Thursday, August 13, 2009

another imaginary masculine pronoun

I honestly believe that those who have taught the importance of the masculine pronoun in the Bible have done a serious disservice to truth. Many of the masculine pronouns in the English Bible have no antecedent in the Greek, and yet, they are assumed to be communicating some part of God's truth.

I read this comment, posted on a blog article about Wade Burleson's recent sermon on women in ministry,
    Also, qualifications for elders/pastors says he must be "one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence." 1 Timothy 3:4 (notice the word "his" . . . a man)
How can one argue with this? There is no "his" in the Greek. There is no word at all that underlies "his" - nada, nothing, blank space. If you tell one person this, the next person still doesn't know. The masculine pronoun has become the biggest urban legend in the Christian community for this decade, maybe this century.
    τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον, τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος:
Here we see the heresy of the masculine pronoun at work.


Peter Kirk said...

Note also how this commenter sides so strongly against apologists for gender generic "he" by insisting that "his" has a definite masculine meaning here. This might be worth citing as evidence that generic "he" is dead and should be banned from Bible translations.

G said...

It is unfortunate that the English language has developed with this dominant masculine singular third person pronoun. As in “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, HE desires a noble task.” ESV This is not a problem in many languages. In Thai, Lao and Finnish, a few languages I am familiar with, the 3rd person singular pronoun does not express gender. So this text is easily translated without any questions about the gender of the pronoun. I have often thought that it would be useful if English would develop a new gender inclusive pronoun.

Anonymous said...

In the Chinese language, the only 3rd person singular pronoun is a gender-neutral/inclusive one. There is none for female or male. Having no choice is a good choice.

I'm all for developing a gender-inclusive 3rd person singular pronoun.

Peter Kirk said...

Jay and Kevin, English already has a perfectly good gender inclusive 3rd person singular pronoun, which has been used for centuries by the best authors including Shakespeare, Jane Austen etc etc: "they".

John Starke said...

Suzanne (and others) -
Sorry to be the lone complementarian here to spoil things, but there actually is an antecedent. The sentence doesn't begin in verse three, but all the way in verse 1. There are two (that I can see) connecting antecedents that the ESV is refering to:

(1) τὸν ἐπίσκοπον in verse - bishop or overseer. This is a masculine noun.

(2) ἄνδρα in verse 2 - husband, a masculine noun and masculine category of persons. I don't think anyone is arguing that anybody else other than a man can be a husband.

Greek, as I'm sure you know Suzanne, is an inflexive language, so to translate, one must infer third person masculine verbs with the antecedent nouns, which were the two previous I mentioned. The context is obvious. There is no agenda or "generic he". Its just faithful translation.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Welcome back. You are quite right that there is a grammatically masculine antecedent, episkopos. However, the commenter was arguing from the English use of "his" that the person must be a man. We know from 1 Tim. 5 that in the case where "his" was used in English, Erasmus assumed it was a "her."

The commenter did not argue from verse 2 that an episkopos was a man, but from verse 4. My post was more about the popular belief that people now have about the masculine pronoun in English, that it represents an underlying Greek masculine pronoun. Much of the time, it does not.

I am willing to assume that the author of Timothy envisioned male bishops. I am not willing to agree that anything in the language of 1 Tim. 3 proves that a bishop has to be male. Many words for occupations, of the same grammatical pattern as episkopos, would remain unchanged if it applied to a female.

Since bishops don't have to be married, I would suggest that nowhere in 1 Tim. 3 is a universal law established that a bishop has to be a man. That's how I read it, although, as I said, in the mind of the author, it may have applied to men at that time.

It is similar to discussing whether the householder has to be male. Although, generally speaking, at that time, men were the main householder, there is nothing that says that a householder has to be male. There is no law, civic or spiritual which denies women the right to run their own household, and there are many examples of women that do.

Likewise, although these offices mention males, considering the wide range of roles filled by women, as apostles, prophets, and deacons, I do not see any univeral law against women elders.

The scriptures do use the word arsen, male, when they refer to circumcision, so we know that it was quite possible for the Greek or Hebrew to make this distinction if necessary. It is never done with regard to the offices of the church, to my knowledge.

Lin said...

1) τὸν ἐπίσκοπον in verse - bishop or overseer. This is a masculine noun.

Couldn't the same thing be said about diakonos which is used to describe Phoebe?

Dave said...

I know someone who recently purchased some Greek Bible software. When he waved the mouse over the word for "elder" it told him that it was masculine (in 1 Tim 3). He then told me that elders had to be men...end of discussion!

My Greek lecturer always used to say that "a little Greek was dangerous"!

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Many nouns which refer to occupations can occur with a masculine or feminine article. There is no restriction. What we do know about diakonos is that it occurs with either a masc. or fem. article. However, episkopos occurs only with the masc. article, as far as I know. This means that there is no occurence of a discussion about a single woman elder. It does not prove that elders cannot be women, but only that this discussion did not take place, as it did with Phoebe, the deacon.

I am sure that if you wave the cursor over the word diakonos in 1 Tim. 3 you will also get a masc. tag. This is meaningless since a diakonos can also be feminine - it is the same word.

In my opinion, either grammatical gender means something and women cannot be saved, or it means nothing and women are not restricted by grammatical gender.

I don't see any other options. I see the doctrine of grammatical gender as the ultimate in dumbing down Christianity.


You are welcome to respond to this.

