What Language Shall We Use -- By: Mimi Haddad

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 17:1 (Winter 2003)
Article: What Language Shall We Use
Author: Mimi Haddad


What Language Shall We Use

A look at inclusive language for people, feminine images for God, and gender-accurate Bible translations.

Mimi Haddad

Mimi Haddd became president of cbe International in June 2001. She began serving cbe as a seminary student in 1989, planting chapters in Boston and in California and Colorado. She is a Ph.D. candidate in historical theology at the University of Durham, Durham, England. She has authored many articles and contributed to three books on biblical equality.

Recent events in the evangelical community—particularly with the release of Todays New International Version (TNIV) Bible translation—have raised concerns over masculine language. Does Jesus ask us to be fishers of people or fishers of men (Matt. 4:19)? Is there a difference? Should we be afraid to use words like people, especially when the ancient text and context warrants this?

And what about language for God? May Christians use feminine images for God? The historical church did—and they had a biblical precedent to do so. What about the hymns we sing, the liturgy we recite, or even our church bulletins or newsletters? Should we use gender-accurate language?

In this brief review, I will consider three issues: (1) the language we use for people; (2) the language we use for God; and (3) the use of gender-accurate language in Bible translation. I will also consider the feminine language used for God by the historical church, and language for God as noted in Scripture and the example of Jesus.

Inclusive Language For People.

Until perhaps fifty years ago, it was somewhat common in America to use male pronouns when speaking of both men and women. Women, however, constantly needed to ask themselves, “Does man, men, he, or him include me?” Christian women have understood that the word men included them in hymns such as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice,” “Rise Up, O Men of God,” or “God of Our Fathers.” At the same time, when the church bulletin reads: “You are invited to the men’s breakfast,” we understand that does not include everyone. And the word Men on the restroom door is not an inclusive term!1 Gender accuracy is an important consideration.

The Use Of Gender-Accurate Language In Bible Translation.

While the ancient languages often use masculine terms inclusively or generically, most Bible scholars today realize that to translate such words in masculine terms is confusing to modern ears, especially to those for whom English is not their native tongue. Consider a text such as

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