The Translation of Aner (ανηρ)

The following discussion of the Greek word aner (man) is reproduced from appendix 2 of the book The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy by Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000), pp. 321-333. On another page I give a response to Blomberg's remarks on the translation of this word. —M.D.M.

Appendix 2: Analyzing the Meanings of Words: "Man" for Aner

A thorough analysis of meaning involves great complexities. In learning a language, we infer the meaning of particular words from the context of their occurrences in sentences, conversation, and social settings. But not every idea generated from the context as a whole is actually a part of the meaning of a new word that we are trying to learn.

For example, I may say, "When I was in Ohio, I saw a sow nursing her young." People learning English, who do not yet know the meaning of the word "sow," may infer that a "sow" is some kind of animal that nurses its young. From the context, they know that the particular animal in question was in Ohio and was a female. But without further information, they would not know whether the word "sow" designates only females or whether it includes males as well. That is, "sow" might be a synonym for "pig," or it might designate only female pigs. Nor would they know whether the word was even more specialized, designating only those animals that were currently nursing mothers.

The question here is, how much information from the context also belongs to the meaning of the word "sow," and how much is extraneous to the word "sow." How do we separate the contribution of the context from the contribution of the word? It is not easy. In fact, ultimately an absolute and strict separation is impossible.

A. The Greek word aner

The problem is easily illustrated by the occurrences of aner ("man") in the New Testament. In some contexts aner means "husband." Some other occurrences clearly have the meaning "male human being." (1) But many other contexts do not, by themselves, conclusively show that aner has a semantic component of "male"; neither do they show that the word lacks the semantic component of "male." Many uses where aner refers to a male human being will not serve as conclusive evidence, because a word meaning "person" could also be used in such contexts. The maleness of the person in question would then be inferred from the information in the context, but would not necessarily be contained in the word itself. Equally, the examples that some people cite in the other direction are not conclusive, because there are other possible readings of the situation.

For example, Matthew 14:35 depicts a situation "when the men (aner) of that place recognized Jesus." Some have claimed that both men and women were involved. (2) But how do they know it? Perhaps the men as opposed to women were exclusively or more prominently involved in the process, so that Matthew decided to focus on them.

Another example is Ephesians 4:13, which uses aner in a strikingly creative (and metaphoric) way:

Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (RSV)

Here Paul is probably connecting the church to the thought that Christ is the perfect man. So it is not at all clear that the male marking has disappeared from the base meaning on which the metaphor builds.

The fact that there are many inconclusive cases with regard to aner, as there are in many other cases of lexicographical analysis, means that there is considerable scope for reading evidence in more than one way. Now, this situation would not be so bad were it not for the fact that people on all sides of the modern cultural controversies have a heavy emotional stake in issues of sexuality. It is therefore painfully easy for people to read in their own biases.

The burden of proof is nevertheless on those who claim that in a particular context aner has lost all of its male semantic component. Why? Because this semantic component is definitely there in some of the occurrences, (3) and the existence of anthropos ("human being, person") as a more neutral designation fills the need to talk about mixed groups, individuals whose sex is unknown, and so on. It is linguistically improbable that we would find aner moving toward near synonymy with anthropos ("human being, man, person") in many contexts, leaving Greek with no obvious, convenient term to use when one wants to specify that one is talking about male human beings.

B. Interpreting Bauer's Lexicon

Another reason for claiming that aner retains its male semantic component is that this is how standard lexicons have understood the word for generations. When we argue that aner usually and perhaps always in the New Testament means "man" (in distinction from woman) or "husband," we are simply reflecting the definitions given in the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). As we noted in Chapter 6, the BAGD lexicon defines aner as

"man: 1. In contrast to woman ... Especially husband. 2. man in contrast to boy... 3. used with a word indicating national or local origin ... 4. Used with adjective to emphasize the dominant characteristic of a man ... 5. man with special emphasis on manliness ... 6. Equivalent to tis, someone ... 7. A figure of a man of heavenly beings who resemble men ... 8. Of Jesus as the judge of the world" (BAGD, pp. 66-67).

