by Vern Sheridan Poythress
[Published in the Westminster Theological Journal 66/2 (2004) 325-36. Used with permission.]
Since 1986 gender-neutral English Bible translations have arisen that avoid the use of generic “he.”1 This new translation practice raises many questions, some concerning English, some concerning the original languages, and some concerning the nature of translation between the different languages. I cannot here rehearse the entire discussion.2 I focus only on one question, whether a sense of “maleness” attaches to the use of the generic masculine singular in Koine Greek. As I show below, considerable primary textual evidence shows that in Greek the generic masculine includes a suggestion of a male case being used to express a general principle that applies to both men and women. If so, it tends to support the propriety of using an expression in English that suggests both a general principle and a male case exemplifying the principle.3 Of course, other arguments also influence translation: for example, one must consider the nature of translation, the differences between ancient and modern cultures, and the pertinence of reader response.4 We concentrate here only on one question, the nuances in meaning of the Greek masculine in general statements about human beings.
The significance of generic masculines
We must first understand the nature of the question about Greek masculines. We illustrate using English. In English most nouns and pronouns have no grammatical gender (they are neither masculine nor feminine). But personal pronouns “he” and “she,” together with their grammatical variants “his, him, himself,” and “her, herself,” in many contexts indicate the biological gender (sex) of the person to whom one is referring. On occasion people also want to make general statements about “everyone” or “anyone.” What does one do on such occasions? Until at least 1970, prestigious written English regularly used “he”:
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him. (John 14:23 ESV)
The word “anyone” indicates that the principle includes both male and female human beings. The subsequent uses of “he” and “him” do not narrow the scope of the principle, but are to be understood in the light of the initial general word “anyone.” These occurrences of “he”and “him” are called “generic he”–generic because the statement as a whole is general or generic. In short, “generic he” describes any occurrence of the third masculine singular pronoun “he,” “his,” “him,” or “himself” in a context that makes a general statement including male and female human beings, and where, therefore, “he” designates an individual who represents what is generally valid for all.
The idea of a male representative case
Since the use of generic “he” is a regular convention in English, it may seem natural to assume that it has no male meaning. On this view, “he” is simply a place-holder for “anyone” or “everyone” or some other antecedent with no mark of grammatical gender. However, grammatical conventions are not always purely neutral.5 Various evidence in English indicates that even in the context of generic use “he” retains some of its male flavor. We may quote at some length from the earlier book by Poythress and Grudem:6
But is it [generic “he”] truly “gender-neutral”? That is, does there remain no connotation of “male” deriving from the masculine gender of the word “he”? The American Heritage Dictionary perceptively comments:
If he were truly a gender-neutral form, we would expect that it could be used to refer to the members of any group containing both men and women. But in fact the English masculine form is an odd choice when it refers to a female member of such a group. There is something plainly disconcerting about sentences such as Each of the stars of It Happened One Night [i.e., Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert] won an Academy Award for his performance. In this case, the use of his forces the reader to envision a single male who stands as the representative member of the group, a picture that is at odds with the image that comes to mind when we picture the stars of It Happened One Night. Thus he is not really a gender-neutral pronoun, rather, it refers to a male who is to be taken as the representative member of the group referred to by its antecedent. The traditional usage, then, is not simply a grammatical convention; it also suggests a particular pattern of thought.7
The idea of “a male who is to be taken as the representative member of the group” becomes evident in other types of sentences as well. Consider the difficulty of the following sentence: “As a typical commuter drives to his workplace, he may find himself caught in traffic. He passes his time by listening to the radio, putting on his lipstick, or thinking through the tasks ahead of him at work.” A specifically male detail such as “adjusting his tie” would be less jarring than the specifically female detail “putting on his lipstick.” Or again: “At the end of the day a person wants TV to entertain him, not make him think. He won’t be checking out the ideas in an encyclopedia, but will be sitting back with a drink or putting up his hair for the night.” In a sentence with generic “he,” readers are more prepared to encounter a detail that is specifically male, as opposed to one that is specifically female.
