and the Image of God: Part 1

I was recently involved in a discussion on Jesus Creed regarding the gender-neutral language of the newly released TNIV. In as much as it opened up a can of worms that I couldn’t adequately close without a lengthy discourse, I thought it best to post my thoughts here on iustificare.

For those new to the controversy, the TNIV has attempted to arrive at what has commonly been called “gender inclusive language.” The idea is that terms such as “mankind,” “man,” “brothers,” etc., when clearly intended to designate both masculine and feminine subjects, are better translated in a gender-neutral manner. Thus Matthew 4:19--
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men" (NIV).
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people"(TNIV).
You get the idea. Proponents of the TNIV (as well as other similar translations of the Bible) have suggested that such a translation is actually more accurate in that it conveys in the English what was intended by the original authors. Sounds plausible enough, but I have two difficulties with such an approach.

First, in my mind, little regarding the issue of clarity has been advanced. Did anyone really think that only males were going to be the subjects of evangelism? Not likely. For the past 2000 years (and more) the people of God have understood that male specific designators such as “man,” “brothers,” etc., when used inclusively, are meant to designate a female audience as well. Advocates of the TNIV will not easily concede this point, but in as much as it is the lesser of my concerns, I leave it now to press on with my main objection.

It seems to me that the real impetuous driving the use of gender-inclusive language is the overwhelming bent toward egalitarianism in our wider secular culture. Clearly the male laden language of scripture is not politically correct in the face of society that, for the most part, refuses to grant any distinctions between male and female that extend beyond the anatomical. Such sentiments are not foreign to our evangelical culture. Though far more conservative socially than much of our wider culture, evangelicals have felt the weight of the egalitarian agenda. (Trinity Journal, for example, asks that papers submitted for publication utilize gender-inclusive language.) Such egalitarian pressure has been of great value in reminding our culture about the dignity and worth of what has been unfortunately termed the “lesser” sex, but have we lost something in our rush for equality? I believe so.

In as much as the TNIV strives for clarity—so be it. But I worry that in its aim for clarity, the egalitarian bent of the TNIV has inadvertently obscured an element of Trinitarian thought that is of great worth and beauty. Consequently, in the next number of posts I will be laying out my arguments against the use of gender inclusive language, suggesting that there is a correlation between Trinitarian theology and the use of masculine-representative language.


Todd Hiestand said...

well, this will be fun to watch, considering your younger, less wise brother reads the TNIV and uses it to preach from... :)

i'll enjoy watching...

Gerald said...

Ahh brother Todd . . . Just trying to look out for all you simpletons out there. No but seriously folks, my favorite prof at TEDS is an egalitarian whom--I would suspect--sees little problem with the TNIV. So I'm not trying to adopt a "the sky is falling" type of tone. But as mentioned, I think that a robust Trinitarian paradigm is subtly undercut by an egalitarian agenda, an agenda that is reflected (unintentionally or not) in the TNIV.

Stay tuned . . .

The Cubicle Reverend said...

Unfortunately this is nothing new. I remember them trying to make a politicaly correct bible. The right hand of God was changed to the mighty hand of God (left handers felt left out). How silly are we. Like this will make any difference in bringin people to Christ?

Ted Gossard said...

Gerald, interesting....

Meaning in translation, and in such a way so as to communicate in the receptor's heart language is important, in my view.

If you use some "slippery slope" (if they do this, then they could very well do this next, and so on) argument from the text of the TNIV I'll be likely unmoved and disappointed by your argument. I await your thoughts with interest.

Gerald said...


Glad you'll stick around. I was thinking I might interact with a few of your comments from Scot's post, so it would be great to have you involved in the discussion. Your are fair in your comments and generous in your critcisms.

I do worry about the "slippery slope," but my concern extends beyond that. I'll welcome your thoughts.

Sorry everyone, that this is going so slow. I'll try for part 2 this week.

The Cubicle Reverend said...

