Rev. 3:20 and singular they
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.Dr. Packer was obviously not prepared to list passages which do the sort of thing he has just said to Suzanne. But Dr. Wayne Grudem is always prepared to do so. One of the passages which Dr. Grudem and his followers keep criticizing in the TNIV is Rev. 3:20 which uses singular they to accord, per current English usage as well as centuries old usage, with the preceding indefinite pronoun anyone (Greek tis):
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. (TNIV)This is a revision of NIV which uses a generic "he":
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (NIV)Dr. Grudem and his followers claim that the TNIV revision with the grammatically plural "they" (he does not seem to recognize that it is semantically singular) "obscures" this passage of one's individual relationship with Christ. He suggests that TNIV readers would understand from this verse a corporate union with Christ, not an individual one. Several church leaders, with Dr. Grudem as a primary signatory, signed a statement of concern about the TNIV which included this opposition to TNIV translation of Rev. 3:20:
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.But Dr. Grudem is wrong. The singular they accords with the preceding indefinite pronoun "anyone." Every speaker and writer who has ever used the singular they understands that it is not semantically plural, but, rather, singular and indefinite. I suspect that Dr. Grudem himself sometimes uses the singular they. I do know that Dr. James Dobson, who promotes Dr. Grudem on his Focus on the Family radio program, does.
And Dr. Grudem is wrong about the Greek of Rev. 3:20. It contains no generic "he." It does have the generic pronoun autos which is grammatically masculine, but that is the natural way that Greek referred to a semantically gender-neutral entity. There is no semantically masculine entity referred to by Greek autos of Rev. 3:20, so Dr. Grudem is wrong in repeating his claim that the Greek pronoun must be translated by English "he", which for a majority of English speakers today is understood as being both grammatically and semantically masculine. Such widespread understanding indicates that translating with an intended generic "he" (or perhaps a male representative grammatical "he", per Poythress and Grudem's linguistic hypothesis) is not communicatively accurate for most current speakers of English.
These linguistic facts of singular they usage have been presented, in response to Dr. Grudem on many occasions, but, as far as I know, he never acknowledges them.
If Rev. 3:20 is the kind of passage that Dr. Packer was thinking of, where the TNIV did not use a "masculine generic" that was in the NIV, then he, like Dr. Grudem, is missing an important linguistic fact, that singular "they" is no more semantically plural than generic "he" has been semantically masculine for those who have used it.
Categories: Bible translation, gender inclusive, generic he, singular they