What Does Paul Mean When He Says, “Act Like Men”?

Many assert that the apostle makes a positive case for acting in a masculine manner.

The phrase “act like men” translates a single Greek word (ἀνδρίζομαι) which means to act in a courageous and virtuous manner. To understand the meaning of the verb translated above as “act like men,” we can refer to its dictionary definition, its use in contemporary sources, and its contextual meaning in 1 Corinthians.

 

At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church to, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13). In particular, the phrase “act like men” has led many to assert that the apostle makes a positive case for acting in a masculine manner.

This misconstrues the phrase’s meaning. The phrase “act like men” translates a single Greek word (ἀνδρίζομαι) which means to act in a courageous and virtuous manner. To understand the meaning of the verb translated above as “act like men,” we can refer to its dictionary definition, its use in contemporary sources, and its contextual meaning in 1 Corinthians. 

Dictionary Definition

A standard New Testament Greek dictionary, BDAG, provides the translational gloss for ἀνδρίζομαι as “conduct oneself in a courageous way” (s.v. ἀνδρίζομαι, 76). BDAG’s definitional gloss shows how the word was used during the era of the New Testament. Its earlier use in classical literature as well its later use during a sort of classical renaissance (4th ce.) had a more direct masculine tilt (the verb relates to the word “male,” ἀνήρ). 

BrillDAG a dictionary that supplies classical Greek definitions provides a number of glosses such as “to cause to become a man, make strong” or “to reach manhood, maturity.” Other uses include “to act as a man, behave manfully” or “to wear men’s clothing” (s.v. ἀνδρίζω) In these cases, the direct meaning “act as a man” exists alongside the metaphorical meaning of “make strong.”

Part of the difficulty with defining ἀνδρίζομαι is that in philosophical discussions during the centuries before Christ “to be manly” became synonomous with “to be virtuous.” This sort of use can be seen in the contemporary word virtue which comes from the Latin word vir, which means “man.”  

Yet when this term for virtue or courage becomes applied generically or to both sexes, it takes its obviously metaphorical meaning: to be courageous or virtuous. 

Contemporary Use

Polycarp during his martyrdom (early 100s) is reported to have heard a voice say to him: “be strong, and show yourself to be a man [ἀνδρίζου]” (MPoly 9). During the 90s, Hermas could apply this term to both a man (VHermas 3.12.2) or to a woman (3.8.4). In this sense, the word “act courageously” has masculine overtones but can likewise be applied to women since it carries a universally applicable attribute: namely, courage or virtue. 

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