Inconsistent Gender-Language in the ESV
The ESV arose in part as a response against the gender-inclusive language of other versions like the TNIV and the NLT. At the same time, the ESV revisers obviously recognized the major changes in gender-language taking place in English, since they removed the words “man” or “men” 671 times from the RSV!
While removing these masculine words in many cases, in many others where the context was equally inclusive, the terms were retained. Such inconsistency can create confusion for the reader, who cannot tell when the Hebrew or Greek behind the ESV is an inclusive term and when it is not. Consider the following examples.
Men or People?
All scholars agree that the primary sense of the Greek anthrōpos is “person” or “human” being,” not “man” (= male). The ESV recognizes this and often translates the term as “one” instead of “man.” Rom. 3:28 ESV reads, “For we hold that one (anthrōpos) is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” While someone might wonder how an “essentially literal” translation could justify translating a Greek word meaning “person” as “one,” at least the ESV has recognized that the Greek term is inclusive.
In many cases, the ESV uses inclusive language for anthrōpos. Rom. 10:5 ESV reads, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person (anthrōpos) who does the commandments shall live by them.” Similarly, Acts 10:28 ESV reads “…God has shown me that I should not call any person (anthrōpos) common or unclean.
The ESV is not always consistent, however, and in many generic contexts the noun is translated “man” or “men.” 1 Thess. 2:4 reads, “we speak, not to please man (anthrōpoi), but to please God who tests our hearts.” “Man” here is the plural anthrōpoi, which clearly means “people.” Curiously, the ESV has changed a Greek plural into an English singular—exactly the kind of number change that some members of the ESV committee have condemned other versions for doing!
The same thing happens in Matt. 19:26: “But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man (anthrōpoi—plural) this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Again, the ESV has changed a plural meaning “people” into a singular, and translated it “man.” Again in John 12:43 ESV: “for they loved the glory that comes from man (anthrōpoi—plural, meaning “people”) more than the glory that comes from God.”
While in some cases the plural anthrōpoi is translated “people,” in other cases it is translated “man” or “men” with apparently no difference in meaning. Consider these examples:
Rom. 5:18 ESV: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men (anthrōpoi), so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men (anthrōpoi).”
Comment: Anthrōpoi clearly means “people”. We might expect that in a context about salvation, the translators would consider an inclusive term.
Matt. 4:19 ESV: “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (anthrōpoi).’”
Comment: The disciples were, of course, called to fish for people, not just men.
1 Cor. 2:5 ESV: “that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men (anthrōpoi) but in the power of God.”
Comment: This is surely human wisdom, not the wisdom of males.
There are many similar examples:
Eph. 4:8 ESV: “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men (anthrōpoi).’”
Matt. 10:32-33 ESV: “So every one who acknowledges me before men (anthrōpoi), I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men (anthrōpoi), I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
Matt. 19:26 ESV: “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men (anthrōpoi) this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Rom. 1:18 ESV: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men (anthrōpoi) who by their wickedness suppress the truth.”
Sometimes the ESV is inconsistent in a single context. Matthew 12:11-12 reads “Which one (anthrōpos) of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man (anthrōpos) than a sheep!” The same Greek word is translated inclusively (“one”) in the first instance and as “man” in the second. In both, anthrōpos clearly refers to a human being.
Similar inconsistency appears in John 1:4 ESV: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men (anthrōpoi).” A few sentences later we read “The true light, which enlightens everyone (pas anthrōpos), was coming into the world” (John 1:9 ESV) Again, the same term is translated as “men” in one instance and “everyone” in the next.
Consider also 2Tim. 2:2: “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men (anthrōpoi) who will be able to teach others also.” Although anthrōpoi normally means “people,” it is here translated “men,” presumabley because of the reference to teaching. Yet just a chapter later the same term is translated “people,” here in a context of sinful behavior: “For people (anthrōpoi) will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…” (2Tim. 3:2).
Sons or Children?
Gender inconsistency also appears with reference to generational terms. The same Greek phrase, huioi tou Israēl is sometimes translated “sons of Israel” (Matt. 27:9; Rom. 9:27; Rev. 2:14; 7:4; 21:12) and other times “children of Israel” (Luke 1:16; Acts 7:23; 9:15), without any clear difference in meaning. Romans 9:27 reads, “And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: ‘Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,” while Luke 1:16 reads, “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”
Particularly striking is Acts 7:23, where the masculine term “brothers” is placed beside the inclusive term children: “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.” Shouldn’t this be “brothers and sisters”?
Matt. 23:15 ESV: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” The Colorado Springs Guidelines (produced in 1997 in reaction against gender-inclusive Bible translation) insist that huios must be translated as “son” rather than “child.” Strikingly, the only time the ESV translates the singular hiuos as “child” is in the phrase “child of hell.” Hell is gender-inclusive but heaven is not?
“Brothers” or “Brothers and Sisters”?
One of the most interesting gender issues related to the ESV concerns its translation of the Greek plural adelphoi, a term which can mean “siblings,” “brothers and sisters,” “brothers,” or “fellow believers” (BDAG). While the original draft of the Colorado Springs Guidelines asserted that adelphoi should always be translated “brothers,” this was quickly revised when the authors of the Guidelines were informed by Greek scholars that adelphoi was often used inclusively to refer to both men and women, i.e., siblings, or “brothers and sisters.”
This admission did not make it into the text of the ESV, but it did make it into the footnotes. While consistently translating adelphoi as “brothers” in the text, the ESV includes a footnote at its first occurrence in each NT book acknowledging that it actually means “brothers and sisters”:
*Or brothers and sisters. The plural Greek word adelphoi (translated “brothers”) refers to siblings in a family. In New Testament usage, depending on the context, adelphoi may refer either to men or to both men and women who are siblings (brothers and sisters) in God’s family, the church.
Consider, for example, Rom. 12:1 ESV, where Paul is certainly referring to all the members of the church: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers,* by the mercies of God, at present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” One wonders why, if the ESV footnote acknowledges that adelphoi here means “brothers and sisters,” it was not translated as such. The most likely answer is that the translators were concerned about their constituents, who would have objected to this perceived condescension to a feminist agenda. All translation is to some extent political, and in this case perhaps it was deemed necessary to sacrifice accuracy for expediency.
 Confirmed by a comparative search on Accordance Bible software.
 Consider this surprising example, where the ESV uses “person” and the TNIV “man.” 1 Cor. 7:26 TNIV: “Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man (anthrōpos) to remain as he is.” 1 Cor. 7:26 ESV “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person (anthrōpos) to remain as he is.