The Gender Inclusive Language of the English Standard Version

Considering that John Piper has come down hard – and not just him – on the use of gender inclusive language, I thought we should make sure he was telling the truth about the ESV being free of such vileness. So, we briefly examine several verses compared between the KJV and the ESV.

Matthew 5:13

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. KJV

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. ESV

Matthew 19:23-24

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. KJV

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” ESV

Romans 3:4

God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged. KJV

By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” ESV

Romans 3:28

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. KJV

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. ESV

Romans 5:7

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. KJV

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– ESV

Romans 10:10

For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. KJV

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ESV

1 Corinthians 2:11

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. KJV

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. ESV

1 Corinthians 2:13-14

Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. KJV

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. ESV

1 Corinthians 4:3

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. KJV

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. ESV

Act 17:25

Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; KJV

nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. ESV

Romans 2:9

Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; KJV

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, ESV

Romans 3:5

But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) KJV

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) ESV

Romans 6:19

I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. KJV

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. ESV

1 Corinthians 2:13

Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. KJV

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. ESV

1 Corinthians 3:3

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? KJV

for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? ESV

1 Corinthians 9:8

Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? KJV

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? ESV

Galatians 3:15

Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. KJV

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. ESV

Ephesians 4:14

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; KJV

so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. ESV

Philippians 2:8

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. KJV

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ESV

Colossians 2:8

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. KJV

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. ESV

James 3:8

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. KJV

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. ESV

1 Peter 2:13

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; KJV

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, ESV

1 Peter 4:2

That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. KJV

so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. ESV

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30 Replies to “The Gender Inclusive Language of the English Standard Version”

  1. These quotes from the ESV in comparison to the KJV, show clearly that the ESV is indeed gender neutral somewhat, but as the translators say, he and man/men is used also when it is best for the literal sense.  As far as I can see, it is a sound translation!
    Fr. R.

  2. Joel,
    As a so-called literal translation (ESV), I would agree it is better overall than “dynamic equivalence”, but then this is my favor. However, the NRSV is of course so-called literal, and outside the gender issue, it is very good.
    This ESV superior idea seems to be an American issue? I have not found it in the UK. And I would consider myself something of a neo-Calvinist, now at least (by today’s standard). However, I like the term Augustinian much better, for it was here also that Calvin got some of his theological thought. Also as I have shared with you, I am what is called Infalapsarian (sublapsarian or postlapsarian, etc.) But we should note, that until Augustine the issue was not theologically developed. But certainly the truth of it is in St. Paul, as also the NT itself. And from this, it is mostly a Western doctrine. The East just does not go here.
    Fr. R.

  3. PS..On a side note, I myself do not see how any of us can escape the whole reality of the development of doctrine!  But that is another discussion, and no doubt a long one!
    Fr. R.

  4. All kinds of terms for the modern (so-called) Reformed. I remember neo-Orthodox also, well before your time. I am just a Catholic & Evangelical Reformed Anglican I guess?  Who knows?  lol  As to the development of at least the doctrine of God’s decrees, predestination, etc. The East at least sees it as “development”. Though of course not theirs.
    Fr. R.

  5. Gender bias in the Church is what I call the “last frontier” of freedom. Paul’s writings have been misunderstood for centuries and have been used to deminish the role of women in God’s work, justifying it all by scripture. Jesus was the great liberator of both men and women. Study the history of the woman’s movement in the United States and you can see that in the 1800’s men used the Bible to completely repress the rights of women. Women had no right to property if their husband died. They had laws regulating the physical abuse of women (the rule of thumb), and if a woman left her abusive husband she would lose her children. The woman’s movement was a reaction to all of this (or an OVER REACTION). Women have had to fight for the right to equal pay in the job place, which they still don’t have.

    Black men gained the right to vote in 1870…. women fought until 1919. Many of the women who were the founders of the woman’s movement were involved in abolition prior to their work in the women’s rights movement. Black men after the Civil war refused to join with the women for suffrage.

    Sooooo are there ministers who still oppose women in ministry? YES. Do they oppose revisions to the Bible regarding women? YES. Am I surprised? NO.

    (Check out the video “Not for ourselves alone” about Eliz. Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony….. it’s very informative on this issue)

  6. Wayne Grudem did a good job answering the charge that the ESV somehow capitulates on its stated translation approach, i.e., to retain the masculine when it follows the original intent of the author and/or has theological significance to retain the masculine. Grudem (author of an excellent systematic theology) is a good friend of John Piper and shares Piper’s view on the ESV. [long quotation follows]:

    Therefore it just confuses the discussion, and completely misunderstands what several of us have been saying since at least 1997, when Mark Strauss, for example, publishes an article, “The Gender-Neutral Language of the English Standard Version (ESV),[8] in which he compiles a long list of verses in Matthew and Romans where the words “men” and “man” are changed to “people” or “person” in the English Standard Version (ESV, a revision of the 1971 Revised Standard Version ).[9] Strauss says,

    “Below is a very small sampling of the gender-inclusive language of the ESV…. This list could be multiplied many times over … in this way, the ESV is very much like the recently published Today’s New International Version (TNIV), which revises the New International Version (NIV) in a similar manner.”

