Cows, Dogs, and Political Correctness – Part Two

Cows, Dogs, and Political Correctness – Part Two August 19, 2006

In the first post we began by looking at how two Greek words – anthropos and aner – often translated “man” – are used in the Bible. We will now look at what some of the lexicons say. I consulted all of these in the Logos Bible Software program that I have on special offer to readers of my blog.

The first one I looked at was The Analytical Lexicon of the New Testament. Along with clear statements about gender implications of the word, there is a remarkable breadth of meaning explained here, and it is quite clear that there are multiple meanings for the word anthropos which overlap remarkably well with our word “man.”

anthropos (1) as a generic term: human being, person (Acts 10.26); plural people, mankind, one’s fellow men (Matthew 23.5); (2) as a form of address in friendly relations: friend (Luke 5.20); as a reproach: man, my good fellow (Luke 12.14); in rhetorical speaking: ὦ aνθρωπε κενέ you foolish man! you fool! (James 2.20); (3) with the translation according to the context: man, adult male (Luke 7.25), husband (Matthew 19.10), son (Matthew 10.35); (4) idiomatically in Pauline usage as distinguishing between various aspects of a person; (a) between two sides of human nature ὁ ἔξω (a.) the outer person, physical body in contrast to ὁ ἔσω (ἄ.) the inner being (intellectual, emotional, spiritual aspects) (2 Corinthians 4.16); (b) between a former and a new and different way of living: παλαιὸς ἄ. former person or self, old pattern of behavior in contrast to καινὸς ἄ. new person or self, new pattern of behavior (Ephesians 4.22, 24); (c) between a person not indwelt by God’s Spirit ψυχικὸς ἄ. natural (unredeemed) person in contrast to a person who has God’s Spirit πνευματικὸς (ἄ.) spiritual (redeemed) person. (1 Corinthians 2.14) [1]

I have consulted other lexicons that are available within my Logos software. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] Only in two New Testament lexicons [8] [9] did I find no mention of the word anthropos having a dual meaning when it comes to gender — and to be clear, this was an omission, not a statement that the word never had masculine overtones.

When it comes to the word aner (aνήρ), Vine who didn’t mention gender-specific use of anthropos, is by contrast categorically stating it “is never used of the female sex.” But as is not uncommon, Vine shows here why, despite his popularity, you should not own him as your only lexicon — he is completely alone in his assessment — every other lexicon I examined disagrees categorically and states that aner can mean “man” — both as a male and as a generic person.

Thus, we see that for all the rhetoric about this issue, both of the most common words often translated as “man” in the New Testament can have masculine AND generic connotations. Ah, but, says someone, there is a difference between what a word refers to and what it actually means. Thus, if I use the word “person” to refer to me (and I happen to be male) that does not mean that the word “person” has a male meaning. This is all very well, but such an explanation when applied to anthropos completely falls apart when you examine the use of the words in the New Testament, as we have seen —if a word is used for man in relation to his wife, mother, son, or a woman, then the word DOES have male meaning!

In short, it seems that the words anthropos and aner are loosely synonyms. But going back to my cat and dog analogy, I am willing to concede that the word anthropos is perhaps more like the word “dog,” which most people will assume in most cases applies generically to both dogs and bitches, i.e. to dogkind, but which can at times be gender-specific, and that aner is more like the word “cow,” which most people will assume in most cases means only cows and not bulls — i.e. will generally be gender-specific, but can at times be gender-neutral.

It may be even more controversially the case that both words are more accurately synonyms of each other that are simply used preferentially by different authors. Certainly there is a wide variation in the use of these words in different New Testament books. To my mind, this variation is more likely to reflect the preferences of the authors than an attempt by certain authors to be more or less gender-inclusive than others — does the fact that Luke seems to use the word aner much more than the other gospel writers, for example, really mean that he is trying to be more exclusive of women than they are? That seems highly unlikely — what seems more likely is that he was just more inclined to use that word than the others!

So we are back where we started — both of these words carry shades of meaning both masculine and gender-inclusive in different contexts, and because of the nature of words will, at the very least, carry associations wherever they are used. In any given context it may or may not be obvious which meaning is intended and which is not. I am not convinced that the readers of the New Testament would have stopped to ask themselves “What does the author mean when he uses the word “man”— is it “man” or “man“? Certainly when I read my Bible I don’t tend to bother myself with such questions most of the time — the ambiguity generally doesn’t matter when you know it is there. Some Bible translators attempt to interpret away ambiguity in the text. If we can find a way to match the ambiguity of the Greek in English we should do so. For centuries the very use of the word “man” in English has done just this. Most of today’s arguments are not about the Greek at all, but are about whether English has or has not changed.

In the next post we will look at how understanding differences in translation methods are actually in some ways more important when we look at why Bible translations differ in their use of gender-specific language.


[1] Friberg, T., Friberg, B., and Miller, N. F. (2000). Vol. 4: Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (56). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

[2] Newman, B. M. (1993). Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (15). Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies.

[3] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: A translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (68). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[6] Louw, J. P., and Nida, E. A. (1996, c1989). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains. (Electronic edition of the 2nd edition.) (2:20). New York: United Bible Societies.

[7] Strong, J. (1996). The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Showing every word of the text of the common English version
of the canonical books, and every occurence of each word in regular order. (Electronic Edition) (G444). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.

[8] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9, edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley and G. Friedrich, Ed.) (Electronic Edition) (1:365). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.

[9] Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., and White, W. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (2:389). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[10] Schwandt, J., and Collins, C. J. (2006; 2006). The ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament (2 Pe 1:21). Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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