Saturday, February 16, 2008

Which Bible?

With reference to gender issues in the text, I was asked,
    How does an ordinary person who doesn't know Greek trust the scriptures anymore?
I don't think it is all that difficult. Without any Greek at all, one can simply cross-check three translations and find much of the bias against women exposed. Take the King James Version as a base, compare it to the ESV and then compare that to the TNIV. You can basically assume that the one with the meaning more favourable to women is accurate.

Here are some examples,
    Rom. 16:2

    That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. KJV

    that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. ESV

    (Both of these are possible. The word does not mean subordinate help, but rescue. The masculine of the same word meant officer in the temple.)

    Rom. 16:7

    Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. KJV (more literal)

    Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. ESV

    1 Cor. 11:10

    For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. KJV (more literal)

    That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. ESV

    1 Tim. 2:11

    Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. KJV

    Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. ESV (more literal)

    1 Tim. 2:12

    But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. KJV (more accurate)

    I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. ESV

    Titus 2:4-5

    That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. KJV

    and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. ESV (more literal)

    Col. 4:15

    Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house KJV

    Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. ESV (more accurate, except that brothers should read brothers and sisters!)

    Psalm 68:11

    The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it. KJV

    The Lord gives the word;
    the women who announce the news are a great host: ESV (more literal)
In each of these cases the one which is more favourable to women is more literal and IMO more accurate. There is no reason either of these translations would offer a translation favourable to women if it wasn't literal.

The TNIV is particularly useful for demonstrating when the Greek says "man" and when it says "people".
    2 Tim. 2:2

    and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. ESV

    And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others TNIV (more literal)

    Rom. 16:1

    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, ESV

    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae TNIV
Overall, one can see a trend towards more silence and obedience for women. Women are demoted from being the host of a church and an apostle. If we think of Christianity as being counter cultural and something which confronts human tradition, then it is worth realizing that the bias of the human translator is to increase obedience and silence for women. This trend goes with culture. The question is: what does Christ actually teach?

I hope this helps.


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Maybe going back to meeting in homes might help. Then women would be church hosts again.

scott gray said...


i think you're on to something here. the basilica tradition does seem to require hierarchy, doesn't it?

J. K. Gayle said...

the bias of the human translator is to increase obedience and silence for women. This trend goes with culture. The question is: what does Christ actually teach?

Excellent illustrations and general points here, Suzanne.

When you conclude, however, there's bias in the "human translator," then something else must be said. Isn't the problem of sexism in translation very much of based in translation method? We have to let "humans" (woman or man, female and male) reign over their own "culture." We can and should be as "counter cultural" as Christianity--NO, I mean can and should as "counter cultural" as Christ (the "second earthling" or "second Adam").

"what does Christ actually teach?"
It's exactly the right question. But again, how do we answer that? Through the cultural lens of sexism and other self-centered sin?

I'm going on here, some, to suggest that much of the "culture" Christ counters is that of Pharisaism and Aritotlelianism. It's masculine logic. It's the separatist, elitist, "either / or" binary. The mapping of "Truth" into convenient categories that catches everyone else but me in my own self-found natural category. Subtle and diabolical!

"But HOW does Christ actually teach?"
His first imperatives are "change your minds" /metanoia μετανοεῖτε/" and "love" /agape ἀγαπήσεις/. We humans must not stay where we are in our thinking (which is how Aristotle be by his logic through cold observation of nature). We humans must not stay to ourselves, especially when much is to be given to the other). But the HOW of Jesus is to tells stories (parables that move me into change and love, in my story); is to shock categories (through challenging interpretations of The Law and The Truth, through hyperbole, as if to shock me into change and love); is to love (by un-veiling, a good translation of the last word in John's contrast here: ὁ νόμος διὰ Μωϋσέως ἐδόθη//ἡ χάρις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια). HOW Christ teaches love is also by responding to human need through changing hard, firm "nature" (i.e., the miracles of a virgin birth, corpse resurrection, casting out deities, healing ailments, feeding masses of hungry people, and saying Yes to the lame, the blind, the deaf, the mute, who are in natural categores of No.)

So one more thing on "What does Christ actually teach?" By meeting with a half-breed woman of earned ill-repute, he makes his first evangelist ever (in Samaria). By appearing first to a demon-free woman accused of ill-repute, after his resurrection, he makes his first apostle, sending Mariam of Magdala to the soon-to-be apostles hiding in a room. Christ teaches that women are not Silent (or to be silenced), rather they are to be be the very first ones to speak! And women actually translate his message "counter culturally" for him to men.

J. K. Gayle said...

Sorry to comment twice. But I was writing so quickly and without editing that I'm afraid much of that first comment is sloppy and unclear.

At the very least, I do think it's extremely important to note how Christ does not silence women (see the 4th chapter of John). And note all the women Jesus has speak up for him. Women are the first apostles (or sent ones/commissioned to speak), if you will.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Scott, once you establish space that is separate from domestic space one requires some kind of authority to administer it.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


In the Brethren I grew up in the word authority was never mentioned. Women were "silent in the assembly" so yes space was important. However, only the Word had authority.

There was no clergy and there were no elders. No man could have authority over another, but you could excommunicate someone if all the brothers agreed unanimously, by the leading of the spirit, in a brothers' meeting that this person had gone against the Word.

The oppression of women s this. Any male could speak in the assembly and was encouraged to do so, at the age of 18, regardless of gifts or calling. Every male had a say at the brothers meeting. But no woman could attend the brothers meeting or have her voice heard in the assembly.

However, as I explained earlier in this blog, the men all had to have a secular occupation, so they studied science and business. In our family the women studied home economics, and languages as was thought to be appropriate for women. For seeveral generations, women in our famly studied Greek and were then consulted by the men in the family before the brothers meeting.

It was maybe a little odd, but I can assure you that the group I was in eschewed the notion of authority and depended on the leading of the spirit. I think Darby held that having clergy was a sin against the spirit. My sense now is that every generation of men shapes interpretation in order to maintain male authority. Women tolerate this when they are younger and focused on rearing a family, but as they age they come to perceive this trait in men, to preserve power to themselves, as very childish and lacking in true maturity.

My mother was a great Bible teacher in the home, but as she got older and the men in the assembly got younger, in her eyes, how she pursed her lips on Sunday morning and politely held her tongue. She was respectful always but it was an enormous effort on her part.

Greg Anderson said...

My knowledge of Greek is virtually zilch. I know a few letters which are customarily used to denote various quantities in mathematics, but that's it.

Even so, and regardless of the English Bible translation I comb through, I can find no gender based pre-fall hierarchy mandated anywhere.

Nor can I find the elusive "law" (1 Cor. 14:34) that Paul is referring to, which purports to muzzle even Godly women in corporate assembly.

We know that Torah contains no stricture anywhere that silences women, but Talmudic literature is rife with even the most vile pronouncements against women.

We also know that historically, Talmudic Judaizers dogged the early church. So much so, that the Council of Jerusalem sent out letters ordering them to cease and desist (Acts 15).

It makes more sense to me to view Paul's women passages in his Corinthian letter as sound refutations of Talmudic Judaism rather than a new "law" thundered out of Sinai to silence women.

jamie said...

Thank you for your comparison. Although I am still frustrated with mistrust of the translations, this does help.
I just wonder what else is being translated with a bias?

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Suzanne, that has always been the Brethren aspiration and it is one that I agree with.

Sadly, however, the results have not always been utopian. Too many Brethren assemblies have come to be dominated by cliques and cabals.

God Bless


Molly Aley said...

This is a GREAT post, Suzanne...