Saturday, December 03, 2005

Gender and the Image of God: A Summary Thus Far

I know that many of you were lost on the previous thread. I want to try to summarize—for your sake and mine—the discussion and then move on with my second post. If you still have difficulty following the competing arguments, don’t worry as the subsequent posts will be less language dependant. We’ll have to come back to this discussion ‘er the end, but we’ll save it for later. Here’s the basic gist:

I am contending that the Greek word anthropos (as well as the Hebrew adam—though we’ll just focus on the Greek for now) is a masculine term that functions essentially the same as the English term “man.” In English we use the masculine term “man” to designate an individual male, a group of men, or a mixed-gendered group of people (e.g., “the race of men”). We do not, however, use the term to designate a strictly female audience, either as a group or an individual woman. In the same way, I argued that the term anthropos (as much as its meaning is reflected by its use in Scripture) is a masculine term that carries a very similar meaning. In biblical Greek (LXX, Apocrypha, and NT) it is used to designate an individual man, a group of men, or a gender-mixed group, but never a strictly female audience, either as a group or an individual woman. I’ve been using the term “masculine-representative” to describe this use of both the English “man” and the Greek anthropos. In other words, when used inclusively, the masculine term is used to represent both men and women. (e.g., “the race of men,” etc.). Thus I am contending that it is more appropriate to render anthropos, when it is used to designate a gender-mixed group, as “man/mankind” instead of as a gender-neutral term such as “people” or “human.”

Suzanne (and to a lesser extent Peter) argued that anthropos is not the Greek equivalent of the English word “man.” She pointed out that the standard Greek lexicons offer “human, people, person” as the primary definition of anthropos and argued that the term is, in fact, not masculine at all. Further, she argued that its use in ancient secular Greek suggests that it is a gender neutral term that is best translated “human” or “person.” Thus she objected to my contention that the term, when used to designate a mixed-gendered group, reflects masculine-representative language. Thus for Suzanne it is not appropriate to translate anthropos as “man/mankind” when it is used inclusively of both men and women. In short anthropos is a gender-neutral term and our English translations should reflect its gender neutrality.

Without a knowledge of the languages, the competing arguments were likely hard to follow. For my part, I learned a few things in the previous thread. First, I was not aware that the line of argumentation advanced by Suzanne and Peter even existed. This merely reflects the fact that I haven’t read widely on the topic. Quite honestly, I wasn’t anticipating such resistance to the idea that masculine-representative language existed in Greek and Hebrew. I’ve given it a great deal of thought on a biblical level, but not necessarily a great deal of study on a wider academic level. But that’s what blogging is all about—throwing out ideas and getting some good feedback. So thanks Suzanne and Peter for an irenic discussion and for making me aware of this point of view. In the end however, I was not convinced by Suzanne’s argument’s, nor was she convinced by mine. If she’s willing to stick around, I would love to try for round two as I will be touching upon the subject again in my final post. I have a few more points to make on this particular debate but for now I’m going to have to leave the issue and continue with my next post.

Ultimately, my main contention is not lingusitic. I recognize that there are many times when it is not appropriate to translate literally from one language to another. Is this such a time? Would it not be better to translate anthropos as "people" when it is used inclusively, even if it is a masculine term? For Trinitarian reasons, I don't think so. Feel free to comment to this post, but as we will be covering this ground again in a future post, it might make most sense to let me lay out the rest of my argument first.

11 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

I just want to clarify my position here. Gerald, what you don't seem to have recognised is that there has been a major change in English usage within the last 50 years or so. While it is still partly true that "In English we use the masculine term “man” to designate ... a mixed-gendered group of people (e.g., “the race of men”)", this usage is becoming obsolescent except in this rather special sense referring to homo sapiens as a species. In "I see some men in the street", "men" is now understood by almost all English speakers as referring to a group of males only. And you also fail to discuss the important case of an indefinite singular. In English, "Any man who is free tomorrow is invited..." refers only to males.

On these points, English usage is quite different from that of Greek ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos. The Greek word can be used freely of groups of mixed gender, although perhaps not of women only, cf. John 4:28 where it is very unlikely that the woman spoke only to males. And when used as an indefinite singular, it is entirely gender generic. Thus for example in Matthew 16:26 the referent ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos must be the same as that of vv.24,25 where only common gender pronouns are used, so that the whole passage refers equally to men and women.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Gerald,

You say you are not convinced by my argument which is simply this. All Greek Lexicons agree that ο ανθροπος is gender generic. What more can I do?

You are perhaps confused because ο ανθροπος, singular, is usually understood to be a man. Think of such phrases, 'doctors and their wives', 'An American in Paris', 'a farmer and his wife. It would be odd to describe a group of women peasants as only peasants, not mentioning that they were women, because the unmarked meaning of 'peasant' is, in fact, a male peasant. But being a peasant does not tell us about the maleness of a person.