“He” includes both men and women, but does so using a male example as a pictorial starting point. In a subtle way, this use brings along with it an unequal prominence to men and women.
The rise of feminism has encouraged people to pay more conscious attention to any kind of language that suggests unequal prominence. But feminism did not create the male prominence in generic “he.” Miller and Swift perceptively observe that even before the rise of feminism the feminine pronoun has been used in certain contexts: “When it comes to generalizations about secretaries, nurses, and preschool teachers, the pronoun traditionally used is she.”8
Masculine generics in Greek
Languages outside of English have various different kinds of grammatical gender systems, so that translation to and from different languages must always take into account the particularities of the languages in question.9 Greek and Hebrew have gender systems that differ from one another and from English.10 In both Greek and Hebrew most nouns and adjectives automatically have attached gender markings, so that grammatical gender belongs to terms referring to inanimate things and abstract concepts.11 But when pronouns and pronominal affixes refer to human beings, the grammatical gender usually matches the biological gender (sex) of the referents.12 Like English, both Hebrew and Greek regularly use masculine forms when making general statements.
So the question arises, as it did for English, whether masculine generic grammatical forms express the idea of a male example or a male sample case. The question is most pertinent to English translation when we are dealing with a third person masculine singular generic form in Hebrew or Greek, because in such a case we might conveniently translate with a generic “he” in English. In their book Poythress and Grudem therefore devote some special attention to third person masculine singular generics that refer to persons. They conclude, on the basis of examples like Leviticus 14:9, Ezekiel 18:5-9, Deuteronomy 15:12-17, and Luke 14:16-24, that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek show here a pattern similar to English: the occurrence of the generic masculine sets up a perception that a male example is being used to express a general principle, and on occasion the maleness of the sample case becomes quite explicit.13
Leviticus 14:1-9 is particularly telling. The Leviticus 13:29 and 13:38 both begin with the expression, “When a man or a woman ….” That expression unambiguously indicates that Leviticus is discussing principles for leprosy that include both men and women. Leviticus 14 then discusses the ceremony for cleansing from leprosy. It uses a whole series of masculine singular forms (as is normal in Hebrew). In verse 9 it mentions shaving the leper’s “beard,” indicating that a male case is in view. It is natural to suspect that readers are not taken aback by the mention of the beard, but rather see it as a natural continuation of the preceding references to a single sample case of a leper. Thus, even before the key verse 9, readers must in principle be open to the possibility that a specifically male example is in view, and that the maleness of this example will become specifically pertinent at some point. It should be noted that the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of Leviticus 14, shows the same pattern: masculine singular terms lead up to the mention of the beard in verse 9.
In spite of this evidence and argumentation, one reviewer rejects the idea of male meaning,14 and Mark Strauss astonishingly claims that “he [Poythress] offers no evidence for this theory.”15 It may therefore prove useful to search Greek literature outside the New Testament, to confirm or disconfirm the claim that a masculine generic singular in Greek, when referring to human beings, suggests a male example.
Results from searching through Plutarch and Philo
For this purpose I selected as sample texts the writings of Plutarch and Philo. I would have liked to include Josephus, but his writings are primarily historical narratives and explanations, and therefore would not provide as many examples of general statements. To make the corpus manageable in size, I selected volumes 1-5 of the Loeb edition of Plutarch’s Moralia, and volume 2 of the Loeb edition of Philo.16 I collected texts that (1) made general statements that appeared to include both male and female human beings; and that (2) showed that the author may have had a specifically male or female sample case in mind. I also looked for possible counterexamples, with female sample cases, as well as examples with male cases, because otherwise the search results might be skewed in one direction.17
As expected, generic statements regularly used masculine singular or masculine plural grammatical forms. Also as expected, many statements contained no explicit indication of whether or not a male or a female example was specifically in view, just as one would find many such cases in English.
More significant, I found a significant number of cases that suggest, with varying degrees of directness, a male example. And I found no examples that suggest a female example.
Below is the list of cases, with accompanying comments.
