Re: Grammatical gender, real-world sex, and "Pneuma"

From: Wes C. Williams (
Date: Mon May 27 1996 - 03:23:44 EDT

>> Dear Colleagues of the B-Greek List:

Prior to the massive disruptions in meaning of English words involved (even
remotely) with sexuality, which have been taking place during the last two
or three decades, the word "gender" had virtually nothing to do with sex.
The problem in English translation is that WE use it only when having to
choose between "he, she, it." We disregard the Greek gender when we choose
the pronoun in English. In Mark 5, Jesus is asked to come to the
THUGATRION (neuter) of Jairus for a healing. He takes the parents of the
PAIDION (neuter) in where the now-dead girl (still neuter--PAIDION) is,
and tells the KORASION (neuter) to rise; "and at once the PAIDION rose and
walked, because [3s. dummy] was twelve years old." Now surely anyone would
translate this as "she" in English. Carlton Winbery's example made the
same point from the other direction. <<

Edward, thank you for your comprehensive response. We agree with each other
that gender refers to nouns and not necessarily to people. As in so many issues
like this, the context is an important guide to the translator in determining
how to render the appropriate pronoun in English. In your example in Mark 5, it
is true that qugatrion, padion, and korasion are all neuter. We clearly know
that qugatrion and korasion in English are female references. Jesus himself
helps us to translate the pronoun as "her" since he twice refers to the "young
child" (paidion) as "her" (dative autE in vss. 41, 43) and avoided "it" (autO).
So the immediate context gives us guidance in how to render the pronoun.
However, a central issue is how to translate the neuter "auto" when it appears
with a neuter english noun. Neither auto nor autO are in the Mark 5 reference.
Rather, Jesus uses "autE." Therefore, the Mark 5 reference you selected makes
the point all the more clearly that we cannot be indiscriminate when translating

>> We only become agitated when we start worrying about whether God's Breath
("breath" in Greek is "neuter," while in Hebrew it is "feminine"!) should
be called "he," "she", or "it." THIS CAN'T BE SETTLED BY GREEK GRAMMAR!
... which means that you can have your choice, depending on your theology. <<

Yes. Theology aside. I looked up all 106 instances of "auto" in the GNT and in
almost every reference (as a personal pronoun) it appears to me that a neuter
English translation of "it" is appropriate. The exceptions I would choose are
to "paidion", but only when the context clearly determines a reference to male
or female (e.g. in Luke 2:40 a translator might choose "him" since the
contextual references are clearly to a male in vss. 21, 51. Even so, "it"
remains a good English translation for "young child", which is neuter in

I agree wholeheartedly that this cannot be SETTLED by grammar. However, neither
must we go to the other extreme and say that the choice of "auto" in
meaningless. After all, Jesus did use the feminine "autE" and not "autO" in
reference to the neuter "paidion" in Mark 5.

Personal belief systems aside, I see nothing in the context of John 15:16 that
would require or indicate a male/ female reference as a reason to translate
"auto" as "him" or "her". Interestingly, An American Translation translates
John 15:16,17; "It is the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot obtain that Spirit,
because it does not see it or recognize it; you recognize it because it stays
with you and is within you."

For further details, please reference my response to Carlton Winbery in "Re:
Holy Spirit and "it."

Very respectfully,
Wes Williams

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