Translating ANTHRÅŒPOIS in 2 Tim. 2:2

The essay below appeared yesterday on the “Perspectives in Translation” website. It concerns how the Greek word anthrōpois should be translated in 2 Timothy 2:2. Craig Blomberg has argued that it should be rendered as “people” (as it appears in NIV 2011), but I argue that it should be translated as “men.” Here’s how other translations handle the term:

“men”
NASB
ESV
NIV (1984)
HCSB
KJV
NKJV
RSV

“people”
TNIV
NET
NJB
NLT
NRSV

One other thing before moving on to my response. Two prominent egalitarian New Testament scholars agree with me on this translation—I. Howard Marshall and Luke Timothy Johnson. Johnson is an unabashed liberal in his view of scripture, but I think his comments on this text are apt:

“The phrase pistois anthrōpois could be translated as ‘faithful people,’ since anthrōpos is inclusive for all humans, in contrast to anÄ“r, which can mean only males. I translate ‘faithful men,’ however, because that is clearly what the text means. In the case of the Pastorals, an attempt to create a gender-inclusive translation only camoflouges the pervasive androcentrism of the composition. For better or for worse, the assumptions of the author’s culture (or place within his culture) should be accepted by the translation. It is the task of hermeneutics to decide what to do about those assumptions” (The First and Second Letters to Timothy, p. 365).

Johnson thinks the text means “men,” even though he goes on to reject its normative significance for modern readers. Of course I disagree with his rejection of biblical authority, but his interpretation is certainly correct. My response to Blomberg is below.

———-

Dr. Blomberg’s argument in favor of rendering anthrōpois as “people” is illuminating. 2 Timothy 2:2 has not been much of a flashpoint in the gender debate, and there is not much published material on the “men” vs. “people” question. Last week, I made my way through fourteen different commentaries on this verse. Out of the six of them that favored the translation “people,” not a single one of them put forth a sustained argument in favor of that translation. The most they have to offer is the observation that the plural of anthropos is regularly used generically. Thus Blomberg’s earlier post on this site is the most substantial argument in favor of “people” that I have read.

That being said, I do want to contest Dr. Blomberg’s conclusion that says “people” is “the only legitimate translation” of anthrōpois. It is true that the plural of anthropos is often used generically (e.g., 1 Tim 2:1, 4; 4:10; 6:5; 2 Tim 3:2; Tit 2:11; 3:2), but that fact is no argument for a generic referent in a given context. As Ray Van Neste pointed out in his post, if we want to understand the word’s appearance in 2 Timothy 2:2, we must look to context. So let me make some observations about the context that in my view tip the scales decisively in favor of the translation “men.”

First, there is precedent in the pastorals for Paul’s use of plural anthropos in a gender-specific way. In 2 Timothy 3:8, for instance, Paul writes, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth–men [anthrōpoi] of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.” The anthrōpoi here must be men since they are “worming their way into women’s homes” (Mounce, Pastoral Eptistles, p. 550). If this is correct, then the anthrōpoi of both 3:2 and 3:13 should be understood as males as well. Consider also the anthrōpoi of 1 Timothy 5:24: “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” In context, Paul is telling Timothy to be careful about whom he appoints as elders (v. 5:22: “Do not lay hands on a man too quickly”). Since Paul held to an all male eldership (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:2), the anthrōpoi of 5:24 must also be males. Given Paul’s use of anthrōpoi in a gender-specific way both in the pastorals and elsewhere (e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:7), we have to allow for the possibility that context can determine anthrōpoi with a masculine referent.

Second, in the context of 2 Timothy 2, Paul is telling Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful anthrōpoi who will be able to teach others (2:2). Notice the one qualification that Paul has for the anthrōpoi. They must be qualified to teach “others.” This is significant because “others” is a masculine plural pronoun [ἑτέρους]. That means that “others” would consist of both men and women or of men only. Since Paul has already prohibited women from teaching Christian doctrine to men (1 Timothy 2:12), women would not be qualified to teach “others.” Thus, when Paul employs anthrōpoi here, he certainly has in mind males only. Contextually speaking, anthrōpoi must be gender-specific in this text. It seems that Paul wishes to emphasize the special responsibility that qualified men have to pass the faith on to the next generation.

With this interpretation in mind, we are in a position to answer Blomberg’s arguments in favor of “people.”

