This continues the series from Part 1 and Part 2. In the former I started to examine Joel Hoffman’s claim that the Greek word anthropos has a male meaning component. In the latter I introduced the concept of markedness and outlined how it might be applied to gender in Greek. Now I want to bring these two together by considering how the markedness helps to explain how anthropos is used.
As I explained before, anthropos is one of a group of Greek nouns which can be either masculine or feminine. The technical word for this is “epicene”. The feminine form of anthropos is rare, and not found in the New Testament. I guess many epicene nouns are much rarer in the feminine than the masculine – although the opposite is true, at least in the NT, of parthenos “virgin” which is usually feminine, but presumed (on the basis of usage elsewhere – the gender is not marked in the NT text) to be masculine in Revelation 14:4 (referring to men only) and perhaps 1 Corinthians 7:25 (referring to both men and women).
Let us now consider how anthropos is used in the New Testament. According to the rough figures in my Modern Concordance to the New Testament (Darton, Longman & Todd 1976) the 552 occurrences can be divided as follows: 88 in the phrase “son of man”, mostly referring to Jesus but including Hebrews 2:6 which I discussed here yesterday; 5 referring to Adam; the 5 occurrences I discussed earlier in which there is a contrast with “woman”; 29 other cases referring to Jesus; 39 referring to other named individuals; 43 referring to unnamed individuals; 5 referring to inhabitants or citizens; 1o referring to the self or nature; 2 in the phrase “man of God”; and the rest, more than 300, referring to “MAN, HUMAN(ITY) – PEOPLE, EVERYBODY, EVERYONE – SOMEONE, ANYBODY”.
Some of the 111 references listed as to named or unnamed individuals are in fact to groups which may well have included women. But it appears that every reference to a single individual is to a man, an adult male, rather than a woman or a child. I say “appears” because in many cases the gender and age of the referent is not otherwise stated. But I would not dispute a claim that in the New Testament anthropos never refers to a specific woman – although it does (with feminine gender) in other Greek literature.
οἱ ἐν τῷ ἄστεϊ πειθόμενοι τὴν γυναῖκα εἶναι αὐτὴν τὴν θεὸν προσεύχοντό τε τὴν ἄνθρωπον καὶ ἐδέκοντο Πεισίστρατον.
Here we have two feminine epicene nouns: he theos “goddess”; and he anthropos, rendered “human creature” and referring to the woman who had just been described, more typically, as gune. Presumably she is called anthropos because she is being contrasted with the goddess Athene. I can’t help thinking that anthropos would have been used in a somewhat similar incident in the New Testament, at Acts 12:22, even if the referent had been a woman.
To complete this study it is important to look at that majority of the occurrences of anthropos classified as referring to “MAN, HUMAN(ITY) – PEOPLE, EVERYBODY, EVERYONE – SOMEONE, ANYBODY”. The significant point here is that only a very few of these more than 300 refer to men rather than women or indeed have any gender significance at all. Many of these gender generic examples are plural, but there are also a considerable number which are singular but still gender generic. Consider for example the use of singular anthropos in Mark 7:14-23 and Romans 3:28, teaching which surely applies to women as much as to men. So there really is no evidence to support the common claim that anthropos is gender generic in the plural but specific to men in the singular.
To put this in the language of markedness, this very common use of anthropos to refer to men and women indefinitely without specifying gender seems to show that this word is the default or unmarked one for referring to human beings in general, singly or in groups. In the thinking of the time (and to some extent today) the default or unmarked person, the prototypical person (to use the language of another semantic model), was a man, an adult male.
This explains why when it was known that a person was a woman or a child it was normal to use not anthropos but a different word, one marked as referring to a female or a young person. But in exceptional cases, perhaps for stylistic variation or to contrast with a god or an animal, anthropos could be used of a specific woman or child. And when used of a woman it was also marked as such with its gender, feminine rather than the unmarked masculine. But the selection of grammatical gender seems to have been independent of the choice between anthropos and other words.
The implication of this is that anthropos is a word entirely devoid of gender marking within itself, that it in no sense “means” “man” to the exclusion of woman. The fact that it is rarely used of specific women is entirely explained by markedness theory, and does not indicate any male meaning component.
I accept that this is only the outline of an argument, which would need to be firmed up by a more careful examination of the evidence, not relying on the sometimes questionable classifications in my concordance and not restricted to the New Testament. But I think I have given enough evidence to show that Joel’s hypothesis that “one meaning of anthropos is “man”” is unlikely to be correct.