Cows, Dogs, and Political Correctness – Part One

Cows, Dogs, and Political Correctness – Part One August 18, 2006

Over on the Better Bibles Blog, I decided to make a comment a few days ago that I knew would be provocative. You see, it seems — at least to my cursory reading of the blog — to be a matter of faith among some people over there that the Greek word ἄνθρωπος (anthropos) never ever means “man” in the sense of males, but instead exclusively and only “people” in a generic sense. On the contrary, so the argument goes, the word ἀνήρ (aner) can only ever mean a man in the masculine sense and never a generic human. This argument becomes central to some who wish to argue against the ESV. On one of many posts about this subject over at Better Bibles Blog, I decided to weigh in with the following comment:

“OK, a gender neutral word which also has gender implications? How does this one strike you — the word COW.

When we say cow, we think of the female cow more than we do of cows and bulls, but it can certainly mean both cows and bulls in some contexts. For example, “The cows all lined up in the shed for milking” versus “The farmer worried about whether his field of cows would reproduce successfully.” Clearly in the latter case the lone bull would be included in the meaning of the word “cow.” (I could have added here that the word “cow” would not have entirely lost its female links.)

A similar example would be the word “dog,” which can and often does mean “dogs and bitches,” but in certain contexts means male dogs only. It is then all about context, but again, if someone was to say “I am taking my dog for a walk,” and the dog in question happens to be male, the word could well have both a generic and a gender-related meaning as they spoke.”

It seems, at least from my quick reading of the resultant discussion, that certain people over on Better Bibles Blog seem to be so wedded to this idea of the unitary meaning of words that they refuse to concede certain obvious points. It was because of this kind of rhetoric that I decided to take the argument about whether a single word can have both a gender-specific and a gender-nonspecific meaning away from the Greek, and away from the endless arguments about whether the word “man” still holds both meanings in English, and move instead into the animal kingdom.

The fascinating thing is that the arguments then centred around whether my words really did or did not have a dual meaning, even if one of the meanings was more prominent. The discussion in two other posts is worth a look.

I am thankful for my Logos Bible software, which puts at my fingertips a wealth of information that a “no theo-degrees” man like me could only have dreamed of even ten years ago. I can even find out for myself in just a matter of seconds exactly how certain Greek words are translated in English Bibles. Perhaps this post will give you some idea of just what is possible with this fantastic resource. If you are interested — remember I still have a 25% discount available on Logos software!

So what of the Greek words we began with? With just a couple of mouse clicks, I was quickly able to find the following examples of where the ESV has translated anthropos as “man,” and at least to my mind, there seems to clearly be a male reference in the word.

Mat 10:35 — “man against his father, and a daughter against her . . .”
Mat 19:5 — “and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father . . .’ “
Mat 19:10 — “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
Mat 21:28 — “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he . . .”
Mark 10:7 — “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother . . .”
1 Cor 7:1 — “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
Gal 5:3 — “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision . . .”
Eph 5:31 — “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother . . .”

Then I switched my focus to aner and found what actually seemed to be examples of the word having a generic overtone, which is, of course, contrary to the popular position.

Acts 3:12
“. . . when Peter saw it, he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”

Acts 17:34
“But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

In the first example, Peter addresses the people. (Incidentally, Luke uses a word here for “people” that everyone seems to agree means nothing other than generic people — a word which was available to the writers of the Bible to use elsewhere had they wanted to!). But, having said he is addressing people — which would surely have included women and even children, Peter begins with “men” of Israel using the word aner.

The second example lists a woman as one of the men who had joined him and believed. This may be the only time a woman is explicitly included in a group of men, and it again uses the supposedly masculine-only word for “man.”

So far we have seen that the biblical use of these words is far from as clear-cut as some would have us believe. In the next installment we will examine what the lexicons have to say.

Browse Our Archives