CD-Host said...

John --

As for as husband of one wife, there is reasonable this could be person with one spouse. Think about how you would say that in a Greek. The expression seems has connotations like "never divorced" that it wouldn't have otherwise.

CD-Host said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Starke said...

Whether or not you think Paul - the author of I Timothy - argues for specifically "male" elders, it is still very reasonable that since Greek is inflexive you must insert a pronoun for English. The two antecedent nouns are both masculine. I don't think its silly that the interpreter puts in a "he". Be egalitarian or complementarian, you have to still put the right pronoun. One must reinterpret Paul to use "person" or "she" not only in I Timothy 3, but in many other places.

Don't you think, Suzanne?

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, John, I think that one must put in a pronoun. That is reasonable. However, since many of these pronouns don't exist in Greek, but are required by English, it is nonsensical to derive "truth" from them.

Even those pronouns which eist in Greek depend upon grammatical rules, and do not indicate the gender of the antecedent, which is why the Holy Spirit is refered to by the neuter pronoun for pneuma, but the masculine pronoun for the Comforter. But perhaps then, the Holy Spirit has no gender. Of course, when Jesus refered to the Spirit in Aramaic she was feminine.

I do think that 1 Tim. 5:8 would be much more representative of the Greek if the singular "they" were used. This is more transparent to the Greek, as some say. The inserted male pronoun is often a distractor from what the Greek is saying.

I saw no difficulty with the pronouns in the KJV, but now that people have been taught that grammatical gender communicates God's truth, the Bible has been rendered almost meaningless, IMO. Women are only allowed the verses that men permit them to indentify with. The word is meted out to women in a very stingy manner in the ESV.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

As for as husband of one wife, there is reasonable this could be person with one spouse.

Thanks for mentioning this. I actually think it says "husband." I don't think it is relevant, however, since I do not believe that an elder was required to be a husband. He was only required not to have more than one wife, and no slave girls or whatever on the side. That's my impression.

I do think it refers to men, but I don't think that there was a universal taboo on women elders. Paul mentions too many women in leadership position for this to be feasible.

G said...

Peter, I am well aware of the use of the singular they. Even if Shakespeare, Austen, Eliot… have used it, I have come to appreciate the more accurate singular third person pronoun in some other languages, as do I prefer the plural second personal pronoun which English as lost. But the development of a language is actually quite unruly so I might have to be content when someone insists they use the singular they. I also use it even though it feels less than best.

I think the meaning of μιας υναικος ανδρα “one woman man” is qualitative, a faithful husband. It certainly would not make sense to exclude a single person nor one who has remarried after the death of their spouse from the work of an overseer as some of the church fathers have held. In the same way, I don’t think the case of the widow in 1Tim 5:9 is concerned with how many of her former husbands died, but that she was a faithful wife. It would be about as silly to conclude from 1Tim 3:2 “μιας γυναικος ανδρα“ that an overseer must be a man then to conclude from 1Tim 5:9 ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή “one man woman” that these selected widows must be women.

Peter Kirk said...

Jay, see what I have written about this "husband of one wife" phrase here and here. It seems that no two interpreters can agree on what it means.

G said...

A father and his son were traveling in an auto when it was involved in a terrible accident. The father was immediately killed. The son,critically injured was rushed to the local hospital. When the doctor came into the operating room and saw the patient, the doctor told the nurse, "I cannot do this operation because this patient is my son." How can this be?

John Starke said...

Sue, thought you would find this interesting.

Gregg Allison will be a good addition to the conversation.

Also, we are going be doing Augustine work as well that will be coming out soon as well. This stuff takes time, as you know.

hope all is well. this should further some of our other discussions, eh?

John Starke said...

Sue, thought you would find this interesting.

Gregg Allison will be a good addition to the conversation.

Also, we are going be doing Augustine work as well that will be coming out soon as well. This stuff takes time, as you know.

hope all is well. this should further some of our other discussions, eh?

Anonymous said...

(ASV) 1 Timothy 2:8 I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing.

2:9 In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; 10 but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works. 11 Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. 12 But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not beguiled, but the woman being beguiled hath fallen into transgression: 15 but she shall be saved through her child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety.

3:1 Faithful is the saying, If a man seeketh the office of a [episkopoV], he desireth a good work. 2 The [episkopoV] therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, orderly, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 no brawler, no striker; but gentle, not contentious, no lover of money; 4 one that ruleth well his own house, having children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have good testimony from them that are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

3:8 [diakonoV] in like manner, grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as [diakonoV], if they be blameless.

3:11 Women in like manner, grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.

3:12 Let [diakonoV] be husbands of one wife, ruling children and their own houses well. 13 For they that have served well as [diakonoV] gain to themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

(ASV) Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a [diakonoV] of the church that is at Cenchreae: 2 that ye receive her in the Lord, worthily of the saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever matter she may have need of you: for she herself also hath been a helper of many, and of mine own self.

There is no evidence that a woman was allowed to be an episkopoV, which is discussed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

Apparently, however, a woman could be a diakonoV, which is discussed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

An example of a female diakonoV is Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2.

Under no circumstance was a female diakonoV allowed to be the teacher of a man or to have authority over a man, as stated in 1 Timothy 2:12. She could teach and have authority over a woman or a child, but she could not teach or have authority over a man.

Paul lived in the first century, not the twenty-first century. To make the Bible gender neutral is to rewrite the Bible.