    What Strauss fails to mention in his paper is that the ESV makes such changes where there is no male meaning in the original text. These are cases that use anthropos (which everyone has known for centuries can mean either “man” or “person” depending on the context), or use pronouns like tis (which means “someone”) or oudeis (which means “no one”), and so forth. These translations of words that have no male meaning in the original Greek are not under dispute, and they have never been under dispute in this entire controversy. Therefore it is misleading for Strauss to criticize “attacks against the gender language of the TNIV” as “coming from those who produced similar gender changes in the ESV.”[11] The changes are not similar at all. The issue is whether there is a male meaning in the original Greek text or not.

  7. Sam, I myself have never used the HCSB as a resource – I’ve seen some passages. I’ve read some of Ryken’s work there, when it was a free pdf, I believe. It’s not that I have a disdain for the ESV – for some reason, while I like the RSV, the ESV and I have never fit. Now, I take that as a sign that all ESV’s should be burned…

    Grand contribution? Grand? Tyndale…Grand…!!!!!! Sam!!!! St. Tyndale the Blessed created the English language!

  8. I’m sorry for yet another long-ish quote, but it expresses the English-speaking world’s debt to Tyndale much better than I could. It’s from John Piper’s biographical talk on the life of Tyndale:

    Before he was martyred in 1536 Tyndale had translated into clear, common English not only the New Testament but also the Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah. All this material became the basis of the Great Bible issued by Miles Coverdale in England in 1539 and the basis for the Geneva Bible published in 1557—“the Bible of the nation,” which sold over a million copies between 1560 and 1640.

    We do not get a clear sense of Tyndale’s achievement without some comparisons. We think of the dominant King James Version as giving us the pervasive language of the English Bible. But Daniell [Tyndale’s biographer] clarifies the situation:

    “William Tyndale gave us our English Bible. The sages assembled by King James to prepare the Authorized Version of 1611, so often praised for unlikely corporate inspiration, took over Tyndale’s work. Nine-tenths of the Authorized Version’s New Testament is Tyndale’s. The same is true of the first half of the Old Testament, which was as far as he was able to get before he was executed outside Brussels in 1536. ”

    Here is a sampling of the English phrases we owe to Tyndale:

    “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).

    “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

    “The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be merciful unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

    “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

    “There were shepherds abiding in the field” (Luke 2:8).

    “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

    “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9).

    “The signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3)

    “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

    “He went out . . . and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75). Those two words are still used by almost all modern translations (NIV, NASB, ESV, NKJV). It has not been improved on for five hundred years in spite of weak efforts like one recent translation: “cried hard.” Unlike that phrase, “the rhythm of his two words carries the experience.”

    “A law unto themselves” (Romans 2:14)

    “In him we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

    “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1)

    “Fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12).

    According to Daniell, “The list of such near-proverbial phrases is endless.” Five hundred years after his great work “newspaper headlines still quote Tyndale, though unknowingly, and he has reached more people than even Shakespeare.”

    Luther’s translation of 1522 is often praised for “having given a language to the emerging German nation.” Daniell claims the same for Tyndale in English:

    In his Bible translations, Tyndale’s conscious use of everyday words, without inversions, in a neutral word-order, and his wonderful ear for rhythmic patterns, gave to English not only a Bible language, but a new prose. England was blessed as a nation in that the language of its principal book, as the Bible in English rapidly became, was the fountain from which flowed the lucidity, suppleness and expressive range of the greatest prose thereafter.

    His craftsmanship with the English language amounted to genius.

    He translated two-thirds of the Bible so well that his translations endured until today.

    This was not merely a literary phenomenon; it was a spiritual explosion. Tyndale’s Bible and writings were the kindling that set the Reformation on fire in England.

  9. Post script: It just occurred to me that I ran across a Tynadale-ism reading in 2 Samuel this morning. As David mourns the death of Saul and Jonathan, he says, “How the mighty have fallen.” You see that phrase in non-biblical contexts all the time.


  10. Sam,
    Thanks for the good posts and Tyndale history and information! I like the ESV myself also, and I have just been given the ESV Study Bible…so far I simply love it. Lots of sound information, and simply good historic evangelical theology!
    Fr. R.

