I’m not presenting a thesis here, just making some observations and posing a question. In the guidelines for a dictionary article I’m in the process of writing, I read this:
In particular, articles should avoid referring to “man” (likewise “mankind,” “men,” “he,” “his” and so on) generically. Language often regarded as patriarchal should be modified to avoid giving wrong impressions. Similarly, translations of biblical and other texts, when made by the contributor, should be no more gender specific than the originals are judged to be. Citations of standard translations of the Bible should not be altered, of course, but where contributors create their own translations of the biblical text, they may find strategies for effectively and responsibly avoiding gender-specific translations by consulting the New Revised Standard Version.
This struck me because I was recently listening to Genesis 1–5 in Hebrew and following along in my Hebrew Bible (which is a great way to move through a lot of text quickly). Genesis 1:26 says that God created adam—man (not a personal name at this point)—in his own image, and then 1:27 says that God created haadam—lit. “the man” but perhaps here “mankind”—and goes on to specify that God made this “mankind/the man” male and female. Moses goes on like this, talking about there not being any “people” around yet in 2:5, but calling the yet-to-be-created humans adam—man—there in 2:5.
So let me rehearse some things we know, and then I’ll me ask my question: We know that William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible profoundly shaped the English language. We know that many, many users of the English language—people whose use of it is/was widely imitated by others, authors, poets, and such—were profoundly shaped by the use of the English language in the Bible, not least the stately King James. Knowing these things, here’s my question:
Was the generic use of the masculine (man, he, him, etc.) urged against in the quote above something that entered the English language because man is spoken of this way in the Hebrew of Genesis 1–2?
And having asked my question, I have another observation. Earle Ellis once explained that he quit the NRSV translation team once he realized that the translation was being driven by an egalitarian agenda. He noted that more literal translation philosophy results in the thought patterns and language uses employed in the Bible shaping the language of the target-culture, whereas more dynamic equivalent translations risk the target culture setting undue boundaries around the renderings of Bible translators.
How shall a man respond to these things? He can be shaped by his culture, or he can speak and write the way the biblical authors did. If it was good enough for them . . .
 E. Earle Ellis, “Dynamic Equivalence Theory, Feminist Ideology and Three Recent Bible Translations,” Expository Times 115 (2003): 7–12.
First Comment: I forwarded this post to Denny Burk before putting it up here, and he gave me permission to add his thoughts to this post:
I think it’s interesting how honest the guidelines are. The justification in the guidelines for avoiding generic masculines is to avoid the appearance of patriarchy. In other words, the justification is political correctness, not linguistic. And they are being honest about it.
Usually, a linguistic justification goes something like this. “We can’t use generic masculines because language has changed, and we don’t want to confuse readers. Modern readers are likely to mistake generic “he” as a signifying only males. Therefore, we cannot use it.”
This justification at least has the merit of being linguistic, though I think it is profoundly wrong.
I think feminists were right to argue that patriarchy is embedded in language (though I think they were wrong to attempt an artificial expunging of the usage). Masculine terms are routinely used in a generic sense in scores of languages, and I think the usage probably stems from a patriarchal impulse that originally informed the language. It’s ish then a derivative ishah. It’s man then a derivative womanor (womb-man). I wouldn’t press any deep anthropological points as if men are therefore the “default” sex. But I do think that the name and its derivative reflects a patriarchal sense. That adam would stand for both man and woman is not surprising in this kind of a linguistic world. But it’s not just Hebrew. The phenomenon occurs in numerous languages.