Plutarch Moralia, How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 52C. After a whole string of masculine singular forms in 52A and 52B, discussing contrasts between the flatterer and the friend, Plutarch in 52C pictures the flatterer as having a “beard [growing] down to his feet.”18 This passage is similar to Leviticus 14 where in verse 9 the leper is suddenly revealed as having a beard. In 50D-E Plutarch earlier mentioned a group of female flatterers,19 thereby showing that the principles that he is articulating were not to be thought of as exclusively concerned with male flattery (and why should anyone think so, because the principles are general?).
Plutarch Moralia, The Education of Children,7E. One ought to learn from philosophy how to “bear himself in his relations with the gods, with his parents, with his elders, with the laws, with strangers, with those in authority, with friends, with women, with children, with servants.” Despite the appearance of “himself, his” in English, there are no gender markings in Greek for the actor–at least not until some masculine plurals appear a little later in the passage. But the mention of “women” in context (and later on more specific information that one ought “to be chaste with women”) shows that Plutarch naturally falls into the pattern of thinking in terms of male examples. The reader is expected to assume that a writer has men in mind first of all, unless he explicitly indicates otherwise.
Plutarch Moralia, The Education of Children, 13F:
An effort should be made to yoke in marriage those who cannot resist their desires [τοὺς τῶν ἡδονῶν ἥττους, masculine plural], and who are deaf [masculine plural] to admonitions. … One should, however, betroth to his sons women who are not greatly above them …
The masculine plural potentially includes both sons and daughters, but later on the mention of “sons” being betrothed to “women” makes it clear that sons are preeminently in view.
Plutarch Moralia, How the Young Man Should Study Poetry, 16E-16F. Over a considerable span of text, third masculine singular forms designate the person who is studying poetry. Then at one point we read: “he [no separate gender marking in Greek] will not hesitate to say to himself [ἑαυτὸν, masculine singular], Hasten eager to the light, and all you saw here/ Lay to heart that you may tell your wife hereafter.” The mention of “your wife” indicates that a male person is taken as the sample case. This is a fairly good example.
But Plutarch’s whole essay is about “How the young person [τον νεον, masculine singular] should study poetry.” It might then be argued that the whole essay is only about young men, and was never intended to include young women at all. Within Plutarch’s environment more attention is certainly paid to the education of young men; but Plutarch’s discussion is nevertheless on a principial level, articulating principles that in fact would apply to young women as well as young men. One might thus conclude that the essay as a whole is one gigantic example of the potential for a masculine singular like τον νεον, “the young person/young man” to suggest primarily a male case, while at the same time it allows that the principles expressed may have more general bearing and may apply to women as well.
Plutarch Moralia, How the Young Man Should Study Poetry, 32B:
The implication being that men of sense [τῶν φρονίμων, masculine or feminine plural] do not lie [ψευδομένων, masculine or feminine plural participle] or contend unfairly [κακομαχούντων, masculine plural participle] in games, or make unwarranted accusations [ἐγκαλούντων, masculine plural participle] against other people.
Masculine plural participles express general principles that would include men and women. But the language “contend unfairly in games” describes a practice in which only men normally participated. At this point one thus learns that men rather than women are being used as examples.
Plutarch Moralia, How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 54A, says:
If they [i.e., flatterers, masculine plural participle] know, for example, that one or another is unfortunate in his [no pronoun in Greek] marriage, or suspicious towards his [no pronoun in Greek] sons or his [no pronoun in Greek] household, they [emphatic masculine plural pronoun] do not spare themselves, but lament over their own children or wife [!] or kinsmen or household, divulging [masculine participle] certain secret faults of theirs.
Its being plural weakens it, but the introduction of the word “wife” shows that we are dealing primarily with masculine representatives.
Plutarch, Moralia, How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 58E. The Stoics “call the wise man [τὸν σοφὸν, masculine singular] … rich, handsome, well-born, and a king.” “King” shows that we are thinking of a male representative.
