N.T. Wright on the “Singular They”

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From the Preface of the newly published Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation by N.T. Wright:

I have tried to use gender-neutral language throughout when referring to human beings. Sometimes this has been, to put it mildly, quite difficult. I have often had to use what some people regard as an ugly and ungrammatical form, saying “they” rather than “he or she.” This is a classic example of what happens when a language is going through a time of change. That can’t be helped. Indeed, it is because languages are constantly changing that we regularly need fresh translations (p. xvi).

Other contemporary translations, such as Today’s New International Version, have also taken the route of the “singular they,” as have the editors of the Divine Feminine Version.

This approach allows for a more straightforward rendering of the Greek than the more creative approaches of changing the third person singular to the third person plural — e.g., “Those who love me will keep my word, and … we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23, NRSV) versus “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and … We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23, NASB) — and changing the third person to the second person — e.g., “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matt. 7:9, NRSV) versus “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks him for a loaf, will give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:9, NASB).

Compare the “singular they” approach: “Which of you parents, if their child asks for bread, will give them a stone?” (Matt. 7:9, DFV).

Although the “singular they” has not always been considered grammatically correct usage in English by all grammarians, it is probably the single most popular solution to the problem of the generic masculine third person singular pronoun. For more information, see our Basic Principles Essay in our Divine Feminine Version Study Bible.

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