"a good man, be he of the male or female sex"

This afternoon, Randy Stinson is preaching on Bible translation and Gender. Coffee Swirls is blogging the event. I wonder if Randy will properly explain the meaning of aner in his address.

We do not wish to deny the possibility that the plural of aner could take on a wider sense such as “people” in the fixed idiomatic expression, andres + plural noun, such as “men of Athens,” “men of Israel,” etc. But where is the proof? If substantial evidence is forthcoming, we would be happy to change out understanding of plural andres, and we recognize that there may be such evidence that we have not yet seen, especially with regard to fixed idioms such as “men of Athens,” etc. But we have not yet seen clear evidence that this is the case. So we cannot at this point agree with the TNIV’s claim that aner “was occasionally used as a generic term for human beings.”

This is the quote on the CBMW website. But what do they make of Plato’s Laws and the way aner is used in this passage? Can you talk in English about a member of our community, be he male or female, becoming a “good man”? I just don’t think so.

ποτὲ ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς γίγνοιτ’ ἄν,
τὴν ἀνθρώπῳ προσήκουσαν ἀρετὴν τῆς ψυχῆς ἔχων… ,
εἴτε ἄρρην τις των συνοικούντων οὖσα ἡ φύσις
εἴτε θήλεια, νέων ἢ γερόντων

… in which a member of our community–
be he of the male or female sex, young or old,–
may become a good citizen, possessed of the
excellence of soul which belongs to man. Plato’s Laws 6. 770d

I was so relieved to find this quote. Finally – here is a way to show what anthropos and aner really mean. Anthropos is the quality of being human, and aner, that of being a citizen, or a member of society.

Think of how this passage would sound like this,

… in which a member of our community–
be he of the male or female sex, young or old,
— may become a good man, possessed of the
excellence of soul which belongs to man. Plato’s Laws 6. 770d

Not so great. In fact, I personally would just get rid of the generic “he” in this passage while I was at it. But, nobody asked me! The translation was done in 1926.

Much better like this,

    … in which a member of our community–
    be they of the male or female sex, young or old,–
    may become a good citizen, possessed of the
    excellence of soul which belongs to humankind. Plato’s Laws 6. 770d

I was so happy to see that the Perseus Digital Library was back online that I did a little search and found that in Plato’s Laws alone, aner has been translated into English by “friend”, “individual”, “citizen”, “everyone”, “person” and so on.

I think that it is safe to say that the TNIV is not breaking new ground when it translates aner in a gender neutral fashion. I don’t think that the TNIV needs the blessing of the CBMW, but I would feel better if the CBMW expressed their happiness at receiving my evidence and changed their understanding of aner. Then they could retract their statement of concern against the TNIV.

Here is the article I am sending CBMW. This is my homework in preparation for the course I am planning to take with Fee this summer. 😉

And there is lots more to say about aner in Hellenistic Greek -some other time. I enjoy this reasearch as it gives me a chance to try out the search capacity of Perseus and gets me reading a little more broadly in classical Greek while I am at it.

I am also trying to read a couple of Psalms in Hebrew, Latin and Greek together, which is way easier than reading them in Hebrew alone. I am much more likely to recognize the word in Latin or Greek. It is a bit of a langauge stew but I find the Hebrew by itself pretty daunting.

15 thoughts on “"a good man, be he of the male or female sex"

  1. Glennsp says:

    As there is over 420 years between Plato and the birth of Christ I would have thought there would be marginal relevance as to the use of Aner by Plato (if it is as you postulate) and its use in Biblical times.
    So have you got something more relevant to the Biblical time period?

  2. Eric Rowe says:

    Another thoughtful post as always Suzanne.

    But I’m having trouble following everything. I pulled up the Greek at TLG to get the context along with their English version, which is the same as yours. Note that what you pasted is not a whole sentence, and the translator had to rearrange the phrases a bit (no surprise there). I’m just not sure that the words line up between the Greek and the English exactly as you say. But I’d be happy to get a free lesson here (working through something outside the NT is always educational for me).

    I think that the words “member of our community” are being supplied here as the subject, and then ανηρ αγαθος γινοιτ, is getting translated as “become a good citizen.” So the idea is that if somebody wants to be a good citizen (or man?) they need to exhibit the qualities that follow. Then notice that the phrase “whether male or female, young or old,” comes after most of the description. If a person reads ανηρ as “man,” then this phrase could be taken as a clarification, as if to say, “what I’m saying isn’t just for men, it’s for women too.” I’m still not sure yet if I’m reading it right. I still don’t get what the word συνοικουντων is doing in there–maybe τις των συνοικουντων is where the idea of “member of our community” comes from. But as someone who’s used to NT Greek, it seems like an odd place to put that phrase (or maybe an odd way for the Loeb translator to have put it).

