Anthropos, gender and markedness, part 1

I’m sorry that this post is rather technical, and so may be hard for some of you my readers to understand. But in view of some of what I have read recently on blogs it is important to get these matters right.

There has been quite a lot of discussion on various blogs about whether the Greek word anthropos “means” ” man”, in any way to the exclusion of women. In particular Joel Hoffman has taken the position, here and here (see also this post), that

one meaning of anthropos is “man,”

and that in some places where the word is used

the Greek text means to emphasize “man” over “woman” … anthropos emphasizes “man” in contrast to “woman.”

I have strongly opposed Joel’s position in comments on these posts. Also disagreeing with Joel have been Suzanne McCarthy, here and here as well as in comments on Joel’s blog, and Kurk Gayle, here with links to several other related posts, also here and in comments elsewhere. See also Mike Aubrey’s related post, here. I also touched on this issue in two previous posts of mine, here and here. Read the comments on each of these posts.

In particular, I had to correct Joel for the following demonstrably false statement which he made in comment 5 here:

3. I still haven’t seen any convincing evidence from extrabiblical sources to support anthropos referring specifically to a woman. Did I miss one?

There is convincing evidence, provided by Suzanne, and Joel had earlier commented on this post showing that he had seen the evidence. I have twice asked Joel to correct this error. His response the first time suggests that he may have intended to qualify his statement with “with the masculine determiner”. With this qualification the statement would be correct: when anthropos is used of a specific woman or a group of only women it is grammatically feminine. But Joel has refused to correct or withdraw his original statement, which, without the qualification and so stating that anthropos is never used of specific women, is factually incorrect and highly misleading.

However, my main purpose here is not to correct Joel on a detail, but to look in more detail into why his overall approach to this issue is wrong-headed.

The essential feature of Joel’s argument seems to be this: because anthropos is sometimes used to contrast with words meaning “woman”, that implies that there is something male about its essential or core meaning. I consider this to be an incorrect deduction. The core meaning of a word is not found by looking at a few unusual examples.

This usage of anthropos in contrast to a word meaning “woman” is in fact rather rare in the New Testament. According to my Modern Concordance to the New Testament (Darton, Longman & Todd 1976), out of 552 occurrences of anthropos in the NT only five are “IN RELATION TO WOMEN”. Three of these, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7 and Ephesians 5:31, are direct quotations from the LXX Greek translation of Genesis 2:24, rendering Hebrew ish. So this is translation Greek – and as linguists know it is never good practice to study the characteristics of a language from a translated text.  A fourth case, Matthew 19:10, immediately follows one of these quotations and so can be understood as an echo of the translation Greek.

This leaves just one example, 1 Corinthians 7:1. I dealt with this issue as long ago as 1988 (long before I had a particular interest in gender issues), in an essay which I posted on this blog in 2006, in a section dealing with possible quotations in 1 Corinthians from a letter to Paul from the Corinthians:

A second characteristic is the use of ἄνθρωπος [person (anthropos)] in both 7:1 and 7:26 for man as opposed to woman, where ἀνήρ [man (aner)] is normally expected. These are the only unambiguous examples in Pauline writing of this use, except in Ephesians 5:31 where Genesis 2:24 is quoted. This provides added evidence that there is a quotation in 6:18, for in context the ἄνθρωπος in this verse is probably male. The similar use of ἄνθρωπος in 7:7, contrasting with the regular pairing of references to men and women in 7:1-16, strongly suggests that here also there is an adapted quotation from the Corinthians: θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν [but I want all people (anthropos) to be as also myself]. The similarity of this to καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ τὸ οὕτως εἶναι [good for a person (anthropos) to be like this] in the acknowledged quotation of 7:26 is more evidence for this further quotation.

In other words, I am suggesting that this non-generic use of anthropos was a characteristic of the letter from the Corinthians, reflecting the dialect or idiolect of its author. It certainly doesn’t seem to be characteristic of the rest of the New Testament.

So we have effectively shown that this gender specific use of anthropos is extremely rare in the New Testament, being found only in translation Greek and in an exceptional case. This is already enough to cast serious doubt on the proposition that gender is a core component of the meaning of the word. But I accept that further proof is needed.

There is still a lot more that I would like to write about this issue, but this post is getting too long already, so I will continue in Part 2 and Part 3.

0 thoughts on “Anthropos, gender and markedness, part 1

  1. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » Anthropos, gender and markedness, part 2

  2. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » Anthropos, gender and markedness, part 3

  3. Pingback: Two Examples of Just How Tricky Gender Can Be « God Didn't Say That

  4. Pingback: Two Examples of Just How Tricky Gender Can Be « God Didn't Say That

  5. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » When “men” is a really bad translation: John 4:28 and 2 Timothy 2:2

  6. Pingback: markedness

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