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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grammatical Gender

If you don't want a grammar lesson just skip all this blue stocking stuff and go below.

I have been asked to post on further issues regarding gender language in the Bible. One of my goals has always been to be able to establish a version of the Bible which would be acceptable to everyone. This is not about persuading others to share one's own gender ideology. This is not about having a common hermeneutic. There must be as many interpretations as there are people.

This is nostalgia for the LXX, the Vuglate, the Masoretic text and the King James Version. I feel that Christendom has experienced an enormous loss, having moved into an era where there is no longer one version of the Bible that is acceptable to all major denominations.

In my view this problem reached its extreme point with the statement against the TNIV. However, I am very encouraged that there are both complementarians and egalitarians who can work together on reaching a better understanding of how this breach in sharing a common text came about and perhaps work towards something better.

In my post on Rahab, I argued that the literal meaning of αδελφοι is "siblings," or "brothers and sisters." Αδελφοι is the plural of αδελφος, a word meaning "of the same womb" and has a masculine grammatical ending. Αδελφη is the same word with a feminine grammatical ending and has the plural form of αδελφαι.

Many languages do not have gender as a distinguishing feature. English does not. However, English has two separate words, "brother" and "sister." Many languages have words for younger sibling and older sibling without designating gender. There simply are not two separate words for male and female of siblings.

Some languages have neither separate words for male and female people in certain categories, nor do they have sex as a determiner of gender. Gender, which simply means "type" or "class" may be divided into animate and inanimate. This is also considered grammatical "gender" but has no relation to biological or any other kind of sex.

Bantu languages do not use sex as a way to mark words and the Algonquian languages of North America have animate and inanimate as I have indicated. Marking words for sex is in no way universal, or even predominant. It does happen to be a characteristic of Greek and Hebrew, although in different ways.

Here are a few basic ways to talk about siblings,

1. as English does - brother and sister
2. as Cree does - as older and younger siblings
3. as Greek does - as "sibling" marked male or female by the grammatical ending
4. French and German both have different words for brother and sister and mark words for gender.

Since all words in Hebrew, Greek, French and German have gender, and tables, chairs and everything else, do not have sex, it is usually considered that there is no reason to translate grammatical gender.

Many languages consider that the basic way to talk about a person is by emphasizing that they are not beast or god, they are human. So in these languages a person is called by a sex neutral word, such as human being.

By default this word most likely, but not always, has a masculine grammatical ending. For example, in French the word for person, la personne, is grammatically feminine, although it is used equally for a man or woman. In Greek the word for person, ο ανθρωπος, is masculine. Typically grammatical gender is never translated.

Here is a pretty fun example of how both ανθρωπος and ανηρ are sometimes used in Greek. I hope it will also elucidate the discussion on this post. This is from Numbers 31:25-26 and 32-34.
    25The LORD said to Moses, 26"Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation,

    καὶ ἐλάλησεν κύριος πρὸς Μωυσῆν λέγων 26 λαβὲ τὸ κεφάλαιον τῶν σκύλων τῆς αἰχμαλωσίας ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἕως κτήνους σὺ καὶ Ελεαζαρ ὁ ἱερεὺς καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες τῶν πατριῶν τῆς συναγωγῆς

    vaiyomer hashem, el-mosheh lemor sa, et rosh malkoach hashevi, ba'adam, uvabbehemah--attah ve'el'azar hakkohen, verashei avot ha'edah.
From this passage we can make a few tentative conclusions about language and gender.

1. First ἀνθρώπου, the translation of the Hebrew adam, is used to designate the human spoil in contrast to the animals that were spoil. Looking at the passage below, one can see that these adam are, every one of them, young girls who have never lain with a man. There is no nuance of maleness to these girls although the word adam and anthropos have masculine grammatical gender.

2. Next, the Hebrew word rosh appears twice in this passage. Once it applies to the count of the plunder. The next time it refers to the "head" of the tribe. In the first place, it is translated into Greek as κεφάλαιον, and in the second, where it refers to the leader of the fathers' houses, it is translated as ἄρχοντες - leader.

I am not aware of even one place where the rosh, the leader, of a family or tribe is translated into Greek as κεφαλη. Whatever κεφαλη means, it is never used to translate the rosh of a tribe or family. There is poor evidence for believing that the word κεφαλη should be understood as leader.

Here is a little more from the same chapter.
    32Now the plunder remaining of the spoil that the army took was 675,000 sheep, 3372,000 cattle, 3461,000 donkeys, 35 and 32,000 persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him.