Plutarch, Moralia, How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 58E:
… but flatterers declare of the rich man [τὸν πλούσιον, masculine singular] that he is at the same time an orator and a poet, and, if he will, a painter and a musician, and swift of foot and strong of body; and they allow themselves to be thrown in wrestling and outdistanced in running, … .
The athletic descriptions show that we are dealing with a male representative.
Plutarch Moralia, How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 73B:
And so, too, the right occasion give a friend a chance to say to the man [τὸν … ἐγκαλοῦντα, masculine singular participle] whose accusations are based on trifles of no real import, “Why dwell on playful sports and conviviality and nonsense? Let this man [οὗτος, masculine singular demonstrative pronoun], my friend, but get rid of the woman he keeps, or cease gambling, ….”
The masculine forms are generic, representing anyone who is fault-finding in his speech. But then it turns out to involve a specifically male example, who must “get rid of the woman [mistress] he keeps.” This is a good case.
Plutarch, Moralia, How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue, 78B:
… those who name this or that acquaintance of about the same age, and tell how he is prospering at Court, or getting a big dower at marriage, or going down to the Forum, attended by a great crowd, to stand for some office or advocate some cause.
“This or that acquaintance” corresponds to a masculine plural expression in Greek (ἥλικάς τινας). That we are thinking of male examples primarily is evident from the following description (“getting a big dower at marriage”).
Plutarch, Moralia, Virtue and Vice, 100E. An example is introduced of “one” (masculine singular demonstrative pronoun) who to public view looks happy. But in private his wife dominates. Thus, it turns out to be a specifically male example, though there was no indication of this at first. It is a good example.
Plutarch, Moralia, Advice about Keeping Well, 125A. Masculine plurals go one for awhile in 124F concerning people who eat when they are not hungry. Then comes the following statement:
Quite similar is their [no gender] behavior toward notorious women. There are times when they [masculine plural participle] repose in quiet with their own wives who are both lovely and loving, but when … [when they have an opportunity they indulge in illicit sexual pleasure].
Quite clearly we are now dealing with male examples of the general principle about self-indulgent people who pursue pleasure.
Plutarch Moralia, Advice about Keeping Well, 128D. We need to quote some context:
For everything of this sort [foods or other things supplied to us] is “sweet” or “costly” irrespectively of the user and by itself, but Nature decrees that it becomes “pleasant” only in and in connexion with the person that is pleased [two masculine singular participles] and is in harmony [masculine singular participle] with Nature; but in those [masculine plurals begin here] who are captious or suffering from a debauch, or are in a bad way, all things lose their intrinsic agreeableness and freshness. Therefore there is no need to look to see whether the fish be fresh, the bread white, the bath warm, or the girl shapely, but a person should look to himself [masculine singular reflexive pronoun, followed by a masculine singular participle].
The mention of “the girl” as an object of pleasure, indicates that a male example is primarily in view. This passage is not as clear as it could be, because of the shift from masculine singular to masculine plural and then back to masculine singular.
Plutarch Moralia, Sayings of Kings and Commanders, 198D. “All mankind [ἄνθρωποι] rule its women, and we rule all mankind, but our women rule us.” All mankind in another context could be inclusive, but here turns out to be specifically male, suggesting that the reader must keep open this possibility in other cases.
Philo The Worse Attacks the Better, sections 105-108. The person of sound character (generic masculine) has his actions described in the language of husbandry, where the husbandman by ancient practice would be assumed to be male. This is not conclusive, since the passage is a comparison.
Philo, The Worse Attacks the Better, section 176. The lives of virtuous people (masculine plural) are illustrated by wise people (masculine plural) who bit off their tongues to avoid divulging secrets. Then it is stated, “It is better to be made a eunuch than to be mad after illicit unions.” This is suggestive, but not conclusive, since it is plural and the sentence about eunuchs might be taken as a metaphoric illustration.
