Thursday, December 08, 2005

Gender and the Image of God: Another Run at anthropos

I’ve been going round and round with Suzanne and Peter about whether or not the Greek term anthropos is a gender-neutral term that primarily means “person/human being” or whether it is a masculine term that is more appropriately translated “man.” In many ways I think that we have been talking past each other, due in large part to my lack of familiarity with appropriate grammatical terms. Previously I had argued that anthropos was primarily masculine and that it was an example of masculine-representative language (where a masculine term is used to denote a gender-mixed group of people). Of such folly I now repent. I’ve learned two things from this discussion: First, if one is looking for examples of masculine representative language, the best place to look is not to anthropos or adam. Rather, one can make a much better argument by appealing to passages such as Psalm 1:1, which reads “Blessed is the man, etc., . . . where the word English term “man” is derived from the Hebrew ish (lit. “adult male”). Both the Old and New Testaments are filled with examples of where a clearly masculine/male term (such as the Hebrew ish and the Greek aner) is used to designate both sexes (such as in the giving of a hypothetical principal that would obviously apply to both men and women).

But the second thing I learned is that though anthropos is primarily gender-neutral, it does have a unique masculine/male orientation that gives it a slightly different flavor than our English terms “person” or “human being.” It is this masculine bent (as I will argue for below), coupled with my previous post on the typological relationship between gender and the image of God, that compels me to believe that it is best to retain (in most instances) the traditional translations of anthropos and adam as “man.”

Now to begin my argument. Suzanne has appealed to the lexicons—to the lexicons we will go!
[UBS Greek Dictionary] anthropos, man, human being, person, one (friend, sir, man in address); pl. people; mankind, humanity (according to human standards); husband (Mt 19.10); son (Mt 10.35); servant (Lk 12.36)

[BDAG (abbreviated)] anthropos 1. a person of either sex, w. focus on participation in the human race, a human being, 2. a member of the human race, w. focus on limitations and weaknesses, a human being, 3. a male person, man.
As both Suzanne and Peter pointed out—and as the lexicons note—anthropos can be used to refer to both genders and carries the primary meaning of “human being,” or “person.” This is pretty much what one finds (though not as abbreviated) in the standard lexicons. At a quick glance, these lexical definitions seemingly make the word most similar to the English word “person” (or pl. “people”). Further, Suzanne helpfully pointed out a Liddell-Scott reference in which anthropos is used in secular ancient Greek to refer to a single woman (as opposed to a group of women). So far so good for the idea that anthropos is most closely related to the English term “person.”

But at this point we need to ask an important question. Is the term anthropos, like the word “people,” used to signify, in equal proportion, masculine and feminine subjects when the sex of the subject is clear from the context of a passage? Or in other words, is anthropos used to refer to male subjects (e.g., “a man and his wife”) in the same manner and the same proportion with which it is used to refer to female subjects (e.g., “a woman and her husband”). The answer is no, and I think that there is significance to this.

Observe: anthropos is used 1977 times (in 10 forms) in the LXX (Greek translation of the OT), Apocrypha and New Testament. It is regularly used to denote people in general, a group of males, a mixed-gendered group, and individual males. It is never used to denote a woman or an exclusively female group of people. For example, we might often read something like Jeremiah 44:7 (below), where anthropos is contrasted with gunai (wife/woman).
Jeremiah 44:7b . . .Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves, to cut off from you man (anthropos) and woman (gunai), infant and child, from the midst of Judah, leaving you no remnant?
However, we never find the reverse, where the male is referred to as aner and the woman referred to as anthropos. Again, at no point in the canonical or extra-canonical texts is a woman or a group of women ever referred to with the term anthropos, yet males (either in groups or as individuals) are often referred to with this term.

In as much as biblical Greek is consistent with the wider secular Geek of the day, we are forced—in my mind—to only one conclusion: The use of anthropos as a strictly feminine designator (as referenced in Liddell-Scott) is highly unusual in both secular and sacred Greek. (The only other option would be that Biblical Greek does not follow its secular counterpart in the normal usage of anthropos--which would beg a whole new set of questions). It is true (as Suzanne pointed out previously) that the meaning of a Greek or Hebrew word is not always ascertained by simply doing a study of its use in Scripture, since much ancient Greek exists outside of canonical literature. Yet with almost 2000 occurrences of anthropos in the canonical and extra-canonical writings, this caution is not nearly as acutely felt. 2000 samples of a given term provides an adequate cross-section for ascertaining meaning. If my observation here has merit, it seems very difficult to maintain that anthropos does not have at least some masculine bent.

