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Friday, February 17, 2006

J I Packer and the singular "they"

After Dr. Packer and I discussed the statement of concern, we discussed some of the details in that document. Dr. Packer was open and gracious with me.

The following is written in the statement of concern that Dr. Packer signed.
    The TNIV translation often changes masculine, third person, singular pronouns (he, his and him) to plural gender-neutral pronouns. For example, in Revelation 3:20, the words of Jesus have been changed from "I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" to "I will come in and eat with them, and they with me." Jesus could have used plural pronouns when He spoke these words, but He chose not to. (The original Greek pronouns are singular.) In hundreds of such changes, the TNIV obscures any possible significance the inspired singular may have, such as individual responsibility or an individual relationship with Christ.
              Now back to our conversation.

              Dr. Packer: Now feel free to ask me about anything else, but you see the problem - there is the ESV ideal of translation and the NIV ideal of translation.

              Suzanne: One thing that comes up is “they” with a singular antecedent and I know it is used in Shakespeare, it is used in Chaucer, it is used in the 1400’s in Parliament. Here is an example from Shakespeare,

                There is not a man I meet but doth salute me
                As if I were their well-acquainted friend.
              And in King James,

                In lowliness of mind let each esteem other as better than themselves.
              I don’t see that this would make a Bible version untrustworthy and I just wondered how that got into the text of the statement of concern.

              Dr. Packer: My memory is that that English form of words, which I agree with you is perfectly standard, in the TNIV, was used in order to avoid some of the masculines, generic masculines which are there in the original .

              Suzanne: I don’t find autos masculine anymore than pas and oudeis. Those have been changed to everyone and anyone.

              Dr. Packer: You are not quite getting my point. I haven’t got this at my fingertips, nonetheless my memory is, that instances were produced where that way, that particular English idiom was introduced in order to avoid generic masculines which the TNIV is concerned to do every time it can. I think that some of those cases are of that sort, a sort of substituting.


              I did not feel that it was worth pressing that point. It was clear to me that Dr. Packer had not drafted this document and was not prepared to discuss it in detail.

              I do not wish to discuss Dr. Packer's motivation for signing this document. However, my own motivation in interviewing Dr. Packer includes the fact that I count many scholars associated with the TNIV and dynamic equivalence translations in high regard as teachers and authors who have influenced me. Eugene Nida, Ellis Deibler, Richard Longnecker, Bruce Waltke and Gordon Fee are all men whom I respect. Some of you may be familiar with what has been written. It is a great grief to me that there is this discord. I want it known that there is no bad scholarship in the TNIV and that Dr. Packer does not make the claim that there is.

              On 2 Timothy 2:2 in the ESV, I think it is best to consider that, as Dr. Packer said, all translations have their weak points. We must accept this without being too harsh.


              At Sat Feb 18, 07:21:00 AM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

              What does generic masculine mean?

              In this controversy I see two meanings:

              Masculine in form, generic in meaning;


              Masculine in form, male representational in meaning.

              Isn't the former what has been referred to as common gender? Doesn't this mean that J. I. Packer and others are arguing for yet another gender category--a new one?

              Also, I know that when I've caught myself in a group using the term 'he' as a generic masculine (or whatever it might be called), I'm not at all thinking in terms of a male representing the group. In fact, it took me a while to figure out what male representation means; and I'm still not altogether sure I know. And that's coming from someone who believes in the federal headship of Christ (see Romans 5).

              I find I use 'you' as a gender generic. I wonder if I'm increasingly using 'you' to refer to a generic referent.

              You gotta wonder!

              At Sat Feb 18, 07:55:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...


              I was quite moved by your conciliatory statements. I think Christian love will bind us together even when linguistic and theological differences are pulling us apart. What a pity it would be if years down the road we found ourselves estranged from these brothers and sisters(!) in Christ who value God's word as much as we do.

              Kudos to you for your graciousness. We can all learn from your example.

              At Sat Feb 18, 08:53:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

              I use a generic 'you', generic 'they' and generic 'we'. I have become more aware of how I speak since joining this blog.

              At Sat Feb 18, 12:08:00 PM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

              Suzanne, Thanks so much for interviewing Dr. Packer. I appreciate the content as well as the manner (as has been said) of how you did it.

              I appreciate Dr. Packer and others (like Charles Colson) who have signed against the TNIV. Though I certainly can't agree with them on that.

              I do think this disagreement could have been made in a way that would not draw such a bold line, and thus better, I think, keep the unity of the Spirit. More like saying what they are for, and being silent about what they're against.

              If everyone was like Packer, maybe this is what would have occurred.

              At Sat Feb 18, 12:26:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

              I am convinced that Dr. Packer was asked to sign, just as he was asked to endorse P & G's book. He did not initiate this debate and would have expressed himeself with more coolness, as he said.

              However, he is a long-standing member of the CBMW, so one must assume that he agress with them on women, but not necessarily on the scholarship.

              I do not understand, given the fact that 1 Timthy 2 can still be read literally and universally, if one likes, why there is such a concern about gender language.

              At Sat Feb 18, 03:20:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

              Mike mentioned: "Masculine in form, generic in meaning... Isn't [this] what has been referred to as common gender?" Not exactly, I think, Mike. The problem is that in this issue you have left out the concept of grammatical gender, which applies in Greek although not in English. "Masculine in form" is a very slippery concept in Greek, for although most nouns ending in -os are grammatically masculine and most ending in -a or are feminine, there are so many exceptions to such rules that these can be consided masculine and feminine forms only in a very broad sense. And then there is a clearly defined concept of common gender which is not the same as being generic in meaning. Common gender words, as I understand things, are those like τίς tis, "who?" or "anyone", which do not have distinct masculine and feminine forms and whose grammatical gender is undefined, or perhaps taken from the context (e.g. I understand that τίς tis would take a feminine adjectival complement when referring to a group of women). As such common gender words are generic in meaning. But there are also words which are masculine in grammatical gender but generic in meaning: not just the contorversial ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos and ἀδελφός adelphos but also many uncontroversial words like γονεύς goneus "parent" - at least I think that is a good example.

              At Sat Feb 18, 10:34:00 PM, Blogger David McKay said...

              I have corresponded with a couple of men who signed the statement of concern about the TNIV. They are well known authors, but I do not have their permission to identify them.

              Both said that if they had known how the statement of concern would be used, or the fuss that would be made, they would not have signed.
              They also said they would be most unlikely to sign something like it in the future.


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