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.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

5 Comments

  1. You seem to implicitly deny that the meaning of words can evolve over time. Consider the etymology of man, for example.

    Furthermore, your example of a masculine word uniquely representing both male and female is controverted by an opposite example: The Church is called the Bride of Christ. I presume that the term does not refer solely to women.

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  2. I like the etymological stuff you linked to, Jim… But do you have a non-Wiki reference as well? I get wikiphobic when the discussion becomes important.

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  3. Keith, since I haven’t yet ponied up the cash for an OED, here’s a brief reference.

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  4. Love your blog I’m going to subscribe to

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  5. WAndering in here very late, as I graze through blogs tagged “Theology, Gender” …

    Matthew wrote, “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.”

    If you ever stumble across this comment (it’s so late, it may be a while, I know), I wonder if you’d unpack what you mean by “standing for.” In particular, are you using this locution to signify the notion of “federal representation” or “federal headship” that one finds in standard Reformed theologies?

    I ask, for I’ve understood Genesis to show us a masculinity that is inclusive of the feminine rather than representative of the feminine. Her being derives from his; he is her reason, not only for being but for being feminine, created for his sake, not he for hers.

    For this reason, the “inclusive masculine” is a term better translating the narrative in Genesis 2 than the so-called “generic masculine.” It also comports better with the notions of being “in Adam” and “in Christ.” All who are in Adam are damned, absent their subsequent baptism “into Christ,” all in Whom are redeemed.

    Whatever meaning one puzzles out of the notion of being “in Adam” or “in Christ,” whatever “in-ness” involves, it would seem they should cohere with the related idea that man is a good term for the individual male as well as a term inclusive of a man or a woman without further distinction.

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