John 1:13, TNIV – It’s man, not husband

As I was reading John 1:1-18, a Christmas reading related to Christ birth into this world, I came across a word that stuck out for me in John 1:13:

12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13, TNIV).

T/NIV’s rendering of ἀνήρ (anēr) as “husband” is very peculiar. Other translations render this quite differently. They all render it as “man.” Aner (ἀνήρ) can be rendered as “husband”, or “man”, or even as “man” in the context of “sir”. However, in this context, it seems to make more sense as “man” or even “human”. If someone could enlighten me on why the T/NIV rendered this as “husband”, I would appreciate it. If I am correct on this, I hope TNIV will make a correction in v. 13 in its next edition.

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But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (NLT)

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (ESV)

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (NRSV)
But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. (HCSB)
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Author: Kevin S.

A follower of Jesus, a husband and a father. Hobbies include biking, keeping fish if they don't die on me, blogging when I can, theologizing and ministry, and pondering about world affairs.

6 thoughts on “John 1:13, TNIV – It’s man, not husband”

  1. The problem with the versions that you cite is that they lose the important point that John is talking about the will of an individual MALE human being. This is especially clear in versions like ESV and HCSB which (like NIV) regularly use “man” in a gender generic way. Even for NRSV readers “man” without the article is likely to be understood as a reference to the whole of humanity, male and female. But surely this was not John’s intention in using anēr here.

    However, I agree that “husband” is too restrictive, perhaps even suggesting a reference here to illegitimate children. But the indefinite article is needed with “man” to rule out the “humanity in general” interpretation. So, in the context of TNIV in which “man” is nowhere used generically, I would suggest an improved rendering of verse 13 “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a man’s will, but born of God”.

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  2. Peter, thanks for your thoughts on this. I`ve understood this as humanity or men in general. I`ve never thought of it as an individual male human being before and just assumed John was talking about men or humans in general. But taking what you said into account, I can see how “a husband” can work too.

    I looked around and found that the NET Bible also rendered it this way too:
    children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.

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  3. Kevin, I was doing some research on your site on the TNIV, and came across this post. The interesting thing about this choice of translation is that it is part of the NIV, and it just carried over to the TNIV. Just thought I would point that out.

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  4. This is not a reply but an additional question. (I did just notice that this is from 2009 so I don’t know if anyone could still reply) Just to clarify…would this mean that in those days the Husband/Man of the home decided on when and how many children to have? Just curious.

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    1. Just saw this post, and my (uneducated) guess is yes – how else was birth control enforced back then? See, for example, Genesis 38:9. “But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.” So we have not born of blood (ie bloodline – heritage) nor by human decision (ie adoption, either formal or informal) or by physical birth (the choice of the husband)
      This is guesswork. Any other ideas?

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