Does the Bible link “being strong” to being male?

Act like Who?

What does it mean to act like a man? At the recent Men Meeting, the Challenge Conference, a panel discussion featured on the widely respected Pastors Heart podcast began with a discussion on a critical Bible verse.

“There are not many places in the New Testament where men are spoken to specifically, Sydney pastor and podcast host Dominic Steele intoduces the topic. “There are words to brothers and sons and fathers and then a few to young men and a few to older men or elders. But interestingly, in the ESV and the NASB, the translation of 1 Corinthians 16:13 has “be watchful stand firm in the faith, act like men be strong,” whereas in the CSB and the NIV, they’ve washed out the expression “act like men” from the translation and they’ve replaced it in both those translations with “be Courageous.”

The first speaker on the panel, Phillip Jensen, former Dean of Sydney, was asked by Steele about the translations and what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 16 when he says, act like men. Jensen strongly supported the ESV and NASB translations, saying that while the NIV and CSB were good translations we need better.

“Yeah, I’m saying, but they’re [NIV, CSB] very good translations because they put into modern English what the Bible is saying, and they’re very helpful for people to understand what the Bible is saying. That’s the first thing.

“Second thing is once you grow up and become an adult, you need to get a better translation that actually tells you what was in the original. Because in order to put it into today’s world, [the] world’s language is anti-Christian and therefore [we need to] Christianize our thinking all the time. Because the Greek is to act like a man. That’s what you’re being called upon to do. It’s the only reference I think to something like being a man in the Bible, but it’s couched around a range of those other commands. Be watchful, stand firm in faith, be strong. Let all that to be done in love that starts to tell you what it means to act like a man.”

In this story, we will point to a contrary view on 1 Corinthians 16:13, but before we do, Jensen told a moving story and gave some good advice that Christians should continue professing Christ until the end.

“My son used to live close to the St. George Hospital on holidays three years in a row. When I was away on holiday, my old friend John Chapman got sick and was carted off the hospital, and so twice I called my holidays off and drove back to find out that he was all right. The third time I said to my son, go around and check with Uncle John to see if he’s all right because I’m not coming back for holidays a third time just because he wants a holiday and he’s in the hospital.

“Anyway, he rang back a few hours later and said to me, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come home this time, dad. He really is dying.’ So I said, ‘how is he?’ He said, ‘oh, he’s perfectly all right.’ I said, ‘well, he’s dying.’ He said, ‘yeah, yeah, he won’t last much longer.’ And I said, ‘what do you mean he’s all right?’ He said, ‘well, he gave me a 15, 20 minute sermon on why I’ve always got to trust in the word of God.’ He said ‘he was just firing as usual.’ He died 24 hours later. You don’t retire. From the deathbed., come and visit me and i will try to cap uop with Chappo.”

An alternate view.

Martin Shields, who often comments on Biblical languages, responded to the discussion.

“I think this is an example of the etymological fallacy.” [Etymology is the study of the origins and meanings of words and the way they have changed in meaning in their history. The etymological fallacy is the idea that a word’s meaning can be determined by its origin.]

“So while it is true that the etymology of ἀνδρίζομαι would suggest the meaning “act like a man,” etymology does not define meaning. There are a few clear bits of evidence supporting this.

“For one, ἀνδρίζομαι is used quite frequently in the LXX [LXX the earliest extant Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible from the original Hebrew] where it usually renders חזק (‘be strong’) — a term that has no inherent notion of “act like a man.” This indicates that the term was in use in the last few centuries BC with the simple meaning of “be courageous.”

“Beyond this, the note on the term in Ciampa and Rosner’s Pillar commentary is apposite:

“‘The word translated be courageous (Gk. ἀνδρίζομαι; “conduct oneself in a courageous way” [BDAG]) is based on the word for “man” (ἀνήρ), and is sometimes translated “play the man” or “act like a man.” Some have taken the etymology of the word as evidence for a high biblical view of the male gender but the verb, like the related adjective (ἀνδρεῖος) and adverb (ἀνδρείως), is used of women as well as men (see BDAG, which points out under the entry for ἀνδρ that “[s]ome words with this prefix show erosion of emphasis on maleness). In this verse as well the women in the church are undoubtedly expected to act courageously without abandoning their female identities. It seems likely that these terms are not being used to refer to being men as opposed to women but to acting like mature (brave) adults rather than fearful children. (p. 867)”

[BDAG refers to  a respected Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.]

Few other words

Another verse that might have been raised is 1 Peter 3:7 – “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” This verse asks husbands in the patriarchal Roman empire to show consideration and love to their wives, and it might refer to their social status or (generalised) physical strength.
Once again, we are not given any details of male and female attributes.

So, leaving aside the complementarian/egalitarian discussions on which just about every reader will have a fixed opinion, which centres on roles people might adopt, there is very little material in the Bible about how men and women might be inherently different. The Pastor’s Heart panel and those who interpret 1 Corinthians 16:13 not to be about gender would seem to agree on this point. Compared to the amount of discussion about gender in Christian circles, the Bible is remarkably silent.

One Comment

  1. Agape Love.
    Male or female.
    By The Spirit of God.
    How else?!
    Share The Gospel. Jesus.
    God Help us.
    In Jesus’ Name.

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