Re: Sexist Language

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Jun 25 1997 - 10:08:57 EDT

I suggest we stick to the discussion of how to translate specific terms and
bible texts accurately, and not introduce new and irrelevant themes like
political correctness, proper terms for pipe fittings, feminism,
"Father-Mother God", etc. Not only are these strawman arguments, and
unrelated to the question of how to translate accurately, they are
inflammatory, and "the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then
peacable, courteous, congenial, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial,
and sincere". Please listen carefully to what people are actually saying,
and respond carefully. And please try to stay on the topic of accurate

At 04:11 PM 6/25/97 +0700, Lemuel G. Abarte wrote:

>Why are the words used in Eph. 4:11 for apostles, prophets, evangelists,
>and teachers have definite articles "masculine"? Now, we could redefine
>the whole grammatical structure of our Greek books as well to remove

Now *this* is a Greek question, related both to the use of the masculine
article and the meaning of these terms (i.e. whether they can include
females or not).

Are you suggesting that masculine articles in Greek always imply reference
to a male? If so, I would really like to know what Greek books you are
using, since that would be a ridiculous claim with no support in any
traditional grammar that I am familiar with. In English, articles do not
have gender, but in the languages I've learned that do, a masculine article
does not always to a male by any means. Any Greek grammar should discuss
this point in the first few lessons, but the best scholarly discussion of
this issue that I've seen was written by Mark Twain, in his essay, "That
Awful German Language". I'll enclose it at the bottom of this message.

I don't know whether all apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and
teachers were masculine, but this question *does* seem to have bearing on
proper understanding of these Greek terms. Frankly, it is a question I
haven't ever confronted head on. However, there does seem to be some
evidence that at least some of these categories could include women.
Consider, for instance, prophets. Doesn't Acts 2:17 imply that women can be

Acts 2:17 (ASV) And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour
forth of My Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall
prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream
dreams: 18 Yea and on My servants and on My handmaidens in those days Will I
pour forth of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

I'm not at all sure that it is safe to assume that the term "prophets"
applies only to men. I would at least have to have significantly more
evidence before I would believe it. In previous discussions here on B-Greek,
many people came to the conclusion that Junias, referred to in Romans 16:7,
is a female name:

Roma 16:7 (NASB) Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow
prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ
before me.

If Junias is female, then she is a female apostle.

>Why are the words used in Eph. 4:11 for apostles, prophets, evangelists,
>and teachers have definite articles "masculine"? Now, we could redefine
>the whole grammatical structure of our Greek books as well to remove

As I said previously, the best scholarly discussion of this issue that I've
seen was written by Mark Twain, in his essay, "That Awful German Language".
It was written about the German language, but it also applies to Greek:

>Every noun has a gender, and there is no sense or system in the distribution;
>so the gender of each must be learned separately and by heart. There is no
>other way. To do this one has to have a memory like a memorandum-book. In
>German, a young lady has no sex, while a turnip has. Think what overwrought
>reverence that shows for the turnip, and what callous disrespect
>for the girl. See how it looks in print -- I translate this from a
>in one of the best of the German Sunday-school books:
> Gretchen: "Wilhelm, where is the turnip?"
> Wilhelm: "She has gone to the kitchen."
> Gretchen: "Where is the accomplished and beautiful English maiden?"
> Wilhelm: "It has gone to the opera."
>To continue with the German genders: a tree is male, its buds are female,
>its leaves are neuter; horses are sexless, dogs are male, cats are female
>-- tomcats included, of course; a person's mouth, neck, bosom, elbows,
>fingers, nails, feet, and body are of the male sex, and his head is male
>or neuter according to the word selected to signify it, and not according
>to the sex of the individual who wears it -- for in Germany all the women
>either male heads or sexless ones; a person's nose, lips, shoulders,
>breast, hands, and toes are of the female sex; and his hair, ears, eyes,
>chin, legs, knees, heart, and conscience haven't any sex
>at all. The inventor of the language probably got what he knew about
>a conscience from hearsay.
>Now, by the above dissection, the reader will see that in Germany
>a man may think he is a man, but when he comes to look into the
>matter closely, he is bound to have his doubts; he finds that in
>sober truth he is a most ridiculous mixture; and if he ends
>by trying to comfort himself with the thought that he can at least
>depend on a third of this mess as being manly and masculine,
>the humiliating second thought will quickly remind him that in this
>respect he is no better off than any woman or cow in the land.
>In the German it is true that by some oversight of the inventor of
>the language, a Woman is a female; but a Wife (Weib) is not
>-- which is unfortunate. A Wife, here, has no sex; she is neuter;
>so, according to the grammar, a fish is he, his scales are she,
>but a fishwife is neither. To describe a wife as sexless may be
>called under-description; that is bad enough, but over-description
>is surely worse. A German speaks of an Englishman as the EnglŠnder;
>to change the sex, he adds inn, and that stands for Englishwoman
>-- EnglŠnderinn. That seems descriptive enough, but still it is not
>exact enough for a German; so he precedes the word with that article
>which indicates that the creature to follow is feminine, and writes
>it down thus: "die EnglŠnderinn," -- which means "the she-Englishwoman."
>I consider that that person is over-described.
>Well, after the student has learned the sex of a great number of
>nouns, he is still in a difficulty, because he finds it impossible to
>persuade his tongue to refer to things as "he" and "she", and "him"
>and "her", which it has been always accustomed to refer to it as
>"it." When he even frames a German sentence in his mind, with the
>hims and hers in the right places, and then works up his courage
>to the utterance-point, it is no use -- the moment he begins to
>speak his tongue flies the track and all those labored males and
>females come out as "its." And even when he is reading German to
>himself, he always calls those things "it", where as he ought to
>read in this way:
>It is a bleak Day. Hear the Rain, how he pours, and the Hail,
>how he rattles; and see the Snow, how he drifts along,
>and of the Mud, how deep he is! Ah the poor Fishwife, it
>is stuck fast in the Mire; it has dropped its Basket of Fishes;
>and its Hands have been cut by the Scales as it seized some of
>the falling Creatures; and one Scale has even got into
>its Eye. and it cannot get her out. It opens its Mouth
>to cry for Help; but if any Sound comes out of him, alas he is
>drowned by the raging of the Storm. And now a Tomcat has got one
>of the Fishes and she will surely escape with him.
>No, she bites off a Fin, she holds her in her Mouth -- will she
>swallow her? No, the Fishwife's brave Mother-dog
>deserts his Puppies and rescues the Fin -- which he eats,
>himself, as his Reward. O, horror, the Lightning has struck
>the Fish-basket; he sets him on Fire; see the Flame, how she
>licks the doomed Utensil with her red and angry Tongue;
>now she attacks the helpless Fishwife's Foot -- she burns him
>up, all but the big Toe, and even she is partly consumed;
>and still she spreads, still she waves her fiery Tongues; she
>attacks the Fishwife's Leg and destroys it; she attacks its
>Hand and destroys her also; she attacks the Fishwife's Leg and
>destroys her also; she attacks its Body and consumes
>him; she wreathes herself about its Heart and it is consumed;
>next about its Breast, and in a Moment she is a Cinder;
>now she reaches its Neck -- he goes; now its Chin -- it goes;
>now its Nose -- she goes. In another Moment, except Help
>come, the Fishwife will be no more. Time presses -- is there
>none to succor and save? Yes! Joy, joy, with flying Feet
>the she-Englishwoman comes! But alas, the generous she-Female
>is too late: where now is the fated Fishwife? It has
>ceased from its Sufferings, it has gone to a better Land; all
>that is left of it for its loved Ones to lament over, is this
>poor smoldering Ash-heap. Ah, woeful, woeful Ash-heap! Let us
>take him up tenderly, reverently, upon the lowly
>Shovel, and bear him to his long Rest, with the Prayer that
>when he rises again it will be a Realm where he will have
>one good square responsible Sex, and have it all to himself,
>instead of having a mangy lot of assorted Sexes scattered
>all over him in Spots.

Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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