R.T. France On Translating Gender In Matthew

Matthew 4:19 NIV
“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

Matthew 4:19 France
He said to them, “Come and follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”

This famous verse is one of the most difficult in the NT to translate satisfactorily in a way which reflects modern sensitivity to the ‘exclusive’ effect of a generic masculine. Not only has the traditional masculine phrase ‘fishers of men’ become firmly entrenched in Christian usage, but any nonmasculine rendering also loses the echo (in English, not in Greek) of the preceding clause, ‘for they were fishermen.’ Nevertheless, the attempt must be made if we are to avoid the sort of misunderstanding which reputedly caused Fishing for Men (a paperback on evangelism) to be listed among recent publications in the Angling Times, while a young woman of my acquaintance was disappointed to discover that the same paperback was not a guide to dating. Simply to add ‘and women’ invites the response, ‘What about children?’ I adopt the TNIV rendering as the least unsatisfactory.

–R.T. France, Matthew, footnote on pg 144

Matthew 5:22-24 TNIV
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca, ‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift.

The ‘brother or sister’ (adelphos) of vv. 22-24 is probably to be understood as a fellow disciple rather than a literal family member, a similar concern with good relationships among fellow disciples will be the theme of the fourth discource in ch. 18, where the term adelphos will recur in Matthew 18:15, 21, 35; cf. Matthew 12:46-50 for the concept of Jesus’ ‘family’ of disciples. It would, however, be pedantic to suggest that Jesus’ ruling applies only to relations with fellow disciples and not to people in general; Matthew 5:44-47 suggest otherwise.

–R.T. France, Matthew, pg 200

5 Responses to “R.T. France On Translating Gender In Matthew”


  1. 1 Joel

    I think the TNIV translation “…fishermen.” / “…fishers of men.” misses the word play of the Greek, which has alieis to end 4:18 and then alieis anthropon to end 4:19. The word play comes in *adding* the word anthropos, not in repeating it.

    I would suggest something like, “…for they were fishing.” / “…to fish for humans.” (Or “…to fish for people.”)

    The KJV gets the word play right with “…fishers.” and “…fishers of men.” But “fishers” isn’t a word any more, and “men” no longer means anthropos in most people’s dialect.

    -Joel

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    I remember R.T. France saying that it would be impossible in English to translate the wordplay in Greek so he didn’t try on that count. But you seem to have been able to do a good job of preserving some of it. KJV is a translation that would get something like that right I would think. Unless he was thinking of something else.

    Thanks for the comment. Very interesting.
    Jeff

  3. 3 Fr. Robert

    Sadly, much of this stuff has to do with the money and the promotion of the book and bible companies. The English people have plenty of Bible translations. So much of this boils down to carnal behaviour. Which again sadly is almost the norm is the Church today.Everybody thinks they know the Hebrew and Greek. This takes a lifetime!
    Question, how many read “their” Greek NT daily? And to translate is much deeper than reading it.
    And Adelphos can be fem, with adelphe.
    Fr. R.

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Just wait, someday I’m going to write a post on complementarianism. Hopefully you won’t have anything negative to say about it. It’s going to take a long time to write though.
    Jeff

  5. 5 Gary Simmons

    Perhaps “angler,” although then you lose the paradoxical nature of fishing (which one naturally does for fish).

    I would have to agree that the TNIV is “the least unsatisfactory.” That’s the best way to put it.

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