Pastor Mark Roberts has been blogging lately about the TNIV. Everything to this point has been laying the groundwork, and yet Roberts remarks that the series has generated “more e-mail than any series [he has] ever written – and [he is] just getting warmed up.” If nothing else, the TNIV and, by extension, gender inclusive/accurate translations are inflammatory. For those who may be confused about why it matters whether we continue to use the masculine pronoun “man” as a universal, inclusive pronoun, Roberts offers these reasons: “The TNIV controversy is about core matters: how we understand and preserve God’s revelation in Scripture; how we reach a generation of people we’re generally missing; how we can be relevant to our culture and yet faithful to God’s timeless revelation; how we deal with the tricky issues related to gender. These are crucial issues, and they deserve serious conversation and genuine dialogue.”
Weighty matters, indeed. However, I would posit that Roberts has actually understated the importance of this discussion. Rather, the TNIV debate matters because our very understanding of the character of God is at stake. Language “gets us on to” reality–it is our vehicle for communicating how the world is. That said, using the masculine pronoun as an inclusive pronoun communicates something about how the world is–it suggests that the masculine is able to contain the feminine within it, or perhaps less inflammatory and more clear, that the masculine is able to stand for the feminine, but that the relationship is not reciprocal in this regard. Consequently, our use of pronouns allows us to understand our position in the world as persons, both masculine and feminine.
So why does that matter? If anthropology and grammar are related, then theology and our anthropological grammar (for lack of a better term) are related. Why? For the simple fact that God became man, and as a man is able to stand for both men and women. The immediate response is that God became human, but I am left wondering what this means if not male or female. It is as this man who is male that Jesus is able to stand for both men and women, and the grammar both helps us to see that and reflects that reality.
Our understanding of who Jesus Christ is depends upon whether we think it is in the nature of the masculine to stand for the feminine. If we determine that there is no standing for relationship between masculine and feminine, then our understanding of the person of Jesus Christ (fully God AND fully man) must change. To contend that Jesus stands for women simply as a man and not as God seems to divide the two natures of Christ asunder. Jesus stands for women as both man and God, and consequently, if we deny the standing for relationship, then we have altered our understanding of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.