1. Blomberg argues that “people” is a grammatical “slam dunk” because the plural of anthropos is “regularly” used in a gender-inclusive way. Nevertheless, the regular use of anthropos in a gender-inclusive way is not argument for its meaning in a given context. Gender-specific uses of anthropos are also within the term’s range of possible meanings, so the argument for “people” has to be developed within the context of 2 Timothy (and the other pastorals). I do not think Blomberg has provided such an argument yet.

2. Blomberg argues that translating anthropois as “people” would not “infringe on those restrictions” Paul set up to prohibit women from teaching men. The problem with this argument is twofold. First, the term “others” is masculine plural, so the teaching of both men and women is in view. Thus, Blomberg cannot placate complementarian concerns with the suggestion that only the teaching of women and children is in view. Second, most English readers will read “people” in a gender-inclusive way. If Paul did not intend to be gender-inclusive in this text, why obscure the point for English readers?

3. Blomberg says that the translation “faithful men” will be heard by most readers as gender-specific, not as gender-inclusive. In this context, he is certainly right about this. But those who favor the translation “faithful men” do not do so because they believe “men” to be gender-inclusive. On the contrary, they favor “men” because they believe males are in view.

4. Blomberg also mentions his experience in parachurch organizations for whom this text is a staple. In those organizations, this text is a touchstone for understanding the organic disciple-making process that is incumbent upon all Christians, both men and women. I would argue that such organizations can still access this text in support of such disciple-making ministries. But when they do so, they should find that support in a legitimate implication of the text, not as Paul’s original meaning. In context, Paul is addressing the special responsibilities of church leadership who are supposed to be examples to the rest of the flock (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).

Finally, let me offer a word about how this text has been rendered in the NIV and its revisions since 1984.

Text of 2 Timothy 2:2

Marginal Notes

NIV 1984

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

 

TNIV 2002

And the things you have heard me say

in the presence of many witnesses

entrust to reliable peoplea who will also be qualified to teach others.

a 2 Or men

TNIV 2005

And the things you have heard me say

in the presence of many witnesses

entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

 

NIV 2010

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

 

Only one word has been changed in this verse from the 1984 NIV to the 2010 revision. “Men” has changed to “people.” The initial change occurred in TNIV 2002, and a marginal note was added to give the alternate interpretation from the NIV 1984. In the TNIV 2005 and in the NIV 2010, there is no indication in the notes at all about another possible interpretation of this text.

If my interpretation is correct, then anthrōpois should be rendered as “men” in the text of NIV 2011. Short of that, the marginal note that appeared in TNIV 2002 should be restored to show that there is another possible translation of the text.

18 Responses to Translating ANTHRÅŒPOIS in 2 Tim. 2:2

  1. Christiane December 14, 2010 at 12:46 am #

    If ‘people’ IS used, then the meaning is correctly meant to represent ‘humanity’.

  2. Francis Beckwith December 14, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    I think you have the better argument, Denny. I am certainly no Greek scholar, but it seems to me that these sorts of debates can’t be won by the lexicon. After all, language is embedded in cultures and traditions and derive their meanings from their interactions with them. We would not, for example, think that the Beatles were talking about the smallest American currency when they sang “Penny Lane.”

    Thus, the question is, “How did the Church understand anthrōpois as found in this text?” Did it understand it as genderless, with no implication for ecclesiology? Clearly not. Thus, it seems that there is a heavy burden on Craig’s part to show it could not possibly mean male-only, since until the mid-20th century no Reformed, Catholic, or Orthodox exegete understood it as such.

    This is why word-studies have their limits. They can sometimes morph into a sort of logo-gnosticism, in which “words” become de-incarnated from the cultures, texts, and traditions in which they are embedded.

  3. Drew Mitchell December 14, 2010 at 12:57 am #

    Thank you for this lucid and compelling response to Dr. Blomberg’s assertions. Where would we be without context?

  4. Michael Templin December 14, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    Excellent comment Dr Beckwith. We are so ready to think we have such superior gleanings within the text than the Father’s had…I find this rather naive and arrogant.

    I’m all for modern exegesis, but the historical way something has been interpreted should have the heaviest weight in interpretive decisions in my opinion.

  5. Denny Burk December 14, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    Thanks for the feedback, Dr. Beckwith. I think the church’s interpretive tradition is important here as well. As Chesterton had it, we need to let the “democracy of the dead” have their say.

    Thanks, again!

  6. Collin December 14, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    Am I the only one who finds this discussion somewhat ironic due to Paul’s directive in verse 14: “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers”?

    I’m not denigrating the value of the debate. It just made me giggle.