  3. Eric Rowe says:

    I was a little struck by what you said, “I was so relieved to find this quote. Finally – here is a way to show what anthropos and aner really mean.” It sounds like you already knew what has to be true, you just needed to find the evidence. What exactly is relieving about this? After all, prior to being convinced by evidence one way or the other, one has to think that it’s at least possible that CBMW’s view about ανηρ was right. It’s only a claim about the meaning of a Greek word, whether the claim turns out right or wrong, it seems pretty innocuous.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    Dr. Grudem has established that the Liddell Scott Jones Lexicon is a standard. This is useful because it is a lexicon of the language outside the context of religious literature. He seems to think that the others BDAG, and L-N have been influenced by modern culture – they clearly state that aner can mean simply “someone”. But the LSJ is 1940 – not so much according to Grudem.

    So Dr. Grudem quotes the LSJ first and says that it does not ever say that aner means “person” or any other gender neutral term. This is his claim. But, of course, it does. There are numerous citations, given in the LSJ, where aner is translated in a gender neutral way.

    Here is what Grudem says,

    Liddell-Scott: The standard reference work, the Liddell-Scott Lexicon (p. 138) for all of ancient Greek, gives no meaning “person,” but only “man, husband,” and some specific variations on those. This is very significant because aner is not a rare word: it is extremely common in Greek. Thousands upon thousands of examples of it are found in Greek from the 8th century BC (Homer) onward. If any meaning “person” existed, scholars would have found many clear examples centuries ago.

    But I have found many places cited in the LSJ where aner is translated in a gender neutral way, and this is all well before the 1950’s. Grudem simply doesn’t seem to be aware of the way aner was used in Greek, or the way it was translated. The TNIV is not out of the way. It is in line with the way other Greek is translated.

    I will come to the question of dating later, but Grudem clearly thinks that aner was not translated in a gender netural way from Homer on.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    Yes, classical Greek is far more difficult to translate word for word than NT Greek. But you have it right. It might be possible to say, “May become a good man, possessed of the excellence of soul which belongs to man, someone being a member of the community, the nature being male or female, young or old.” But does that help? Can we say that in English. One could add the words “änd this applies to men and women both” but that does not really translate the Greek very well either. It sounds a bit like a sex change operation in contemporary terms, if you don’t add in the words “this applies to men and women”.

    In Plato’s laws, aner was used in several different ways. First, a person within the state, which for Plato included women. Second, a person with repsonsibility towards the gods, next an adult in contrast to children and old people, then husband in contrast to wife. This isn’t really rated by frequency – I don’t know the frequency.

    Yes, I did know this already but I couldn’t seem to show it to other people. And the CBMW is anything but innocuous, because they have accused the TNIV of deliberately removing male-oriented language, among other things and have campaigned against it. I don’t see how this is innocuous. All they had to do was read the LSJ lexicon in full and accept that since the lexicon was from the 1800’s with revisions only, “man, opposed to gods” in the LSJ meant “person”.

    They deliberately quoted only a piece of the entry. It is far from innocuous!

    Anyway, you certainly ask good questions, and put a lot of work into it. I appreciate that. Dialogue always helps to create clarity.

  6. Eric Rowe says:

    I wasn’t suggesting that the passage should be translated word for word, only that it should be accurately represented. When I looked at the whole sentence and tried to work through it, and then consulted the TLG translation, it wasn’t as obvious to me that it was using ανηρ as citizen as your cut and paste of phrases made it appear. Here is another translation of the same sentence that I found online:
    “There was one main point about which we were agreed-that a man’s whole energies throughout life should be devoted to the acquisition of the virtue proper to a man, whether this was to be gained by study, or habit, or some mode of acquisition, or desire, or opinion, or knowledge-and this applies equally to men and women, old and young-the aim of all should always be such as I have described; anything which may be an impediment, the good man ought to show that he utterly disregards.”
    I don’t want to say one is right and the other wrong, I don’t trust my own level of expertise to do that. But seeing another translator’s opinion does make me wonder if it’s as cut and dry as it looked at first.