But the slippery slope is a legitimate fear. How many of the churches problems come from a slight acceptance of... (you fill in the blank) and out of that we get false teachings, soft liberality on important subjects, etc. What started out as a simple desire to have a more meaningful relationship with God in experience has become the name it and claim it movement.

Peter Kirk said...

I look forward with interest to your attempts to link gender-inclusive language with the doctrine of the Trinity. But I don't expect them to get very far. From what I can tell (as an evangelical and a Bible translator with a theology degree) there is no correlation between the Trinity and gender. Yes, Jesus was male, but he was Jewish, he was dark-eyed (or was he blue-eyed?), he was brown-haired (or was he blond?), etc etc, but none of these things are significant for the doctrine of the Trinity, so why is his gender? And yes, God is called Father rather than Mother, but in several places in the Bible he is likened to a mother as well as to a father. Well, I will be interested to see how you make the link.

For some more discussions on TNIV and gender neutral Bibles, see and its archives.

Gordon said...

> Did anyone really think that only
> males were going to be the subjects
> of evangelism? Not likely.

Actually, I think that this is exactly what people would have thought. Evangelize the men and their women will have to follow along.

As for gender in the Trinity, as I argued in my own post on the topic, if you think that the Trinity embodies more masculinity than femininity, you must necessarily think that the defining characteristics of femininity are evil. If they were good, then God would partake of them in infinite measure, and thus in equal measure to the masculine.

Gerald said...


Thanks for the comment. I'll address it more in the next post--hope you stick around. You get to the heart of my thoughts in that my whole argument rests on the idea that gender is an aspect of the image of God, specifically in relation to the Trinity.


As far as I am aware, such langauge has been used for the past 2000 years (and in the early church) without the confusion you mentioned. And I will not be arguing that the Trinity is more masculine than feminine, rather quite the opposite. But I won't try to make my point here. Hope you stick around as well.

The Cubicle Reverend said...


Suzanne said...

Gerald, what language in particular were you refering to when you said,

"As far as I am aware, such langauge has been used for the past 2000 years (and in the early church)"?

Gerald said...

I meant "masculine-representative" language, e.g.,"mankind," "all men," "the sons of men," etc. In other words, the kind of masculine laden language that the TNIV intentionally avoids.

Suzanne said...

Greek is not as bound to 'masculine-representative' language as English is. 'Mankind' has no equivalent in Greek that relates to the masculine. Even 'son of man' is the son of a 'human'.

Peter Kirk said...

Gerald has claimed that "masculine-representative" language "has been used for the past 2000 years (and in the early church)". But the examples he give can be considered "masculine-representative" only in English, and indeed only in specific varieties of English in which the meaning of words like "man" is in transition from being gender generic to gender specific. There is no such confusion in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German, or even English as spoken by many people today, in which one word (aner, 'ish, vir, Mann, man) is specifically male and another word (anthropos, 'adam, homo, Mensch, person) is gender generic.

In fact I would suggest that the concept of "masculine-representative" language dates back only to about the 1960s, when English was changing rapidly, when people like the young Grudem and Poythress misunderstood gender generic "man" in their English Bibles as being gender specific and as including women only by the concept of "masculine-representative" which they invented.

Gerald said...

Peter and Susan,

I've studied Greek and Hebrew at the undergraduate and graduate level, but I make no pretense of being a language scholar. You both may be far beyond me in this field (and Peter surely is).

I think I understand the point that you are both making, and I would agree that words such as adam and anthropos can be gender inclusive in their meaning. This is actually an important part of my forthcoming argument.

But what I think is important to point out is that though these two words in particular are used to denote either a specific male (Gen 2:8) or used to denote a gender inclusive audience that includes males and females (Gen 1:26), they are--to my knowledge--never used to denote a strictly female audience, either singular or plural (such as is the case with the English "people" or "persons").In other words, an English speaker might speak of a group of women as "people," but a Hebrew or Greek speaker would never speak of a group of women as adam or anthropoid. So I am not convinced that it there is complete dynamic equivalency between adam/anthropos and words such as people/human.

