By Jordan Burgen
I appreciate Jim’s clarification about when “him” or “ man” refers to males specifically or all humankind. Why doesn’t he use the New Revised Standard Version when he quotes scripture? It uses gender accurate wording so he doesn’t need to correct the older gender inaccurate translation. I’m confused and curious.
Thanks so much for your question. I would be happy to answer it for you.
Translations of the Bible have relatively recently (within the last 30 years) become more and more gender-inclusive. This is because the English language as a whole is evolving away from male-generic pronouns and wording (e.g. using “he,” “him,” and “man” to refer to all people), so in an effort to keep up with that, new translations have begun to spring up. For the most part, this gender-inclusive translating is accurate. The Greek word “Anthropos” can be translated several ways, depending on the context. Usually, it refers to people in general (e.g. Romans 3:28, accurately translated as “person” in the NRSV), though there are places where it refers to the male gender (1 Corinthians 7:1, accurately translated as “man” in the NRSV).
However, there are times when these translations, of which I will focus on the NRSV, overstep in their translation. That is usually in regard to the Greek word “aner,” which means a male or husband. In the ESV, 1 Timothy 3:2 reads, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband (aner) of one wife…” The overseer here is the elder of a church, which this verse claims can only be someone of the male gender. The NRSV, however, renders the verse like this: “Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once…” It completely strips out gender and changes the meaning of the verse. This is not an accurate translation and diminishes the intended meaning.
This also occurs in the Old Testament. In the ESV, 1 Kings 2:4 reads, “…‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man (iysh) on the throne of Israel.’” The Hebrew word “iysh” is a noun meaning male or husband, much like the Greek word “aner.” The NRSV translates “iysh” in this verse as “successor,” which may seem innocent enough. However, if you look at that word in other contexts, and this passage in particular, you can see that it was used here for a reason. This passage was a retelling of an important prophecy declaring that the Messiah would come from the line of David. That Messiah was Jesus, and he is described as the husband to the Church throughout the New Testament (in particular in Ephesians 5:25-33). So, declaring that, if David’s sons paid close attention to their way and walked with the Lord, God’s people would have a husband on the throne. It meant much more than “successor” or an earthly throne. It was a gender-important messianic prophecy.
It is for instances like this that Jim and the leadership here choose to use more traditional translations, such as the ESV and earlier versions of the NIV. No translation is absolutely perfect; however, we find that these translations are more accurate where it is most important. I respect what the NRSV and similar translations are attempting to do, and for the most part, they do alright. However, there are times when they overstep and change the meaning of the original text. We would rather err on the side of Biblical accuracy rather than political correctness when it comes to translating the Word of God. Jim explaining by mouth when a male pronoun or designation can be applied to more than just males makes more sense than endorsing a version of the Bible that is translated inaccurately in some places.
I hope this explanation makes sense, and I would be happy to answer any more questions regarding this topic or provide you with more examples. Thanks again for reaching out!
The "Good Questions" blog is a place where some of the really good questions people email into the church can be shared with everyone, along with Jordan Burgen's response. Jordan Burgen is the Content & Theology Pastor here at Flatirons, so he answers a lot of the emails sent in to us. To ask a question (about anything, really), please fill out a contact form here or email Jordan directly at