God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

More on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Suzanne McCarthy brings up the issue, again, of whether the Greek word anthropos is exclusively masculine (“man”) or gender neutral (“person”).

The short answer is that it is both.

We’ve been through this before, but the Greek framework of gender really is difficult for speakers of languages like English to grasp in the abstract, so here are some English examples that will help make things clearer.

The first example is the English word “day,” which has two clear, mutually incompatible meanings. The first is “24-hour period.” There are seven days in a week, 365 days in a year, stores are open for 24 hours a day, etc. The second is “part of a day.” Some pharmacies are open day and night, night follows day, days get shorter in winter, etc.

The second example is “luck,” which again was two clear, mutually incompatible meanings. The first is “good fortune.” The phrase “with any luck” means “with good fortune.” The second meaning is more general, “fortune of any sort.” That’s why people can have good luck or bad luck, and why “I can’t believe his luck” applies equally to lucky people and unlucky people.

The third example is “child,” which yet again has two meanings: “young human” and “any human with a parent.” So we have the phrase, “men, women, and children,” but also “adult children of aging parents.”

This final case is particularly interesting, because every person has a parent (even if the parents are dead: “children continue to mourn their parents’ death for years”). Just looking at the two definitions, it would seem that “child” in the sense of “someone’s offspring of any age” is a pretty silly word to have. How would it be different than “person”?

The answer is that “child” in this broader sense is only used in connection with parents. “Here comes a child” almost always refers only to a juvenile. But “parents and children” is ambiguous.

The case of “day” shows us a pattern that is similar in some ways, different in others. It’s different in that “day” is completely ambiguous. In my dialect, at least, if a store is “open all day,” I don’t know if it’s open at night or not. But it’s similar in that the phrase “day and night” is entirely clear.

One important lesson we learn from all of this is that words often have one meaning when they are used alone, and a separate meaning when they are used in distinction to something else. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, the various meanings can seem confusing, inconsistent, or even contradictory. Nonetheless, native speakers usually find the words entirely clear.

Not surprisingly, the Greek anthropos works just like these words.

By itself, it usually means “person.” John 16:21 is a pretty clear example: “a woman in labor suffers pain, but when her child is born she doesn’t remember her pain on account of her joy at having brought a person [anthropos] into the world.” To the best of my knowledge, no one thinks that this only refers to male children.

On the other hand, anthropos also contrasts with female-gender words like thugater (“daughter”), e.g. in Matthew 10:35; gune (“woman”), e.g., in Matthew 19:3; etc. Looking at the second instance, it’s clear that “an anthropos leaves his father and mother and joins his wife” refers only to men taking wives, not women. I don’t think anyone believes otherwise.

These examples point in a very clear linguistic direction. The Greek word anthropos — like many gendered words in gendered languages and like many other words in other languages — has more than one meaning.

In this context — and I think this was Suzanne’s point in her posting — it’s common to observe (as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood does here) that “in the New Testament, when this term [anthropos] is used for specific individuals, it always refers to males” (their emphasis).

Maybe. But it does not follow from this (potential) fact that anthropos cannot refer to a specific woman. And they even provide the evidence, in their next paragraph: “The list of specific men of which anthropos is used is quite long [...] as distinct from the three times Christ refers to a woman (gune) in a parable.”

The lopsided nature of the text here — that is, the very fact that our data set includes a long list of men and only three women — warns us not to draw general conclusions about the word. If we enlarge the data set, to include, for instance, Suzanne’s example from Herodotus’ Histories (1.60), we do find anthropos used in regard to a specific woman.

Two additional points seem in order:

First, I gather from the CBMW piece that some people are trying to use the linguistic qualities of the word anthropos to determine Jesus’ gender. This doesn’t seem like the right approach to me. Again from the CBMW piece: “That Jesus is an anthropos means first of all that he is a human being; but it also means that he is a male human being.” I don’t think so.

Secondly, I frequently read claims like, “Jewish women [in Jesus' day] were kept in subjection and sometimes even in seclusion” (from Scanzoni and Hardesty’s All We’re Meant To Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, quoted in the CBMW piece). Again, I don’t think so. Salome Alexandra ruled Judaea as queen for about a decade shortly before Jesus’ time. This was a hardly a culture that universally denied power to women.

At any rate, and in summary, lots of words have a variety of interrelated, sometimes contradictory meanings that are determined in part by context. The Greek anthropos is no different. Sometimes its meaning most closely overlaps with “man,” sometimes with “person,” sometimes with “human.” But picking and choosing examples without taking into account how language works will almost always lead to a conclusion that is as convincing as it is wrong.