    I know relatively little about the TNIV and the CBMW’s objections to it. But my understanding from checking their list of translational problems online is that the CBMW’s case is not just built on rendering ανηρ. There appear to be a lot of places where the TNIV rendered something inclusively that wasn’t inclusive in the original, sometimes in ways that appear they were trying to avoid something that might offend some rather than just to be more accurate (such as changing “women” to “weaklings” in Isa 19:16 et al, and “father’s households” to “families” in 1 Sam 18:2 et al). Their understanding of ανηρ is part of that. But all by itself, the claim that ανηρ applies distinctly to a male I still see as an innocuous claim. If it turns out to be wrong, that’s fine, it’s just a claim about the meaning of a word. If I had to make a blind prediction I would bet that sometimes ανηρ could safely be translated “person” in the NT and that the TNIV not only makes it inclusive in the places where it is a basically accurate translation, but also in places where it isn’t. If a Bible translation takes a balanced approach to gender inclusiveness, based on accuracy, not political correctness (like the old NIV and the updated NASB both do), my guess is that not many people would notice or care.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    You bring up a lot of different issues.

    First, previous Bible translations, ie. NIV, weren’t particlarly accurate because they translated τις, ανθρωπος and ανηρ all as “man”. But if you understand “man” to mean people in general then fine – no problem. These translations had it made, “man” was a catch-all term. I have no objection to that as an historic way of writing in English.

    But the ESV preface makes clear that “man” now means the male, so that renders “man” in English inaccurate anywhere that people of both genders are intended in the original languages.

    There are certainly less literal ways to translate the passage that I provided, but the one I gave was 1926, not motivated by recent modern feminism, as defined by the CBMW.

    There is a distinct lack of clarity in the version you quote.

    It says, “the virtue proper to a man”. That certainly implies the virtue of being male, but the Greek says anthropos, “the virtue of being human.” I would say that “the virtue of being man”, can be understood accurately as archaic English, but “the virtue of being a man” is simply not accurate – that is not what the Greek says. I did see that translation and I find it very non-literal and not representative of the Greek.

    However, my main point is that the ESV can use “man” as much as they want but they should not criticize the TNIV for not using “man” when it seems clear that all people of both genders are the referent.

    Can you think of any examples in the TNIV where aner is incorrectly trnaslated?

    Regarding the CBMW claims against the TNIV, they are, many of them, of the nature of this discussion about aner, based on limited lexicography.

  8. Eric Rowe says:

    If you limit the meaning of anthropos to “human being” and exclude the definition “man” as in “male adult” then you are also guilty of limited lexicography. I would say that the most basic meaning of aner is “man” in the sense of male and that there my be certain exceptions, such as when it means citizen or if its plural for a group that may or may not include women. Anthropos is less linked to maleness, but I would be hesitant to exclude that from its usage either, just like the older way of using “man” in English. For the translations of Plato, I saw some ways where one was more literal and other ways where the other one was. But as to the point about rendering aner as “man” in the one and “citizen” in the other, I saw no clear proof that one was right and the other wrong. The one that translated it as “man” naturally translated the following anthropos as “man” too, having already committed to that particular interpretation, in which case the “whether male or female” becomes a way of expanding the point of the teaching to females rather than showing that aner meant “citizen”. Frankly, I expect that you’re probably right about the possibility of aner meaning citizen, without respect to sex in Plato’s laws. But this passage on its own doesn’t prove it to me.

    As for the TNIV’s use of aner, just based on the list of examples given by CBMW on their website, the only cases where I would expect it possibly to include women among the verses they list are in the plurals, and not even all of those (such as Acts 15:22). This still leaves a lot of examples in their list where TNIV deals with singular aner in gender-inclusive ways when the basic meaning of “man” fits the context perfectly fine. None of these examples in the singular mean “citizen” or “man as opposed to god”. Those are all cases where I’m suspicious that the translators were driven toward gender neutrality as a virtue on its own, apart from concern for accuracy. Personally, I’m not greatly bothered by any of these examples, but I have to admit, the one’s that replace “woman” with “weakling” and “father’s household” with “family” bother me quite a bit, and I think clearly betray an ideological basis, not a lexicographical one.

  9. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I wasn’t clear. It makes sense historically to translate the passage with the “virtue proper to man” but not the “virtue proper to a man”. Does that make sense? That gives the wrong impression of the Greek. Adding the article.

    As far as other examples, could you give references? The truth is that every translation must have some bias, but I find the bias of other translations other than the TNIV just as troubling, if not more so. Actually the King James is the less interpetive to my thinking, but they had the advantage of using “man” in a variety of ways. But in other respects the KJV is much less than other versions.

