Not long ago I was discussing whether men and women are equally valued in the Bible, in the context of the translation “sons” or “children” in Psalms 127 and 128. It has been interesting to read scholars like Claude Mariottini trying to argue that the biblical author intended to value sons higher than daughters. But in the end their arguments have to be based not on the words in the Hebrew text but on their ideas of what people would have been expected to think at that time. This is a very dangerous way of doing exegesis as it effectively stops the Bible being a radical or counter-cultural document.
Just now a similar issue has come up concerning Jesus’ teaching. Joel Hoffman’s new blog about Bible mistranslations God Didn’t Say That is generally excellent, so much so that I put it straight on my blogroll. But Joel himself got into mistranslation when he called Matthew 12:12 in TNIV “an explanation in part, not a translation”. I picked up Joel’s lapse in the comment thread on his post. J.K. Gayle has also posted about this error, and the issue has come up in discussion at Aberration Blog.
Joel’s error is basically that he persists in understanding the Greek word anthropos as referring at least primarily to males only. Although at one point he accepts that “The Greek anthropos was both inclusive and specific”, at the same time he continues to claim that translating it as “person” “diminishes the specificity of the example” – which only makes sense if he understands anthropos at least in this verse as gender specific.
But this is wrong. I accept, in line with the standard Greek lexicons, that anthropos can occasionally have a gender specific sense, in contexts where gender is in focus and the word is contrasted with a specifically female word like gune. But there is no such context in Matthew 12:9-14, where there is no explicit mention of gender at all. While we assume that the person with the withered hand is male, we are not actually told that. As I wrote in a comment on Joel’s post,
There is nothing in the entire account drawing any attention to anyone’s gender. Gender is no more relevant to the story than the colour of the man’s eyes. To bring gender specific words into a translation is to distort the text by introducing into it an entirely irrelevant and extraneous issue.
This passage as rightly understood, just like Psalms 127 and 128, in no way suggests that male humans are more valuable than females. Instead we here have Jesus’ strong affirmation that all human beings, men and women, are far more valuable than sheep.