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September 20, 2013 - Posted by | general linguistics, grammar, translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , ,

58 Comments »

  1. […] Context determines which, as Joel Hoffmann explains: […]

    Pingback by Ἄνθρωπος: Both “Man” and “Person” | Dr. Platypus | September 20, 2013 | Reply

  2. I’ve never before today seen, heard, or imagined “I can’t believe his luck” being used about _bad_ luck.

    Comment by kategladstone | September 20, 2013 | Reply

    • It’s a minor matter, but really? If someone, say, gets hit by a bad driver, and then on the the way to the hospital his ambulance is also hit by a bad driver, I might saw, “I can’t believe his luck.” You wouldn’t? How about, “can you believe his luck?”

      What about, “just my luck, I’ll get into another accident on the way to the hospital.”

      (Sorry about the gruesome examples.)

      Comment by Joel H. | September 20, 2013 | Reply

      • I agree with Kate. If someone said “I can’t believe their luck” about someone in a bad situation I’d be a little confused.

        “Just my luck,” though, is definitely about bad luck.

        Comment by Jeff C. | September 20, 2013

      • Sorry, I find it odd that people haven’t heard “luck” used like that before. The tone is generally sarcastic (in the negative sense) and requires a context in which to qualify the person’s luck. In truth, when I hear the phrase “believe (someone’s) luck,” I lean toward the negative (with a reservation to the positive) before I hear the whole situation because most of the time I hear the phrase in the negative sense (but that’s just me).

        Comment by George M | September 20, 2013

  3. I disagree withnthis analysis. Anthropos means “human being” and sometimes refers to a “man.”

    Here are other examples,

    An American and his wife
    The doctor and his wife
    The missionary and his wife
    The rabbi and his wife

    Does the word American or any other of these words mean “man” or designate maleness. The rabbi,, almost, but the word does not actually mean “Male.”

    Your proposition that anthropos has two meanings on a level with each other, as human and male, proposes a false linguistic situation. My sense is that you did not spend your teen years immersed in Greek literature.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 20, 2013 | Reply

    • Do you think that in 1 Cor 7:1 (“…it is good for an anthropos not to touch a gune” the prohibition is for all people not to touch women, or just men not to touch women? I think it has to be the latter. Continuing your examples, though, “Americans shouldn’t touch a woman” to me means all Americans, not just men. Similarly with doctors, missionaries, rabbis, etc.

      Do you think Matthew 19:3 (“…is it lawful for an anthropos to divorce his gune would be grammatical the other way around: “is it lawful for an anthropos to divorce her aner”?

      Comment by Joel H. | September 20, 2013 | Reply

      • But we can say “Americans visiting here should not marry a local woman.” “Americans” solidly refers to men, no question, but saying “This person is American” can never identify a person as male. Neither can the word anthropos. It doesn’t have that force. Only the context provides that information.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 20, 2013

      • There is a hierarchical difference between the meaning “human” and the possible referent, “male.”

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 20, 2013

      • I don’t mean to but in, but It seems to me you both are saying the same thing, but appear to be in disagreement. (???)

        Comment by George M | September 20, 2013

      • How about 1 Cor 6:18? (“…Every sin that an anthropos commits is outside the body…” Does this only apply to men who are not sinning sexually (i.e., with a prostitute)?

        There’s a trackback to a post at BLT now (below) that shows how Richmond Lattimore typically read the Greek phrase as “human” or “mortal human.” It wouldn’t have be strange for him to translate 1 Cor 7:1 as follows:

        Concerning the matters you wrote me of,
        “It is a good thing for a person not to touch any woman;”
        but to save you from loose living,
        let each man have his own wife,
        and each woman have her own husband.
        Let the husband give his wife her due,
        and so likewise the wife to her husband.

        Comment by J. K. Gayle | September 22, 2013

    • It doesn’t make sense to use English words and phrases to try to establish something about the semantics and pragmatics of Greek “anthropos” if I understand your argument properly.

      Comment by photinieucharistia | September 23, 2013 | Reply

      • You’re right that we don’t look at English to figure out what Greek means.

        But sometimes English can demonstrate a linguistic pattern that we find in Greek, too. That’s why I gave these examples. They are like the Greek anthropos in that they exhibit more than one meaning.

        In other words, they help us ask the question, “what are the meanings of this word and how are they related?” instead of “what is the one meaning of this word?”

        For example, I can imagine a debate by non-English speakers about the English word “day.” One person has a gazillion examples of how it clearly means a 24-hour period. Another person notices that “day” is different than “night.” Until these two people realize that “day” means both, they’ll never understand the word. Instead, they’ll persist in their confusion, each one citing more and more examples of the usages that support their own limited understanding of the word.

        I think it can be helpful to keep that pattern in mind when looking at ancient languages.

