The Necessity and Theology of the “Inclusive Man”

Ok, so Mark Ward takes a lot of heat here at, largely because he deserves it and partly because he is somehow a Ph.D. that is also an easy target.

One thing that I have challenged Ward to do is to take a look at the modern versions of the Bible and make an assessment of False Friends contained therein. As far as I know he has not taken up my encouragements on this account, so I thought today that I would help him start.

For this post I will use Ward’s definition of False Friend which is roughly stated as, “A word the reader thinks he knows but in the end he does not know.”

The False Friend for today’s post is the word, “man”. In order to demonstrate why I believe this is a False Friend for the modern English reader I am going to employ the work of Anthony Esolen [pictured above]. Dr. Esolen is Writer-in-Residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, translated the whole of Dante’s Divine Comedy, is about as Roman Catholic as they come, and is no KJV-Onlyist.

In his book, Angels, Barbarians and Nincompoops…and a lot of other words you thought you knew, Esolen offers ~200 pages of entries of words with their etymological and definitional content. It is a semi-scholarly work aimed at showing the reader that the words he uses are far more colorful and full of meaning than the ways we use them today. What is more, the implication is that when the reader uses these words it is better that he know the fuller meaning so as to be a better student and user of his language. One of the entries is, “Man”. Esolen writes,

No other word will do. We need a word that is not just general but universal. Out goes human being, which is singular but not a universal term. Out goes person, same reason. We need a word that is concrete, not abstract. Out goes humanity. We need a word that is singular, embracing all human beings in one, at once. Out goes men and women, human beings, people, we, all, humankind, and even mankind. We need a word that is intensely personal. We need to see all human beings as represented in one, not a collective, not a quality, not a generality, but a singular, concrete, personal, all-embracing representative. In English only man remains. There is no other word, nor any combination of words that can perform that linguistic work. To disallow the universal and genuinely inclusive use of man is to forbid the very thought that all human beings may be represented in one. [83]

Esolen has two points here to make. The first is that “man” is the only word in English which meets all the criteria mentioned above for a singular word which is also universal without being abstract and yet remaining personal. And why is this important?

Because without such a word we would not be able to express the idea of all human beings as represented in one without being abstract and impersonal. One more time, what is that important? It is important because Adam is that one man who represents all human beings while being concrete [therefore not abstract] and is personal. In this man who represents all human beings in a concrete and personal way, we all fell into sin.

In like manner, the use of “man” is important because Christ is also one man who represents all human beings while being concrete [therefore not abstract] and is personal. In this man, who represents all human beings in a concrete and personal way, atonement was made.

So linguistically and theologically “man” means far more than the male gender of homo sapiens. In fact, as far as Esolen is concerned, there is no other word in the English language that can do the linguistic work that “man” can. Put in more concrete terms, “man” is merely the generic thing, the base model. The “wo-” in “woman” denotes a modification to the base model, indeed an upgrade in so many ways. Similarly the words we have for children, like “boy” and “girl”, represent smaller versions of the base model and upgraded model. So “man” in English concretely, personally, and universally encompasses the whole of human beings in a singular word.

And so here is where the False Friend part comes in. People think they know what “man” means but in the end they do not and this truth is clearly evident in many of the modern translations. Observe first the KJV:

KJV: And God said, Let us make man in our image

Now modern versions:

NIV: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image
NLT: Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image
NASB: Then God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image,
CEV: God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us
GNT: Then God said, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us
NET Bible: Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image

My point is that these translators think they understand what “man” means but clearly they do not seeing that they replace “man” with impersonal, abstract, and incomplete terms like humankind as if these have equivalent meaning to “man”. What is more, they have produced Bibles, some of which are very popular, which means that many people reading these Bibles think they know what “man” means but clearly do not otherwise it seems they would protest at the replacement of “man” with “human beings”. As such, it seems that “man” is a False Friend these days among Bible translators and Bible readers. You can thank me later, Mark.

N.B. – With the replacement of “man” with “humankind”, “mankind”, and “human beings” in the Bible, the ground and foundation of a Judeao-Christian society, is it any wonder that we have drifted into terms like, “peoplekind” and “gestational parent”? Just asking. I mean, if Christians can’t get “man” right why should we wonder at “chest-feeding”? This is the part where Ward comes in to remind us all that we need to use language that people can understand like the plowboy whose gestational parent chest-fed instead of going the formula route, like, because of the supply-chain shortages.

3 thoughts on “The Necessity and Theology of the “Inclusive Man”

  1. When you get it exactly right, that’s where Mark Ward won’t answer. When he thinks you get it slightly wrong and he can react with a theological waterboarding, he’ll swoop in. On the other hand, he may deem you unworthy because of a caustic style that he by his own profession does not possess. Even if he doesn’t interact, I tell, you’re getting it right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words, Kent. Certainly, our Lord had a wide ranging rhetoric. At one point He would suffer the little children and at another He would call the scholars of His day whited sepulchers. The OT prophets were no different. At one point we see prophets caring for those suffering under famine and at another we see Elijah mocking false beliefs with juvenile toilet jokes and all out of love for God and the truth. Unfortunately, it does not appear Ward’s rhetoric aims to mimic those of Christ, the apostles, and prophets.

      In short I write and argue the way I write and argue because, like G.K. Chesterton, “I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.”



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