Jots and Tittles What On Earth Does English Grammar Have To Do With Theology?


Jots and Tittles
(What On Earth Does English Grammar Have To Do With Theology?)

One of my pet peeves with our increasingly feminized culture is the senseless mutilation of our English language (to say nothing of the quiet capitulation of thousands of Christians to the brazen demands of the godless). Over the years I have consistently refused to concede to the now-prevailing lunacy of replacing all male pronouns with he and she/him or her, or worse, the grammatically intolerable they, them and their when referring to singular antecedents.

Many Christians, ignorant of the theological implications of this radical verbal shift, have passively allowed it to happen. Some have even embraced the changes in a misplaced attempt to be "fair" to both sexes. What we have lost sight of is the wonderful truth that our English language reflects in its pronoun use the fundamental theological concept of representation. It isn't for nothing that the Scriptures say, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Gen. 1:27) Both male and female are represented in the term man. What is more, in covenant theology we learn that all of us are represented in Adam, a male of the species, and all believers are represented in Christ, a male of the species. (Rom. 5) We're even told that "there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28) We do have obvious God-created gender differences, but none of us (ladies!) has any right to take offence at being included in the family of man, or of being referred to grammatically as "he". Our generation, worked up to fever pitch by agitated feminists, has grown just a tad too touchy on the subject of gender-consciousness. Only those of us who are too enamored of our own dignity to be found in Christ need make such a hoo-haw over the matter.

There is therefore no compelling reason to overhaul the perfectly good English pronoun usage of the last several hundred years, ranting feminists notwithstanding. It's irritating in the extreme to keep encountering the he and she/his or her twins in an otherwise sound piece of English prose. It's downright wrong to use the they/them/their triplets to refer to a singular antecedent.

EXAMPLE: If I find out which student (singular antecedent) made this mess, they (ARRRGH!) will have to stay after school to clean it up.

The correct pronoun to use is he, regardless of the gender of the student. The only conceivable exception to this rule would apply if you knew that, in this context, the student under discussion were in an all-girls' school; then you could reasonably use she, if you wish to (though he is still perfectly correct.)

This is a good place to remind the reader that the indefinite pronouns anybody, anyone, everybody, everyone, somebody, someone, nobody, and no one are singular in form. This is very easy to see if you break them apart: every (single) one has the same meaning as each one, considered individually.

EXAMPLE:Someone (singular subject) has (singular verb) left you a note.
THEREFORE:Someone (singular subject) has (singular verb) left his (singular pronoun) lunch on the bus.
NEVER:Someone (singular subject) has (singular verb) left their (plural pronoun) lunch on the bus.

There is one exception to the rule that a plural pronoun may not be used to refer to a singular antecedent. This situation occurs when the intent of the writer is to emphasize that many people, considered en masse, are being referred to, e.g.:

Everyone was talking at once. The room was filled with their voices.
(His voice wouldn't make sense in this context. Notice, however, that everyone still requires a singular verb, was, because everyone is singular in form. NOTE: I think it best, whenever possible, to re-word a piece of writing to avoid such constructions as the one above. There is usually a better way to say what one means. For instance: The room was alive with talk, a hundred voices rising in thunderous cacophony to the trembling chandeliers. This construction is an improvement because it replaces a simple redundancy with more vivid language.)

Be aware that everyone and everybody are the only singular indefinite pronouns which may be referred to by they, them, or their, and then only when they are meant to be synonymous with all of the people, a plural expression. In all other instances, these words are singular. (Every(single)one (of you) who wishes to may leave his address with the receptionist.) Remember too that, while the plural forms are acceptable in conversational English, they can, with a little forethought, usually be avoided in writing formal English.

There's no crime in making changes in our language. That process has been going on for sixteen hundred years, and the changes haven't always been logical or tidy. English thrives on growth and change, and it is true that many permanent changes have come about through the sheer force of popular usage. My great objection to this late-20th century pronoun shift, aside from the annoying mental distraction created by the ungainly he/she or s/he model, is the quiet loss of the theological concept discussed above. Self-conscious humanists have pushed this change on us and have largely succeeded in winning the day. Self-conscious Christians should refuse, on principle, to capitulate.

I would love to see every home-schooling parent (singular antecedent) stress this point with his own children.

- Mary R. Robertson

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