        Comment by Joel H. | September 23, 2013

  4. On another issue, it is despicable of Christian woman to place the oppression of women in Jewish custom. All the Jewish women I know are more liberated than the ChrIstian ones. Christian women should not “other” the oppression of women. So I apologize for S and H.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 20, 2013 | Reply

    • Who or what is S & H? Along other fronts, you can’t build a convincing argument by simply asserting that in your personal experience all Jewish women are more liberated than Christian women. Also, who exactly locates the oppression of women in Jewish custom? And finally, what do you mean by “more liberated”?

      Comment by photinieucharistia | September 23, 2013 | Reply

      • I was referring to Scanzoni and Hardesty onthe one hand, and Judith Plaskow on the other hand, especially her essay, ‘Anti-Judaism in Feminist Christian Interpretation’.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 23, 2013

  5. If i say “this creature is an anthropos,” it can only have one meaning, that the creature is human. It can never mean that the creature is male. Not possible. Only in a few restricted environments, the word refers to a male in such a way that we know it is a male being refered to. This is not the same thing as the “meaning” of the word. It is not accurate to say there are 2 meanings, human and male, of equal effect. The word anthropos never idenitifies maleness, but it can be used in a context, where we know the anthropos must be a male by context not by the meaning of the word.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 20, 2013 | Reply

    • If I say “this creature is an anthropos,” it can only have one meaning, that the creature is human. It can never mean that the creature is male. Not possible.

      I agree.

      I disagree about the broader implications of that fact.

      Just as “this person is a child” clearly indicates a juvenile even though “these are Chris’s three children” does not, words in general have default meanings, but it’s a mistake to use those default meanings to determine their entire semantic import.

      In the case of anthropos, I still don’t understand how you explain 1 Cor 7:1, and, in particular, if you’re right why 1 Cor 7:1 can’t mean “no one shouldn’t touch a woman” but only “no man should touch a woman.” What am I missing.

      Comment by Joel H. | September 21, 2013 | Reply

      • Surely here we first need to understand what “touch a woman” means in the biblical context, 1 Corinthians 7:1. Is it literal? In that case the analogy with “a doctor may not touch a woman” is a good one, perhaps with “except in the presence of a nurse”: is this intended to apply only to male doctors (and female nurses)? Perhaps, but perhaps not. But then that is not what the biblical phrase means. It just might mean “marry a woman” (cf NIV 1984), but in that case, in the days before same sex marriage, the context requires that the anthropos is male. More likely it means “have sexual relations with a woman” (NIV 2011), and as the author is not Sappho but Paul that should again probably be taken as implying that the anthropos is male. But in either case it is the context rather than the word anthropos that gives the male meaning.

        By the way, this discussion between Joel and Suzanne seems to be a repeat of one in 2009, which I blogged about at the time. As I noted there, the apparent use of anthropos with male meaning in 1 Corinthians 7:1,26 is anomalous, and I suggested why:

        this non-generic use of anthropos was a characteristic of the letter from the Corinthians, reflecting the dialect or idiolect of its author. It certainly doesn’t seem to be characteristic of the rest of the New Testament.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | September 22, 2013

      • In response to Peter, when I look at the Greek and use a concordance, the only other use of the verb in the New Testament refers to the crowds literally touching (seeking to touch) Christ. I don’t know if the same verb is used in the Septuagint.

        Comment by photinieucharistia | September 23, 2013

      • photinieucharistia, I don’t know what Greek concordance you are using. But according to mine the verb in 1 Corinthians 7:1, haptomai, is used 35 times in the New Testament. I accept that in most of these cases (but not 1 John 5:18) the sense is literal. But that does not imply that all uses of the verb are literal.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | September 23, 2013

  6. [17] ἡ οὖν παλλακὴ τοῦ Φιλόνεω ἠκολούθει τῆς θυσίας ἕνεκεν. καὶ ἐπειδὴ ἦσαν ἐν τῷ Πειραιεῖ, οἷον εἰκός, ἔθυεν.1 καὶ ἐπειδὴ αὐτῷ ἐτέθυτο τὰ ἱερά, ἐντεῦθεν ἐβουλεύετο ἡ ἄνθρωπος ὅπως ἂν αὐτοῖς τὸ φάρμακον δοίη, πότερα πρὸ δείπνου ἢ ἀπὸ δείπνου. ἔδοξεν οὖν αὐτῇ βουλευομένῃ βέλτιον εἶναι μετὰ δεῖπνον δοῦναι, τῆς Κλυταιμνήστρας ταύτης2 [τῆς τούτου μητρὸς] ταῖς ὑποθήκαις ἅμα διακονοῦσαν.

    [17] Philoneos’ mistress accompanied him to attend the sacrifice. On reaching Peiraeus, Philoneos of course carried out the ceremony. When the sacrifice was over, the woman ἡ ἄνθρωπος considered how to administer the draught: should she give it before or after supper? Upon reflection, she decided that it would be better to give it afterwards, thereby carrying out the suggestion of this Clytemnestra here.