  10. Eric Rowe says:

    OK, well I really don’t want to get drawn too far into the CBMW vs. TNIV debate. It’s something that’s been going on for years, and some people are clearly more passionate about it than I am. My thoughts about Bible translation don’t really revolve around this particular battle. But for the examples you asked for where I think aner should simply be translated “man”, I would include James 1:8 and 3:2. Those examples don’t exhaust the list. But they probably give the gist of the cases I have in mind. And again, the inclusive translation of those cases don’t really bother me. But, I do think that a non-ideological approach to translating aner would use its most basic and common meaning as a default in cases like these. If I were translating these verses for a class I would render the word “man” here without a second thought. If I shouldn’t do that, then I would have to wonder if Greek has any word for “man” at all.

  11. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I don’t want to draw you into the TNIV – CBMW debate. I was drawn into it because I heard the original story from Fee in a seminar on Bible translation in 1997 realized recently that 10 years later CBMW are still preaching against the TNIV. This is my concern but I don’t want to assume that other people have the involvement that I do.

    I compliment you on tickling my funny bone with your quotes. Hilarious! Yes, women should love to have “the double-minded man” retained in the scripture. How many times are women accused of changing their minds!

    And James 3:2 has been translated as “the perfect man” – Eric, if you know one of those, there are women who would be interested.

    But, seriously, we know there was only one. What this could also say is “an adult” – this expression was used in Plato to mean the adult vs the child, in a general way. In the context, most translations go with “perfect” hmm, maybe also “complete”. Possibly also “mature”, but there is no sense of refering to man and not a woman, again more about age and status, being a responsible person.

    In 1 Cor. 13 Paul says “when I became a man” meaning when he grew up, became adult. Anyway, I don’t see any loss of male oriented meaning if we say “adult”. We wouldn’t be implying that Paul became female, just that he became adult in a normal way.

    You would want to just translate something without thinking about gender either way, and see what comes out. I wonder if that is possible.

  12. Eric Rowe says:

    Suzanne, it seems that you are advocating a policy of using gender-neutral translations unless the original clearly intended something gender-specific. I disagree with that. I think for the usage of aner, the translation should reflect the normal male-specific sense unless the context indicates otherwise. We are each putting the burden of proof on the opposite side. But I really think that the way most words are translated is to use a default translation (or group of closely synonymous translations) and only diverge from it when required to. If we follow that policy with aner, then surely the default has to reflect the male connotation that the word normally had. Otherwise, we’re left with the strange circumstance that Koine Greek didn’t have a word for “man”.

    I was also thinking about what a feminist translator could do if he really wanted to unflinchingly follow a policy that the classically male words in Greek should always be assumed to be gender neutral until proven otherwise. You couldn’t use the presence of a second male word to prove the maleness of the first, because the second one would itself be subject to the same policy. I suppose Jesus would still be recognized as a man, but only because it says He had a beard. But I’m not sure that there would be many men left in the NT!

  13. Eric Rowe says:

    *to unflinchingly follow*
    Please excuse my split infinitive. I can’t go back and edit it, or believe me I would!

  14. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    English still doesn’t have a word that unambiguously means “man”. It is getting there. The KJV certainly didn’t. “Every man” really meant “every person”.
    What I am trying to say is that this may have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with feminism. There are other aspects of the word that is important, like status, adulthood, membership in the community.

    Especially with anthropos, since it can sometimes mean a man, as in a person, but often communicates the quality of being human, not male. But by choosing the word “man” this truth about being human may be lost. It is not a one way street – there is meaning on each side, meaning lost and won.

    The fact is that in the Bible, the most important truth is that we are human, not that we are male and female. We are, but in the gospels, how often does that come up?

    The core of the gospel is our humanity, and Christ’s humanity with us, and all this wrangling over gender is unseemly. We should just enjoy the scriptures without thinking about gender, most of the time. Lots of people aren’t married – some will never marry.

    This is how I think of the King James version. I am happy with an old fashioned Bible and with a modern one. I like the Good News Bible, which has “Happy are those …” in Psalm 1:1 and the King James, “Blessed is the man …” I don’t have an agenda other than stopping the squabbling of the CBMW and other self-appointed censors. I am not promoting any particular style, but I want to see that the freedom to translate the Bible into modern English is maintained. I refuse to stand by and listen to people condemn the translation of aner by “person”.

  15. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    In order to delete a comment first, make sure that you are logged in, then “Control C” to copy your comment, and then click on the wastebucket at the bottom left-hand corner of the comment. This allows you to delete your comment. Then you can go back and open the comment dialog box again and “Control V” to paste in your comment, then you can make your correction and off you go!

    Then you can remember that I think split infinitives are perfectly alright.:-)

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