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This may be a semi-niche question, but I recently came across the HuffPost article "The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don't Like to Talk About" which makes a polemic argument about the Bible’s treatment of women. The author says this about the Ten Commandments:

Hebrew has four distinct forms of the word "you" and these are gender and number specific. The form of "you" in every single commandment is masculine singular. The text assumes its readers are men. True, mothers are mentioned in the Decalogue as deserving of honor, but even here the Hebrew grammar assumes a male readership: the Hebrew verb for "honor" is masculine singular (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). [Emphasis mine]

So to all my Hebrew experts out there, does the general Hebrew used for the Ten Commandments reflect an exclusive masculine approach?

Note: In posting the excerpt from the article, I am not saying I agree with the assumptions at all; I just posted the article for background context. I am interested in the hermeneutical approach to the Ten Commandments and the use of Hebrew.

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    @Michael16 it’s not a feminist-bias question, it’s literally a question on the form of Hebrew being used. That is absolutely a hermeneutics question. Im not asking for an apologetic response on whether the bible values women or not, i’m asking for people who know hebrew to exegetically analyse the type of hebrew used for the 10 commandments. I only posted the aggressive article exerpt to frame context for my question. I don’f necessarily agree with the harsh assumptions of the article at all.
    – ellied
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 13:27
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    I think it would help to be more clear about the question. "does the general Hebrew used for the Ten Commandments reflect an exclusive masculine approach?" Reflect ? An approach ? What does 'reflect an approach' mean ? Are you asking 'to whom are the commandments addressed ?' Or 'to whom are they to be applied ?' (Which are two different questions.) . . . . and therein, I would say, is the answer to the question, by the way.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 15:24
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    Grammatical gender does not necessarily imply biological gender. Even in English we say "mankind" while referring to both sexes of homo sapiens (these words are grammatically masculine). Hebrew is the same. The feminist article is looking for a peg on which to hang a grievance!
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 22:41
  • @NigelJ I'm curious and value your opinion: Do you think this question is off-topic? Or, do you think that it is a good opportunity to explore how language gender applies to hermeneutics?
    – Jesse
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 9:19
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    @Jesseיִשַׁי I think the question is unclear. My view is that the wording is imprecise. I agree with the up-voted and accepted answer.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 10:10

3 Answers 3

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The article is absolutely wrong to infer anything about the intended gender of the audience by the gender of the verbs alone, for the simple reason that in Hebrew, all written and oral addresses to more than one person - if they aren't exclusively female - are given using masculine verbs. Even Spanish, for example, works this way, too.

That said, since it was a patriarchal society (as re-affirmed in the New Testament), commands and teachings were given to the men qua the instructors of the women. There was no notion of women teaching men, or anything of the sort. Rather, the men, as the heads of the household were the 'priest at home' as far as conveying to the family what God's law was and making sure his family abided by it. Think of Job offering sacrifice, for instance.

As further consideration: It would not be untrue to say this article is so replete with errors, historical, linguistic, and logical, that it makes more sense to ask what is right with it, than what's wrong—in fact, it comes across as duplicitous, in my opinion. But it all comes from the same root worldview: a radical variant of egalitarianism or feminism — viewing the sexes as fundamentally interchangeable (if not in word, then in deed)—because any time a woman is expected to do or not do something, but not a man, or vice versa, then this is 'oppressive' or 'misogynistic,' because they are not being treated equally in every way. So the expectation that a woman be a housewife, for instance, or that motherhood is one of the highest goods for a woman, or per St. Paul, that the man is the head of the woman and of the household, is often offensive to such people. And understandably—if you're working with a radically egalitarian worldview. But that's the problem—when one reads Scripture with a preconceived, and in this case, radical worldview, it always leads to one of two outcomes: either the Scripture is twisted drastically in meaning and out of context to fit their ideas (eisegesis) which are manifestly not present there, or Scripture is denied as inspired or divine, or just straight up called bigoted and wrong—or some mixture thereof. This paragraph only exists because the author of the article is evidently guilty of both.