    Anthropos is a word of common gender. When used with a masc. article it refers to a man, or to amgeneric human being. When it is used with a fem. article, it refers to a woman.

    We now have three meanings for anthropos, human being, man, woman. OR we have one meaning, a human being, who can be either male or female. I don’t understand people who propose two meanings, human and man, as if women just don’t exist.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 20, 2013 | Reply

  7. Antiphons speech on the prosecution of the stepmother.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 20, 2013 | Reply

  8. I don’t mean to but in, but It seems to me you both are saying the same thing, but appear to be in disagreement. (???)

    George: There are at least two possible understandings of anthropos.

    The first is that it only means “person,” but sometimes that person might happen be male. For example, “this person is the pope” in English implies that the person is a man, but not because “person” in English means “male person,” but because of the broader context. According to this approach, the “male” implications of anthropos are no different than any other incidental qualities of a person. Sometimes the person might have red hair, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that anthropos ever means “person with red hair.”

    The other interpretation is that anthropos sometimes specifically means “male person.”

    I’m taking the second position. My understanding is that Suzanne is taking the first.

    (There’s a third position: anthropos always means “male person.” I don’t see any way to support this.)

    My point in this post is to show that even if anthropos sometimes means “person in general,” it can still mean “male person” other times, and vice versa.

    It’s an important theoretical point because some people look at 1 Cor 7:1, for instance, and, understanding anthropos there to mean “male person,” leap to the conclusion that it always implies maleness. I think they’re right about 1 Cor 7:1 but wrong about the conclusion, because they don’t understand that words frequently have different meanings depending on how they’re used. Other people focus only on the general nature of anthropos and end up relying (wrongly, in my opinion) on social context or other external factors for the apparent maleness of some of the word’s uses.

    Comment by Joel H. | September 21, 2013 | Reply

    • hmmm … I see. So it’s kinda like the English word “guys,” as in “What do you guys want for dinner?” vs. “I saw some suspicious looking guys at the mall today” (but not really). It’s kinda the reverse of ‘anthropos’.

      Question though: how similar is the use of the Greek ‘anthropos’ to the Hebrew ‘adam’? (or vice versa)

      Comment by George M | September 22, 2013 | Reply

      • Why do all of you ignore thefact that anthropos was regularly used forvwomen because they too are human. No, not like guys. Women are equally human and equally called anthropos and this is being ignored. Do you deny that women are human?

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 22, 2013

      • Adam is not used that often for an individual man or woman, but 30,000 young girls were called adam in Numbers 31. No men included. Once again, it designated these women as humans, not as males.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 22, 2013

      • Well, to be clear I said it’s “kinda” like it, “but not really.” And from J. Hoffman’s perspective it is similar –not ruling out that the example I gave is fundamentally opposite (in terms of gender qualification). But it’s the point that a word can be gender specific while at the same time be gender neutral depending on context and who is actually being addressed (which is his perspective).

        And I understand your point as well. I don’t think anyone who has posted in this forum so far is ignoring your emphasis on the gender neutrality of the word ‘anthropos’ and that it’s meaning can specify, depending on context, a man or a woman, to the point of dismissing your argument as invalid. On the contrary. If my silence on that point offended you, then I’m sorry. I realize this isn’t a live forum and you can’t see my non-verbal response … but don’t assume silence means your perspective doesn’t matter. Sometimes it just means there’s nothing to argue about or that the point is clear and needs no further clarification.

        Comment by George M | September 22, 2013

      • Then you do see that anthropos means human, and refers equally to man or woman? On what basis then does anyone propose only two meanings, human or man? This is what I do not understand. I know the biblical manhood types have the agenda of demoting women, but surely others recognize “woman” as an equal meaning of anthropos.

        Sorry if this comment is out of sequence in the thread.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 22, 2013

      • I suppose my protest is against Joel’s post which completely ignores the fact that “woman” is one of the meanings of anthropos. He writes,

        “Sometimes the meaning overlaps with man, and sometimes with human,”

        But where is the woman? This is my question.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 22, 2013

  9. What about my example, and one of many, where anthropos clearly means a woman? You simply do not acknowledge what is a very simple fact. Sometimes anthropos refers to a woman. The word means either a man or a woman, not specifically a man. You do not acknowledge this fact, and therefore your opinion is unrelated to the data. Do you simply disallow data that refers to women, and on what basis are women excluded? Are we to be rendered invisible, silent, deleted?

    Of course, anthropos can refer to a male person, but equally it can refer to a female person. The word does not reveal the gender, ever. Only the grammatical component, the article, must agree with the gender of the person referred to. However, grammatical gender is not usually translated, it is not a semantic component.

