Biblical Grammar

I think we had about a week of grammar study when I was in school and I was probably absent for two days of it.  I’m pretty sure, though, that I was taught that it is incorrect to change the grammatical person mid-thought – that pronouns must agree with antecedents.  (Though I just had to google the exact phrasing there.  It’s hard to talk about things whose names one doesn’t know!)

I  read “he” to be either gender specific or gender neutral depending on context.  I read “she” as gender specific.  And I read “they” as wrong unless plural is actually meant and agrees with the antecedent.  I accept that there is no gender neutral pronoun indicating a human (“it” doesn’t count), the same way I accept that there is no second person plural, as a limitation of the English language.  A limitation isn’t always a bad thing, but it does mean that certain ideas are better expressed in some languages  than in others.  Am I right, ya’ll?

My younger sister who is currently a senior in college told me a few weeks ago that the rules regarding the agreement between pronoun and antecedent have changed,  and that “they” is now acceptable as a gender-neutral singular, but I figured this is some kind of young people’s fad.*

So when I read this

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:24-25, NIV

in our church bulletin yesterday, I thought someone was paraphrasing at will and presenting it as actual translation.  I even checked it against the NIV bible in the pew to see if it really had such glaring grammatical errors.  The pew bible did not have that wording, but according to biblegateway, those are the words of the current incarnation of the NIV.  Still not my favorite translation, but at least it wasn’t one of my fellow congregants making stuff up.

Lucky for me, my four-year-old had a tantrum at the end of service and we had to split in a jiffy before I could make a fool of myself  by confronting the pastor about how wrong it is.

*What.  You don’t have random conversations about language and grammar?


One thought on “Biblical Grammar

  1. Julie says:

    Yes! That drives me NUTS! I grew up with the NIV and have memorized from it, so wanted my boys to have NIV. I had to go looking and order “1984 NIV” to avoid the gender neutral shenanigans. Ugh!

    As a woman I have NO PROBLEM comprehending when “he” applies to me. Good grief!


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