Further, even granting your argument, the biblical authors frequently refer to the “sons” ben/uios of Israel/Judah/God. In these instances, both ben and uios are used inclusively to denote both men and women, yet the terms are clearly masculine. It is difficult not to see masculine-representative language here.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this, but don't want to get to much further into this subject just yet as it will crop up again in my final post on this subject.

Gerald said...

I meant anthropois, not anthropoid. oops.

Gerald said...

One more thought; I'm not sure I follow you Peter, in your statement that "masculine-representative" language is a new concept. Certainly all of the early English versions utilized such a translation concept. Are you suggesting that the 16th century translators of the AV did not see adam and anthropos as masculine terms, even when used inclusively? If they did not, then wouldn't they have translated these terms much like the TNIV and others, utilizing terms such as "people," "persons," etc.?

I find it unlikely that Grudem can be credited with such an "invetion," when his translation preferences follow established precedence in regard to previous English translations.

Suzanne said...

Thanks Peter,
I grew among the brethren and since there is no equivalent female term 'sistern', I understood that brethren included the sisters. However, with the switch to 'brothers' there had to be a justification for maintaining the use of the masculine alone, since in this case the term 'sisters' does exist. Since 'brothers and sisters' more faithfully represents the meaning of 'adelphoi', the concept of masculine representative language had to be invented at that time to maintain the use of the term 'brothers.' (And for other reasons.)
Re: 'Anthropos', the term was, in fact, used with a feminine article for a single woman in classical Greek according to Liddell and Scott. It is a great mistake not to realize that Greek has a rather extensive body of literature outside of the Bible. Greek words do not necessarily take on meaning by adding up all their occurences in a concordance or software and dividing by the lowest common denominator. That only reflects what one wishes the Bible were saying.

Suzanne said...

Hi Gerald,

Sorry to go on, but 'human' is the *literal* translation for 'anthropos'. It contrasts with 'aner' first, and often refers to people of lowly position without status, a slave or woman. It also contrasts with 'theos'. So 'anthropos' means human or mortal and is definitely gender generic. It cannot be construed to be masculine in any way.

That is the word chosen to describe who Christ became, in direct contrast to the maculine word 'aner'.

Gerald said...


First, sorry for spelling your name wrong in the previous comment.

Second, I still don't agree that anthropos is best translated "human." I was not aware of the Liddell and Scott reference, but I would think that even those in favor of gender-neutral translations would have to admit that the use of a feminine article with anthropos is rather unusual given the general use of the word. I think that it is safe to say that these words (anthropos and adam) are overwhelmingly used to denote a single male, or mixed gendered audience, but very seldom (and never in scripture) an all female audience.

Just as it is not often possible to determine the meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word from the biblical cannon alone, so too it is not possible to determine the meaning of a word from one reference alone. The safest way to determine the meaning of a word is to observe how it is most commonly used. Anomalies can likely be found for most any word, and contemporary English writers often use words in ways that run against their natural usage, either intentionally for literary purposes or unintentionally by mistake. Just as it would be unwise for a native French speaker to use such passages to determine the semantic field of meaning for a given English word, it is unwise—in my estimation—to utilize a singular passage in ancient Greek or Hebrew in determining the semantic field of meaning for a word when that use of the word in that passage runs contrary to its normal usage in the wider literature.

I would be more inclined to your argument if you could show that anthropos was frequently (even just 5%-10% of the time) used to denote an exclusively female audience, or often had the feminine article attached. And I would be genuinely interested if you could demonstrate this or point me toward some resources that make such a case. It would be very helpful to have such information.

Also, I am interested in your response to my previous comments regarding ben and uios. Do you see masculine representative language here? Regardless, I appreciate your thoughts.

Gerald said...


One more thought: I would also point out that passages such as Jeremiah 51:7, Numbers 25:8, Deut 17:5, Eccl 7:28, etc., which contrast anthropos with gunaika (woman/wife), strongly suggest a masculinty to anthropos.