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    Another aspect of the Ten Commandments is the verbs are 2nd person masculine singular not plural. Thus, they address Israel as a whole, just as does the Shema in Deut. 6:4ff.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Aug 12, 2022 at 9:16
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jesse
    Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 0:00
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    Concerning edit history: there was some discussion about the original version using the word "feminism". I consulted with other moderators and understand that the word itself is not bad, as long as it is used 1. with respect to everyone and 2. to be helpful. After the statement was removed in an edit, I added the last paragraph to drive at the point the author tried to make in a useful way. The author may feel free to edit this. Just keep respectful and informative. It is a good observation. Eisegesis is a real thing and happens often, possibly here. Point that out respectfully. Cheers!
    – Jesse
    Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 7:33
  • @Jesseיִשַׁי I appreciate the succinct edit! But I wanted to take another shot at conveying my point. Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 13:13
  • @SolaGratia great! But, you need sources, some which I provided as simple links to Wikipedia, for at least “feminism”, though others are welcome. And, your current last paragraph contains several categorical conclusions about what a group of people may think; this probably doesn’t apply to the entire group, there are many groups fitting the description with varying views, and you don’t cite any evidence for these conclusions. That needs to be cleaned up. I agree with the warning about the motive of the eisegesis. Please edit so it is so calm and scientific that it can’t be rightly flagged.
    – Jesse
    Commented Aug 16, 2022 at 14:14
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The last of the traditional Ten Commandments says in Exodus 20:17 (NKJV):

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

(emphasis mine)

Since in the Bible, women don't have wives, this can be assumed to be addressed to an exclusively male audience. Women were expected to be subordinate to men. Note it doesn't mention husbands (nowhere does it say "you shall not covet your neighbor’s husband"), and the possessive pronouns are all masculine.

You can come to the same conclusion using an Interlinear Bible (see the link for more information about each Hebrew word):

Not you shall covet house of your neighbor not you shall covet wife of your neighbor nor his-manservant nor his-maidservant nor his-ox nor his-donkey nor anything that [is] your neighbor.

I've marked all the masculine and feminine Hebrew words as indicated. I've added a dash between English words that are part of a single Hebrew word because some Hebrew words can contain two referents, and those referents can have different genders.

We can ignore the grammatical gender of the non-human referents and focus on the humans. "neighbor" and "manservant" are masculine, "wife" and "maidservant" are feminine. Someone might argue that the masculine includes the feminine, e.g. for "neighbor". If that was the case, there would be no need to specify both "manservant" and "maidservant"; "manservant" would do for both genders. However, the author of the text thought it was important enough to be specific about gender there, but nowhere else in the same sentence.

The Biblical text does not address the possibility that women could be property owners, and "wife" is list among the other property. A man would own a house, a wife, male and female servants, an ox, a donkey, and other things. I.e. a wife was a man's possession.

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    An answer based on evidence. Thank goodness. Commented Aug 13, 2022 at 9:52
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    How does the first part of this answer make sense when the question is specifically about Hebrew pronouns?
    – JollyJoker
    Commented Aug 13, 2022 at 15:28
  • I'd recommend editing this answer to focus more on the original Hebrew and less on a 1982 English translation. While you're at it, screen-readers can have trouble with monospace text; you should ideally only use that for code snippets. Would italic text be sufficient?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Aug 13, 2022 at 16:32
  • @JollyJoker Well, maybe because the question is not specifically about Hebrew pronouns. The title isn't. The OP's comments show it isn't. The direct question in the question shows it isn't. It just happens to have a citation which mentions pronouns. Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 0:30
  • @wizzwizz4 How does an italic space look different from a non-italic space? These words are monospaced. These words are italicised. This sentence is monospaced. This sentence is italicised.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Aug 14, 2022 at 2:24
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This is a great question. Another answer touches on a controversy known as "feminism", though the article does not claim to be from a "feminist" perspective. I don't use the term as a stereotypical, but as a description of a known and often self-identified school of values, with many variants within that school. Some things need to be said about this as a matter of understanding hermeneutics.

Essentially, this article lacks any mention of historical context and presumes many fallacies about how gender is used language. Word like "past", "history", "context", "setting", and "situation" don't appear anywhere in the article.

Language

This article stands in judgment over ancient languages, assuming that historical grammar is sexist, primarily on the grounds that many languages default to the masculine gender for words. Today, other languages still do the same, including Spanish. This has mainly been a problem in English within the last century, where only pronouns have gender. In the past for English, and today in many other languages, masculine pronouns are not seen as specifying the sex of the audience, but merely are necessary in grammatical syntax.

