“Act like Men” (1 Cor 16:13)

Paul is concluding his letter to the Corinthians church, and one among several of his final exhortations is in v 13. The ESV reads, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men (ἀνδρίζεσθε), be strong.”

I was reminded of this passage as I was reading the current wave of blogs reacting to John Piper’s talk on “The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle.” This is not a debate I want to enter right now, but it does raise an fascinating problem in translation, and that is how to translate ἀνδρίζομαι.

ἀνδρίζομαι occurs in the New Testament only here. Its etymology is clearly from the root ανδρ, from which we get ἀνήρ, “man,” predominantly (if not exclusively) used of males. Other cognates listed by BDAG include ἀνδρεῖος (“pert. to being manly”, ἀνδρείως (“in a manly i.e. brave way”), and ἀνδροφόνος (“murderer, lit. ‘man-slayer’”) do not occur in the New Testament. BDAG is quick to emphasize that words formed with the root ἀνδρ “show[s] erosion of emphasis on maleness.” And so, for example, in their definition of ἀνδρεῖος, they include “heroic deeds worthy of a brave person,” and “ do many heroic deeds, of famous women.” 

Of course, it is in these areas of interpretation that one must be careful of how you use BDAG. A quick perusal of BDAG’s entry on ἀνήρ meaning “equiv. to τὶς someone, a person” easily illustrates this. A quick perusal of the cited verses — Lk 9:38; 19:2; J 1:30; Ro 4:8 (Ps 32:2); Lk 5:18; Ac 6:11 — shows an interpretive position that I do not feel is appropriate for a dictionary. For example, Lk 9:38 is, “And behold, a man from the crowd cried out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child.” What in the text requires the “man” not to be the father, hence, male?

ἀνδρίζομαι occurs in the LXX 24 times, almost always in what must have been a common phrase, ἀνδρίζου καὶ ἴσχυε, translated by the ESV almost uniformly as “Be strong and courageous.” Unfortunately, I do not have the resources here to look into all the secular usage of the term.

But I want to get back to the point. Etymologically, it is clear that the word originally meant, “act manly” (TDNT), “be a man,” hence the ESV and other translations (“act like men,” NASB; “act like a man,” HCBS; “quit you like men,” KJV). Obviously, it doesn’t mean that the person should be a male — that is not something that can be exhorted. Rather, the person should strive to the qualities that historically have been connected with maleness, which in this context is courage and strength. And hence most modern translations: “be courageous” (NRSV, NIV, NLT); “show courage” (NET); “be brave” (NKJV, NJB).

In his commentary in the NIGTC, Thiselton comments that “the translation of ἀνδρίζομαι has probably become unnecessarily sensitive,” and points out that ἀνδρίζομαι has two semantic oppositions. In this context, it is not male vs female but rather “stands in contrast with childish ways, citing conceptual parallels such as 1 Cor 13:11 and translates, ”show mature courage” (page 1336). Garland, in his BECNT commentary, prefers the Old Testament background cited above, that Paul is calling all the Corinthians to be “strong and courageous” (page 766).

This is one of those situations where, from a translation standpoint, the question is whether the word still contains its etymological emphasis, or whether in this case BDAG is right and the word “show[s] erosion of emphasis on maleness”; in other words, the meaning of ἀνδρίζομαι has moved beyond it etymological beginnings.

It also is one of those translation issues where the committee’s policies come into play. Does your translation philosophy tend toward the words or toward the meaning?

Personally, I do not see anything in the biblical context or the usage of the word that requires a male orientation. Either Thiselton's or Garland's position is feasible; I tend toward Garlands because ἀνδρίζομαι was part of such a stock phrase in the LXX. But whatever it nuances may be, it is certainly a call for a mature courage, and that is always a good word.