    καὶ ἐγενήθη τὸ πλεόνασμα τῆς προνομῆς ὃ ἐπρονόμευσαν οἱ ἄνδρες οἱ πολεμισταί ἀπὸ τῶν προβάτων ἑξακόσιαι χιλιάδες καὶ ἑβδομήκοντα καὶ πέντε χιλιάδες καὶ βόες δύο καὶ ἑβδομήκοντα χιλιάδες 34 καὶ ὄνοι μία καὶ ἑξήκοντα χιλιάδες 35 καὶ ψυχαὶ ἀνθρώπων ἀπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν αἳ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν κοίτην ἀνδρός πᾶσαι ψυχαὶ δύο καὶ τριάκοντα χιλιάδες

    vayhi, hammalkoach--yeter habbaz, asher bazezu am hatzava: tzon, shesh-me'ot elef veshiv'im elef--vachameshet alafim. uvakar, shenayim veshiv'im alef vachamorim, echad veshishim alef. venefesh adam--min-hannashim, asher lo-yade'u mishkav zachar: kol-nefesh, shenayim usheloshim alef.
From this we can see that,

3. οἱ ἄνδρες, from ανηρ, was added in the Greek and does not exist in the Hebrew. It is a redundant word in some ways and when found in this kind of construction elsewhere, ie the New Testament, it is not always translated into English, but is simply dropped out, as TC has noted. However, the second time ανηρ appears in this passage it is translated.

4. Once again the phrase ψυχαὶ ἀνθρώπων means "human persons." The word ψυχαὶ is feminine and the word ἀνθρώπων is masculine. This is irrelevant to the meaning. Men also are ψυχαὶ ἀνθρώπων.

TC. I hope this helps explain why ανηρ goes untranslated in Luke 24:19. I hope it also explains why ανθρωπος should be translated as "human" or "person" most of the time. And I hope one can also see why it is extremely difficult to establish the exact metaphorical meaning of κεφαλη in the New Testament. The Septuagint certainly suggests that when leadership is in view, the word ἄρχοντες would most likely be used. The Hebrew and the English both have the word "head" for leader, the Greek does not. κεφαλη and the English word 'head' are not metaphorically equivalent.

One of my hopes is that people will be able to see that as an egalitarian, I read the Bible carefully and do not twist the scriptures to fit my supposed presuppositions. I feel that complementarians also understand that gender accurate language is an improvement in accuracy, and not a concession to anything but the truth.



At Sun May 25, 12:31:00 AM, Blogger TCR said...

Sue, thanks for this post. When you say that αδελφος means "of the same womb,"Are you at the same time nullifying its reference to a male as in Jas 2:15? Your point wasn't clear to me.

Do you have any reference in the LXX or classical literature where Αδελφη refers to a person, whether male or female?

I'm in agreement with you contention for the accurate rendering of both ανθρωπος and ανηρ in the NT.

Though I've done grad work in Greek, grammatical gender in translating Scripture was never emphasized, which I consider quite unfortunate.

At Sun May 25, 12:44:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Clearly as a singular word, it contrasts with adelphé in the feminine. But if adelphos appears alone, I do not think that one can determine that it refers only to a male, unless it says, "male" or contrasts it with the female. I don't think the word adelphos is ever used for a generic male Christian excluding the female Christian.

I don't think there is any point at all in translating grammatical gender, so why would it be brought up in class. It is only subsequent to the anti-TNIV fiasco that this has even been discussed.

I'll write more about aner, since it does have a very specific gender neutral use, although not in the passage I cited in this post. Here they are masculine.

At Sun May 25, 12:45:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

When I said 'of the same womb' that is the derivation of the word. There was no particular point to that other than general interest.

At Sun May 25, 08:28:00 AM, Blogger Gerald said...

I am not aware of even one place where the rosh, the leader, of a family or tribe is translated into Greek as κεφαλη.


I may not be following you correctly, but what about passages such as 2 Kings 22:44, Judges 10:18, Judges 11:8, etc.? If I remember correctly, I believe there are a total of nine occasions where the LXX translates the Hebrew rosh with κεφαλη, where κεφαλη has the metaphorical meaning of leader.

At Sun May 25, 11:13:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Hi Gerald,

Good to see you again.

2 Samuel 22:

43 καὶ ἐλέανα αὐτοὺς ὡς χοῦν γῆς ὡς πηλὸν ἐξόδων ἐλέπτυνα αὐτούς

44 καὶ ῥύσῃ με ἐκ μάχης λαῶν φυλάξεις με εἰς κεφαλὴν ἐθνῶν λαός ὃν οὐκ ἔγνων ἐδούλευσάν μοι

45 υἱοὶ ἀλλότριοι ἐψεύσαντό μοι εἰς ἀκοὴν ὠτίου ἤκουσάν μου

46 υἱοὶ ἀλλότριοι ἀπορριφήσονται καὶ σφαλοῦσιν ἐκ τῶν συγκλεισμῶν αὐτῶν

A curious passage;

I ground them down like the dust of the earth, like mire of exits I beat them fine

And you will rescue me from battle with peoples, you will guard me to be head of nations, a people whom I did not know was subject to me

Foreign sons lied to me, at the hearing of the ear they heard me.

Foreign sons shall be cast away and shall stumble out of their enclosures.

Here is the KJV,

43Then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I did stamp them as the mire of the street, and did spread them abroad.

44Thou also hast delivered me from the strivings of my people, thou hast kept me to be head of the heathen: a people which I knew not shall serve me.

45Strangers shall submit themselves unto me: as soon as they hear, they shall be obedient unto me.

46Strangers shall fade away, and they shall be afraid out of their close places.

The two problems with kephale in this passage are,

1. The quality of the translation is poor. It appears that in each verse the translator falls back on a literal and concrete rendering rather than translating the actual meaning or sense of the Hebrew.

2. David is called the "head of the heathen/nations" not the head of his own people. In fact, a king is not once in Greek literature called the "head of the nation" although this has been claimed by some.

I am curious to know why this was presented by Grudem as "David as king of Israel is called the "head" of the people"

The difference between people and gentiles is rather important at this juncture. I can't think that misrepresenting this quote is helpful.

Since there are many places where the leaders of tribes and families are talked about in the Hebrew Bible one can easily see that the normal word is αρχων or some other word meaning leader.

My main argument against this passage would be the quality of the surrounding translation.

In Judges, Jephthah was called the head, and was requested to take over leadership of tribes that he had been expelled from, just for a particular battle. It is clear that he was hated but respected as a warrior. He seems to have been a hero as a warrior.

It is odd that these are the only two places where the word rosh when referring to the person who is the leader, are translated as kephale.

There are dozens of references to the rosh of the tribes and families, but they are translated using other words. These two are cases that do not fit what we are looking for, Godly authority of a leader over his own people. If the LXX was a source of the term kephale as authority over, these two examples do not represent the relationships in 1 Cor. 11.

These do not counter my claim,

I am not aware of even one place where the rosh, the leader, of a family or tribe is translated into Greek as κεφαλη.

We could go through other examples in the kephale study if you like. I have not examined every one in depth, although I have seen the list. The fact remains that kephale is usually avoided when the rosh of a tribe is translated into Greek.

At Sun May 25, 12:55:00 PM, Blogger Jane said...

I am terrified by your erudition
Fabulous stuff
just wish it was in French and i could share it with my fem theol group
stay strong sisiter

At Sun May 25, 01:44:00 PM, Blogger Gerald said...


Thanks for the response. Your frequent posts on the wider "gender" debates have been very helpful at certain points. A couple of thoughts in response to your above comment:

First, I wonder why it is relevant whether or not the "kephale" is over his own people or over a foreign people. I think you are the defining the complementarian understanding of kephale too narrowly when you define it as "Godly authority of a leader of his own people." Certainly if you define it this narrowly, then yes, it doesn't fit in 1 Kings, etc. But I think most complementarians would be content to render it simply as "leader." In which case, it fits.

Second, I understand the point you are making about the translation of the 2 Samuel passage being overly literal and thus a poor translation, but your argument has a ring of circularity to it. You have concluded that kephale doesn't mean "leader." Thus when it is used metaphorically in this sense you discount the significance of its occurrence on the basis that the passage in which it resides must be a bad translation, in part because it uses kephale in a metaphorical sense of “leader.” This seems to me a bit like the scientist who rejects data as tainted because it doesn’t square with his theory.

Third, I grant that kephale is not the typical rendering of rosh when rosh is used in a metaphorical sense to mean "leader." But I wonder if you press this observation into more service than is warranted. Just because kephale is not the first Greek word of choice for rendering rosh when rosh is used metaphorically to mean “leader” is not proof that kephale cannot mean “leader.” It only means that kephale is not the first Greek word of choice for rendering rosh when rosh is used in a metaphorical sense to mean "leader." For instance, In English, the terms “boss” and “chief” both have the connotations of “leader.” Yet if someone was translating a business management book from say, French to English, we would expect to find the French word for “the head of a company” translated most often as “boss” and seldom, if at all, as “chief.” (Perhaps the rendering “chief” might sneak in a few times as a form of shorthand for “Chief Executive Officer.”) But that fact that the French word for “head of a company” is not translated very often by the term “chief” says nothing about the meaning of “chief.” For my part, I think Grudem does a fairly decent job of showing that kephale is used frequently with this meaning, both within and outside of canonical literature. But I’m sure you’ve read the same article and don’t agree.