For instance, the words "son" and "daughter", "man" and "woman" have near identical spelling in many languages, only having an "a" or "o" near the end of the word to specify gender. In English, the entire word is spelled differently. This is a problem that native speakers to those languages may not even consider. The article in the question would be a likely shock to those audiences.

How sociopolitical and economic causes can affect hermeneutics

There is a reasonable concern that the arguments presented in the article come from a sociopolitical cause similar to if not self-identifying as "feminism". It happens throughout history that people and groups with a social, political, ideological, economic, or objectives other than accurate Bible interpretation will use eisegesis, slightly bending the meaning of the Bible to suit their goals, then presenting a convincing list of hermeneutical terms to make it seem like it is exegesis and not eisegesis. Be careful of this and don't be fooled. That could is probably what is happening here. For some reason, the Bible seems to attract a lot of this, probably relating to the Bible's sway in government through the medieval Holy Roman Empire, and that religion is a powerful tool in both the economy and Western elections.

The article does not provide any information as to the author's other beliefs or where the author may stand on other potentially "feminist" -related issues. So, I want to avoid categorizing what other beliefs from that author may be. Albeit, many statements are in line with other ideas and literature often promulgated by people who hold at least an affinity for some "feminist" values.

Politically, socially, or economically -motivated "science", and in our case "hermeneutics" are common throughout human history. This comes from all sides and all opinions. It is human nature to argue with logical fallacies. We often learn this as children negotiating with rewards and punishments from adults. This is not specific to any ideology. So in Bible study, we must remain alert to the appearance of purported "hermeneutics" which may actually mask some undisclosed motive. This applies no matter who is presenting the argument.

Why the 'why' matters

In fact, I have found that many people grow up believing one line of thought in a church or religious circle, but then have a "crisis of faith".

Crisis of faith (East Carolina University)

A crisis of faith is a painful experience in a Christian's life when he or she begins to doubt his or her beliefs, causing grief and confusion for the individual, as well as a sense of disconnection from God.

A crisis of faith may have been essentially caused by that person's Bible teachers giving "the right answers" without explaining "the right reasons". This is one reason why, as a moderator, I focus on "the explanation" of understanding a Bible passage and almost fully ignore "the conclusion" of what it means. I welcome any religious belief, especially those contrary to my own. But, I am very unwelcoming toward any process that doesn't show a clear, concise, objective process for understanding.

I believe that is the case here.

This is not any kind of objective or academic article from the liberal-leaning Huffington "Puffington" Post. The article is predisposed to be biased against the Bible. Here are some quotes from the article, (emphases added):

There's even more evidence, linguistic in nature. Hebrew has four distinct forms of the word "you" and these are gender and number specific. The form of "you" in every single commandment is masculine singular. The text assumes its readers are men.

No, it is not clearly addressing a male audience. This is a clear linguistic fallacy, playing "demagoguery" games, playing on normal unawareness of the masses. In fact, in the writing itself, the term "men" refers to "humankind" if we look at writings from the Declaration of Independence. This author presumes that "men" does not mean "humanity", but "male humans", showing the presumptions from which the article is written.

Women are marginalized in the book of Proverbs as well. Quite a number of times Proverbs uses the phrase "my son." The phrase "my daughter" does not occur. And the commands in Proverbs are consistently second person masculine, never second person feminine.

The same fallacy again about language. The phrase "women are marginalized" is merely asserted with this language fallacy as the only evidence.

The New Testament contains texts that marginalize women as well.

I won't elaborate on the entire article, only to state that the writing has a clear tone of bias and should not be taken as an academic piece. It is intended to influence a audience that knows little about the Bible, or it could likely serve to give the feeling of "having support" to readers who already wanted to hold that opinion anyway. We humans often do that too, from every sector and social opinion—hiring writers and speakers to tell us what we already want to hear.

Historical context and the Bible's slow move toward Human Rights

This is a very good subject for Biblical study concerning women's rights and the Bible. I don't avoid this subject.

This part of historical context is essential to the topic of the article itself. However, the article makes zero mention of the historical dilemma or any historical context at all.

In the article, many of the Bible verse references throughout the article appear out of Biblical order, which runs contrary to good Bible study authorship. It almost seems that the Bible verses were sloppily searched for by someone not very familiar with the Bible. While I disagree with the author's conclusion and poor writing, the quotes below are a very well-worded summary of the dilemma: (Bible links are added because the author of the article did not include them.)

