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Bob MacDonald

John - there are still two 'he' references in your translation. His pleasure and he does. Re the second, I like Alter's suggestion I think, that the tree image is continuing - so use it - all that it does...

Re the first 'his' I got around it by using a demonstrative pronoun - this - not very successful.

But I think this is meant to be a man not a generic human and I think it is meant to be the same anointed king that is in Psalm 2 - so that king business is even worse for ultra feminism. It's too bad.. Circumcision is limited to men in the covenant with Abraham - why? I suggest for at least two reasons. It is an improvement on the stone-age custom of female mutiliation and if the Bible had sanctioned this I suspect we might have completely thrown it out. Second, the male has an evolutionary tendency to violence - especially with respect to sex. So the mini-death needed to be applied to that one. Third - circumcision is proleptic of Christ's death (Colossians 2:11).

IOW - we're stuck with the male priority in both testaments.


Hi Bob,

I do not use "he" or "his" generically whatsoever in the second translation I offer. In the first translation I offer, I deliberately used "he" and "his" generically, but in a relatively gender-sensitive way (I hope).

Of course, if someone tells me that the first translation does not pass ideological muster, the inner "imp" in me comes out, and I reply, "In that case, I'm putting 'man' back in," because as you say, it allows a royal reading of the psalm, which may indeed have been the psalm's original intent. Furthermore, the psalm becomes more understandable in a christological sense.

The symbolic significance you see in circumcision is interesting. I wonder how widespread that understanding was in antiquity.

Tim Bulkeley

In the kind of English I speak and hear singular "they" is quite common in cases like this where the context e.g. "a person who..." is clearly singular. This might be a habit for US speakers to recover, or borrow (my OED is at home so I can't easily check the dates of this usage).


Hi Tim,

I'm happy with experimenting further in this regard. By all means, give it a try in Kiwi English.

Try Psalm 1, for example, or Proverbs 22:6 (see next post).

Peter Kirk

"In English-speaking culture generally, the generic use of the masculine pronoun does not raise eyebrows."

John, I think here you are revealing your parochial attitude. This may be true of conservative Bible belt US culture generally. But it is very far from generally true here in the UK, in Australia and (from what Tim says) New Zealand, and probably not in less conservative circles even in the USA. Here in the UK, certainly not every eyebrow will be raised, but a sufficient number will rise enough to get users of the generic masculine to be more careful in future.

So here your first version would not be generally acceptable, but your second version would be fine, except of course for "stood in the way of".


I have no particular comment on whether "man" is appropriate or not. However, I would like to explain the meaning of the ESV note,

The singular Hebrew word for man (ish) is used here to portray a representative example of a godly person; see preface.

You interpret this as,

“man” is to be understood generically to refer to a person of either gender;

However, a lengthly discussion of Psalm 1 in the Gender Netural Bible Controversy page 236 and 237 in includes this. Here is a part of the discussion,

But meanwhile, partly because of the possibility that the text may actually be specializing to male human beings, the reader pictures a man, a male. This male is then a representative for a truth applying to a larger group. But temporarily the exact composition of the group remains undetermined. (See also the example in Ezekiel 18:5, which begins with a “man” (îsh): "If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right …")

After reading Psalm 1, readers know that the Psalm as a whole offers the “man” as a representative, an ideal, to be emulated by readers. He is a model for both men and women. The implicated meaning includes application to many. But the starting point is the picture of one, and that one is male. The maleness is not essential to the main point that the Psalm makes. But it is there, as a semantic (meaning) component, to the original readers. Gender-neutral translations simply eliminate this meaning component.

I do not wish to argue with whether one should use "man" in a generic sense or not. However, I claim that Psalm 1 in the ESV a male human being is the referent of the word "man." This is not the generic use of the word "man," with a person of either gender as the referent.


I would not disagree with the notion that this refers to a man. However, it is important to recognize when a Bible uses "man" generically and when it does not. For the most part, the ESV does not use the word "man" generically.

The idea generally is that the word "man" refers to a man, and this man, either Adam or Christ, or any male, represents humanity.



I based myself on the wording of the ESV note I quote. It clearly lends itself to the interpretation I gave it, and will be so understood by the majority of people who read it. With this, I'm sure you will agree.

Like you, I don't buy the argument you quote, that rendering "one" rather than "man" here is unacceptable from the point of view of gender information. It is symmetrical to the argument made by others that rendering "man" is unacceptable from the point of view of gender information. I don't buy that either. I've remarked before about the symmetry in the extremes of the comp-egal debate.

I am truly tempted to say: a curse on both their houses. The only reason I don't is that I have friends on both extremes. On a good day, therefore, I am normally more polite.