Philo, On the Posterity and Exile of Cain, section 128:
For there are four main virtues, wisdom, courage, temperance, justice. Each one of these [virtues] is a sovereign wielding authority, and the man that has acquired them [the virtues] is by the mere fact of doing so a ruling monarch, even if he be destitute of material resources.20
The four virtues are described with four terms of feminine gender. The passage continues with feminine gender as it refers back to these virtues: “Each one [ἑκάστη, feminine singular] of these is a sovereign [βασιλίς, feminine singular] wielding authority [ἡγεμονὶς, feminine singular].” A masculine singular generic participle (ὁ κτησάμενος, “the one who has acquired”) then introduces the person who has acquired wisdom, courage, temperance, justice. Such a person is a “king” (βασιλεὺς, masculine singular), pretty clearly indicating that we are now picturing a specifically male representative. This is a pretty good example, all the more so because the feminine word for queen (βασιλίς) was used in describing the sovereign authority of the (feminine) virtues.
Philo, On the Giants, section 61:
But the men of God [θεοῦ δὲ ἄνθρωποι] are priests and prophets who have refused to accept membership in the commonwealth of the world and to become citizens therein, but have risen wholly above the sphere of sense-perception and have been translated into the world of the intelligible and dwell there registered as freemen of the commonwealth of Ideas, which are imperishable and incorporeal.
A masculine plural ἄνθρωποι(“people”), capable of including both men and women, designates all those who are truly pious. They are said to be, in an extended sense, priests and prophets, indicating an assumption that we are thinking primarily of males. But this is not as strong, since it is all phrased in masculine plurals, and since the “priests” and “prophets” are used somewhat tropically.
All in all, the search turned up a considerable number of examples that appear to involve male examples being used to articulate general principles. Some examples may involve a comparison between a general principle and an illustration or analogy that is specifically male, and these are not as weighty. But other examples, not involving a comparison, provide strong evidence of male examples. I invite others to extend the search to more of the extant texts in Koine Greek. I fully expect that they will find more examples of the same sort.
We may nevertheless anticipate two objections. First, one might object that some cases involve not a genuinely generic principle, but a principle that is only supposed to apply to men. Such might plausibly be the case with Plutarch’s essay, How the Young Man Should Study Poetry. The principles that Plutarch articulates could be applied to young women as well as to young men, but did Plutarch intend such an application? It is hard to say. In quite a few other cases, however, the context gives no hint of any restriction of the general principle to men. The case concerning flattery in Plutarch How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, 52C, is particularly telling, because Plutarch earlier specifically mentioned a particular case involving female flatterers (50D-E).
Second, one might object that the occurrence of male examples has nothing to do with generic masculine forms, but is wholly the effect of a general prominence of the male in Greek culture as a whole, or in Philo and Plutarch in particular. According to this explanation, what we observe simply confirms a cultural reality, and has nothing to do with the meaning of linguistic forms.
This claim does have some plausibility, because at least one case of a male representative occurs without any immediately preceding masculine grammatical forms, namely in Plutarch Moralia, The Education of Children, 13F. If one goes back far enough in the passage one does find a masculine form, τὸν παῖδα (“the child”; 7C). But in the whole section Plutarch is discussing how “the child” is to be educated, and the value of philosophy as a principal part of the education. Surely we need to acknowledge that, for cultural reasons, the focus will be mostly if not exclusively on the education of male children. Perhaps this is another case, like the discussion of studying poetry, where the principle was never intended to include females. If so, it is an instance of the first objection. But this objection does not succeed in eliminating other cases where the principle in question is clearly general.
We must also be careful to understand precisely what issue is being debated. We are not debating whether or not Greek culture had a male prominence, or whether modern English-speaking cultures have a male prominence. To some extent, both do. Nor are we debating whether there is a direct causal effect traveling from culture to grammar or from grammar to culture. That is, we are not speculating on the causes of grammatically-based or culturally-based male meanings. In fact, Greek culture does not—at least directly—cause the use of generic masculine grammatical forms, nor does the practice of using generic masculine grammatical forms directly cause Greek culture to be patriarchal.
Our claim is much narrower, namely that the occurrence of masculine generic grammatical forms leaves open to the reader the possibility that, at some point in the discussion of the general truth, a specifically male detail may come into the sample case or cases used to articulate the general truth. The reader must be open to this possibility, and that kind of openness already involves the tendency, if he follows the trail of his own assumptions, to think primarily in terms of a male sample case.
The use of the masculine singular does not absolutely force maleness upon the culture, because the author or speaker always has the option of directly asserting the presence of female cases, as in Leviticus 13:29 and 13:38, “When a man or a woman ….” But the use of the masculine singular is very convenient when, as in Plutarch’s discussion of the “young person/young man” studying poetry, young men are most in view for cultural reasons. And it is equally convenient when one wishes at some point to bring a male detail into the picture explicitly. No shifting of gears by flipping to a new gender is required.
The objector might then claim that the maleness in meaning crops up only when the specifically male detail occurs. That is, it crops up only when one mentions the “beard” of the leper in Leviticus 14:9, or the beard of the flatterer in Plutarch Moralia 52C. Maleness in meaning (as distinct from the masculine grammatical form) is hermetically isolated into those parts of the discourse from which it cannot be erased.
This explanation is theoretically possible, but unlikely. The explanation has decided by fiat to exclude virtually all the possible direct evidence from Greek. It simply proclaims that all such evidence is not evidence at all. The male representative is purely and exclusively associated with the unambiguously male meanings elsewhere in the context, and not at all with the masculine grammatical form.
By a similar argument, one could conclude that generic “he” in English carries no hint of a male representative, but is purely neutral, and that the evidence for male bias in sample cases comes from “his tie” or “beard” or other contextual indicators of maleness. The only difference in English is that we can artificially produce in English cooked-up examples with specifically female features, such as lipstick or putting up hair, in a context containing generic “he.” Those cooked-up examples are pretty good evidence that generic “he” already suggests a male example before we come to an unambiguous male or female feature. But maybe not. Maybe maleness only arises when we have a explicit, specific female feature to generate maleness by opposition! How can we tell? It is difficult to come up with an absolute proof, because the objector can always claim that the maleness is hermetically isolated into those cases where it cannot be erased.
Thus, it is difficult to produce absolute proof that a suggestion of male meaning attaches to the generic masculine in Greek. Analogously, it is difficult to produce absolute proof concerning the maleness attaching to generic “he.” But in both cases the evidence is suggestive. And the parallels between the two languages at this specific point suggest that in many cases generic “he” in English is a good meaning parallel for the third person Greek masculine singular generics. This is so whether or not we demand a high level of “proof” in the two cases, and whether or not we admit that the procedure of hermetically isolating male meaning into other parts of the passage automatically excludes beforehand whatever evidence there is.
I conclude, then, that material from Plutarch and Philo does show evidence of the appropriate kind, but that we must exercise caution in linking this evidence to the masculine grammatical forms. But similar caution is appropriate in English. The possibility of counterarguments and objections arising in both languages only goes to show that the relation between meaning and form is subtle and complex.21 Evidences of this degree of subtlety can always be reinterpreted if the interpreter does not like the result.
Specific evidence nevertheless supports the idea that in Greek a male “flavor” attaches to occurrences of third person masculine pronouns and other masculine forms referring to human beings in a generic statement. This evidence favors the conclusion that use of masculine singular in English provides an appropriate match in meaning. Ideology, however, still puts pressure on translators not to allow such meanings in English.22
1 See Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem, The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God’s Words (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2000). Chapter 2 (pp. 9-36) of Poythress-Grudem sets out the history of gender-neutral translations, beginning with the International Children’s Bible of 1986. The rest of the book offers a critical evaluation. Since the book’s publication in 2000, one more gender-neutral translation appeared in February, 2002, namely Today’s New International Version (New Testament). (On the TNIV, see especially Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 7/2 [fall, 2002] 21-30.) Poythress and Grudem respond to two main earlier works that mostly defend gender-neutral translations, namely D. A. Carson, The Inclusive Language Debate: A Plea for Realism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998); and Mark L. Strauss, Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation & Gender Accuracy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998).