...there are even more difficult texts, with men said to be willing to surrender women to horrendous violence. ...Genesis says the patriarch Lot was willing to force his two daughters out the door to be raped, and the book of Judges says a Levite actually did force his concubine out the door to be gang raped, and after she died he cut her corpse into twelve pieces (Genesis 34; Judges 19-21). And an unmarried woman could be compelled to marry her rapist, as long as the rapist could pay the standard bride price and the woman's father was comfortable with the marriage (Deuteronomy 22:28-29; Exodus 22:16-17).

...and this came after a mention of the New Testament, but again refers only to matters in the Old Testament. This further demonstrate that the article itself is rather poorly organized and certainly not academic. Nonetheless, this is also an important point...

Within the "Household Codes" of the New Testament... And the custom of a marital "bride price" (money given by the groom's family to the bride's family) reveals that marriage was, at least in some respects, a property transfer, as payment had been made to acquire the bride (Genesis 34:12; Exodus 22:16; 1 Samuel 18:25; Genesis 24:53).

With matters like this, the Bible does not condone nor prescribe these pre-existing customs of that ancient culture. The Bible came after these customs were long in place. By the time we get to the New Testament, Jesus is friend to many oppressed women (Luke 7:36-50, John 8:1-11), and Paul even urges the release of a slave while the law of that time would condemn the slave to death:

Philemon 16 (NASB)

no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother

This criticism from the article is blind to the historical danger a women could have been in:

And a woman's religious vow could be nullified by her father or her husband (Numbers 30:3-15).

Remember, Israel had no government and no king. A family's father was the closest thing to a judge and sheriff that most people had access to. The time of "Judges" comes after the time of Joshua, which comes about 40 years after this law came from God. Even in that time of "Judges", only one judge settled disputes through all Israel; there was no government until Israel demanded "a king like other nations" (1 Samuel 8:6-20).

This law actually served to help protect the woman if she married "with a knife to her back" so to speak. It keeps the family as a kind of "escape clause", assigning both a judge and sheriff, if she finds herself in an abusive marriage so that her husband cannot essentially use a marriage as an excuse to kidnap her from her family and make her into a slave. Given the pre-existing customs of that culture, this would not be unheard of. So, we see more evidence that the Bible is slowly and surely moving more towards women's rights and rights toward all people.

As a final example, this criticism from the article addresses the idea that a man and women do not have interchangeable roles in a marriage:

Within the "Household Codes" of the New Testament, husbands are commanded to "love their wives" and to avoid treating them "harshly," but women are commanded to "submit to" their husbands (Colossians 3:18-19; Ephesians 5:22-25).

This is more of having a "master of ceremonies" to keep a meeting focused. It never states that one sex is more important than the other. If anything, more duty is placed on the husband. Moreover, this passage acknowledges that different sexes are indeed different, while each retains both rights and moral obligation to others.

So, it is essential in Biblical hermeneutics to understand that:

  1. The culture was indeed oppressive
  2. The God's direction through history in the Bible slowly and surely moves us away from that oppression toward equal rights for all people

What to think of this

I am not really worried or bothered by this article, though I certainly don't agree. Others may be understandably bothered and disconcerted because any socially-motivated "science" (and exegetical hermeneutics are an objective science, while eisogesis is more of a subjective art) can mislead people who are seeking knowledge and may not know how things are so hotly debated.

As a moderator, I would say that the article's content itself would not be on-topic because it is highly opinion-filled and does not explain the process of hermeneutics nor where those hermeneutics originated.

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  • While the article's criticism of the Hebrew language may not be valid (can't say much about that), there may be merits to pointing out misogyny or other issues in the Bible, as (a) one could argue that the Bible condones or commands such practices, and this would need to be "explained away", rather than being able to read the text as written, and (b) the Bible, as written in English, is seen as inspired by a perfect being and is used as a source of wisdom and moral guidance in the modern day by experts and laypeople alike, so having it contain objectionable moral principles is problematic.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 10:22
  • @NotThatGuy I address those seemingly "misogyny" issues in my answer. And, the English translations are not seen as "inspired" by any notable Bible-believing group, only the original manuscripts. The only exception would be what is often known as a "King James Only" belief, which is not mainline. I appreciate the thoughtful review and discussion.
    – Jesse
    Commented Aug 17, 2022 at 10:33

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