Where in the Bible Are Masculine Words Meant to Be All-Inclusive?
- Stacey Monaco Contributing Writer
- 2022 20 Sep
"So God created mankind in his own image,
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27
It is often noted that the very best writer causes the reader to see themselves within the storyline. As the reader engages in the literature, they begin to feel one with the words and, in doing so, find themselves within the pages and words that the writer has written. Stepping into the written Word in such a way draws the reader back to the text again and again, illuminating their life in such a way that they feel known and seen.
The Bible, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned at the hand of human writers over a period of 1,500 years, invites all of humanity into its pages, never ceasing to write its story on the fabric of the lives of its reader. Still, a female reading of Scripture at some points might create a struggle within the reader to determine where they fit into verses that seem to carry an innate call to all people and yet, are written in a masculine tone.
It is important in this conversation to put first things first and to note that this topic is focused on the inclusivity of the gospel and Scripture when it comes to the gender of the reader, although there are certainly gender-specific verses throughout the Bible. The singular most important topic when it comes to the issue of masculine and feminine verbiage in Scripture is that of translation, context, and the author's intent in the language or origin.
Professor of New Testament Literature and scholar Mark L. Strauss writes, "The real issue of gender-inclusive language is not about the role of men and women, but it is about translating the Word of God as accurately as possible. It is about rendering the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek into the most precise English equivalents possible."
To the benefit of those who read the Bible in the English language, there are many choices when it comes to translations of Scripture and paraphrased texts that are intended to build understanding for the reader. The deficit of the English language translation of the scriptures is that when compared side by side with original language texts, the English language Bible often has a distinct masculine bent in its use of pronouns. These pronouns can be confusing at best and, in some cases, even harmful to the invitation to the female reader to find themselves dignified within the pages of Scripture.
Recent English language translations have begun to address sections of Scripture that have previously leaned heavily toward the masculine pronoun usage seeking to align the text with its original context more accurately, and to lean away from the English language's fondness for the use of the male pronoun translation where inclusive language should be present. It is important to note that these past translations were completed by faithful and true translators who understood that the English language reader in previous generations would likely have read masculine pronouns with a more inclusive ear than those reading today.
Here I have included four verses that are more faithfully translated from a masculine word translation to a rendition that is inclusive to the female reader. These verses are but a handful throughout Scripture in which some English language translations lean toward masculine language where the original author's intent was inclusivity.
According to Strauss, the word man in this verse is translated from the Greek word Anthropos which is more faithfully translated to the word person. The original author, Paul, was writing inclusively to both men and women. The most recent version of the NIV Bible translates this verse as follows.
"For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."
The NASB 2020 translation also uses person in this verse. Strauss notes, "A simple definition of a gender-inclusive translation is a translation that seeks to avoid masculine terminology when the original author was referring to members of both sexes." Mark 1:17
According to Dr. Jeff Miller, who holds an advanced degree in biblical interpretation, the King James version of the Bible and other renditions, including the NIV translation prior to 2011, have over 1,000 occurrences of the words "men" and "man" that do not appear in the original Greek writings. He posits that the prolific inclusion of the masculine pronoun in the English language Bible lends a masculine feel to the very text that the Holy Spirit inspired to draw all of humanity to God. Mark 1:17 is an important example of the need for accurate translation as it speaks to the very heart of the Great Commission in which Jesus called all his disciples, women and men, to share the gospel and turn hearts back to him.
A KJV translation of Mark 1:17 can be read as "Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men."
The NIV currently reads, "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people." Galatians 3:26
Galatians 3:26-29 is a foundational piece of Scripture when it comes to understanding the identity of the Christ follower within the family of God and the lineage of Abraham. The New King James Version renders this verse in this manner,
"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Many children, boys and girls, raised in the church could be found on a Sunday morning stomping their feet to the popular Sunday School song, "Father Abraham." Who, of course, had many sons.
Read in context, even in a masculine-leaning translation, the verses themselves clarify that inclusivity in the kingdom of Christ is based neither on gender, ethnicity, or status within society but rather on identity found in Jesus.
These verses are one example of how these masculine "son" and "sons" are more accurately translated in the English language with the word "children."
The current NIV translation reads, "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." John 12:32
The Bible is God's story in which we are meant first to find him and then ultimately find ourselves in him. English language translations that have a distinctly masculine feel using words such as "son," "sons," "brother," "mankind," "men," and "man" in verses that would be more accurately translated with "children," "brothers and sisters," and "person," potentially serve to inhibit the female seeker from seeing themselves within God's plan and story.
Jesus did not come simply to call all men unto himself but to call all of humanity to his coming kingdom.
While the King James Bible and the American Standard Version translate John 12:32 with the phrase "draw all men," the NIV reads as follows, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
Photo credit: ©Priscilla du Preez/Unsplash
Stacey Monaco has been speaking and writing since her first unpublished children’s book in the fifth grade. Her journey as a writer has taken her from the depths of blue water exploration, to the simplicity of crafting words to encourage and educate in the areas of loss, legacy, leadership, and living life passionately with purpose. Stacey received her Masters Degree in Christian Ministry and Leadership from Talbot School of Theology, and has worked in many roles from slinging coffee to pastoring women. To find more on living the Christian life with intention, head over to her website at StaceyMonaco.com.