Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Saturday, December 9

Can the Singular “Man” Refer to Mankind in General?

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?


It's not NT but how about Gen 1.26 (LXX)?

1 Corinthians 1:25 because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Anthropos in the singular referring to mankind in general regardless of gender . I may have more ....

Would this fit? ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΤΘΑΙΟΝ 4:4 1550 Stephanus 4 ο δε αποκριθεις ειπεν γεγραπται ουκ επ αρτω μονω ζησεται ανθρωπος αλλ επι παντι ρηματι εκπορευομενω δια στοματος θεου

Bill I appreciate word studies - and such efforts. With a Masters in TESOL - I have become convinced that language is really quite fluid and flexible - such different people use different words in different ways. These are the sorts of difficulties we have with language in both translation and exegesis. Just off the top of my head, I would suspect certain speakers (not too many writers then) would use it that way - at certain times - and likely others would not. Just look at the massive diversity of the so-called "English" language.... Regardless, such an effort as you have requested above may provide interesting material - I look forward to seeing some results. Greg

Revelation 9.15, 9.18 and 9.20

Try Heb 2:6 (quoting Ps 8:4)

The problem with using Gen. 1:26 is that it could be understood as speaking of Adam only. But I agree, that seems to be the closest example of a singular anthropos referring to people in general, I will keep searching.

Ephesians 2:15?

I do not mean to be rude to the effort of everyone else, but from what I am seeing is that Rev. 9:15, 9:18, 9:20; and 1 Corinthians 1:25 all seem to have anthropos in the genitive plural, that is, at least in the documents I am looking at, does anyone want to correct me if I am mistaken or have any documents that have anthropos in these verses in the singular? With that in mind, the only verses that have been suggested that have anthropos in the singular referring to people in general are the verses that are quoting from the Old Testament, which is interesting, to say the least. Anyway, everyone is giving some great suggestions.

Micah 6:6?

I'm not sure if my submision was accepted/posted, so I'll try again: The Old Testament employs the phrase "as one man" on several occasions. We understand this to mean that 'they all' were confederate in their purpose and intent. I put Bill's question to somebody else (just yesterday, before finding this site/forum/question), as the question arose in my own mind. The response I was given was characterized as something that would require or produce a Ph.D to answer, and that (in her opinion) I was comparing a semi-abstract concept (Hebrew OT) to that of another lanuage [i..e, the 'could anthropos in the singular masculine (translated as 'man') be referring to mankind as a whole' question]. But I won't be deterred in my search, and she heartily encouraged me to pursue it. But one phrase which stands out to me is in II Thessalonians 2:3- 'man of sin'. It's a theory I've been considering, putting the pieces together. Some concepts take years to comprehend with any sense of totality, despite the fact that many people employ the phrase 'The Bible means what it says, and says what it means.' Of course, this is an example of a bit of limited understanding, in my opinion.