    1 Cor. 7 is an idiomatic expression in which the pairing with woman tells us anthropos is male. In isolation, anthropos may refer to a man or a woman depending on the article. But the article is not a semantic component of the word.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 21, 2013 | Reply

  10. […] Hoffman and our BLT co-blogger Suzanne McCarthy have been discussing whether the Greek phrase ἄνθρωπος (transliterated anthropos) should imply male gender […]

    Pingback by Lattimore’s Sappho, Homer, & St. Paul | BLT | September 22, 2013 | Reply

  11. I’m a little surprised by the lack of communication here, and even more surprised by the vitriol.

    No one is saying that women aren’t people, and no one is saying women don’t exist.

    In terms of data, no one (here) is ignoring the instances where anthropos refers to a woman. I for one am grateful to Suzanne for her wide knowledge of ancient Greek texts and for providing examples where the singular anthropos refers to a woman. (The singular/plural distinction is an important one linguistically.)

    What we disagree about is the significance of those examples. Providing more of them won’t help.

    From my training as a linguist I know that one common pattern is ambiguity. That’s why I provided the English examples. And there are more. I’ve written about exactly the same thing in Modern Hebrew for the Jerusalem Post (who have since revamped their website, along the way removing all the paragrpah breaks along with some other formatting). And I know that in many dialects of English, “man” means both “male person” and “any person.”

    So I have a framework for the complete paradigm we get by combining examples like Suzanne’s (outside the NT), John 16:21 (where anthropos seems to mean “person”) and 1 Corinthians 7:1 (where it seems to mean “man”). The Greek word anthropos is one more case of a very common linguistic pattern.

    There are other potential explanations. If I understand J.K. Gayle‘s comment correctly, some people think that 1 Cor. 7:1 means no man and no woman should touch a woman. And Peter Kirk thinks that 1 Cor. 7:1 is anomalous.

    I’m not convinced by either argument. I just don’t believe that 1 Cor. 7:1 had anything to say about women touching other women. And to me the usage of anthropos in that passage is similar to the other (subset of) cases where anthropos represents a man. But this is the conversation I’d like to have.

    To me 1 Cor. 7:1 is so clearly about men touching women that it’s hard for me to imagine an argument that would change my mind. But I’m open to suggestions.

    Regarding the “male only” use of anthropos: Part of the evidence is theoretical, and part of it is empirical, in the form of phrases where anthropos is contrasted with feminine terms. Here’s a challenge: Are there any cases where anthropos is contrasted with male terms? For example, do we ever find “can an anthropos divorce her husband…?” parallel with (Matthew 19:3) “can an anthropos divorce his wife…?”?

    Comment by Joel H. | September 23, 2013 | Reply

    • It seems to me that in both 1 Cor. 6:18 and 1 Cor. 7:1, anthropos has less to do with the sex of the human and more to do with the fact that there are persons engaged in sin or in the potential to sin. Then the context makes clear that Paul is writing about the hypothetical mortal human who is a male, having sex with a prostitute or potentially “touching” a woman.

      I like your challenge! It’s exactly the sort of evidence needed to make the linguistic, semantic case. I agree with Peter that Suzanne’s LXX evidence meets the challenge. Also, Sappho’s line, “κά]λλος ἀνθρώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα” does suggest that Helen is human and that she divorced, or left, her husband:

      http://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2013/09/22/lattimores-sappho-homer-st-paul/

      Comment by J. K. Gayle | September 23, 2013 | Reply

    • “What country, stranger, do you claim as your fatherland? And who of mortals (anthropos) on earth, bore you from her aged womb? Do not befoul your story with most hateful lies, but tell me of your birth.”

      Anthropos is the person with a womb who bore a man.

      Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 23, 2013 | Reply

    • There is a long history in the Hebrew bible, of women claiming their rights. It is not usually called “vitriol.” I was raised and lived without certain basic human rights. That is my background. In this thread, it appeared to me that certain uses of anthropos for women were not being acknowledged. I apologize if I offended you.

      Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 23, 2013 | Reply

  12. To me 1 Cor. 7:1 is so clearly about men touching women…

    Joel, I agree about the “men” and “women” part. But do you intend to be so certain about “touching”, that this is literal, and not a metaphor or a euphemistic figure of speech?

    As for your final challenge, how about Suzanne’s example from Numbers 31:35,40 LXX? In v.35 anthropos is used of women in the same verse as aner is used of the men they had not slept with. But there is an explanatory gune. And the whole verse is a very literal translation of the Hebrew.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | September 23, 2013 | Reply

    • I don’t think that “touching” here is literal, but I’m not convinced that it’s a euphemism, either. But even if it does function like the English “sleep with,” we still have to ask whether it applies to all people touching/sleeping with/whatever’ing with women, or just to men doing these things. I think it just applies to the men.

