How inaccurate words hinder our evangelistic efforts with women

For months Sharon prayed that her co-worker Stephanie might accept her invitation to visit her church. Sharon was sure that if her friend experienced the beauty and depth of their authentic fellowship, she might look deeper and find Jesus. For months Stephanie resisted, giving all kinds of reasons. Church people were phony, judgmental, hierarchical, and too political. But when Stephanie's mother passed away suddenly, she decided to accept Sharon's invitation. Sharon was elated, and during the first part of the service her friend seemed open and interested. She sang; she prayed. But then the pastor read Philippians 4:1: Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends. Stephanie stiffened; she shut down, and she refused to tell Sharon why at first.  But after some coaxing she confided, "See, I told you the Bible is a sexist book. Why would I want to worship a God who writes encouraging words to men but leaves out the women." Ah, yes, Paul only addressed the men in that text, calling them "brothers"–or did he? For eons most Christians have done some mental gymnastics when it comes to gender terms. As a result, we don't hear what outsiders hear. Many Christians are clueless as to why outsiders might be offended by the passage the pastor read–but many are. And sadly, it's an unnecessary offense. Because a more accurate translation actually is "brothers and sisters". Yet scenarios like this occur often, spoiling hard-fought dreams of drawing women to Jesus. It's one of the reasons why more women than any other demographic are leaving the Church. With so many Christians intent on biblical accuracy, I can't figure out why Bible enthusiasts don't get this and fix it. Do you?

Well, some have. Kudos to the fine professors and Bible scholars at the seminary where I teach who worked meticulously on the NET Bible translation. They worked carefully to be gender-accurate and you can read a full explanation of their approach in the introductory section of the free NET Bible on bible.org. They are not alone. Yet, by in large, this issue is still ignored by many in the church.

Today the Church vigorously continues to train its people to win converts. We offer evangelism courses. We pair up and knock on doors with hopes of winning a few to Christ. Many churches end every service with an invitation and stuff every give-away-grocery bag with a tract. We pray for our neighbors. We practice friendship evangelism by grilling tons of burgers,  attempting to influence them to consider the wonderful message of salvation. We lead neighborhood Bible studies and  groups like Alpha where investigators can ask  questions that might be roadblocks to faith. We serve the poor, provide medical clinics, and mentor boys and girls in hopes that they will experience the love of Jesus through us and become all-in Christ followers. We  create colorful kid's curriculum for mom's to use in backyard Bible clubs so that we might reach God's precious children, hoping they will enter into a personal relationship with Christ. We travel to other countries to build churches, serve in hospitals, and teach vacation Bible schools. We strategize, we labor, we pray, and we love.

But we are sometimes blind to the unnecessary road blocks we erect that hinder outsiders from truly seeing the love of Christ. Our blindness to using gender accurate language in the Bible is one huge example. I'm not sure why. Maybe we simply prefer what sounds good to us, without considering how it might sound to others. Maybe the issue of "women" is so taboo that we simply can't bear to think about it, so we just do what we've always done regardless of the effect it might have on seekers.  Maybe we are so sick of political correctness that we refuse to even consider this issue. Whatever the reason, we are shooting ourselves in the feet, and many of us don't even realize it. We neutralize all our efforts when we refuse to consider how our message sounds to others, especially the 60% of the potential flock that have been traditionally female.  

As always, looking at how Jesus dealt with an issue is helpful. Matthew 12:46-50 reveals the heart of our Lord. In this account, Jesus was inside talking with a crowd of people and his mother and brothers showed up outside, asking to speak to him. The passage goes like this:

47 Someone told him "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."
48 He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"
49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. (50) For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Mark also includes this account in his Gospel: Mark 3:31-35.

Jesus' sisters were not there but Jesus made a point of including women as part of his new faith family anyway. If He did, why can't we? It might just win more souls than so many of our evangelistic efforts that we sometimes neutralize by forgetting the power of biblical accuracy in God's Word.


Dr. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Christian Education (Specialization: Women's Studies) at Dallas Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Trinity University, DTS, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is the author of New Doors in Ministry to Women, A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field and Women's Retreats, A Creative Planning Guide. She has 30 years experience in Bible teaching, directing women's ministry, retreat and conference speaking, training teams and teachers, and writing curriculum. Married to David for 34 years, she especially enjoys extended family gatherings and romping with her four grandchildren.


  • Sue Bohlin

    Wonderful, Sue.
    Thank you so much for this!

    I added a link to the preface of the NET Bible so people could easily read their philosophy on gender-specific words and phrases.


    The other Sue 😉

  • Mechelle Larson

    Gender specific language

    Sue thank you for addressing what has been a "hot topic". Conclusions are drawn, is it really worth it to bring it up when there is so much more to spend time on? The answer is yes, especially if it is a stumbling block to other women and Jesus did not say it that way. Thank you for the link and the thoughtful article.


  • Sue Edwards

    Thanks, Mechelle

    appreciate your thoughts. I agree. Anything that's an unnecessary stumbling block for others to see Jesus clearly should be given high priority. The Bible talks a lot about not doing that. Blessings.

  • Girl-Repurposed



    The idea that this would be a "hot topic" today is simply because the church has embraced the “it's all about me” mentality. The Bible is not all about us, it's about God and His glory. If mental gymnastics are such a burden and the only reason why a woman would chose to reject the Bible, — that she would be so highly offended at such things as “gender references” she would leave the church, then what in the world would she do when it comes down to real persecution for the faith, I'm talking about being offended and outcasted legitimately for the faith? Personally, the general use of the term “brothers” does not offend  me now, nor did it reading it for the first time (as an adult who came to Christ later in life).

    Ladies, we are not being persecuted or “intentionally left out” of the Bible, let's quit being so sensitive! There are those right now standing firm in their religious convictions, hated and even martyred for their faith- But we are moaning and whining about this? Really?

  • Melanie Newton

    Thank you, Sue

    For those of us familiar with the Bible, I think we automatically read ourselves as women being included whenever we read "brothers" in the New Testament anyway. I do that without hesitation, probably because I have been taught well. It is good for the NET Bible to be more gender accurate, though. And, as I teach, I try to point out inclusiveness as we read through verses. 

    Yet, the "all about me and not offending me" trend in society is disturbing. We have become a very sensitive society that focuses on ourselves a lot. Regarding translation language choices, I wish we had an English word for the plural "you" (although I think y'all would do the trick) so that we can distinguish commands or promises given to individuals from those given to the whole church body. Our tendency is to take everything as something "for me" to claim anytime, anyway. Just saying, y'all. 

  • Leighanne Walker

    Shaking My Head

    How many years ago was scripture written? When Jesus & the apostles preached the gospel they addressed their comments to the men, knowing that the men would then teach it to the women and children. Are we supposed to rewrite the Bible just because it sounds gender specific? The Old Testaments is about God's chosen people, the Jews, are we supposed to ignore it because it isn't about us (christians)?  I think not. Men were the heads of the households and responsible for their family's well being, women had no rights in that age.  They were not even allowed to pray in the temple. Our society now acknowledges women and has given us rights to be equal to men.  That doesn't mean we should rewrite history. It doesn't mean we need to change the words in the Bible so we don't offend someone when a scripture is quoted, especially in church!  There are a lot of scriptures that can offend people just because they want to hear only what they want to hear.  The Bible is also a written record of history.  The books were written in real time, not several hundred years later.

    Let's stop this attitude of  political correctness so we don't hurt anyone's feelings. Folks feelings are going to get hurt no matter what or how thiings said or written.  We can't change history or anything in the past, we can tell it like it is or lie.