Does this verse from Proverbs, with generic masculine pronouns, raise eyebrows in your neck of the woods?

Train up a child in the way that he should go; when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6 -see next post).

I think you are exaggerating somewhat. Furthermore, the Bible Belt has nothing to do with it. Rest assured for example, that one can hear words like "man" = "mankind" and "any man" = "any person" used generically on National Public Radio here. I don't know about the BBC.

It is possible, I suppose, that you guys (oops!) use "they" everywhere and anywhere even when it is wooden out of obedience to PC training. But I'm not sure of that, and even if I were, I wouldn't hold it against you. We are all subject to various cultural trends when it comes to language. At a certain point, it is a waste of time to moralize about it.


Since the editor of this Bible assures me that he intends to exclude women from many things in life, including being moral decision-makers, I do not have the luxury of ignoring the real meaning. The use of this Bible comes with this intent in the environment that my children participate in. The explanation of the gospel being communicated properly through male only examples and language is remarked on in the sermon along with the reading of the ESV text.

The editor explains that a gender neutral version cannot communicate the gospel as clearly since male headship is part of the gospel. It is an intrinsic part of salvation for women. A woman cannot demonstrate her salvation to others unless she acknowledges and practices male headship. The use of male representatives in the church and in scripture is part of male headship and a necessary part of a woman's salvation.

Without this teaching, I have little argument with generics of one kind or another. I have no ideological stand on generics in language. They are problematic. I have no solution.

I do have a problem with young women being taught that they can only serve God through bearing children for a man. It is especially difficult for young women who do not marry or do not bear children. But maybe it is easier for these women, because they are not used for their child-bearing capacity. It is all around difficult. I wish it was not as bad as I thought it would be but it is worse than I had imagined.


John, in the first translation, it would have been possible for you to start a new sentence with "Rather, his pleasure..." if you wanted to make your translation more accessible for a lower reading level. However, in the second translation, the use of 'whose' precludes that possibility. That may not be such a hindrance here in Psalm 1, but it may come into play more in other passages.

Bob MacDonald

Somewhere in Uriel Simon's book, Four Approaches to the Book of Psalms (1982, tr. from the Hebrew 1991). Somewhere in there I think he reports that a Hebrew reader immediately associates asheri ha'ish asher with the birth of Asher, of course immediately raising for that male reader the happiness of the person of Leah, who is happy at Asher's birth from Zilpah (Gen 30:12-13). So the female is not excluded by association. If the man is anticipating Christ as I think we could maintain with some readings of the Psalms (see e.g. Neale's great commentary), then the man by incorporation includes us all in his Body, so perhaps we could link this happiness to the joy of the disciples on their birth in the Spirit - a joy in the Church, the Bride of Christ, that no one takes from them. (I am not sure what I would do to carry the analogy into the competitive situation here that Leah had with Rachel.)


John, I just want to say I appreciate the consistent even-handedness with which you address these 'gender war' issues. You make excellent, well balanced points. Thanks very much.



Fortunately, in my environment, people like the ESV primarily because it reminds them of RSV which they grew up with. In addition, as I've said, the generic use of masculine pronouns does not raise eyebrows. It's a non-issue for almost everyone.

I realize that ESV, if consumed as part of a package deal within a neo-traditionalist movement, is just that: one more artifact of that movement. Somehow I don't see you thriving in a neo-traditional context.


That book by Simon is a gem. I wonder if it is in print.


You are right and I will change that with attribution.


Hey Bill,

That was a nice thing for you to say. It kind of makes up for the "What a traitor you are" stares I occasionally get from some of my dear clergy colleagues closer to home.

Peter Kirk

"Does this verse from Proverbs, with generic masculine pronouns, raise eyebrows in your neck of the woods?"

Yes, certainly. I don't think you would find this kind of language on the BBC. It would have to be "he or she", or "they".

I accept that this change over the last 40 years or so is partly in response to PC type pressures, but it is a genuine change in the language which cannot be denied. Similarly we can no longer use the word "gay" to mean "happy"; or should we insist on doing so because the change of meaning results from a specific campaign?


I understand your point of view, Peter. In my context, anti-PC type pressures are also in play, and they, too, are influencing the language. So it goes.

In fact, within Christianity, anti-PC type pressures with regard to language predominate. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and evangelical practice, generally speaking, are on about the same wavelength: some openness to horizontal inclusive language, but not too much. Openness to vertical inclusive language: next to zero. Whether you or I agree or disagree with this trend is not as important as we would like to think.

As I pointed out in the post and in comments, there are independent reasons why one might want to translate "man" in Psalm 1, and in consequence also use masculine pronouns generically.

Peter Kirk

Here in the UK almost the only anti-PC pressures we hear are from across the Atlantic.

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