I'm preparing for my sermon tomorrow on the exclusivity of Christ and how it relates to our union with Christ, and came across this translation by the NET Bible.
But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
Now, I generally like the NET Bible translation, but occasionally I come across a translation that I think misunderstands some important exegetical rules. This is one of them. Notice, that the clause that reads "or a husband's decision" has taken anēr as "husband."
This is a common misunderstanding of the word. One often hears that anēr means "husband."
Of course, anēr means "man," usually in distinction from anthrōpos that can be used for individuals or collectively, since anēr usually only refers to an individual man.
Now, this is where it gets tricky. The word anēr can refer to any sort of individual man, including a husband. It can also refer to an individual man who is not a husband. It can refer to an individual man who is a anything, because it just means "man."
Liddel and Scott attempted to argue that anēr was distinguished from anthrōpos by positing that the former was in distinction from women and the latter was in distinction from animals (LSJ). Hence, the former is one of gender of the human species and the latter one of species.
However, it is clear that the word refers to man in terms of species as well. Instead, most examples seem to emphasize individuals, even within a group of men, as opposed to seeing the group as a collective whole. Of course, the two can be interchangeable in the sense that anthrōpos can refer to an individual man as well, but anēr seems to be used mostly to refer to individuals, and thus, may be used in order to emphasize an individual focus.
When the word can be used to refer to a husband, that reference must be contextual. In other words, since the word does not mean "husband," one cannot plug in that meaning when the context does not speak of family or wives.
Now, one might argue, as some scholars have done, that John is attempting to show that the human father in a patriarchal society does not decide who becomes a son of God, but this is a bit far-fetched. Human fathers didn't choose such things anyway. Also, if this is what John really meant, why did he not say, "or by the will of human father"? Why does he, instead, supposedly say, "husband"? John already emphasized that flesh and blood does not produce sons of God. It may refer to what a human father desires, but it makes little sense to describe the man as a husband.
There are also issues of seeing John's larger theology, which is to argue that salvation is the result of God's will, not a human individual's will. Hence, it is likely that "man" here should be understood as any individual man, not just "husbands," which, again, makes little sense here, even if a father is in view.
This is why it is important to understand meaning versus referent. A meaning can be understood and nuanced in any passage. It is the nucleus of a lexeme which can everywhere be transferred in some way to the context in which the word occurs. A referent is a nuance a word can only take upon itself in a particular context where the word references something specific. Hence, the context, not the word, provides the referent, and it is not transferable to another context that does not contain that same referent.
Hence, the word anēr does not mean "husband." It can refer to a husband in some contexts that refer to husbands specifically, but it cannot produce that referent in a context that does not.