  11. Sam,
    Joel does a very good job! And indeed there are for the most part solid biblical readers here. Your blogs have helped too, thanks again. Burn your youth for the Word of God! I can only thank God that His grace and providence has caused my last 40 years or so to chase this desire! I only wish I could do better! Thanks again for your insight on the ESV Study Bible. With my ESV SB, I have gotten a free code to access for the ESV Online Study Bible! Simply grand!
    Fr. R.

  12. Here’s a blog post from Scott McKnight on “translation tribalism.” He makes some good points.


    Translations are now officially and unofficially connected to tribes, and it is not a little bit humorous and also at times quite sad. 

    Sometimes it sounds like culture wars, and that is sad. Today I want to make one point, draw a sweeping conclusion, and then offer a good illustration.

    Here’s my point: the authority is the original text, not the translation. The original texts are in Hebrew and Aramaic (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). The authoritative text is not in English, regardless of how accurate the translation. No matter which translation you prefer, it is not the authoritative text for determining which translation is best. Yes, we need more to devote more time to study of the original languages. 

    The sweeping conclusion is this: unless you can read the original languages, you should avoid making public pronouncements about which translation is best. Instead, here’s my suggestion: if you don’t know the languages and can’t read them well enough to translate accurately on your own but you want to tell your congregation or your listeners which translate is best, you need to admit it by saying something like this: “On the basis of people I trust to make this decision, the ESV or the TNIV or the NRSV or the NLT is a reliable translation.”  

    Here’s an example, and it’s a good one. The translations of James 3:1 translate in two ways:

    NIV: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers…”

    NASB: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren…”

    ESV: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers…”

    NLT: “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church…”

    TNIV (same NRSV): “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers and sisters…”

    Pretty obvious, isn’t it? NIV and NASB and ESV translate with “brothers” while the NLT and TNIV have “added” or “clarified” or “included” [women in the audience] by adding “and sisters.” This is not a debate about which of them has a better theology or about which one is more inclusive but about which one is more accurate to the original Greek. The fact is this: the Greek word behind this, adelphos or “brother,” sometimes refers to a congregation of Christians, including men and women, and sometimes refers only to males (but there is a Greek word for male and James did not use that; gender is not the most important thing in his mind; spiritual kinship is).

    Sure, the NLT and the TNIV are more inclusive, but that’s not quite the point. The point is which one best represents the intent of the original Greek, which has the Greek word adelphos? Unless you know what adelphos means in Greek, in the broad swath of the New Testament’s use of adelphos and how it is used in the Greek-speaking (not to mention Hebrew-reading world) and about how James uses the word adelphos, any judgment is rooted in theology or theory but not in evidence. If you don’t know the Greek, avoid standing in judgment. I’m not trying to be a hard-guy or an elitist, but let’s be honest: only those who know Latin should be talking about which is the “best” translation of Virgil or only those who know Middle High German should be weighing in on the “best” translation of The Nibelungenlied. This isn’t elitist; it’s common sense.

    We could get into the “intent” of translation, but that’s another post. Our intent today is simple: to press upon everyone that there is a distinction between the text and a translation of the text. The authority is with the former; those who know that text are informed enough to decide about translations.

    I’ll tell you what I think here: there is no evidence in James that there were women teachers and that would favor the NIV and NASB and ESV; it is also likely that by “brothers” James is looking at the whole congregation (common enough usage of adelphos in James), favoring the NLT and TNIV. The Greek text has adelphos and the debate should revolve around what that word, in that world and in this context in James, means. [Other things can be discussed too, but my point is not to resolve the issue.] There is insufficient evidence to be dogmatic in this instance. If a translation wants to be “inclusive,” then a little note at the bottom of the text could give readers a tip that “brothers” is another translation. 

  13. I know i may sound dumb here, but the use of the word “man” in the context of those verses speak about man as in mankind, not males. in none of those cases were they (in my humble opinion) meant to be masculine. Therefore i would not conclude those verses to be “gender inclusive” on the ESV’s part. I love the ESV…. i was KJV only and God has used it to help me transition to the more modern translations.

  14. This is the problem: If a translation claims it is literal or word-for-word, then it does not translate some words literally or word-for-word, then its claim is false. It loses trust and reliability. We understand that idioms and figures of speech may not be translatable literally or word-for-word. Literal words, however, are. Footnotes may be added to suggest alternate translations or understandings, the universality of all human persons in the terms “man” or “mankind”, for example, in the literal word’s meaning, or the uncertainty of an original meaning. To simply translate a word differently for a motivation other than the accurate meaning of the word—”one” or “person” for “man”—is wrong.

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