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How Should We Identify the Teachers in 2 Tim. 2:2? Denny Burk

Posted in New Testament by Denny Burk on December 13th, 2010

Question: How should we identify the teachers Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2?

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; Titus 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 the 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 an 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 people 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.

Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament and dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

This entry was posted by Denny Burk and is filed under New Testament.