3 Some people have found an inconsistency in the fact that Poythress-Grudem, and the Colorado Springs Guidelines before them, allow translations like “anyone who believes” for a masculine singular generic construction such as ὁ πιστεύων (ibid. 92, 300), and “person, people” for some kinds of occurrences of the masculine-gender ἄνθρωπος(ibid. 93, 300). I would argue that, where the Greek expressions are used to make a generic statement, there is still some sense of a male sample case. But a contemporary English rendering that tries to bring out this point using “a man” or some similar expression runs the danger of being understood as exclusively male in its scope (rather than merely using a male representative to formulate a principle including male and female human beings). By contrast, a sentence opening with “everyone” or “anyone” does not run the danger of misunderstanding. A subsequent occurrence of generic “he” is then able to convey the nuances of a male representative without erroneously causing readers to restrict the principle as a whole to male human beings.
4 All these questions come up in Poythress and Grudem, Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy, and contribute to the complexity of the issue. Among other things, the Poythress-Grudem book discusses translation (57-90), cultural sensitivity (163-75), cultural updating (175-79), and audience (179-86).
5 Vern S. Poythress, “Gender and Generic Pronouns in English Bible Translation,” in Language and Life: Essays in Memory of Kenneth L. Pike, ed. Mary Ruth Wise, Thomas N. Headland, and Ruth M. Brend (Dallas, TX: SIL International and The University of Texas at Arlington, 2003) 371-80.
7 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (3rd ed.; Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), 831. But it is easy to exaggerate the supposed oddity. Consider the following “If a Christian man or woman has widows in the family, he must support them himself” (1 Tim. 5:16 NEB). “He” and “himself” refer to either man or woman. The NEB was written by people sensitive to stylistic issues, yet they did not flag this sentence as stylistically inappropriate.
We also recognize that generic “he” is more difficult to process, and strikes people as more awkward, when the group represented includes only two people and when the two people are specific individuals known to us (as in the Academy Award example above). Generic “he” is much more commonly used to apply to a large or even limitless group of both men and women, few or none of whom are individuals to which we attach specific names in our minds (and this broader generic sense is the way it is used in the Bible).
15 Mark L. Strauss, “A Response to Vern Poythress: The TNIV Preserves the Original Meaning,” Christianity Today 46/11 (October 7, 2002) 43. “This theory” is defined in Strauss’s preceding sentence as the view “that these are not true generics at all, but male representative words, where a male example teaches a general principle” (ibid.). In fact, I would call generic “he” and masculine singulars in Greek and Hebrew “generics,” but not gender-neutral generics. They express a generality that includes both sexes (generic), but they do so using a male starting point.
16 This selection includes Plutarch, Moralia, The Education of Children, How the Young Man Should Study Poetry, On Listening to Lectures, How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend, How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue, How to Profit by One’s Enemies, On Having Many Friends, Chance, Virtue and Vice, A Letter of Condolence to Apollonius, Advice about Keeping Well, Advice to Bridge and Groom, The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men, Superstition, Sayings of Kings and Commanders, Sayings of Romans, Sayings of Spartans, Sayings of Spartan Women, Bravery of Women, The Roman Questions, The Greek Questions, Greek and Roman Parallel Stories, On the Fortune of the Romans, On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander, Were the Athenians More Famous in War or in Wisdom?, Isis and Osiris, The E at Delphi, The Oracles at Delphi No Longer Given in Verse, The Obsolescence of Oracles. The selections from Philo include On the Cherubim, The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain, The Worse Attacks the Better, On the Posterity and Exile of Cain, On the Giants.
ἑκάστη καὶ βασιλίς ἐστι, καὶ ὁ κτησάμενος αὐτὰς ἄρχων καὶ βασιλεὺς εὐθέως, κἂν μηδεμιᾶς ὕλης εὐπορῇ.
21 For further discussion of the form-meaning relation, see Poythress, “Gender and Generic Pronouns”; Vern S. Poythress, “Gender in Bible Translation: Exploring a Connection with Male Representatives,” Westminster Theological Journal 60/2 (1998) 226n5.