Have Ye Not Read?

By Hoyt Houchen

Question: In Matthew 2:16 the King James translators state that Herod slew all the children in the Bethlehem area. Some of the other translations state “male” children. Is there a discrepancy here?

Reply: The consensus of scholarship translates Matthew 2:16 “male” children. I believe this is the correct translation in view of the masculine article in the Greek tous paidas. A.T. Robertson interestingly makes the following comment on the verse: “Herod did not know, of course, how old the child was, but he took no chances and included all the little boys (tous paidas), masculine article” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 20). Berry’s Interlinear Greek-English New Testament translates tous paidas “the boys” (p. 4). J.W. McGarvey makes a significant comment on Matthew 2:16. “The Greek word rendered children (tous paidas) is masculine, and means male children. As it was a male child that he was seeking to destroy, he could have no reason for destroying the female infants” (Commentary on Matthew, p. 29). J.A. Alexander also attests to the masculine meaning. “Children, i.e. male children (Geneva), men children (Rheims), the sense being limited to one sex by the masculine adjective and article (pantas tous) and by the usage of the Greek noun (paidas), which is the nearest equivalent to our word boy, and like it, sometimes used for son and servant” (Commentary on Matthew, p. 38). Commenting on “all the children” (KJV), John A. Broadus states: “Properly all the male children, as in Rev. Ver., the original marking the gender” (Commentary on Matthew, p. 23).

Broadus, the author just quoted, throws some important light on why the King James Version has “all children” instead of “male children.” The following is his footnote on the verse: “It is properly rendered in the Syriac and the Vulgate, in the Geneva and the Rheims, and by Beza. But Wyclif, through translating the Vulgate, has simply `children,’ and so Tyndale and Cranmer, and also Luther; and Common Version followed these. It must have been supposed that the masculine expression was meant to comprehend both sexes; but such a use can never be assumed unless the connection requires it” (Ibid., p. 23). Others who testify to the masculine rendering are R.C. H. Lenski (Matthew, p. 80) and A. Lukyn Williams in The Pulpit Commentary (Matthew, p. 35). Williams also notes that in the Revised Version it is male children (tous paidas, not to tekna) [Ibid., p. 35]. These are but a few who support the masculine translation in Matthew 2:16. Others could be cited.

In view of the evidence considered, there is no justification for making a difference between Pharaoh only slaughtering “male children” and Herod “all children” (KJV) as some have supposed. In both instances it was male children concluded. upon the basis of the Greek phrase tous paidas, and in consideration of the fact that Herod was seeking to destroy male infants, not female infants, as J.W. McGarvey has pointed out.

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 10, p. 297
May 19, 1983