Act Like Men

January 4, 2024

Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2023 issue of Eikon.

In his final instructions of his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul issues a series of five exhortations: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13–14). The purpose of this article is to examine the third exhortation — “act like men” — and explore whether that command tells us anything about manhood and masculinity.

Understanding andrizomai

The phrase “act like men” (ESV) translates a single Greek word: andrizesthe, from the word andrizomai. Several English translations render the andrizomai as “be courageous” (CSB, NAB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) or “be brave” (GNT, NKJV), choosing not to bring out the sense of anēr (Greek: “man”) on which the word is built. By contrast, the ESV and NASB translate andrizomai as “act like men,” while other English translations have “act like a man” (HCSB), “do manfully” (Douay-Rheims), or, most famously, “quit you like men” (Geneva Bible, KJV).

Everyone agrees that Paul uses andrizomai to tell the Corinthians to be brave and courageous. The question is whether the word also implies something about what it means to be a man. Curiously, the second edition of BDAG (the standard Greek lexicon of the New Testament) defines andrizomai as: “conduct oneself in a manly or courageous way” while the third edition defines the word as: “conduct oneself in a courageous way.” Since virtually all the same supporting examples are used in both editions, it seems the editors — perhaps due to changing cultural perceptions — simply chose to eliminate any connection to manliness.

In recent years, suggesting that there is a “manly” aspect to andrizomai has become more suspect. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, for example, warn that “some scholars have taken the etymology of the word as evidence for a high biblical view of the male gender.”[1] The issue, however, is not whether andrizomai suggests “a high biblical view of the male gender” — a view I have not seen any scholar articulate — but whether the word says anything about the possible virtues of masculinity. Even the egalitarian Gordon Fee maintained that andrizomai “means to ‘play the role of a man,’ an idea that is frequent in antiquity as a call to courage in the face of danger.”[2] Surely, Fee is correct. The word Paul chose to use in 1 Corinthians 16:13 was a familiar word (though used only here in the New Testament) that borrowed on ancient notions of manly courage and bravery. As Anthony Thiselton puts it, “The translation of ανδρίζεσθε has probably become unnecessarily sensitive. In lexicographical terms the meaning clearly turns on ‘masculine’ writers stereotypically associated with ανήρ (gen ανδρός).”[3]

Thiselton’s conclusion — that andrizomai is clearly connected to a masculine sense of anēr — would have been uncontroversial until fairly recently. John Calvin gives the gloss “manly fortitude.”[4] Matthew Henry understands the exhortation to mean “Christians should be manly and firm in defending their faith.”[5] In their Commentary on the Whole Bible (one of Spurgeon’s favorite commentaries), Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown maintain that Paul said “watch ye” because the Corinthians were slumbering, “stand” was because they were tottering, and “quit you like men” was because they were effeminate.[6] Chrysostom was probably thinking something similar when he argued that “watch” was a caution against deceivers, “stand” was a caution against those who plot against us, and “quit you like men” was a caution against “those who make parties and endeavor to distract.”[7] For Chrysostom, andrizomai was the manly antidote to the cowardice that comes from being led astray by ephemeral things.

Virtuous Masculinity

So does Paul’s exhortation in 1 Corinthians 16:13 tell us anything about the nature of manhood and masculinity? Two cautions and then two points.

The first caution is that we should not load too much theology onto one ordinary, non-technical Greek word. Paul did not use andrizomai to establish a blueprint for biblical manhood or to indicate his “high biblical view of the male gender.” Paul wanted the church to stand strong, be brave, and to push back against bad ideas and bad behavior.

The second caution is that we should not think that courage is only a virtue to be associated with masculinity. Paul’s letter was addressed to the saints in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and no doubt this included men and women. The history of God’s people is full of examples of courageous women — both in the Bible (e.g, Deborah, Jael, Abigail, Esther) and outside the Bible (e.g. Perpetua and Felicitas). The command andrizesthe applies to both sexes.

With these cautions in place, however, there is still something to learn about masculinity from 1 Corinthians 16:13.

First, it is significant that Paul felt free to borrow from his culture’s expectation that acting like a man meant bravery and strength. Paul’s use of andrizomai in 1 Corinthians is similar to his use of motherly and fatherly language in 1 Thessalonians 2.  Of course, these virtues are not exclusive to men and women, which is why Paul can describe himself in these terms. But the virtues are most closely associated with either men or women. In the same way, Paul says “act like men,” not because women should not also be brave, but because there is something particularly unmanly about shrinking back and shirking one’s duty out of fear.

Second, we should not miss the fact that “act like men” is not only a call to manly bravery (instead of effeminacy), it is a call to adult behavior (instead of immaturity). This is an important point, lest we think masculinity entails rash bravado. Paul did not want the Corinthians to be cowardly, but neither did he want them to be childish (1 Cor. 13:11). Manly fortitude is never petulant or peevish. We “act like men” when we show ourselves to be strong, and when that strength is under control (Titus 2:6).

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Ps. 31:24). That is a summons for all God’s people, especially for men. When Latimer told Ridley — they were both soon to be killed — that he should “play the man,” I am sure Ridley knew what he meant. And so do we. He meant: let us be men; let us be brave. For at the heart of virtuous masculinity is boldness for the sake of the truth and courage for the sake of others.

[1] Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 855, fn 45.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 828, fn 13.

[3] Antony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eermands, 2000), 1336.

[4] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 22 Vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993), 20:76.

[5] Leslie F. Church, ed., Commentary on the Whole Bible by Matthew Henry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 1827.

[6] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961), 1228.

[7] Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 12:264.

This content was originally published on CBMW

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