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Monday, March 26, 2007

The Men of This Generation (Luke 11:31)

In Greek there is a clear distinction between anthropos which, at least in the plural, usually refers generically to men and women and aner which, with a few debatable exceptions, refers gender specifically to men only. There are similar, but perhaps less clear, distinctions in Hebrew. It is important for Bible translations that a careful distinction is made between these passages, to avoid confusion over which passages should be interpreted as applying only to men and which also apply to women.

So I was interested to find aner, in the plural, in Luke 11:31. This word is not in the parallel verse, Matthew 12:42; nor is it found in a very similar context in the following verse, Luke 11:32 (although it is used for the men of Nineveh). It seems clear that Luke has deliberately used this word in verse 31. What is his point? Well, he is contrasting these men with a woman, the queen of the south, and it is in this context that he chooses to use aner instead of the generic anthropos, or simply omitting the word as in verse 32 and in Matthew 12:42. So it seems to me that he wants to make a deliberate contrast between the listening woman and the men who ignore God's wisdom.

But what have various translations done with aner here? As expected, translations like RSV and NIV which do not take special care with gender language render "men"; so also does ESV, which tends to follow RSV in such matters. But, surprisingly, the translations which are supposed to be gender accurate, NRSV, TNIV and GNT/TEV (actually not only the recent gender generic updated version), use "people" here. I wonder why? Do exegetes really believe that aner here has a gender generic sense? This seems to me highly unlikely. Could it be that they are trying to avoid attributing to Luke a different thought from Matthew's? Maybe, but it is bad translation technique to make parallel passages say the same in translation when the original is in fact different.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me about why the most recent versions are avoiding "men" here.


At Mon Mar 26, 08:44:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter, the NET Bible takes aner to be generic. Here's their footnote:

Grk “men”; the word here (aner) usually indicates males or husbands, but occasionally is used in a generic sense of people in general, as is the case here (cf. BDAG 79 s.v. 1, 2). The same term, translated the same way, occurs in v. 32.

I agree with you that it does seem odd to have aner here, unless it is for a deliberate reason. And Luke is such a careful writer that your assumption that aner is used deliberately for some purpose is a good one.

At Mon Mar 26, 10:07:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Darrell Bock and Joseph Fitzmyer argue that this can't be referring to just males, because the context shows that it includes a particular woman in the audience. So what Luke's reporting of it and Matthew's reporting of it say (in terms of speaker meaning) have to be the same, even if the particular semantic content of the Greek they each used doesn't line up exactly with each other.

It may still be that the best translation is "men", but I don't think you can say that if you think both (1) "sense for sense" translation is the best way to go and (2) English "men" does not include women.

At Mon Mar 26, 11:48:00 AM, Blogger Damian said...


I'm struggling to find in BDAG, as the NET bible indicates, an analogous use of aner. The closest that I can come is 1.c.:

"used with a word indicating national or local origin, calling attention to a single individual, or even individualizing the plural; hence in address [...]; the sg. is omitted in translation, the plural rendered men, gentlemen (in direct address = esteemed people) of a certain place: [...]"
It includes the following examples, all from Acts:
Acts 1:11; 2:14; 2:22; 5:35; 8:27; 10:28; 11:20; 13:16; 16:9; 17:22; 19:35; 21:28.

BDF 242 - refers to this as a classical usage in addresses.

So is it simply the "people of this generation" as modern translations indicate?

At Mon Mar 26, 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Damian asked:

So is it simply the "people of this generation" as modern translations indicate?

Damian, at this point, I'm on the line, not having studied this passage enough to have an opinion one way or the other. I do think that Peter's observation is important. I know that Luke wrote carefully and was one of the best Greek authors in the entire N.T. I don't know if that is enough to tilt us toward translating androi here as "men" (male adults) or not.

I hope that there will be a number of others who will join this discussion. They might help me tilt one way or the other.

At Mon Mar 26, 01:08:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I can't offer an opinion one way or another except to say that there was a gender neutral use for andres, since it meant citizens or gentlemen of a city as Damian says. It indicated full adult legal status, vs anthropos, which could mean slave.

But sometimes in classical Greek andres does come across as a synonym of anthropoi. Zeus was called the 'father of gods and men(ander)', and this was compared to a king being the father of his children (tekna)

I guess the question is whether or not it contrasts with the queen. Is there a male/female point here. Most probably not.

At Mon Mar 26, 03:32:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thanks for these comments. Please keep them coming. By the way, this may be a rare chance for you all to influence an actual translation, because I need to decide whether to recommend a change from a gender generic to a gender specific wording here in the translation (not into English) which I am working on.

I accept that andres in verse 32 is gender generic, because, as Suzanne points out, the word can mean all the free population of a city. Perhaps that is the point in verse 31, but I am not convinced yet.

But it is interesting to note that aner is much more common in Luke than in the other gospels. It is used in the plural in 5:18; 7:20; 9:14,30,32; 11:31,32; 14:24; 17:12; 22:63; 24:4. But I think 11:31,32 are the only cases where, given the cultural context, and comparing 9:14 with Matthew 14:21, the referents may not actually have been male. However, in Acts, written by the same author, the position seems rather different.

At Mon Mar 26, 07:40:00 PM, Blogger Damian said...

To me it makes perfect (?) sense when understood as "citizens" of this generation / "citizens" of Ninevah. But, we don't speak like that, at least for the former, in English. The closest we would come, talking about a group in the third person, is populace. Even, closer would be people.

We know from Acts, that Luke did not always use andres with reference to males only. Rather, for the most part, he was referring to peoples.

It's also interesting that BDF notes how Luke continues classical usage in these other places where Matthew and Mark use the semitism of anthropoi. Given this, I don't know how much weight I would give the fact that the other synoptics use a different word (a semitism).

I'd go with "people."

At Tue Mar 27, 05:01:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Luke was very familiar with classical Greek, and Matthew and Mark probably were not. They certainly show little influence from it, and he seems to have done some very specific things to recall classical stylings, both in the gospel and in Acts.


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