The ESV Takes One Small Step for “Mankind”!

The common practice in Christian circles of choosing a “life verse” isn’t a practice I’ve found helpful. It’s simply too easy to lift a biblical tweet out of context and misinterpret it entirely. It can be shattering only to discover years later that a verse that promised so much had nothing to do with how you understood it. It’s too easy to lift a biblical tweet out of context & misinterpret it entirely. Click To Tweet

Having said that, however, doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorites.

Back in my early twenties I came across a verse that I found useful in tormenting a young pastor with whom I was working. He had an annoying habit of pontificating on his views of women, often flinging verses at me, to make sure I knew my place. I recall once when he insisted that single female missionaries should step aside as soon as a man arrived on the scene, even if the man was a brand new convert. Evidently, it was more important for a male novice to do the job, than a woman with the training, gifts, and years of experience.

In a moment of inspiration, I asked him if he would like to hear my life verse. When he took the bait, from the New King James Version (the translation of choice at the time) I quoted Psalm 116:11: “All men are liars.” For some strange reason, he was not amused.

The look on his face was priceless.

Given the ESV’s stated aversion to what General Editor Wayne Grudem labels “gender-neutral” language found in other translations (e.g., NRSV, TNIV, NLT), I fully expected the ESV to back me up. After all, the Hebrew word for “men” in Psalm 116:11 (hā·’ā·ḏām) is the same Hebrew word that appears in Genesis 1:26-27 and that the ESV stubbornly translates “man” (see “Lost in Translation”). They insist on that translation even though “mankind,” “human beings,” or “people” is more gender accurate and certainly not subject to misinterpretation by modern readers for whom “man” or “men” signals male (as it did for my pastor friend at the time).

Imagine my surprise when I recently looked up Psalm 116:11 in the ESV and read “All mankind are liars” (emphasis added).

It seems, in this rare instance at least, ESV translators are unwilling to run the risk of readers thinking “men” in this verse is pointing a finger at males as liars at the exclusion of females. What price are we willing to pay for the cause of gender accuracy? Click To Tweet

The ESV’s inconsistency resulting in the loss of “men” in Psalm 116:11 is a price I’m willing to pay in the cause of gender accuracy. And although this represents a significant breach in the ESV’s firm commitment to retain “man” and “men” in universal statements to preserve a so-called “masculine feel” to the Bible, I applaud them for taking one small step for “mankind.”

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