Regardless, as far as the gender debates are concerned, the use of kephale in the LXX and surrounding literature is only of secondary nature compared to its use in the NT (in particular, Paul). It seems to me that Paul utilizes this metaphorical meaning of head in as much as “head/body” metaphor of Christ and the Church is already in play. But that's another story.

Thanks again for your response. I continue to regularly read the BBB with interest. Many blessings.

At Sun May 25, 01:48:00 PM, Blogger TCR said...

I don't think the word adelphos is ever used for a generic male Christian excluding the female Christian.

Is it too obvious that adelphos refers to a male in Phil 2:25?

I don't think there is any point at all in translating grammatical gender, so why would it be brought up in class. It is only subsequent to the anti-TNIV fiasco that this has even been discussed.

I'm not speaking of grammatical genders proper, but how to best render them in English translations.

At Sun May 25, 02:19:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

I don't think the word adelphos is ever used for a generic male Christian excluding the female Christian.

Phil 2:25?

I like how Matthew translates Jesus's question in 16:13. Look at the male and generic human references.

τίνα λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου

Willis Barnstone cleverly makes that "Who do the people say is the earthly son?"

Isn't "earthly" an illusion to the Adam / adama pun in Genesis? And if you continue with Barnstone, there's a big contrast in 16:16,

You are the mashiah, the anointed, the son of the living God.

Matthew's context supplies the human gender (and the grammar gender too) with the male human son of the earthly human / and of the heavenly God:

σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος

At Sun May 25, 02:56:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


More later. I would argue that kephale is not the first, second or third way to translate rosh. But I'll get back to that.


Phil. 2:25 is a named person. There is no intention of setting up a male class in contrast to a female class. I suppose it could be done, but I don't think it is. I think some other qualifier would have to be present, it would have to say "male" in some other way.


One day I will get the Barnstone translation. That is a very interesting choice of words. It really does give the correct sense of anthropos, as in 1 cor. 15.

At Sun May 25, 04:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Out of 180 times that rosh is translated into Greek metaphorically, it is translated as,

- αρχων
- ηγεομαι Deut. 1:13-15
- αρχηγος Deut. 33:21
- χιλιαρχ Deut. 1:13-15
- κεφαλη Judges 10 and 11.

I don't have exact numbers because different studies organize the data differently. The vast majority of the times archon is the translation.

However, κεφαλη as a translation of rosh, and meaning "leader" is restricted to Jephthah. The other occurrences are more vague than the 2 Sam. 22 example.

So, no, it is not circular reasoning. If everywhere else there is an established way to translate rosh, as archon, archegos or hegeomai, then translating it as kephale, which is the literal translation, is clearly an exception. The most logical reason is that a literal or concrete equivalent is a fallback when the translator does not know what else to do. That is seen in several of the passages. So, I see Jephthah as the one exception. He was in a sense a hero, chosen for a particular battle, to be at the front of the army. No one wanted him as a long term ruler. That was clear. So, I think the Greek word for archon is deliberately avoided for Jephthah for the simple reason that he was never the archon (ruler) of those tribes, he was their chosen warrior-hero for one task, one battle.

I just don't see kephale ever used for authority in the usual sense, in any sense actually. These are quite odd examples you have chosen. I don't think the whole argument can rest on Jephthah and translation literature.

In fact, I would argue that Jephthah is such a poor example that Grudem chose other examples although they are not exactly as he presents them.

I would be happy to talk about kephale in the NT if you like.

At Sun May 25, 04:10:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The count for rosh translated as archon varies from 109 to 138 depending on the study. I don't know how this is tallied but it is the vast majority of cases.

At Sun May 25, 05:00:00 PM, Blogger Gerald said...


Thanks for the thoughts. And some day I'd like to take you up on your invitation to converse a bit about kephale in the NT, but I have a few pressing deadlines at present.

blessings till then,


P.S. I couldn't get the hyper link in your above comment to work. Perhaps you could re-link it?

At Sun May 25, 05:33:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Here is the link.


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