Where in the Bible Does It Say That Masculine Words Are Meant to Include Everyone?
“Therefore, God fashioned humankind in his own image.
They were made in God’s likeness, after all.
Both sexes, male and female, were birthed from his hands.” Scripture: Genesis 1:27
It’s frequently said that a great writer makes the reader feel like they’re a character in the tale. When a reader becomes fully immersed in a work of literature, he or she begins to identify with the characters and the plot, and ultimately comes to feel as if they are part of the pages and the words themselves. When a reader can put himself in a book and have that book provide light to their life, they feel less alone and more a part of the world depicted in the text.
The Bible, written by human authors under the guidance of the Holy Spirit over the course of 1,500 years, is an open book to all people, leaving an indelible imprint on the lives of its readers. Nevertheless, there may be times when a female reader of Scripture struggles to find her place in lines that appear to bear an intrinsic invitation to all people but are written in a masculine tone.
First things first: although the Bible does include certain passages that are clearly directed at one gender or the other, the emphasis here is on the gospel’s and Scripture’s ability to speak to and empower people of all genders. When discussing the use of male and female pronouns in the Bible, translation, context, and the original author’s purpose in the language of origin are of paramount importance.
Mark L. Strauss, a professor and researcher of New Testament literature, states, “Gender-inclusive language isn’t really about equality between the sexes so much as it is about translating the Bible into modern English with as little distortion as possible. Translation from Hebrew and Greek into English is all about getting as close to the original meaning as feasible.”
The English-speaking Bible reader has a wealth of options when it comes to translations of Scripture and paraphrased sections that aim to facilitate comprehension. An issue with the English Bible is that it leans more toward male pronouns than the original manuscripts do. These pronouns are, at best, ambiguous, and, at worst, damaging to the invitation extended to women readers to find respect and honor in the Bible.
To better reflect the original context, and to move away from the English language’s preference for the use of the male pronoun translation where inclusive language should be present, modern English language translations have begun to address passages of Scripture that have previously leaned heavily toward the masculine pronoun usage. These translations were done in the past by trustworthy translators who knew that older generations of English speakers read male pronouns with a more accepting ear than younger readers do nowadays.
I have included four poems that have been more accurately translated from the original masculine words into a version that is more welcoming to female readers. Some English language translations, like the ones I’ve included above, tend toward masculine terminology when the original author’s objective was inclusion.
Scripture Reference: Romans 3:28 This leads us to the conclusion that “a man is justified by faith apart from the actions of the law.” (NKJV)
A more accurate translation of the Greek term Anthropos, from which the English word “man” is derived, would be “person,” as Strauss explains. Paul, the original writer, intended his words to be read by all sexes. This is how this passage is rendered in the New International Version of the Bible.
For we insist that one might be declared righteous independent from the works of the law, by faith alone.
The word “person” appears in this passage in both the NASB and the 2020 NASB. Rather from using only male pronouns, a gender-inclusive translation, as Strauss puts it, “seeks to eliminate masculine terms where the original author was referring to individuals of both sexes.” Mark 1:17
Dr. Jeff Miller, who has a Ph.D. in biblical studies, claims that there are over a thousand instances of the terms “men” and “man” in the King James Version and other translations, including the NIV translation prior to 2011. He argues that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible to attract all people to God, but the widespread use of the male pronoun in the English language version gives it a masculine flavor. Mark 1:17 is a prime illustration of why a faithful translation is essential, since it gets to the core of the Great Commission in which Jesus commanded all of his followers (including men and women) to preach the gospel and bring people back to faith in him.
Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men, as Mark 1:17 reads in the King James Version.
At present in the NIV it reads, Jesus replied, “Follow me,” and then he will send them out to “fish for people.” Scripture Reference: Galatians 3:26
If you want to know who a Christ follower is and where they fit into God’s family and Abraham’s heritage, go no farther than Galatians 3:26–29. To quote the New King James Version’s translation of the passage in question:
“If you put your trust in Christ Jesus, then God adopts you as his sons. Those of you who have been baptized into Christ already have Christ’s righteousness robed over your heads. For in Christ there is no longer any distinction made on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or social status; for you are all one in Christ Jesus, and all share equally in the blessings of Abraham as his offspring and heirs according to the promise.”
On a Sunday morning, you might probably find a good number of church-raised kids, both boys and girls, stamping their feet to the tune of the ubiquitous “Father Abraham” Sunday School song. That naturally resulted in a large brood of boys.
Even in a translation that leans more toward masculinity, reading these passages in context makes it clear that gender, race, and social standing have nothing to do with whether or not one is welcomed into Christ’s kingdom.
To provide only one example, these lines show how the English term “children” is a better transliteration of the masculine “son” and “sons.”
Today’s New International Version (NIV) translation says, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, and thus all of you who put your trust in Christ Jesus are children of God. In Christ Jesus there is no such thing as a slave or a free man, a man or a woman; rather, you are all one. If you’re a Christian, you’re a descendant of Abraham and a beneficiary of the promise.” John 12:32
In the Bible, we are to seek God and to discover who we are in him. Words like “son,” “sons,” “brother,” “mankind,” “men,” and “man” in English translations that would be more correctly translated with “children,” “brothers and sisters,” and “person” may discourage female seekers from seeing themselves as part of God’s purpose and narrative.
Jesus did not come to summon people to himself, but to his upcoming kingdom.
The New International Version translates John 12:32 as “and I, when I am raised up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” but the King James Version and the American Standard Version render the verse as “pull all men.”