One of the reasons that I’m skeptical about the use of the indefinite “their” in Bible translation is that translations that have sought to be gender-neutral in other areas have often unwittingly obscured the text and/or significant theological matters.
Adele Berlin on Lamentations 3:1:
The speaker is not Jerusalem, or her people, or a poet observing Jerusalem and her people. Rather, the chapter gives voice to a lone male, speaking in the first person about what he has seen and felt and what sense he can make of it. Because the first-person speaker announces himself so forcefully in his maleness (geber), many interpreters have puzzled over who this geber, this speaking voice in chapter 3, represents.
. . . . . . . . . .
The male voice is a counterpart to the female voice of the city in chapter 1. Zion, personified as a woman, speaks in chapter 1, and here a male voice also speaking in the first person echoes, form a different perspective, the experience of destruction and exile. Just as the imagery in chapter 1 was feminine–the widow, the unfaithful wife, the raped woman–so here the imagery seems more masculine, invoking the physical violence against the male body associated with war and exile.
The poem begins: ‘I am the man.’ The Hebrew geber registers forcefully the maleness of the speaker. Gender-neutral translations, like NRSV, dimninish he impact by translating, ‘I am the one.’
Adele Berlin, Lamentations, Old Testament Library (Louisville: WJK, 2002), 84, 88.
[Note: the TNIV aligned with the NRSV in mistranslating this verse, but the NIV2011 correctly translated “I am the man.”]
Robert Yarbrough on 1 John 3:9:
Edwards 1996: 91-92 questions the wisdom of translating John’s ἀδελφός as ‘brother and sister’ or other generic label (cf. NRSV, NLT; cf. also English translations of Strecker 1996: 47 and Schnackenburg 1992: 82). CEV reads, “If we claim to be in the light and hate someone.” TNIV opts for ‘those who claim to be in the light but hate a fellow believer,’ thus avoiding ‘brother’ but also losing the individual focus of the assertion by changing the particular ‘one who says’ into an unspecified collection of persons. The original spotlight an arrogant individual (ὀ λέγων), not an impersonal group. (Paul’s periphrastic rendering of Ps. 32:1-2 in Rom. 4:7 is reasonable and legitimate, but hardly jutifies a translation philosophy that would render Ps. 32:1-2 plural or Rom. 4:7 singular.) The words of Porter 1989: 33-34 on the CEV and gender language come to mind: ‘At points the biblical text may wel be considered hopelessly insensitive in matters of gender, but I cam convinced that it is in the best interests of making the meaning of the original text clear if the celar meaning that exists is in fact obscured.’
Robert Yarbrough, 1-3 John, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 103, n. 15.
[Note: Yarbrough refers to the translation of the TNIV. The NIV 2011 moved away from “fellow believer” to “brother or sister.”]
In contemporary English the third person singular pronoun (‘he/she,’ etc.) is a stylistic bramble patch. Although I desired to use inclusive language as much as possible, I opted to continue the third person masculine pronoun as the common pronoun for both genders, hoping that those who choose other options will not take offense. The loss of individualization by shifting from singular constructions to plural constructions is too great a loss in sense, and the loss of agreement between singular subjects and plural qualifiers by grammatical disagreement or by shifting between pronouns or by combining them is too great a stylistic loss.
Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs 1-15, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), xxiv.
Robert Letham on Union with Christ:
The current tendency, influenced by the pressure of gender-inclusive language, to refer to believers as ‘sons and daughters’ of God is misleading, blurs this vital truth, and has the effect of blunting the church’s appreciation of what union with Christ entails. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father, and is so eternally; that is his name and that is his status. It is not a sexual term, for God is not a sexual being. By referring to Christian believers as ‘sons,’ the NT is not, under the influence of patriarchal culture, bypassing half the human race. Instead, it is pointing to our shared status with the Son of the Father, in and by the Holy Spirit. The introduction of talk of ‘daughters’ obscures this point, placed at the hub of the Christian life.
Robert Letham, Union with Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2011), 54, n. 19.
David Garner makes a similar point in his recent book Sons in the Son. His title refers to all Christians, not only male Christians. We might note that we have something similar with all of the church, men and women, constituting the bride of Christ.
Scott Oliphint on the headship of Adam:
Throughout the book, I refer to this relationship in gender-specific terms—that is, as a relationship between God and “man.” Although such usage has fallen out of favor in much biblical and theological writing, I continue to find it helpful and appropriate, for three reasons: (1) Until forty or so years ago, the word “man,” when used generically, was understood to represent both genders. This usage is rooted in the biblical narrative of God determining to create “man,” male and female (Gen 1: 26; the Hebrew word for “man” is adam). (2) The use of the term “man” in this rich biblical sense tacitly acknowledges that Adam personally represents each and every human being, covenantally speaking. Regardless of gender, all people are children of Adam; there are no “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.” (3) “Humanity” is an abstraction by definition, referring only to our common nature. In that sense, ironically, “humanity” is not nearly as inclusive as it seems; it does not represent either gender or any particular individual. In my opinion, this abstract language, even if used in the interests of inclusion, serves in its own small way to further enable the deep and distressing gender confusion rampant in so many cultures around the world. God did not create humanity in the abstract; He created Adam as the covenant representative of all men (male and female), and he created Eve from Adam. I am convinced that the church can better serve the cause of the gospel by returning to biblical language (and its underlying rationale) in this matter. The editors of Lexham Press were kind enough to leave this style decision to me.
K. Scott Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2016), Kindle Locations 49-62.
George Hammond on the Image of God in Man:
To write about the doctrine of image of God necessarily requires referring to human beings, but in the post-modern world questions of how to do so can be vexing. According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition, the primary meaning of the word “man” is “an individual human.” For centuries the English word “man” has been understood to have at least two meanings. While it could be used to refer to the male member of the human species, it has often been used to indicate an individual human being of either gender. In recent years, sensitivity has developed toward language that is suspected of being gender exclusive. The word “man” has thus come to be viewed with misgivings, despite its lexical meaning.
This work endeavors to employ the inclusive nouns “humanity,” “humankind,” and “people” when possible. However, to say “humanity is made in the image of God” may convey that only the human race collectively, and not individuals, is made in the image of God. The inclusivity of nouns such as “humanity” and “humankind” is found in their collective nature, but it is precisely their collective nature which connotes that what is in view are human beings jointly, rather than human beings severally. The word “man” is often employed in this book as being the most accurate expression of the thought being conveyed, or for stylistic reasons. The reader should understand that unless the clause is gender conditioned, “man” as it is used here is employed in its lexical sense of “an individual human” without respect to gender.
George C. Hammond, It Has Not Yet Appeared What We Shall Be: A Reconsideration of the Imago Dei in Light of Those with Severe Cognitive Disabilities (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2017), xvii-xviii.