The verses given from the New Testament as examples for category 6, "someone," are all texts that refer to men, not people in general (see discussion below). (4) Therefore this section in BAGD is not intended to show that aner loses its male component of meaning, but only that the word can be used to mean not just "men" but "some man" or "some men." After that BAGD provides some examples of an idiom aner tis, which BAGD defines as a man. The entry then lists an idiomatic use, kat' andra, which means "man for man" or "individually," and which can be applied to people generally, but no New Testament occurrences are listed.

The second English edition of this lexicon (1979, a translation of Walter Bauer's fifth edition of 1958) inserted another sentence at the end of meaning 1: "But cf. Ac 17:34, where ανηρ = ανθρωπος (p. 66). The claim is that in this one instance, Acts 17:34, aner has the meaning "people" (not specifically males, "men"). This sentence, interestingly, was not in the fifth German edition of Bauer's lexicon, from which this English edition was translated; (5) nor does it appear in the sixth German edition of Bauer's lexicon which appeared in 1988. (6) It is a peculiarity of the English translation to add this sentence.

But does Acts 17:34 demonstrate that aner could equal anthropos in meaning and therefore could have little or no male marking at times, and be translated "person" rather than "man"? The verse says "But some men [andres, plural of aner] joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them" (NASB).

Is the "woman named Damaris" included among the "some men" in the first part of the verse? Probably not. F. F. Bruce's commentary on the Greek text says, "'including in particular Dionysius the Areopagite; and (in addition to the men) a woman named Damaris', etc. There is no need to suppose that kai gune [and a woman] is included in the tines andres ... en hois [some men ... among whom]." (7) The Greek text of the verse is: τινὲς δὲ ἄνδρες κολληθέντες αὐτῷ ἐπίστευσαν, ἐν οἷς καὶ Διονύσιος ὁ Ἀρεοπαγίτης καὶ γυνὴ ὀνόματι Δάμαρις καὶ ἕτεροι σὺν αὐτοῖς.

In fact, the forthcoming new edition of the BAGD Lexicon, scheduled for release in April, 2000, from the University of Chicago Press, seems to correct the earlier edition which had claimed that aner = anthropos in Acts 17:34. We had an opportunity to see the entry for aner in the proofs that were displayed at the University of Chicago Press booth at the Society of Biblical Literature convention in Boston Nov. 20-23, 1999. The new entry defines aner as "an adult human male, man, husband." It also says, "In Ac 17:34 ανηρ appears to = ανθρωπος, but the term was probably chosen in anticipation of the contrasting γυνη (is Damaris the wife of one of the men?)."

The expression is in fact not too hard to understand in this context. Paul had just given an address at the Areopagus, apparently before the official court that presided at that spot. The court officers were almost certainly all men. Others, of course, may have gathered to hear the proceedings. Given the context, Luke focuses first on the "men" who believed, from among the men who formed the official Areopagus court. Then he mentions "also" another person who believed, Dionysius "the Areopagite." Then, realizing that there was also a woman who believed, he adds her name, but thinks it necessary to specify that she is a woman: "and a woman named Damaris." The sentence makes sense, and need not be understood to include Damaris among the "men" (andres).

The principle that would keep us from adopting the additional sense "person" for aner is that if a well-established meaning makes sense in the context, then we should not adopt a previously unattested meaning in its place. Such a general principle of lexicography is well stated by Cambridge lexicographer John Chadwick, whose book Lexicographica Graeca: Contributions to the Lexicography of Ancient Greek is a collection of specialized studies that reflect his years of experience on the team overseeing a supplement to the Liddell-Scott Lexicon:

A constant problem to guard against is the proliferation of meanings ... .It is often tempting to create a new sense to accommodate a difficult example, but we must always ask first, if there is any other way of taking the word which would allow us to assign the example to an already established sense ... . As I have remarked in several of my notes, there may be no reason why a proposed sense should not exist, but is there any reason why it must exist? (8)

In other words, the burden of proof is on the person who postulates a new sense. If an already established sense can account for a particular use, one must not postulate a new sense.

