Saturday, December 03, 2005

Gender and the Image of God: One More Try at Defending "Masculine-Representative" Language

It is time to once again tackle the subject of masculine-representative language. Does it even exist? I will make one last attempt at defending the existence of masculine-representative language in Scripture and then conclude with my final post (already prepared). First, a quick look at a standard lexicon.
[UBS Greek Dictionary] anthropos, man, human being, person, one (friend, sir, man in address); pl. people; mankind, humanity ( kata. a;Å according to human standards); husband (Mt 19.10); son (Mt 10.35); servant (Lk 12.36)

This is pretty much what one finds (though not as abbreviated) in the standard lexicons. One thing you will note is that the English terms “woman,” “female” “wife” “daughter” and the plural “women” are not listed as possible definitions. The diverse lexical definitions (not just the UBS) demonstrate that the term can be appropriately translated as a gender-generic term (such as “human” or “people”), or a specifically masculine term (such as “man” or “husband”). It is never strictly feminine. Women are represented by the term anthropos only in a much as they are part of the collective whole of humanity. Thus it is appropriate to include the feminine gender in the meaning of anthropos, but only in as much as men are part of the referent. But apparently there are exceptions.

The extensive thread from my first post on this subject was quite informative. Most significant for me, I was not aware that anthropos was used with the feminine pronoun in ancient secular Greek. This usage of the word spurred me on to do some more thorough checking of the word’s usage in canonical and extra-canonical literature. Here is what I rounded up: anthropos is used 1977 times (in 10 forms) in the LXX (Greek translation of the OT), Apocrypha and New Testament. Not once is it used to denote a strictly female audience (either a group of women or an individual woman). In contrast, it is regularly used to denote a group of males, a mixed-gendered group, and individual males. In as much as biblical Greek is consistent with the wider secular Geek of the day, we are forced—in my mind—to one of two conclusions: 1. Biblical Greek does not follow its secular counterpart in the normal usage of anthropos (which would beg a whole new set of questions) or, 2. The use of anthropos as a strictly feminine designator is highly unusual in both secular and biblical Greek. Since I am aware of no evidence that supports option one, I would suggest that option two is most likely. If such is indeed the case, it seems very difficult to maintain that anthropos is not an overwhelmingly masculine term. So much so, that in almost 2000 occurrences—though it frequently refers to groups of men and individual males—it is never once used to designate a strictly female audience or an individual woman.

It light of this 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 correspondence 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 times 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. (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 used in canonical and extra-canonical writings to signify a male, a husband, a group of men or all of humanity. It is never used to signify an individual woman, a group of women, or a wife.

If anthropos really is a gender-neutral word (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. Thus in contention against Suzanne’s main point, women indeed were, for all practical purposes, “equally present and equally relevant to the conversation.” What else could this possibly mean except that the term anthropos is an overwhelmingly masculine term? It simply is not used to denote women except in as much as they are included in a mixed-gendered group.

So after all has been heard, here is the (or at least my) conclusion of the matter: the feminine gender is included in the Greek term anthropos only in as much as the masculine term represents all of humanity. Thus iin this way the corporate use of the masculine term anthropos acts as a representative of feminine gender.

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