  7. Walter Price December 14, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    Excellent argument Denny & I especially like Dr. Beckwith’s caution on “logo-gnosticism.”

  8. Ryan K. December 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Great insight Dr. Beckwith. Thanks for chiming in here and sharing.

  9. Collin December 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    After reading Beckwith’s comment, I’d like to offer a tiny caveat. Perhaps the historic “understanding” of the verse is as Beckwith claims, but the historic “translation” of 2Tim 2:2 is not so clear.

    The Vulgate has “fidelibus hominibus” which is not gender specific. Jerome could have used “vir” (which is exclusively male) instead of “homo.” The more flexible translation certainly has pedigree.

  10. Thomas December 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    What I am surprised at is how Dr. Blomberg feels the need to keep commenting on the motives and desires of Dr. Burk in his posts. How is this relevant or something that can be demonstrated.

    I find it unhelpful that he ends his last post by saying that Dr. Burk is being driven by having a translation void of any egalitarian views. Did he verify this with you Dr. Burk? How does he know this and why get personal in a blog that is supposed to be about translating methods. Also, I did not know the goal of translation was to have a mixture of egalitarian views and complementarian views. Color me naive but I thought the goal was to translate the text as accurately as possible based on what the Greek says.

    I admire you Denny for seeming to ignore these snarky comments by Dr. Blomberg and sticking to the point.

  11. David Rogers December 14, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    Beckwith “language is embedded in cultures and traditions and derive their meanings from theirinteractions with them”

    Great point. It is also important to note that language and words are also situation specific and sometimes used with excruciating precision and sometimes with loosened generic applicability.

    Paul may have indeed have been thinking “men and male only”. He also could have been thinking in terms of “men” because that was the usual practice but without implying an absolute requirement that it be males only who ever teach, since even complementarians think women can teach women and children. The emphasis may be on “faithful” anthropois.

    Is this a text for an absolute restriction of men and men only teachers (except when women teach women) or is the emphasis that FAITHFUL men receive the important doctrinal instruction that they should pass on since at the moment there are a bunch of false teachers spread false doctrine?

  12. KR Wordgazer December 15, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    What you’re saying is that Paul MAY have meant “men” because he was thinking in terms of his culture.

    Does this mean that our goal as Christians is not just to follow the teachings of the Bible, but also to replicate the cultures in which it was written?

    The word Paul used is the word for “people.” The culture in which he wrote is not part of the inspiration of God.

  13. KR Wordgazer December 15, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    PS. Authorial intent doesn’t work the way you seem to think it does. The word that Paul’s readers would have read is the word they would have understood as “people.” If Paul had specifically meant “men,” he could easily have written “men.” Paul also praised and commended female “co-workers” and “fellow-laborers” throughout his letters. If he had not intended any of the things he had said in the presence of witnesses to be entrusted to any of these women, would he not have said so?

  14. Andreas December 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    Just a quick comment: For a German this discussion is pretty weird. The reason for this is: Martin Luther consistently translated anthropoi as “Menschen” = humans/ human beings in 1.Tim. 5,24; 2.Tim. 2,2; 3,3.8.13.

    From an outsider’s perspective: Are you sure this issue is worth so much zealous effort?

    God’s blessings!
    Andreas

  15. Jes December 24, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    Denny,

    May I ask, are there other places in the TNIV that use gender neutral words?

    My guess is that there are.

    The reason that I ask is because I’ve been on the search for the Bible on CD, and a friend who is a Bible teacher recommended The Bible Experience.

    I found it tonight at Goodwill for under $8, so I grabbed it.

    However, I kept thinking about this post of yours and wanted to come back here to read it again.

    A big part of why I wanted the Bible on CD is so that my children can listen to it, but if the entire TNIV isn’t true to the original text, I’ll be taking it back.

    (Yes, Goodwill takes returns.)

    :)

    Would sure appreciate your thoughts…

    Thanks Denny!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Denny Burk Shows How the NIV 2011 Bungles 2 Timothy 2:2 | For His Renown - December 14, 2010

    [...] If you’ve been following the discussion about the NIV 2011, don’t miss Denny Burk’s excellent post. [...]

  2. » Response to Blomberg on 2 Tim. 2:2 | Denny Burk - December 16, 2010

    [...] thanks to Dr. Blomberg for taking the time to interact with me on the translation of anthrōpois in 2 Timothy 2:2. I remain, however, unconvinced of his arguments [...]

  3. Why the New NIV is Bad News for Lutherans : Utah Lutheran - July 27, 2011

    [...] [...]

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes