Vern Poythress criticizes Clines' Dictionary of Classical Hebrew for its Treatment of the Hebrew word אב "Father"

The following criticism of The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew edited by David J. A. Clines (Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) is excerpted from the article "TNIV's Altered Meanings: An Evaluation of the TNIV" by Vern S. Poythress, published on the internet in February 2005.

... the 1993-1995 Dictionary of Classical Hebrew ... has added [a gender-neutral meaning for the Hebrew word ab "father"] ...without any good evidence.

It offers as examples in the singular Isa 38:19; Ezek 18:4; Prov 17:21; and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 3:8. In all four cases the meaning could easily be father. There is no unambiguous evidence that in the singular the meaning is ever parent. And of course there is plenty of unambiguous evidence that it means father.

Indeed, the verses cited in favor of the alleged meaning parent offer a most flimsy basis. Consider Proverbs 17:21. The first half of the verse uses a verb for "begetting" or "fathering," unambiguously indicating the role of the male parent. "He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow" (ESV). The second half uses the singular word for father. It must therefore mean father, not parent.

Next, Ezekiel 18:4 says, "For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son ..." (NIV). The subsequent illustrations in verses 5-24 picture a righteous man who has an unrighteous son, and then an unrighteous father who has a righteous son. In both cases, the people involved are unambiguously male, as can be seen from the mention of defiling or not defiling "his neighbor's wife," 18:6, 11, 15.

Next, Sirach 3:8 says, "Honor your father." Could that possibly mean "honor your parent"? It seems very unlikely, not only because there is no unambiguous case of the meaning parent, but because no one is likely to say it that way. One might say, "Honor your father and your mother," as in Exodus 20:12. One might say, "Honor your father," focusing on one half of the fifth commandment. One might say, "Honor your parents," with a plural form, to include father and mother. One would not say, "Honor your parent," singular, because of its oddity. People do not typically have one parent, but two. The text definitely needs a plural if it wants to be explicitly inclusive.

Finally, Isaiah 38:19 says, "The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness." Who is to say that this means parent? It could just as easily mean father. This verse does not offer any real evidence for the alleged new meaning. To be sure, the expression "the living" in the first half of the verse is very broad. But focusing on the relation of parent to child is already narrowing it. Just from the context, it is impossible to say with certainty how narrow the focus is. In fact, there is good reason to prefer the translation father, because it is more concrete. Even in modern English we typically do not use parent in the singular in such a context. We might say that parents, plural, make something known to their children. Or we would say that a mother does, or a father does, in the singular. In Hebrew poetry, such as we have in Isaiah 38, the singular term is bound to be understood as having the meaning father: (1) father is the common meaning of the word; (2) it makes good sense in context; (3) one would expect a plural if the author wanted explicitly to include both fathers and mothers; and (4) poetry asks for concreteness, not for a dull, bureaucratic concern for explicit inclusiveness.

The new lexicon, then, offers disgracefully inadequate evidence. I am suspicious of a new lexicon, with a publishing date of 1993 and onwards, stemming from an academic environment that heavily favors egalitarianism, that changes previous lexicons on the basis of completely inadequate evidence.