It light of the above observation, Suzanne suggested in the previous thread that the lack of correspondence between anthropos and the feminine gender can be defended against the concept of masculine-representative language in the following way. She wrote,
The frequency of the use of a term to refer to a specific referent depends on the frequency of the occurrence of that referent. For example, 'tree' in the Bible may most frequently refer to a fig tree, and not a maple tree. However, one cannot argue that the word 'tree' is not equally appropriate for a group of maple trees, unless you know that maple trees were equally present and equally relevant to the conversation.

I do suspect that [your] reference to the [lack of association between anthropos and strictly] female gatherings cannot be substantiated simply because the Biblical authors were themselves male and could not be present to write about these female events, if and when they happened. Absence of occurrence is not proof of anything.
Good point. I will grant her primary contention that men were not frequently present at exclusively female gatherings. Further, it does not seem that there were large numbers of exclusively female gatherings to begin with (no “Women of Faith” conferences back in those days). Thus even if anthropos could be legitimately used to designate a large, strictly female group, we should not be surprised find it used little in this manner. In this I substantiate Suzanne’s main point.

Here is where I think such logic falls short, however. Though there is little occurrence of large, all-female gatherings in the biblical writings, there is frequent occurrence of small all-female gatherings, as well as frequent occurrences of individual women. A quick search of the NIV reveals almost 700 passages in which individual women are mentioned, as well as 228 passages in which multiple women are mentioned. The point in showing the frequency of the occurrence of women in the NIV is to demonstrate that women are indeed present in substantial numbers in the canonical writings—a little more than half of all male references in fact. (And these numbers would undoubtedly have been higher if I had searched an English version that included the Apocryphal writings). Yet none of these references to woman are ever—not once—associated with the term anthropos. So though there were plenty of opportunities for the biblical authors to link together an all-female audiences (whether in small groups or as individuals) with the term anthropos, they never did so. anthropos is never used to signify an individual woman, a group of women, or a wife. If it really were a totally gender-neutral word, equivalent say, to the word “people” or “persons” (or even a quasi gender-neutral word such as “guy”) one would expect to find at least some occurrence of it used in this way throughout the canonical and extra-canonical writings, particularly when there was ample opportunity to do so.

Because of this, I am inclined to conclude that on the “masculinity scale” anthropos falls somewhere between the English word people and the “male-representative” use of the term man. (c.f., Psalm 1:1) In other words, it is more male-oriented in nature than the former and less than the latter. Peter seems to tentatively affirm the basic gist of this conclusion when he writes,
I can agree that anthropos and adam are not entirely gender neutral in that they are not used of individual women or groups of women only, but are used of individual men and groups of men only - although in reference to them rather than to specify their maleness.
If such is indeed the case, we are left with a bit of a decision as how best to translate this term. How do we best reflect the slightly male-oriented bent of anthropos? In my next post I will argue that the typological relationship between gender and the image of God provides a theological reason for translating this masculine-leaning, gender inclusive term as “man.”


Ted Gossard said...

How about "human"? Note that this word has in it "man".

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I find myself quoted so here I am.

'the slightly male-oriented bent of anthropos'

You are refering here largely to the phenomenon of 'markedness' in language. This is the assumption that one state is the default state and as such is 'unmarked', while the other is the less obvious and therefore marked state.

So, yes, man is the 'unmarked' human, the default human. Here is Deboarah Tannen on this as a linguistic phenomenon, if you wish. No one will argue with you if you say that men are the unmarked human in both Greek and English.

Whether this has theological significance is a rather new thought to me. It has simply been an item of linguistic study for me unrelated to theology. I don't know whether it is usual to appeal to language on this level for theology or not. I would like to hear from some thelogians on how valid this kind of analysis is.

I would have to say that I feel it is more literal and more clear to translate I Tim. 2:5 "There is one God and there is one mediator between God and humankind, the human Christ Jesus." Otherwise you must translate 'anthropos' as man here and then 'aner' as man in verse 8, and you lose the one to one literal translation. However, I am completely at loss as to whether the goal is to provide a male orientation to the Bible or to produce a more literal translation.

I think you want something more literal but only if that also meets the requirement of being male oriented. It is heavy restriction you put on the translators. Do you wish to posit a rule that says that gender 'markedness' outranks lexical equivalence, so that the male being the unmarked reference for 'anthropos' outranks the lexical equivalence of 'anthropos' to 'human'?

Curiously in English the unmarked cat is female, hence 'tomcat' is specified for a male cat. But the unmarked dog is male, the unmarked cow and deer is female, horse is male, goose is female, and so on. The animal world is not so consistent in reflecting the image of God.

Or is this list simply a linguistc and social phenomenon, unrelated to cosmic truths?

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Gerald. We are not far from agreement now. But see my response on the Better Bibles Blog.

Fifty years ago, if I had been more than a small baby, I would have agreed with you that anthropos should be translated "man". But the English language has changed so much since then that in places where the referents are not known to be all male that rendering is now inappropriate.

Talmida said...

I've seen no discussion of whether or not women were considered the property of males, and thus NOT full persons.

I've always wondered whether this wasn't why words like adam/anthropos/person have historically only referred to males.

When men and women are together, the word person is used, because the women are only present as the property of the men, or perhaps they derive their personhood from the presence of father/brother/husband. When women are alone together, of course, the word for legal personhood does not apply.

The Persons Case in Canada is an example:

'Emily Murphy, became the first female judge in the British Commonwealth on January 1, 1916. On her very first day in court and frequently thereafter, lawyers would begin by objecting to having their cases heard by a female judge on the basis that women were not defined as "persons" by the British North America Act. (The act did not say [they] were not persons, but all the pronouns in the constitutional phrasing were masculine and according to British Common Law they were only considered "persons in the matter of pains and penalties, but not in the matter of rights and privilege."' (more detail here).

Is that not what is essentially happening in the Bible languages?

Adam/anthropos definitely refers to all people, it's just that women are not always people. They're only people when society (be it Biblical or more recent) allows.

Just a thought.

Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Talmida. Interesting that it took the British Privy Council to impose some sense on the reluctant Canadians! But I don't myself think that these obscure legal technicalities have very much effect on how the popular language is spoken or understood. It has been understood for centuries, here in Britain at least, that in legal texts "he" can refer equally to females and males; but in fact popular usage as a gender generic pronoun, for even more centuries and indeed going back to Middle English, has been the so-called singular "they". See

Ted Gossard said...

Probably my citing of "human" above as having within it the word "man" is of little or no significance in this discussion.

But it would be interesting to know how the word "human" came to be (probably homosapien related). Wikipedia may help here. Certainly its denotation and connotation include male and female.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Ted,

You have asked a very interesting question. Thanks for prompting me to look this up!

c.1250, from M.Fr. humain "of or belonging to man," from L. humanus, probably related to homo (gen. hominis) "man," and to humus "earth," on notion of "earthly beings," as opposed to the gods (cf. Heb. adam "man," from adamah "ground"). Cognate with O.Lith. zmuo (acc. zmuni) "man, male person." Displaced its O.E. cognate guma (from P.Gmc. *guman-) which survives only in disguise in bridegroom. First record of humankind is from 1645. Humanoid (1918) is a hybrid of L. humanus and Gk. -oeides "like," from eidos "form, shape" (see -oid).

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks Suzanne. Interesting.

From Wikipedia I thought this was kind of interesting:

"In Latin, "humanus" is the adjectival form of the noun "homo", translated as "man" (to include males and females). The Old English word "man" could also have this generic meaning, as demonstrated by such compounds as "wifman" ("female person") → "wiman" → "woman". For the etymology of "man" see mannaz."

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Very nice, Ted.

Kenny said...

I increasingly think that the problem with this whole dispute in English is this: because English nouns don't have grammatical gender, English speakers are troubled by anyone or anything having a grammatical gender contrary to its biological gender. Hence the gender indefinite "he" has become controversial, and the singular they seems more natural to many speakers, because it seems better to confuse number than gender. But this doesn't bother speakers of languages like Greek or Hebrew where all nouns have gender and grammatical and biological gender differ all the time (or so I would suppose). As LSJ points out, Herodotus, Demosthenes, and other earlier (than the NT) Greek writers just slap a feminine article on the beginning of anthropos and use it as feminine, the same way they do with theos. No problem there. We are the ones who are troubled by these gender differences, and it's just a linguistic difficulty. I don't see how you can read so much into it. In fact, it's the same as people who get actually offended by gender indefinite "he", to whom I try to point out, "it's not sexism, it's grammar."

Gerald said...

As LSJ points out, Herodotus, Demosthenes, and other earlier (than the NT) Greek writers just slap a feminine article on the beginning of anthropos and use it as feminine, the same way they do with theos.

Who/what is LSJ, and do you have any idea of how often/common this occurs in secular Greek? Any thoughts on why this never occurs in canonical and extra-canonical writings? Thanks for the comment.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Gerald,

I have been reading your posts before commenting but you seem not to be reading mine. I cited this article "The Value of A Greek-English Lexicon (LSJ) for Biblical Studies" in my post. It is found here.

It appears also that the distinction which which must be made bewteen the sex of the referent and grammatical gender in most inflected langauges has not been well explained to some Bible students.

I checked yesterday and found that the ESV alternates between translating 'anthropos' (plural) as 'people' and 'men' even within one chapter. See 1 Tim.2 I have to say that I was pretty surprised by this given their stated translation philosphy of translating one Greek word with one English word.

Kenny said...

I had technical difficulties and lost a bunch of text that I just typed, but here's a short version: LSJ is the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon, the standard resource on classical Greek. It is online at the Perseus project, The entry on anthropos is at and the relevant portion reads:

"II. as fem., woman, Pi.P.4.98, Hdt.1.60, Isoc.18.52, Arist.EN1148b20; contemptuously, of female slaves, Antipho1.17, Is.6.20, etc.; with a [p. 142] sense of pity, D.19.197.--Prop. opp. θηρίον, cf. ἀνήρ; but opp. γυνή, Aeschin.3.137; ἀπὺ ἀνθρώπου ἕως γυναικός LXX 1 Es.9.40 , etc."

The Pindar reference literally asks about from whose belly among earthborn "men" someone came. Herodotus, Isocrates, and Aristotle all use it with the feminine article in the singular to refer to an individual woman. If by "extra-canonical writings" you mean the Apocrypha, then in fact we have the 1 Esdras reference, which says something about "a 'man' until she becomes a wife", that is, it talks about the same person being an anthropos at one time and a gune (wife) at another.

Note also that therion, the word that anthropos is "properly opposed" to, means "beast." The word anthropos distinguishes "men" from beasts or gods (thus including women). The word aner distinguishes men from women.

Gerald said...

Suzanne and Kenny,

Thanks for the info. I was aware of the Liddell-Scott reference (thanks to Suzanne's earlier comment) but had forgotten Mr. Jones's contribution to this volume--thus I was confused by the "LSJ" designator.

Thanks also for the 1 Esdras reference. That's good to know.

Gerald said...


It appears also that the distinction which which must be made bewteen the sex of the referent and grammatical gender in most inflected langauges has not been well explained to some Bible students.

You might be right here, though please don't use me as the standard by which you judge Bible school greek. My studies in greek have been limited and I'm sure that there are much better poster children than myself.

Peter Kirk said...

Kenny, I think you have misunderstood 1 Esdras 9:40, which is misquoted in LSJ (perhaps an error in Perseus' digitisation). The correct text appears to be:

καὶ ἐκόμισεν Εσδρας ὁ ἀρχιερεὺς τὸν νόμον παντὶ τῷ πλήθει ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἕως γυναικὸς καὶ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἱερεῦσιν ἀκοῦσαι τοῦ νόμου νουμηνίᾳ τοῦ ἑβδόμου μηνός.

This in fact appears to be a slightly adapted Greek translation of the Hebrew of Nehemiah 8:2. And I would translate it as:

And Ezra the high priest brought the law for all the crowd, both men and women, and all the priests to hear the law, on the day of the new moon of the seventh month.