If "anthropos" is truly a gender nuetral word that was widely understood to simply mean "human," it is difficult to see why the bibilical authors would have used it in contrast to "woman." Such a commitment would render Deut 17:5 something like, "then you shall bring out to your gates that human or woman who has done this evil thing."

Ted Gossard said...

Doesn't "adam" or "anthropos" as to meaning depend on context? Youi're probably all way ahead of me. But sometimes either refers to humankind (e.g., Ge 1; Rom 1) or an individual male. I don't know the former can be denied.

Given that, I think it is shaky to cite usage of those words as related to the relationship of the Trinity.

But I await your thoughts.

Suzanne said...

'People and their wives' - but the 'Biblical' authors wrote the OT in Hebrew so the LXX tranalations, if that is what you are quoting, you dan't say, are just that - literal translations reflecting the Hebrew, which lacks the generic, not the Greek. A topic for another day.

Liddell and Scott is a standard reference for classical Greek, my copy is dated 1871, but it is available on the net, and it says man, generic, or Latin 'homo' as in the human race, a person. It also means man and not beast, man and not god, man, possibly a term of contempt, for a slave, also woman.

Do you have a dictionary reference to show that the primary meaning of 'anthropos' was not man, generic, or human; but rather man as in masculine? I've never seen that. But I have lent my Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich to a 'man'. And he has not returned it yet. :-)

The fact that English translations used the English word 'man' says something about English, but tells us nothing about Greek.

Gerald said...


I did bit of checking and I've got to concede a few points (but just a few).

I checked 6 lexicons and you're correct that they do not offer "male" as a primary definition of anthropos. As you stated, the primary definition is one of generic gender inclusiveness. However, all of the lexicons offer “man” (as in male) as a subsequent definition. So my point still stands that anthropos is appropriately translated in such a way that denotes people in general, or a male in particular (i.e., “man”). I still contend that it is seldom used for a strictly all female audience, though I now concede--let the world know--that it can be used in this way). The exact frequency with which this feminine usage occurs, however, is something that I suspect neither you nor I can adequately substantiate at present. If you (or anyone else) should come across such information I would be very interested.

Regardless, I don't think this is going to effect my primary argument any, but you can decide that for yourself.

The point that I would still like to make is this:
anthropos and adam are most often used to designate a gender mixed audience or a singular male; very less seldom (and never in scripture—I checked, though hastily) is it used to denote a strictly female audience.

Will you grant me this above statement?

And you never did answer me about uios and ben as examples of masculine-representative language. . .

Suzanne said...

The frequency of the use of a term to refer to a specific referent depends on the frequency of the occurence of that referent. For example, 'tree' in the Bible may most frequently refer to a fig tree, and not a maple tree. However, one cannot argue that the word 'tree' is not equally appropriate for a group of maple trees, unless you know that maple trees were equally present and equally relevant to the conversation.

I do suspect that reference to the all female gatherings cannot be substantiated simply because the Biblical authors were themselves male and could not be present to write about these female events, if and when they happened. Absence of occurence is not proof of anything.

I cannot grant that your noticing the absence of all female gatherings in the Bible contributes in any way to your argument.

None of this affects the essential primary meaning of the word 'anthropos'.

There are about 8000 uses of the term 'anthropos' indexed at the Perseus project. I have no intention of checking each and every one. Feel free. This is your blog!

On the other point, uois and ben, maybe another day. But there are interesting stories for them too. Maybe you could try a Hebrew and Aramic lexicon.

BTW I have read the famous Grudem and Piper tome and other articles by them. They want life a certain way and are out to prove it.

Gerald, what is most important here is what men and women have in common, that is, our humanity. We are all human and fallible and seeking. Let us share the ways that we are the same as humans; not the ways that we differ.

Gerald said...


Fair enough. I'm not inclined to agree with all of your points, but the tree analogy is worth considering. I'll give you the final word here and move on to my next post.

For my part, I've read neither Grudem or Piper on this subject (for whatever that is worth).

Enjoyed the interaction. Blessings.