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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Luke 22:58: a woman anthropos?

It is often asserted that in the Bible the word anthropos is never used of a specific woman. I have found an interesting case which seems to be an exception: Luke 22:58.

In each of the four gospels Peter is accused three times of being one of Jesus' disciples and denies it three times. His accusers are as follows:
  1. All four gospels: a servant girl (paidiske).
  2. Matthew: another (feminine), i.e. probably another servant girl; Mark: the same servant girl; Luke: another (masculine); John: "they".
  3. Matthew, Mark: "those standing there"; Luke: another (masculine); John: "one of the high priest's servants".
It is not easy to harmonise these accounts, especially of the second denial, but the most likely harmonisation of this is that the second accuser was in fact a woman, and Luke mistakenly used the masculine form heteros.

The interesting point for us here is that in Luke's account Peter addresses his first accuser as gune, but his second and third accusers as anthropos. The other gospels do not record Peter's words of address. If, as I have argued, the second accuser is in fact a woman, here in Luke 22:58 we have a case of anthropos being used of a specific woman.


At Wed Sep 06, 01:57:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I can't check all the passages at the moment, but it is significant that anthrope is sometimes used as an indicator that the person adressed has no status. It is appropriate for a servant. That is really the semantic content of anthropos - a lowly pleb. That, of course, is why I protest when it is translated otherwise. Some piece of information is missing, and certainly the connotation is completely lost!

At Wed Sep 06, 05:07:00 PM, Blogger Peter M. Head said...

It is an interesting argument; but it hinges absolutely on the harmonisation proposed. I don't think that is the soundest linguistic principle. I wouldn't think that many readers of Luke's account would imagine that the ETEROS addressed as ANTHRWPE was a woman. You certainly couldn't say that Luke used ANTHRWPE to refer to a woman.
But at the level of relating this verse to the other gospels it is a good find.

At Wed Sep 06, 06:52:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

I'm with Susan. There are 9 occurrences of ανθρωπε in the New Testament. James 2:20, Romans 9:20, Romans 2:3, Romans 2:1, Luke 12:14 and Luke 22:60 all appear in a context which indeed indicates contempt for the person addressed. For James, ανθρωπος associated with κενος (foolish, vain), Romans scolds the reader repeatedly and in Luke 12:14, Jesus replies to a man who asks him to settle an inheritance dispute.
1 Timothy 6:11 features the phrase ω ανθρωπε του θεου, so we can count this out. That leaves us with Luke 5:20 and Luke 22:58. As for the former, the context (the paralyzed man) would indicate the word was uttered not in contempt, but pity. And finally, Luke 22:58 seems like a gradation: in 22:57, Peter replies: ουκ οιδα αυτον, γυναι. In 22:58, it's obvious he hasn't gotten his point across and thus he feels the need for stronger words, hence ανθρωπε, ουκ ειμι!

At Wed Sep 06, 09:00:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

Addition: I missed Luke 22:60 - ανθρωπε, ουκ οιδα ο λεγεις! - which not only indicates contempt or dismissal, but it is also the third stage in the gradation I referred.

At Wed Sep 06, 10:45:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Bulbul!

This is all in a standard Greek dictionary, so it shouldn't be a surprise.

At Thu Sep 07, 01:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter M. Head said...

I think 'contempt' is a bit strong as a generalisation. The tone/connotation seems to vary (as Luke 5.20 shows clearly; and as I would read the epistolary examples: an aspect of epistolary rhetoric, not an expression of contempt for the person addressed). This varying tone is emphasised in BDAG.

At Thu Sep 07, 06:28:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter H.,

'Contempt' is directly from the Liddel Scott lexicon. It is the standard way of describing the impact of this word in classical Greek. In the BDAG this is put as 'reproachful'. But it reflects the lowly 'class' or 'status' of the person addressed. Or, of course, the closeness of that person's relationship to the speaker. It is an expression that levels people socially.

So it could be a friend or a servant, someone that does not stand in a position of authority over you. This whole dimension is lost in English.

At Thu Sep 07, 09:10:00 AM, Blogger Peter M. Head said...

It is certainly lost on me how a word can express contempt AND level people socially. How meaningful is it to think of a word as reflectubg "the lowly 'class' or 'status' of the person addressed. Or, of course, the closeness of that person's relationship to the speaker."?

Perhaps it is a lexicon issue. Do you think of LSJ as a better lexicon for NT than BDAG?

At Thu Sep 07, 11:20:00 AM, Blogger bulbul said...

It is certainly lost on me how a word can express contempt AND level people socially.
That may be because English - which I'm assuming is your native language - can't actually do that. In my native language, Slovak, we use the word "človek" (human being, person, ανθρωπος) in the Vocative case (which is non-productive and confined to few forms) - i.e. "človeče!" - in exactly the same way:
a) to indicate contempt (that's actually not the right word, either), reproach or dismissal -
b) to show that the person addressed, as Susan said, does not have any authority and/or power over us.
To my mind, Greek ανθρωπε makes perfect sense and as far as I know, it is even translated as "človeče" in our Scriptures.

It might be helpful to stop thinking about "social levelling". It's more like asserting one's position as an equal.

At Thu Sep 07, 01:19:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, I watched a military training movie in French last night. The familar form of address can communicate closeness or position over someone. If you both address each other with familiarity, it is reciprocity, but if one uses the familiar term and the other cannot - then power is expressed, one over the other.

I may not be expressing this very well, but there is semantic content in the Greek word anthropos that is simply not there if you translate it with 'man' most of the time.

I find LSJ is basic because it is not conditioned by theological presuppositions. It is the place to start. Think about how you would translate the word in literature that has no theological impact first, and then see if that fits.

Everyone starts with a doctrinal position so it is better to detach one's langauge learning from theology first, and then think about it.

At Thu Sep 07, 02:50:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...


hink about how you would translate the word in literature that has no theological impact first, and then see if that fits.
Yes, yes, yes and again, yes. This point is not emphasized nearly enough. Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelations are literature and need to be viewed and translated as such.

At Thu Sep 07, 02:59:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I commented last winter that this must be the first generation of theologians who, for the most part, do not have a classical education in Greek before studying theology.

I guess I was lucky to have Greek and Latin, along with French and German, taught in our school from grade 10 on.

Even in studying Septuagint Greek (later), we had to read the 4th book of Maccabees and many other Hellenistic works which were previously unknown to us. There was no reading of the Bible in any course, in case you got the wrong idea.

At Sat Sep 09, 07:42:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...


in my parts, there have been at least two generations without classical education (which means no Latin and no Greek) and it really does show. I'd better stop now, unless there's anyone here who wants me to go on a rant concerning the decline of scholarship at theological faculties...

I guess I was lucky to have Greek and Latin
Lucky indeed! I wish I had been so fortunate :-)


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