In the case of aner, out of 216 occurrences in the NT, a great majority of them clearly refer to a man or men, not to "persons" generally, and the sense "man" fits well even in Acts 17:34, where the context does not absolutely require that sense. This and perhaps a few other few ambiguous cases are just that — ambiguous — and therefore they do not constitute a persuasive argument that aner at times loses its distinctively male sense.

The Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon, Ninth Edition with Supplement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), gives the following meanings for aner:

I. man, opposed to woman (anthropoi being man as opposed to beast). II. man, opposed to god. III. man, opposed to youth, unless the context determines the meaning ... but aner alone always means a man in the prime of life, esp. warrior. IV. man emphatically, man indeed. V. husband. VI. Special usages [several idioms are given] (p. 138).

It is significant that neither of these two standard lexicons indicates that the word loses its male marking in any of its usages. In the present controversy, we should be suspicious of any attempts to overthrow such well-established boundaries to the range of meanings of a word, especially in a time when major forces in the culture are pressing us to eliminate male oriented language (and therefore male markings on words!), and especially if these attempts are accompanied by no new data, but only appeal to the same old data that scholars have seen for centuries. Once again Chadwick's warning is pertinent: "we must always ask first, if there is any other way of taking the word which would allow us to assign the example to an already established sense ... there may be no reason why a proposed sense should not exist, but is there any reason why it must exist? (9)

C. Dealing with possible multiple senses

One other principle of semantics needs consideration: where a word takes different senses, we should be able to specify contextual markers that indicate which sense a word is taking. This is the case for many words that have more than one sense. Even for those words where one sense in dominant, there may be special idiomatic constructions that bear an altered or extended sense. And there may be contexts where some normal semantic component of the sense is neutralized. For example, though the Hebrew ben in the singular usually bears the sense "son," it can be used in the plural to designate a group of children of both sexes, and it can be used in idiomatic constructions like ben hayil, "son of might, mighty man." (1o) But we expect that nearly always contextual clues will supply indications as to which sense or which idiom is being used at a particular spot. (Thus, the plural form of ben is a contextual factor indicating the possibility of absence of a male semantic component.) Differences in sense are thus controlled by context. Ambiguities in meaning are usually resolvable through context, though any language supplies occasional cases where a speaker wittingly or unwittingly leaves an ambiguity that cannot be resolved from context, and fails to make himself clear.

Now, what happens when we apply these insights to aner? Some people would claim that aner at times means "person" or "people" without a male semantic component. But these people still have to admit that elsewhere (and not just where it means "husband") aner sometimes carries a male semantic component. (11) That is, according to these people, sometimes aner means (roughly) "person," and sometimes "male person, man."

But then we must ask, can we specify contextual clues that determine which of these two senses occurs in any one particular place? If not, we are making the very implausible claim that the two different senses occur in free variation — and we can never tell which is which. In such a hypothetical case, consider what would be going on in the ancient world with native speakers of Greek. Suppose that one generation of speakers uses the two senses of aner in such a way that no contextual clues indicate which sense is being used. The next generation of native speakers, growing up and listening to this usage, cannot distinguish the two senses, and so in their own minds they collapse the two into one sense. The next generation would, perhaps, see aner as just meaning "man," because the contexts never distinguish this sense "man" from the hypothetical sense "person." In fact, then, in any real situation of continued use of human language, a usage involving two distinct senses must include contextual factors that distinguish the senses.

So, someone who claims that aner sometimes means "person" must admit that there have to be some contextual markers that tell us when a male semantic component is present. But what are those contextual markers? Suppose we were to say that the only contextual clue to a male semantic component is a context that shows that in fact male human beings are being referred to. But it is then the context, either textual or situational, that contains the information about maleness. Again, how would language learners be able to distinguish this situation from one in which aner simply meant "person" and the context indicated maleness? Therefore, we can exclude the possibility that the sense "male human being" occurs only where the context provides information that only men are in view. It is far more likely that the "default" sense for aner includes maleness. Maleness is included in the meaning in typical, ordinary contexts.

If it turns out that some occurrences of aner do not include this semantic component, it is some special factor (such as the presence of a specialized idiom) in the context that neutralizes it. The lexicographer then tries to describe just what contexts lead to neutralization. Such contexts, if they exist, will be specialized contexts.

D. Possible origins of mistakes

How did the gender-neutral translations get skewed? It could have happened in several ways.

(1) The more recent lexicon by Louw-Nida gives three entries for aner, one with the meaning "husband," one with the meaning "man" ("an adult male person of marriageable age"), and one with the meaning "human being." (12) Translators may have looked at this last entry and simply followed it. They used "person" or "human being," thus eliminating the male semantic component in aner from dozens of passages. However, this procedure was not justified in light of the actual entry in Louw-Nida, because (a) they give no information as to what contexts the supposed gender-neutral meaning is found; (b) they also acknowledge that aner can mean "man, male human being"; (c) they give no new information that would lead us to overthrow established meanings for aner, and (d) more significantly, they make no distinction at all between the meanings of aner and anthropos, but treat both words under the same two entries (9.1 for "human beings" and 9.24 for "males"). (13) With no new lexical evidence given to support this entry, and with the entire history of Greek lexicography clearly recognizing that aner and anthropos are not exact synonyms, but that aner is the male marked term, we may conclude that the Louw-Nida lexicon at this point is insufficiently careful, and that following Louw-Nida in this case is simply a mistake.

(2) Translators may have followed the new sentence in BAGD, mentioned above, where the editors of the English edition added a sentence not in the German original: "But cf. Ac 17:34, where aner = anthropos" (p. 66). But, as we noted above, Acts 17:34 is insufficient reason for introducing a new meaning for aner — and certainly insufficient reason for introducing wholesale changes in the translation of dozens of other examples.

(3) Translators may have looked at meaning 6 in BAGD, which gives as one of the meanings of aner "someone," and in the plural "some people" (p. 67). This datum could then be viewed as justification for translating with "someone" or "people" almost everywhere, or at least wherever the context does not clearly indicate that men only are in view. In fact, such a procedure reverses the burden of proof. Rather than seeing "someone" as a specialized usage, it becomes the general usage imposed on passages where it does not belong.

E. Analyzing particular cases

But before making such a major change in the translation of a common New Testament word, it would be appropriate to look carefully at when and where the sense "someone" can be expected, and what the BAGD entry meant by this meaning. When we look in Bauer's lexicon under the sense "someone," a most interesting fact comes to light. The passages that are cited involve men. As we mentioned above, this suggests that this specific entry in BAGD is not intended to show that aner loses its male component of meaning, but only that the word can be used to mean not just "a man" or "men" but "some man" or "some men" (often, one who had not been previously mentioned or had not yet been introduced in the narrative). Let us consider the ones that come from the Bible.

Luke 9:38 uses aner "man" to describe the man who brought his demonized son to Jesus. Luke 9:42 describes the man as the boy's "father" (Greek pater), indicating that he was indeed male.

Luke 19:2 uses aner to describe Zacchaeus, a man.

John 1:30 uses aner in John the Baptist's prediction, referring to the coming of Jesus.

Luke 5:18 uses aner to describe the men who carried the paralytic. Nothing in the context suggests that they were not men, and indeed, in the ancient world, the activity of lifting him up to the roof and digging a hole in it would almost certainly have been done by men.

Acts 6:11 uses aner to describe the people who brought false accusations against Stephen. Again, nothing suggests that these were not all men — and the bearing of testimony in ancient Jewish society would have most likely been done by men. The gender-neutral translations NRSV, NIVI, NCV, NIrV(1995), NLT, CEV, and GW all say "men"!

Acts 8:27 uses aner to describe the Gerasene demoniac. In the subsequent narrative he is described using masculine participles, indicating that he was in fact male.

Acts 10:1 uses aner to describe Cornelius the centurion, a man.

Romans 4:8 uses aner to describe the person whose sins are forgiven. Paul quotes from Psalm 32:2 (which is renumbered as Psalm 31:2 in the Septuagint version). The Septuagint has aner. The Underlying Hebrew has adam. The people who translated the Septuagint would have seen adam in Hebrew. Adam has some male associations in Hebrew because of its connection with Adam. Moreover, Psalm 32 has the superscript, "Of David. A maskil." Bearing in mind that the psalm speaks of David's personal experience of forgiveness, the Septuagint seizes on the male associations, and translates using aner. Paul simply takes over the Septuagint without change, probably seeing no difficulty in the use of aner with its male marking here because it is a psalm written by David out of his own experience.

James 1:12 says, "Blessed is the man (aner) who perseveres under trial, ...." Clearly James is making a statement of general applicability. It applies to both men and women. An analyst with a modern mentality is tempted to conclude immediately that every element of male semantic component is gone. But aner can still mean that James is starting with a male example illustrating the general truth, just as blessing statements in the Old Testament may begin with the example of an individual man:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. (Psalm 1:1)

Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him .... (Psalm 32:2)

Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, ... (Psalm 40:4)

Blessed is the man who trusts in you. (Psalm 84:12)

Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law. (Psalm 94:12)

Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands. (Psalm 112:1)

Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. (Psalm 127:5)

Thus is the man blessed who fears the LORD. (Psalm 128:4)

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding. (Proverbs 3:13)

Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, ... (Proverbs 8:34)

Blessed is the man who always fears the LORD, ... (Proverbs 28:14)

The Greek version (Septuagint) corresponding to Psalm 1:1; 32:2; 34:8; 40:4; Psalm 112:1; Proverbs 8:34; and 28:14 has aner. Other passages have anthropos. But the context usually shows that there is some focus on a male example. In Psalm 128, verse 3 mentions the man's wife, showing that the "man" is male. Job 5:17 makes a general statement, but in the context of exhorting Job. Psalms 32, 34, and 40 are psalms of David. Even the psalms that are not ascribed to David are more loosely connected to the figure of the king as the chief representative of the people.

Psalm 84:12 has a more general context, but then the preceding verses talk about the blessedness of dwelling "in your [God's] house," which in the fullest sense was open only to priests. And the Old Testament priests were all male.

Psalm 94:12 talks about being taught "from your law," an opportunity more often open to men than to women. The underlying Hebrew word is geber, which explicitly denotes a male. In Psalm 127:5 the metaphor of a quiver evokes the context of fighting and war, in which almost exclusively males engaged. The underlying Hebrew word is once again geber. In Proverbs 3:13-18 wisdom is pictured as feminine. The man who finds her is like one who finds a good wife (Proverbs 31). The context is instruction to a son.

Now such an Old Testament theme dealing with the "righteous man" is appropriate to James. In fact, James has many thematic similarities to Old Testament wisdom literature. The expression in James 1:12, "Blessed is the man (aner) who perseveres under trial," though not a direct Old Testament quotation, picks up on the similar language in the Old Testament. The use of aner is probably imitative of the translation style of the Septuagint. It does not therefore establish that James knows about another, gender-neutral sense of aner, or that he intends aner to be understood in a completely gender-neutral sense here. Rather, a man is used to represent a truth applying to men and women and children as well.

Thus it seems likely that the word aner retains the connotations of maleness even in these contexts. The general principle applies to men and women, but the specific statements make the principle vivid by expressing it using an individual male as the embodiment and starting point. The situation is somewhat analogous to Psalm 113:9, where the Lord "settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children." The Lord shows kindness to childless men as well as childless women. The general principle applies to both. But the specific expression uses a woman as the specific object of the Lord's kindness.

Another possible example where it might be claimed that aner means "person" not "man" is found in James 1:20:

RSV: ... for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.

NRSV: ... for your anger does not produce God's righteousness.

The underlying Greek word is aner. The NRSV, by changing to "your," makes the addressees the starting point for generalization, whereas the Greek and the RSV present us with the generalization directly. In addition to this change, the NRSV makes less forceful the contrast between God and man.

Modern thinking would guess that James must be thinking simply of human anger generically, not only because of the contrast with God's action, but also because the preceding verse contains the generic term anthropos, used inclusively of all human beings. But in James's context, men were more likely than women to show anger in obvious and violent ways, leading to murder and mayhem. James may want to use this vivid picture of men's anger in order to make a point that is valid for all. In addition, James may still have the Old Testament pattern of the "righteous man" in the background of his teaching (see 1:12; 3:2, and the discussion above), and this statement of the anger of man would provide a clear contrast to the pattern of the righteous man.

All in all, the evidence for another sense of aner is quite weak, and must be used with great caution. In fact, it seems likely that aner has stronger and more exclusive associations with maleness than does the English word "man." Even up to the present, because the changes have not registered in all subgroups of the English-speaking world, and because we retain knowledge of previous generations of use, people know that the English word "man" can sometimes denote a person of either sex, whereas aner appears to denote a male even in cases where the male is an example or illustration of a general principle.

In spite of these facts, gender-neutral translations have gone ahead and introduced a meaning "people" in quite a few cases. The pressure is on from the culture not to put in a male marking unless the context absolutely requires it, even if this means acting contrary to centuries of Greek lexicography. (14) This pressure from the general cultural climate has reversed the burden of proof in some people's eyes and led to a skewed reading of the lexicographical evidence.

F. Aner in words of address

There is one other specialized use of aner that deserves comment. In a particular idiom used when addressing an audience, aner can occur in the plural along with another noun referring to the hearers (such as, literally, "men, brothers," or "men, Galileans"). Again, it is probable that aner retains male overtones. Even if some of the time the speaker is addressing mixed groups, the men may be singled out, viewed as more prominent, or as representative of all. In a large number of cases, there is no decisive information as to whether the groups contained women or not.

Acts 1:11.

NIV: "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? ..."

NIVI: "You Galileans," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? ..."

The backward reference is apparently to the apostles (1:2), all of whom were men. In addition, the word aner occurs. But the NIVI removes the male marking.

Acts 1:16.

NIV: "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled ..."

NRSV: "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled ... "

NIVI: "Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled ..."

The Greek has andres adelphoi, literally "men, brothers." We do not have an exactly equivalent phraseology in English. We can translate idiomatically simply with "brothers" (NASB, RSV "brethren"). The Greek has a male component that is very difficult to account for if Peter were making a deliberate attempt to include the "sisters," as the NIVI represents him as doing. In the parallel verses in Acts 15:7 and 13, where the context may make it a little clearer that men were in view, NIVI has only "brothers."

Acts 1:14-15 makes it look as though Peter is addressing a group composed of both men and women. So it is tempting to assume that andres "men" has no meaning. But Peter is probably looking forward in his mind to the specific issue of choosing a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:21-26). In such a weighty decision the men would, in first century Jewish culture, play a leading role. In view of this purpose, Peter may already introduce in 1:16 some indication that he is addressing them especially and distinctively.

Acts 2:22.

NIV: "Men of Israel, listen to this: ..."

NIVI: "People of Israel, listen to this: ..."

No one knows whether Peter's address took place in the "Court of Women," where women could enter, or in one of the inner temple spaces where only men could enter. The translation "men of Israel" is not obviously incorrect, nor is there clear reason to think that "people of Israel" is required by the context here.

These examples show some of the difficulty of estimating from context where a male semantic component occurs, and with how strong a force it occurs. In some special constructions and contexts, there may be disagreement. But because of modern biases, the tendency is not to see a reason for male marking, even when it is there, and as a result to wipe it out in translation.

G. Conclusions

We could go on with further examples from the New Testament, but the analysis would be similar. There are many cases in which the context by itself would not require the meaning "man." But in all of these cases the meaning "man" makes sense and is not foreign to the context. Our approach here is just the same that Greek lexicographers regularly use in studying the meanings of word. We are not arguing that aner could never lose its male semantic component in specialized idioms, but only that the argument that it loses its male marking in any New Testament examples is based on very doubtful evidence, and is not sound lexicography.

We can underline what we hope should be obvious. In cases of disputes about word meaning throughout this book, we as well as those with whom we disagree are fallible. It is always possible that scholars will make advances in fine-tuning lexical descriptions. In fact, the ability to conduct exhaustive computer searches through the body of Greek literature in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae opens exciting possibilities in this area. On this basis scholars may on occasion find good grounds for adding detail to lexicons and changing the interpretation of some individual verses. But, except in the case of very rare words or other special cases, sound interpretation remains within the bounds laid out by specific lexical evidence. If, instead, scholars postulate meanings merely on the ground that they fit the immediate context and could theoretically be established by evidence not yet uncovered, they rightly evoke the complaint that they appear to be driven by subjective preferences or ideologies rather than hard evidence.


1. For example, Matt. 14:21 says, "The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children." The sentence cannot mean, "about five thousand persons (or "human beings"), besides women and children." Therefore, the word aner in this case is seen to mean "man in distinction from women and children." Similarly, Acts 8:3 says that Saul was going from house to house, and "he dragged off men and women and put them in prison."

2. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 9.1, claim that aner has the meaning "person, human being, individual" in Matt. 14:35 and Romans 4:8 (they cite only these two, but of course it is possible that they may have in mind a number of other cases). Yet it is not at all clear that Louw and Nida's evidence proves their claim — surely Matt. 14:35 does not provide sufficient evidence, nor does the only other verse they cite in support, Rom. 4:8, for that is a quotation from Ps. 32:2, a psalm in which David is speaking in the first instance about himself. That a man can be a representative of a general truth appears from Psalm 1 and Psalm 32:2. But, as we have seen in discussing 'ish and geber ("man"), this observation does not eliminate the existence of a male semantic component in the representative, the single person who embodies the general truth.

In a similar manner, the information on aner presented in Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, eds., Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 1:99, needs critical sifting.

3. See footnote 1, above, as well as all the instances where aner means "husband," as well as other instances cited in BAGD, meaning 1 (p. 66).

4. The texts are Lk. 8:27; 9:38; 10:1; 19:2; Jn. 1:30; in plural, Lk. 5:18 (men carrying a paralytic) and Acts 6:11 (Stephen's Jewish opponents "secretly persuaded some men" to accuse him falsely). The same is true of the LXX examples (Sir. 27:7; 1 Macc. 12:1; 13:34).

5. Walter Bauer, Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ürchristlichen Literatur (Berlin: A. Töpelmann, 1958), 132.

6. Walter Bauer, Griechisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch ... (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1988), 132.

7. F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), 341.

8. John Chadwick, Lexicographica Graeca: Contributions to the Lexicography of Ancient Greek (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), pp. 23-24.

9. Ibid.

10. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, 121b, meaning no. 8.

11. The existence of the male semantic component is recognized in the standard lexicons, as noted above. See, for example, Matt. 14:21 and Acts 8:3, and footnote 1, above.

12. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, editors, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1988), p. 104. The entry under "human being" says more specifically, "a human being (normally an adult) — (in the singular) 'person, human being, individual,' (in the plural) 'people, persons, mankind.'" (section 9.1).

13. Louw and Nida also give a third meaning, "husband," for aner; and in the case of both aner and anthropos, they have special entries for some idioms.

14. Mark Strauss follows this procedure, assuming that aner can mean "man" or "person" depending on the context, and then reasoning at length from context in order to try to decide whether aner should be translated "man/ men" or "person/ people" in specific verses. He says, "in other cases, a decision on whether males or males and females are intended is very difficult" (p. 109). The decision would not be difficult at all if he would pay attention to the established lexical meaning of aner as "man." But by relying on slim evidence that aner might mean "person" in very rare cases, and then using that doubtful evidence as a wedge to open the door so that all instances of aner are called into question, he has introduced a vagueness into the translation process that is simply not justified by the lexical evidence.

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