I have never heard of any other interpretation of ο ανθροπος than gender generic so I can't really imagine where this is coming from or where it is going.

Gerald said...

Peter and Suzaane,

Thanks for the comments. I'm going to try to tackle the subject one more time at length in the next post and then you can let me have it with both barrels.

Peter, your observation that the 'masculine-representative' use of the English word "man" is becoming obsolete is worth noting. I will try to address this in the next post.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Gerald,

I don't see how you can claim that ο ανθροπος functions essentially the same as 'man' in English. In Greek there is also ο ανηρ for man, the male. So right away there are two words in Greek to occupy the semantic range of one in English unless one allows for the use of human or person. None of them are exact equivalents from one language to the other but each Bible translation tries to represent this as well as is humanly possible.

Peter Kirk said...

Gerald wrote: Peter, your observation that the 'masculine-representative' use of the English word "man" is becoming obsolete is worth noting.

Well, Gerald, that is not exactly what I observed! I do not accept that there was ever a "masculine-representative" use of any English word, not least because in English there is no concept of "masculine" or any other grammatical gender. And if you really mean "male-representative", you are straying from linguistics back into theology, which is I think Grudem and Poythress' error.

The situation is rather that the English word "man" used to have two senses, one which was more or less gender generic and another which refered to males only, but the former sense is becoming obsolete, except as the singular "Man" referring to all human beings.

Gerald said...

Peter, you wrote,

The situation is rather that the English word "man" used to have two senses, one which was more or less gender generic and another which refered to males only, but the former sense is becoming obsolete, except as the singular "Man" referring to all human beings.

Do you think that this holds true for anthrpos as well?

Also, am I reading you right that are you saying the singular use of "Man" to refer to all human beings is not becoming obsolete, but only the plural use to refer to all human beings?

Peter Kirk said...

Gerald asked, Do you think that this holds true for anthrpos as well? No, I don't. I consider that ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos has only a more or less gender generic sense, and never has a strictly male sense. Thus for example if a Greek speaker referred to a group of anthrōpoi in the street, no one would assume that they were necessarily all male (andres would be used to specify an all male group), whereas in English a group of men in the street would be assumed to be all male.

Then Gerald asked, are you saying the singular use of "Man" to refer to all human beings is not becoming obsolete, but only the plural use to refer to all human beings? I would reply that, from my British perspective, the singular use is also becoming obsolete, but more slowly than the plural use. I would now consider the plural use to be rather strange, but not the singular use. However, even the singular use is losing ground to "Humanity", "the human race", etc.

Gerald said...

Suzanne and Peter,

Maybe we are talking past each other. To clarify, Do you see the concept of "masculine-representative" language used anywhere in Scripture (such as the use of ish in Psalm 1:1), or is your main problem with my argument more in my trying to advance this idea with the terms anthropos/adam?

Peter Kirk said...

I see what might be called "masculine-representative" language in the original language Bible in the purely linguistic sense that words which are grammatically masculine are used to refer to both men and women - as are also words which are grammatically neuter in Greek e.g. τέκνον teknon. This does not happen in English as English does not have grammatical gender.

What we do see in English is words like "he" and "brother" which generally refer to males are sometimes used also to refer to persons of mixed or unknown gender; but this is normal and acceptable in only some dialects of English. I call this "male representative" rather than "masculine representative", as I take "masculine" as a grammatical gender, and "male" as a real world gender.

As for whether this kind of thing happens in Greek or Hebrew, it is very difficult to judge because no one knows precisely what the original sense was of Greek or Hebrew. Greek is of course better known in general, but, for example when James used ἀνήρ anēr in an indefinite sense (1:8,12 etc), we cannot be sure whether he intended to refer to males only, or whether he was referring to males and females in some kind of "male representative" sense, or whether the word ἀνήρ anēr actually has a rare gender generic sense. And these are things which can vary between dialects and change rapidly with time.

Gerald said...

Thanks Peter, that is very helpful. You guys have finally convinced me that I was over-reaching in trying to assert that anthropos and adam are primarily masculine terms. I do, however, think that they have masculine (male-oriented) overtones, and that they are not entirely equivalent to the English "person." I will try to establish this in my next post.

But the main point that I will be trying to make in the next post, as it pertains to my overall idea that there is a connection between Trinitarian theology and gender-inclusive translations does not really depend upon the idea that these terms are masculine per se, but rather that there is a similar language pattern used to speak of God (collectively within the Trinity as well as Individualy) and Mankind (both Collectively and Individually), and that it is good for Trinitarian theology if our English translations reflect this pattern.

That last sentence was entirely too long.

Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Gerald. 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.

I look forward to your next posting!