In other words, ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἕως γυναικὸς, literally "from man until woman", does not mean that an anthropos "man/person" became a gune "woman", but it is an idiom meaning "both men and women". This was worth mentioning because the idea of women hearing the law was probably something of a novelty at that time!

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I agree that stylistically anthropos has to be translated as man sometimes, even in Modern Greek. There is no way to make a complete one to one correspondance with English every time. But that doesn't make it 'masculine leaning'. Men are people, too!


I want to thank you for being so open and gracious in hosting this debate.

Gerald said...

Thanks Peter! Whose side are you on anyway here?! :-).

Now that I've read the text, I have to agree with you that ἕως likely means "as far as" or "even unto" and is mentioned for the reason that you've noted above.

Suzanne--Thanks, it's been my pleasure and my to my benefit. You all fly higher than I do when it comes to the languages and I've learned a lot.

Kenny said...

Peter, you're right of course. I just took a cursory glance and took gune to mean "wife" in this context (as it sometimes means wife as opposed to, say, kore, "maiden") and thought it was talking about someone getting married. That's what I get for spending all of two seconds on the text (I'm rather busy to be wasting time on the internet - I have finals starting Wednesday, one of which is going to be a killer translation test over Plato's "Politicus") . Of course, what LSJ is saying is that even though anthropos is properly a human as opposed to an animal, it can in some rare cases, such as that one, mean a man as opposed to a woman. Thanks for clearing that up.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

One cannot translate a Greek word by the same English word all the time. Sometimes it can mean woman and sometimes only man. Certainly I have seen cases in modern Greek where we would translate it by 'man'. But they are usually cases where in English you might say a 'peasant' or a 'noble', or some other word that doesn't designate masculinity but still standing on its own would refer to a male. It designates class, or race, or species, along that line, but not gender. One assumes that it is a man because it is not stated otherwise. Then, because one assumes it is a male, the women are mentioned separately.

However, the most common meaning is simply human. I don't think anyone disagrees with this. The question is why wouldn't you use the word 'human' since it is the most obvious meaning. Then the readers who wished to could still assume that the default human was a male. The preface could say something like, "We have used the word 'human' to translate 'anthropos' because it is more literal and gives the opportunity to translate one Greek word with one English word, in accord with our translation philosophy. However, we would encourage you to think of a man every time you read the word 'human' because we believe you will see the image of God better in the male human being than in the female human being."

Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne criticised me for agreeing with Gerald's idea that anthropos is 'masculine leaning', and Gerald asked whose side I was on!

Well, I could be trite and say that I am on the side of the truth. That is why I pointed out the misunderstanding about 1 Esdras 9:40, even though it could have been a nice example of a female anthropos. But in fact I totally agree with Suzanne. She wrote:

Certainly I have seen cases in modern Greek where we would translate it by 'man'. But they are usually cases where in English you might say a 'peasant' or a 'noble', or some other word that doesn't designate masculinity but still standing on its own would refer to a male. It designates class, or race, or species, along that line, but not gender. One assumes that it is a man because it is not stated otherwise. Then, because one assumes it is a male, the women are mentioned separately.

And this is precisely my understanding of anthropos, in New Testament Greek. If Gerald wants to explain One assumes that it is a man because it is not stated otherwise as 'masculine leaning', I won't object. But I don't mean that the word has a male meaning, in the sense that Gerald originally said and has now withdrawn.

Kenny, maybe you will find your new understanding of this use of ἕως useful for your finals. I hope they go well.

Gerald said...

Peter wrote,

And this is precisely my understanding of anthropos, in New Testament Greek. If Gerald wants to explain One assumes that it is a man because it is not stated otherwise as 'masculine leaning', I won't object. But I don't mean that the word has a male meaning, in the sense that Gerald originally said and has now withdrawn.

Thanks Peter. I think I'm comfortable with this--at least enough to move on with my next post.

And Suzanne--I hope you don't think that I (or others like Grudem and Piper)think that the image of God exists more clearly in males than in females. I stated otherwise in the previous post and corresponding thread.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Peter and Gerald,

I didn't intend to be critical - actually I am thinking this through as I go along and am sometimes just writing to clarify my own thoughts. It is an excellent exercize and I only wanted to agree that the semantic range of 'anthropos' does not line up exactly with 'human being'. I am aware of that. But that is the closest.

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