Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Show Stoppers – 1 Timothy 2: Universal Restrictions or a Specific Remedy (Verse 11)

…continuing breakdown of 1 Timothy 2:11-15

(Please make comments on the concluding post)

In order to fully address this section of 1 Timothy and adequately demonstrate the translational problems with it, I need to go into a very detailed, sometimes word for word, breakdown of the text. This will be tedious but necessary. Suffice it to say that ALL English translations of this passage contain translational errors. Yet, most get some things right as well. What I propose to do is take the translation that is the most flawed and use it as a template. I do this not only because it will provide the starkest comparison to what I believe is the correct translation of the text but also because it highlights all of the various subsequent interpretational errors. So, here is 1 Timothy 2:11-15 from the Contemporary English Version:

[11] and they [women] should learn by being quiet and paying attention. [12] They should be silent and not be allowed to teach or to tell men what to do. [13] After all, Adam was created before Eve, [14] and the man Adam wasn't the one who was fooled. It was the woman Eve who was completely fooled and sinned. [15] But women will be saved by having children, if they stay faithful, loving, holy, and modest.
Verse 11 – “and they [women] should learn by being quiet and paying attention.”

11a “and they [women] should learn” – Paul actually transitions from plural in the preceding verses to singular here. Women – plural – are no longer in view. Some translations assume women are still in view by interpreting Paul’s singular as meaning a generic woman. That is why most translate this as “a woman”. It still leaves the sense that “a woman” is every woman. Never the less, to keep the plural is incorrect. It also seems incorrect to assume this is a universal generic woman. Paul previously was speaking of the conduct of men and women in the Ephesian church. So, it appears at the very least, that a generic Ephesian, or possibly, a generic Christian woman would be intended. Traditional teaching takes the latter view. Regardless of the grammatical number employed in the translation, it is assumed that this verse continues on with the discussion of Christian women in the worship service that began in verse 9. But why then the change from plural to singular? Why wouldn’t Paul just continue on the discussion as this translation does – with “and they” (the conjunction also does not exist in the Greek and is therefore erroneous)? Surely the translators of the CEV assume this to be true. But the actual Greek indicates anything but a continuation of prior thought. The common sense reaction to such a dramatic shift in grammar is that this is something new.

Why Does It Matter - Because the entire interpretation of the passage proceeds on this assumption – that the conduct of women in the Christian worship service is (or really, continues to be) the topic. What if that is wrong? What if all women aren’t the objects of discussion and what if the worship service isn’t the setting? Doesn’t that completely change both the teaching about this passage and its applicability to other scripture? I certainly think it does.

A Proper Translation – There is no definite article with “woman” in the verse so technically, “a woman” is a correct translation. The King James and a few others have “the woman” but it is clear from the rest of those translations that what they really mean is “the woman [of the species]”. So they are using a generic as all the others, just a more formal way of expressing it.

Two translations have “wife” instead of “woman” – the Aramaic English Translation and The Word of Yah. Since Greek had no independent words for wife or husband, context must dictate if “woman” actually means “wife”. In general, when a man and a woman are spoken of together in the New Testament, there is an assumption that husband and wife are being addressed (even if generically). But that is not universally true. Does the context support such a notion here. I believe there is a strong case for that, although we need to read a little further to flesh that out. But, since there is no man yet mentioned, we can’t, in my opinion, leap to that translation just yet.

There are a couple translations we can reject outright. It is very unlikely that Paul means “a [certain] woman”. The Greek supporting text indicating a “certain” individual is often used by Paul but absent here. Simply put, if he had meant to say that he would have said it. We also can exclude “the woman [who you – Timothy – wrote to me about]”. Again, the text does not support this as a translation. Now, it may turn out that either of those are correct paraphrases of Paul’s meaning. But literally, we can’t accept them.

We will see as the passage goes on if “a woman” is some generic representing all women, a more specific subset of women like Christian women, an even more narrow subset such as wives, or a specific woman who Paul is making generic for illustrative purposes. At this point, I accept any of the dozens of translations which has “let a woman learn”, or equivalent (there is no problem with the translation of “learn”).

11b “by being quiet” – Many translations use “silent”. They imply that a lack of speaking or making noise is involved. But is that actually what the Greek says? The Greek word translated here as “quiet” is hesychia. It is fairly rare in the bible, occurring only 4 times.. Thayer’s lexicon has this as a definition: “quietness-description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others” although they grant a definition of “silence” in this particular verse for unexplained reasons. The verb that the noun is derived from is defined: “to rest, to lead a quiet life, to be silent as in to ‘hold one’s peace’”. The adjective is defined as “tranquil”. Certainly this word has much more to do with demeanor and state of mind than it does literal silence.

Why Does It matter – Because teachers and theologians have used the definition of “silence” to dictate that women should make no noise at all in church or any other Christian learning situation. “Seen and not heard” is the mantra. Under this system, women can not ask questions or even engage in useful “classroom” discussion.

A Proper Translation – The translations that have a form of “quiet” are far preferable to those that have “silence”, but the most accurate translation I can find is The Complete Jewish Bible which has “in peace”.

11c “and paying attention” – There are a wide variety of translations besides “paying attention” for the Greek word hypotage in this verse including: “under authority”, “humble” or “with humility”, “being ready to obey”, “keeping with her position”, “under complete control”, “ready to cooperate”, “showing teachers deference”, and “obediently”. By far, the most common are “submissively” and “with subjection” and their variants. In reality, this is one instance where our template translation is a little less strict than the word might suggest.

Why Does It Matter – Because this is interpreted as some sort of extra submission for women only. The problem isn’t in the translation itself, but in its use as a universally female directive. The reality is that any person in a learning environment, male or female, young or old, should learn with a peaceful demeanor and a submissive attitude toward the teacher.

One potential translation – “keeping with her position” – also points to a theme that will be repeated as we move through the verses. Two typical teachings really come out of this passage. One is the main idea that women are to be quiet in church and not ever teach men. The other is more camouflaged and has a more subtle effect, but it is still there and it impacts directly on marriage. It is the idea that “a woman’s place is in the home”. This is where 1 Timothy 2:11-15 plays into the role based hierarchy of complementarians even in the marriage realm. We will see more of that in verse 15.

On the egalitarian side, some accept the translations but don’t accept the applicability. These people point to this and the subsequent verse as indicators that something unusual was going on with the Ephesian women in the church service – that they were being boisterous and disruptive when there was teaching going on. Those who follow this line of thinking agree that Paul’s instructions are related to the worship services, but that they are for a specific anomaly and therefore have no universal applicability. In other words, if you are acting up in the service, you should be quiet, but otherwise there is no prohibition on women to speak or teach or anything else in the worship service. This analysis has possibilities, but we still need to see if it fits with the rest of the passage.

A Proper Translation – “submission/subjection” are the most literal translations of hypotage and are acceptable, even though they sound a little harsh. “ready to cooperate” and “show [teachers] all deference” are paraphrases that fit the context of a learning environment a little better and seem a little less oppressive. For an accurate and applicable translation, I am going to go with the former paraphrase which is from the New Century Version.

Here, then, is verse 11 from our template and with our multi-translation version:

Template: “and they [women] should learn by being quiet and paying attention.”
Multi-version: “Let a woman learn in peace, being ready to cooperate in everything”

Now, there isn’t much difference…yet. But we have 4 more verses to go.

Show Stoppers - 1 Tim 2 Series:
Verse 11
Verse 12
Verse 13-14
Verse 15

No comments:

Post a Comment