He or She? The KJV, the MT, and Gender Mismatch

by | Feb 11, 2020 | KJV

Who is he, he is she, and me is who. That’s a phrase Hebrew students learn to remember how the Hebrew word pronounced WHO means “he,” the Hebrew word pronounced HE means “she,” and the Hebrew word pronounced ME means “who.” Slightly confusing (and this is probably the only time Christians will ever want to say “he is she.”). 

What if an English Bible translation translated a Hebrew word meaning “he” as “she”? 

Sound odd? It’s been done. And not in some newfangled “gender-neutral” Bible. I’m talking about the King James Version. 

Advocates of King James Onlyism have a gender problem on their hands. 

King James Only Doctrine

Your typical expression of KJVO bibliology expresses faith in the “Masoretic Text” of the Hebrew Old Testament. Like this statement from Ambassador Baptist College’s doctrinal statement:

We believe in the preservation of God’s Word through the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Greek Textus Receptus.

Or this from the Dean Burgon Society’s Articles of Faith

We believe that the Texts which are the closest to the original autographs of the Bible are the Traditional Masoretic Hebrew Text for the Old Testament, and the traditional Greek Text for the New Testament  underlying the King James Version…

For an exhaustive study of any of the words or verses in the Bible, we urge the student to return directly to the Traditional Masoretic Hebrew Text and the Traditional Received Greek Text rather than to any other translation for help.

Or to quote David Cloud from Way of Life Literature:


If “King James Only” defines one who believes that God has given infallible Scripture in the original Greek and Hebrew writings and that He has preserved that in the Hebrew Masoretic and Greek Received Text and that we have a beautiful translation of it in the English language in the Authorized Version, call me “King James Only.”

The MT is a specific textual form of the Old Testament. It’s the underlying text of the KJV. It’s the standard. So what happens when the two differ? What happens when the KJV differs from the Masoretic Text? Who is right?

A Gender Dilemma 

Case in point, Ruth 3:15. That night at the threshingfloor, Ruth asked Boaz to do the part of a kinsman redeemer. Now it’s morning, and he’s loading her up with barley. Now turn your attention to the final statement of the verse. 

Ruth 3:15  Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.

Here’s the difference: the KJV says “she” (Ruth) went into the city. The Masoretic Text (MT) says, “he” (Boaz) went into the city. Hebrew verbs are inflected, meaning the form of the verb indicates person, number, and gender. So from the form of the verb, you can tell the subject of the verb’s action. In English our verbs are “ran” or “kicked.” In Hebrew, the single word of the verb would encode “the girls ran” or “he kicked.” 

The Hebrew verb here in Ruth 3:15 is yabo (יָּבֹ֖א). It’s a third-person masculine singular verb. Any reader would understand it as “he went.” And that’s what the Masoretic Text says. No one disputes this. But that’s not what the King James Version says, at least in the standard 1769 edition commonly used today. This English translation instead says, “she went into the city.” The 1611 edition, on the other hand, says, “he went into the citie.” But disagreement between editions of the KJV is material for a future post.

What’s my point with this gender identification issue in the KJV then? Those who believe the King James Version is preserved in the Masoretic Text have a disagreement between their translation and its underlying text. If they truly believe the Masoretic Text is authoritative, they should want to change their English translation. If they truly believe their English translation supersedes the Masoretic Text, they will have to ignore the Hebrew text. 


Perceptive readers may note that some modern translations opt for “she went,” too. The ESV and NASB both follow the KJV here. There is later manuscript support for such a choice found in medieval Hebrew manuscripts and medieval versions. But some modern translations such as the NIV and NRSV go with the “he went” reading found in the Masoretic Text. Which is the right reading? Tough to say. But my point isn’t about textual criticism. It’s about where your loyalties lie. Should a Christian give primacy to an English translation or the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts? 

Featured Image: Mothers Stories from the Old Testament (Philadelphia, PA: Henry Altemus Company, 1908), 62.

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall