Avoiding Generic “He” in the TNIV -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 07:2 (Fall 2002)
Article: Avoiding Generic “He” in the TNIV
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


Avoiding Generic “He”
in the TNIV

Vern Sheridan Poythress

Professor of New Testament Interpretation,
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Like earlier gender-neutral translations,1 Today’s New International Version (TNIV) consistently eliminates generic “he,” and by doing so changes meanings.

The discussion of gender-neutral translations in the book The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (GNBC) continues to be relevant and applicable to this translation.2 The TNIV, a revision of the New International Version of 1984, is definitely gender-neutral in its treatment of terms like “father,” “brother,” “son,” and “man,” as well as in its avoidance of generic “he.”

In this article I consider only the policy of avoiding generic “he.” “Generic ‘he’” describes the use of the masculine singular “he,” “his,” “him,” “himself” in the context of a general statement, typically a statement starting with “anyone,” “no one,” “everyone,” “whoever,” or “each.”3 We exclude general statements beginning with “he who,” because “he who” can legitimately be re-expressed with other phrases such as “the one who,” “anyone who,” or “whoever.”4 But in most other occurrences, generic “he” can only be eliminated by more extended rewording, rewording that inevitably introduces meaning changes. The book GNBC devotes considerable space to the topic, because many factors and several kinds of arguments and counterarguments need discussion.5 I do not propose to repeat or review all the arguments at this time, but rather to inspect the details of how TNIV avoids generic “he.”

We gather verses together into five categories according to the route that they use.

1. Pluralizing

First, TNIV converts many statements from third-person singular to third-person plural.6

Consider Revelation 2:26–28.

NIV: To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—’He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.

TNIV: To th...

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