Can the Singular “Man” Refer to Mankind in General? — Mondays with Mounce 306

Bill Mounce on December 11th, 2017. Tagged under ,.

Bill Mounce

Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

I am working through the definitions of the vocabulary in my textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and got to wondering about ἄνθρωπος. I am trying to lay out the vocabulary in a way that doesn’t mash all the different meanings of a word into one long definition but recognizes the categories of meaning most words enjoy.

I was surprised when I went to BDAG. It has nine categories of meaning, but the main two are:

Definition 1. “a person of either sex, w. focus on participation in the human race, a human being.” Glosses such as “person” (plural: “people”) and “human (being)” (plural: “humanity”) work well here.

Definition 3. “a male person, man.

To be sure, ἄνθρωπος in both the singular and the plural can refer to a human being(s) without reference to gender. That’s not the question. The question is, in the singular, can ἄνθρωπος refer to people in general as implied by the gloss “mankind”? What was surprising is that BDAG does not have a category for this meaning, and I can find no clear-cut example of this in the New Testament. The closest is John 2:25, but that does not prove the point.

Some of the references are to a single male who stands as an example to all people, but that still is not what I am looking for.

This is a really important issue, because the glosses we memorize tend to control our thinking about the basic meaning of a word and how we approach translation.

Help me out on this. Can anyone find a clear example of ἄνθρωπος in the singular referring to people in general and not to a single human being regardless of gender?

Professors: Request an exam copy of Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek here.

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Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

  • Greg Hahn 10 months ago

    How about Genesis 1:26?

  • James Fogal 10 months ago

    If you look in Liddell-Scott, the third definition is “mankind” when the word is used in the plural. The second definition is close – “denote man generically, the ideal man, humanity”. As you probably know, Liddell-Scott is regarded by classicists as one of the most authoritative lexicons for all periods of ancient Greek (homeric through koine).

    Reference:
    Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Stuart Jones, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 141.

  • Mike Aubrey 10 months ago

    How about Epictetus, Disc. 2.9?

    τί γάρ ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος; — Ζῷον, φησί, λογικὸν θνητόν. — Εὐθὺς ἐν τῷ λογικῷ τίνων χωριζόμεθα; — Τῶν θηρίων. — Καὶ τίνων ἄλλων;

    Note that after each singular reference, everything else is plural: χωριζόμεθα implies that ‘we’ are ‘ἄνθρωπος’ and likewise, ἄνθρωπος is in contrast with Τῶν θηρίων and τίνων ἄλλων.

  • Jonathan Robie 9 months ago

    I think ἄνθρωπος, in the singular, refers to people in general in some places in the Septuagint. A few examples:

    Gen 1:26 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός ποιήσωμεν ἄνθρωπον κατ’ εἰκόνα ἡμετέραν καὶ καθ’ ὁμοίωσιν
    And God said, Let us make man according to our image and likeness

    Gen 6:6 καὶ ἐνεθυμήθη ὁ θεὸς ὅτι ἐποίησεν τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ διενοήθη
    then God considered that he had made mankind on the earth, and he considered it

    Gen 6:7 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός ἀπαλείψω τὸν ἄνθρωπον ὃν ἐποίησα ἀπὸ προσώπου τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἕως κτήνους καὶ ἀπὸ ἑρπετῶν ἕως τῶν πετεινῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὅτι ἐθυμώθην ὅτι ἐποίησα αὐτούς
    And God said, “I will wipe out from off the earth mankind which I have made, from human to domestic animal and from creeping things to birds of the sky, for I have become angry that I have made them.”

    Gen 7:23 καὶ ἐξήλειψεν πᾶν τὸ ἀνάστημα ὃ ἦν ἐπὶ προσώπου πάσης τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἕως κτήνους καὶ ἑρπετῶν καὶ τῶν πετεινῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ καὶ ἐξηλείφθησαν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς
    And he wiped out every thing that rises, which was on the face of the whole earth, from human being to domestic animal and creeping things and the birds of the sky, and they were wiped out from the earth.

    Gen 9:6 ὅτι ἐν εἰκόνι θεοῦ ἐποίησα τὸν ἄνθρωπον
    For in the image of God I made mankind.

    This is also found in the wisdom literature, e.g.

    Eccl 1:3 τίς περισσεία τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐν παντὶ μόχθῳ αὐτοῦ ᾧ μοχθεῖ ὑπὸ τὸν ἥλιον
    What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun?

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  • Martin Gladstone 9 months ago

    How about Genesis 6:7 in the LXX So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals…”
    καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός Ἀπαλείψω τὸν ἄνθρωπον, ὃν ἐποίησα, ἀπὸ προσώπου τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ ἀνθρώπου ἕως κτήνους

  • John Olley 9 months ago

    Since you speak of “Biblical Greek” what about Genesis 1:26, 27 (although 5:1 has plural).