Man: Gender or Generic?

Word of the Week

February 27, 2021

Man: Gender or Generic?

 

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13

 

As I write this, the US House of Representatives has just passed a bill designed to overthrow the historic definitions of gender.  This will be a fiercely contested issue in the weeks ahead, regardless of how the Senate votes.  In fact, gender has strutted to center stage in the political arena.

Christians are searching for the best ways to remain faithful to Scripture in these troubled times.  And it’s not easy.

At a different level, gender has long been a topic for debate in the church itself.  What does the Bible teach about the roles of men and women?  And what are God’s guidelines for women and ministry?

Obviously, we can’t resolve all these issues in a single article.  But we can make one small step forward if we remember that the answers will come from close scrutiny of the Scripture and its teachings on gender.  We will all be looking to the Word for guidance in the tough discussions ahead.

How can a Greek word study contribute to this conversation?

Today we are going to consider the Greek words for “man.”  Society is redefining maleness, so Christians will want to know how the Bible talks about man – and woman.

New Testament Greek uses three different words that we translate as “man.”

  1. Anthrōpos (550 times)

Anthrōpos is the usual word for man in the generic sense, simply as a member of the human race.  We get our word anthropology from it, and any good anthropologist will tell you that they study all people, not just males.

The New Testament uses anthrōpos to tell us the truth about all people, both male and female.

  • All people die – “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
  • Paul got his appointment as an apostle from God, not from any human – “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father,

who raised Him from the dead) (Galatians 1:1).

  • God tells the truth, even if every human disagrees – “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. . .” (Romans 3:4).

Occasionally the context shows that anthrōpos is being used to describe men rather than women (see 1 Corinthians 7:1), but the most common meaning is “mankind, human.”

Men and women stand on level ground at the foot of the cross, sharing equally in salvation and the grace of God, so it is appropriate that the New Testament uses this word so often.

Jesus called Himself the “Son of man,” (see Luke 19:10) using anthrōpos to highlight His human nature (and to link Himself with the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14.

 

  1. Anēr (216 times)

Anēr is almost always used specifically to describe men.  It is a gender-based term, often used in tandem with gunē, “woman.”  It appears often in passages that describe the relationships between men and women, husbands and wives.

  • Jesus fed 5000 men (anēr), who were a separate category from the women and children.

“And there were about five thousand men who ate, aside from women and children” (Matthew 14:21).

  • Anēr is often used to describe husbands and wives.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. . . . So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:25, 28).

  • An anēr is not only a male, but an adult male.

“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; but when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Paul used the word anēr in his list of the qualifications for church leadership, requiring that an overseer or elder should be “the husband of one wife” or, as some have translated it, “a one-woman man” (1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6).

And in 1 Corinthians 16:13, he makes the word into a verb, andrizomai, which literally means, “to act like a man” with strength and conviction.

 

  1. Arsēn (9 times)

Arsēn (are-sayn) applies exclusively to the male of the species.  It emphasizes the physical differences between men and women.  Paul uses this word and thēlu, “female,” to describe the sexual perversions that result from rejecting God (Romans 1:25-26).

The Bible also uses this pair of words in Galatians 3:28, the classic statement of the truth that physical gender makes no difference in our standing in the body of Christ:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In summary, we can see that the Bible uses the various words for “man” very carefully.  It recognizes the fact that all of us are equally part of the human race.  At the same time, it talks about the distinctive roles of men and women in God’s economy.

As you grapple with the heated gender issues of our society, remember to go to God’s Word for truth.  As you go there, keep in mind the divine vocabulary on gender.  It will help you to handle each passage with skill and integrity.

Study Hint:

We are dealing with big words here, words that appear over 775 times.  None of us has time to look up all these verses, and only a few are crucial to the questions that we are trying to answer.  Therefore, you will depend on the lexicons and Bible software, borrowing the labors of the professionals.  Some of them have been fanatical enough to actually look at all 775 verses!

In addition, you will find that big words like this have a range of meanings, and sometimes they overlap.  Always check the context of the verse you are studying to determine whether to push the differences between words.

 

Q&A

 

Q:  Where did Jesus preach his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7?

 

A:  We don’t know the exact site for sure, because Matthew gives little specific information about it.  The traditional location, called Mount of the Beatitudes, is located near Capernaum.  Also called Mount Eremos (meaning “wilderness, uninhabited place”), it overlooks the Sea of Galilee and has a spacious  slope that could accommodate a large crowd.  Some Bible scholars have suggested that the Sermon might have been delivered at Mount Arbel, a tall cliff along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee,– or the Horns of Hattin, a rugged rock formation with twin peaks located several miles to the west.

Coming Up

Ephesians and Colossians both instruct us to worship God with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”  Next time we will try to discover what those words meant to the Christians of the first century.

©Ezra Project 2021

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