      As for Numbers 31:35, I’m not saying that anthropos can’t apply to women. Of course it can, because it can mean “person.” (Also, I’ve avoided the LXX here, because we frequently find literal but otherwise anomalous Greek there, so I think we should be careful about drawing nuanced conclusions about Greek only from the LXX translations of Hebrew.)

      I think perhaps the confusion is between what a word means and what it can happen to refer to.

      For example, “person” in English doesn’t mean “short person with red hair,” even though it’s grammatical in Enlgish to say “that person is short and has red hair.”

      Similarly, anthropos in Greek doesn’t mean “woman,” even though it’s grammatical in Greek to say “that anthropos is a woman.”

      By contrast, just like a “day” in English can be subdivided into “day” and “night,” “anthropos”‘s in Greek can be subdivided into “anthropos”‘s and “females.” That’s why 1 Cor. 7:1 can exist side by side with John 16:21.

      A competing claim (which I don’t think is right) would be that the word anthropos can be used alongside any subset of people to refer to people who are not in that subset. If so, we would expect to find expressions like “anthropos‘s and men” alongside “anthropos‘s and women.” I don’t think we do.

      Another example from English might be helpful: In some dialects (though not my own), “men” means “humans” in general, but also one particular subset: males. This is why we have “all men are created equal” alongside “man and wife.” What we don’t find in English is “man and husband” with the meaning of “female and husband.” As a consequence, we can imagine a phrase like, “when men take wives they should…” but not “when men take husbands…” (except in regard to homosexual marriage). This is true even though we can also imagine a phrase like, “she was part of all the king’s men who couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

      Comment by Joel H. | September 23, 2013 | Reply

      • I would agree with you that anthropos in Greek doesn’t mean “woman.” But by your same logic, we must say it also doesn’t mean “man.”

        Euripides has Medea replying to Jason (in 945-950 of the play “Medea”). Speaking to him about his wife, she says (and the translation by David Kovacs, a good one, follows):

        εἴπερ γυναικῶν ἐστι τῶν ἄλλων μία. συλλήψομαι δὲ τοῦδέ σοι κἀγὼ πόνου· πέμψω γὰρ αὐτῇ δῶρ’ ἃ καλλιστεύεται τῶν νῦν ἐν ἀνθρώποισιν, οἶδ’ ἐγώ, πολύ, λεπτόν τε πέπλον καὶ πλόκον χρυσήλατον παῖδας φέροντας.

        Yes, if she is a woman like the rest. But I too shall lend a hand in this. I shall send her gifts, gifts I know well are more beautiful by far than any now among mortals by the hand of my children.

        The mortals, the anthropoi, if not only males, refer to females as well.

        Comment by J. K. Gayle | September 23, 2013

      • I understand the difference between what something means, and what it refers too. We are all of us in this thread educated in linguistics. I simply happen to disagree with the illustration in your post being relevant to anthropos.

        In my view, anthropos means “human” and can refer to a man or a woman. In the same way, theos means divine and can refer equally to a god or a goddess. In the same way, doctors, politicians, animals, clerics, etc. etc are all words of common gender. They mayrefer more frequently to males, but the can all of them refer to females. They do not “mean” male.

        So I cannot agree that anthropos “means” human and also ” means” man, but does not ” mean” woman.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 23, 2013

      • “What country, stranger, do you claim as your fatherland? And what woman, (anthropos) of mortals on earth, bore you from her aged womb? Do not befoul your story with most hateful lies, but tell me of your birth.”

        Here is a possibly relevant example but you said that examples would not persuade you.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 23, 2013

    • Peter: I’d be particularly interested in your take on these translation choices.

      Comment by Joel H. | September 24, 2013 | Reply

  13. I would agree with you that anthropos in Greek doesn’t mean “woman.” But by your same logic, we must say it also doesn’t mean “man.”

    Not at all. That’s like saying that the English “day” doesn’t mean “sunset to sunrise,” so by the same logic it also doesn’t mean “sunrise to sunset.”

    In one usage, anthropos means “person” and can refer to any arbitrary one of them: man, woman, young, old, whatever.

    But in the other usage — the clearest example of which I can find in the NT is 1 Cor. 7:1 — the word serves to single out males as opposed to females.

    So all of the following are grammatical Greek: “The woman is an anthropos,” “The man is an anthropos,” and “What an anthropos should do is leave his parents and find a wife….” The important part about the last one is that (as in 1 Cor. 7:1), the male aspect of the person comes from the word anthropos and isn’t just an accidental result of the person being a man.

    The same is true, of course, in “man and wife.” When two women get married, they are not pronounced “man and wife,” even in the dialects in which the word “man” can refer to a woman.

    Comment by Joel H. | September 23, 2013 | Reply

  14. No, Joel, in “What an anthropos should do is leave his parents and find a wife….” the male aspect comes not from the word anthropos but from the context. That is clear if we make a small change to “What an anthropos should do is leave his parents and find a job….”, at least if we allow “his” to be gender generic – in the modern world I would understand this sentence to apply equally to men and women.

    As for “man and wife” in a wedding ceremony, this is a frozen expression taken from a 16th century liturgy, dating back at least to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer form of service. So it is misleading to take it as an example of current English usage. But at the wedding I attended on Saturday, in the USA, I believe the couple were pronounced “husband and wife”.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | September 23, 2013 | Reply

    • No, Joel, in “What an anthropos should do is leave his parents and find a wife….” the male aspect comes not from the word anthropos but from the context. That is clear if we make a small change to “What an anthropos should do is leave his parents and find a job….”, at least if we allow “his” to be gender generic – in the modern world I would understand this sentence to apply equally to men and women.

      Not entirely, because it’s not grammatical to say: “What an anthropos should do is get pregnant by age 20″ or “what an anthropos should do is find a husband.”

      Change the phrases to “what every anthropos should do…” and things become even clearer.

      Context can force the male-only meaning of the word, but not an arbitrary interpretation.

      We find remnants of the same thing in English: “Every man carries his own burden” is potentially inclusive. “Every man should marry a woman” refers only to men. “Every man should get pregnant by age 20″ is absurd in English.

      Comment by Joel H. | September 23, 2013 | Reply

      • Joel, I thought we were almost in agreement, but now I see a fundamental disagreement. You keep trying to make an analogy between anthropos and English “man”. I see that as a completely false analogy. A much better analogy is with “person”, although that one is not perfect either. Yes, “Every person should get pregnant by age 20″ is absurd in a general context, but not necessarily in a speech at a girls’ school (actually I think it is absurd advice if spoken only to women, but that is another matter), and that shows that the sentence is grammatically well formed. And, as we know from examples already given, anthropos can be used in this way referring to a group of women only – which is not true of “man” in any dialect of contemporary English with which I am familiar. So in any context, I agree, “Every man should get pregnant by age 20″ is absurd in English. But absurd statements are not usually ungrammatical: the anomaly is only a pragmatic one.

        Anyway, I would dispute that “what an anthropos should do is find a husband” would be ungrammatical even if anthropos were unambiguously male. Until recently it has been pragmatically anomalous because males could not have husbands. One of the arguments made in the UK against same sex marriage was that it was changing the meaning of the word “marriage”. Would you agree? Nevertheless it is clearly a meaningful concept in today’s world, even for those who consider it completely wrong and campaign against it, for a man to find a husband.

        Comment by Peter Kirk | September 23, 2013

      • It is not only possible to say that “the woman is an anthropos,” but also that the anthropos administered the draught of poison. The anthropos was a woman. This is parallel anthropos should not touch a woman. Neither should an anthropos murder her husband.

        Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 23, 2013

  15. Joel, Yes, with Peter, I find “man” in English not at all analogous to “anthropos” in classical / koine Greek.

    I wonder if you find, in your understanding of ancient Greek, that theos serves to single out males — just as you find “anthropos … serves to single out males”?

    You keep referring to 1 Cor. 7:1 as “the clearest example,” but I just don’t see that one as clear. And you haven’t responded to the Sappho fragment, where it has Helen, an anthropos by implication, explicitly beyond the beauty of an “anthropos” and actually leaving her husband. Doesn’t that respond well enough to your challenge?

    I tend to read 1 Cor. 7:1 as I do Cor. 6:18. Do you see the use of anthropos as being different in this short context? Does it mean “man” to you 7:1 but “person” (and not necessarily “man”) in 6:18?

    And how about the first century novel, Challirhoe, which starts in by saying of the woman Challirhoe: “In fact her beauty was not so much human as divine [ἀνθρώπινον ἀλλὰ θεῖον], not that of a Nereid or mountain nymph, either, but of Aphrodite herself”? Or how about the way Plato has Socrates quoting Heraclitus to compare the anthropos with the monkey, the parthenos with the clay pot, and the parthenos with the theos? How does either theos or “anthropos serve to single out a male? How does either word “mean” male?

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | September 23, 2013 | Reply

    • Theos, like anthropos and many other Greek words are words of common gender. A Greek goddess was a theos, and a Greek woman was an anthropos and a Greek deacon like Phoebe was a diakonos, and Junia was an apostolos, and a mare was a hippos, and so on. The notion that any of these words designates maleness breaks down the way the Greek language works.

      Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 23, 2013 | Reply

  16. On similar lines, was Kirsty McColl right that ” ‘singer-songwriter’ means a man”? But don’t take ex-Archdruid Eileen’s new blog too seriously.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | September 23, 2013 | Reply

  17. One thing I think that should be taken into account is the dispersal of the Greek language. We see a similar thing nowadays with the English language. English speakers in America may use a word differently than it is used in England or South Africa. So a Semitic Greek speaker may use a word differently than an actual Greek.

    I’m currently living in South Korea and I see and hear English being used in ways that are completely foreign to me. Nevertheless, English has crept into Korean culture so much so that there is word for it –”Konglish.” Children (even adults) use the words ‘hacking’ and ‘cunning’ to mean that someone is cheating (i.e. copying) on a test or assignment. There are other words and phrases on posters and ads that mean absolutely nothing to me (I mean just complete nonsense), but I assume carries some weight with Korean people. This example is a bit extreme, but I think makes the point that even though we can understand Greek by seeing how Greek people used the language, it’s another thing when a non-Greek person uses it.

    Comment by George M | September 24, 2013 | Reply

  18. Joel, I thought we were almost in agreement, but now I see a fundamental disagreement. You keep trying to make an analogy between anthropos and English “man”. I see that as a completely false analogy. A much better analogy is with “person”, although that one is not perfect either.

    My point is that anthropos is not like “person” or “man” in English.

    Rather, it’s a perfect example of a much wider phenomenon in gendered languages.

    Here’s another example, this time from Modern Hebrew, where we can actually test hypothetical sentences to see if they are accepted by native speakers.

    There’s a Modern Hebrew word ish.

    In many contexts, it looks exactly like our English “person.” The phrase anashim tovim (“good ish‘s”) refers to good people of any gender or age. In the negative — ish lo nimtza, e.g., ["not an ish was present"] — it again refers to people of any gender or age. And so on.

    Yet in other contexts it contrasts with “woman.” The phrase ish v’isha, “an ish and a woman,” means “a man and a woman.” Even more clearly, the phrase at lo ish, “you (f) aren’t an ish,” simply means “you aren’t a man.” It does not mean “you aren’t a person.”

    Similarly, I’m not saying that anthropos means “man.” I’m saying that it functions neither like “person” nor like “man,” even those two are the most common translations.

    Incidentally, this discussion was posted to my book’s facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/AndGodSaid), where a linguist from California only noted that Greek was far from unique in the way anthropos has two roles.

    Perhaps the attempt to define anthropos in terms of a single English word is what’s causing confusion here.

    Comment by Joel H. | September 24, 2013 | Reply

    • Perhaps the attempt to define anthropos in terms of a single English word is what’s causing confusion here.

      I agree. But I don’t think it helps to define it in terms of a modern Hebrew word either. Yes, many languages have rather similar words, but the precise nuances are different. These nuances can also change with time, as with English “man”, or with dialect.

      I could consider Hebrew adam, gender generic almost always in the Bible. This word has been borrowed via Arabic into the closely related languages Turkish and Azerbaijani. In the latter it is a gender generic word for a person. In the former it refers only to a male person, as two single woman friends of mine, western speakers of Azerbaijani, found to their embarrassment when visiting Turkey. They entered a hotel and asked for a two adam room, the normal Azerbaijani phrase for a double room. They were understood as asking for a room with two men provided. Now the Turkish hotelier was probably used to providing an equivalent service for his male guests, but for American women? But I think English “man” could cause similar confusion.

      Comment by Peter Kirk | September 24, 2013 | Reply

  19. […] find myself in a bit of a quandary over at God didn’t say that. Somehow we are not communicating. I threw in the comment that it was a matter of hierarchy, where […]

    Pingback by A common gender noun | BLT | September 24, 2013 | Reply

  20. I have posted a graphic here.

    http://bltnotjustasandwich.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=6227&action=edit&message=6&postpost=v2

    I do think that ish acts more like aner. It refers to a man, but occasionally also to an individual, to a member of society, to each person, and therefore includes women. But anthropos is closer to adam, to a member f the human race. But ish is sometimes translated with anthropos because aner has added baggage in terms of status and citizenship.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 24, 2013 | Reply

  21. http://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2013/09/24/a-common-gender-noun/

    Here is the correct link.

    Comment by Suzanne McCarthy | September 24, 2013 | Reply

  22. […] light of my last post, I thought it might be helpful to move beyond theory to actual translation. How would you translate […]

    Pingback by Translation Challenge on Men, Women, and People: Who is an anthropos? « God Didn't Say That | September 24, 2013 | Reply

  23. […] M. Hoffman – More on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (good discussion in […]

    Pingback by Biblical Studies Carnival: September 2013 | Cataclysmic | October 1, 2013 | Reply


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