Monday, April 20, 2009

Fear or respect

Not long ago there was a post on the BBB about the book of Philemon which has since been removed. In this post and the thread there was some discussion about the ESV being a more concordant translation than other translations.

Since the topic was slavery, I noticed that in Eph. 6:5, the ESV has,
    Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
But in Eph. 5:33 the ESV has,
    However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
You would not know that in Greek the word for "respect" and "fear" are the same. In the T(NIV) they are both translated as "respect." The T(NIV) is simply more condordant in this case than the ESV.

However, the ESV does continue the tradition of the KJV, RSV and NRSV on this word. The difference between the ESV and these other translations is that the ESV claims to be concordant, while the others don't.

My first concern is that the phrase "love and respect" has been used to describe the appropriate marriage relation for today. But I would say that just as we do not expect employees to fear their employers, so a wife should not have to fear her husband. However, we are in no doubt that slaves and wives did fear their masters and husbands in this passage.

My second concern is that slavery is no longer supported by most Bible-believing Christians, but the subordination of the wife is still vigourously taught, based on this passage. This passage has huge significance. To me it says that the marriage relation at this time, described in this passage was one of "love and fear" and ideally the "fear" part should have been done away with by the "love" part.

Here is 1 John 4:18
    There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
According to this verse, fear relates to punishment. We fear God because we accept that he has the right to punish us for our wrongdoings. A slave fears the master for the same reason, and a wife the husband.

Perhaps, this demonstrates that Christian love should override fear in the wife. She should no longer fear her husband, if he loves her.

However, if "fear" is translated as "respect" then the unsuitability of this chapter for establishing a status quo in a Christian marriage is cloaked. The fact that the slave - master relationship and the wife - husband relationship have something in common is not so obvious. Mind you, I have also read those who do believe that these relationships are parallel. They argue that the wife is to the husband, as the employee is to the employer.

All in all, the problematic issues of basing a marriage on Ephesians are clouded by a poor translation. However, rather than agitate for a better translation, a better Bible, the other option is to reimagine the marriage relationship as a bond of two people who function as equals, and treat this passage as one that is tied to a culture which contained slavery and unequal status for women.

I recognise that equality does not guarantee a happy marriage, which must be based on affection and forgiveness, but it does provide a foundation. Sadly, there are many marriages, both complementarian and egalitarian, which lack compassion and tenderness. It is hard to legislate these things.

Anyway, I want to mention that when I brought up gthe lack of concordance in this passage in Ephesians on a post about Philemon, I was put on moderated status on the BBB. It appears they only want better bibles for men. Its okay to advocate for concordance for general issues, but not for women's issues. Perhaps they don't see that slavery and male dominant marriages appear to be the same topic in a woman's eyes.


Bob MacDonald said...

Ah Suzanne - moderation in all things - eh! I don't read BBB any more. There is no Better Bible - the better is the enemy of the good as the French say.

I think you are justified in your linkage of fear in Paul to fear in 1 John.

Who can judge even the apparently most equal or most complementary pairing! I wonder if you saw my post on the recent Afghan situation - where cultural imbecility seems to reign. (But Christians are no strangers in this arena either.) The passage in 1 Corinthians 7 seem to me to trump the trial incorporation of Greek household codes into the faith that Ephesians accomplishes. But even Ephesians is self-correcting - a male must come to understand that the sacrifice called for undermines any power imbalance whether between slave and master or husband and wife. The lessons need to be relearned in each generation. (I admit that such learning has gone in 'my' household over 40 years and not without great difficulties amongst all. Things that can not be put in writing as 2 and 3 John tell us.)

J. K. Gayle said...

the ESV does continue the tradition of the KJV, RSV and NRSV on this word. The difference between the ESV and these other translations is that the ESV claims to be concordant, while the others don't.I Peter includes and repeats some of the Greek words you mention in this post. But curiously the ESV translators (in the tradition of translations you mention) translate as "servants" in IPt2:16 what is translated as "slaves" in Eph6:5 - though the fn on IPt2:16 has it "bondservant." And in IPt2:17, there is to be "fear" but in 2:18 and 3:2 there is to be "respect" (not concordant with the same Greek word in a close context):

2:13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution ...
2:16 ... living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor ...
2:18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect ...
3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 3:2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

Oddly too, ESV (and RSV / NRSV) depart from the King James with "emperor." In ESV IPt2:9, there is "royal priesthood" (not "imperial priesthood"; and in ESV Ephesians 5:5, there is the "kingdom of Christ and God" and in ESV 2 Peter 1:11, there is "the eternal kingdom" -- with no trace of the "empire." The Greek texts share the same root word, which is not as specific as "empire."

The clear point of your post is important: that an ancient set of hierarchies (in monarchies, in slavery, and in marriage) is suggested by the Greek. But the lack of concordance in the ESV suggests that while old empires and outdated slavery have ceased and aren't tolerated today, the hierarchy of husband over his wife is forever.

Gem said...

What a great post!

I don't think the "fear" is outdated, though. The same concept of "fear" is found in Acts 5 in the context of an account of married couple Ananias and Sapphira.

"And great fear (phobos) came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things." Acts 5:11
Why did “great fear” come upon the church?
(for the rest of the story read Acts 5:1 ff)
Was this “great fear” a GOOD thing, a HEALTHY thing?
The story has a “before” and an “after”
BEFORE: not much appropriate FEAR

I maintain that Sapphira lacked appropriate FEAR (phobos/phobeo)- toward God, toward her husband. She did not take seriously her husband’s power (to initiate evil in this case) She did not act as his lifesaving ezer/help MEET and intervene in his best interests.

Husbands had/have the power to initiate great and damaging (even deadly!) evil in their families. Besides Sapphira's husband, think of Abigail's husband, and Esther's husband. In the latter two cases, the wife's wisdom and initiative successfully mitigated their husband's deadly decisions. In Sapphira's case, they "lied to the Holy Spirit" which sounds like what we would call denial. And I see Sapphira as enabling rather than being a strong ezer.

I suppose the difference in the FEAR factor within marriage in our more egalitarian culture might be that wives with more power may also be more able to initiate great and damaging evil in their families? I think the key is being correctable/accountable to one another within marriage. If someone is a loose cannon and uncorrectable, or if someone is in denial and not able to force some accountability when things get dangerous then they are lacking in appropriate FEAR and I think there will be consequences for that, just as there were for Ananias and Sappira.

I think this is a root of much divorce among Christians. Church Women are trained to have a Sapphira spirit: be a "yes woman", support your man no matter what, don't bruise his fragile ego... BTDT and had to renounce the Sapphira spirit. Hubby missed Sapphira but she was terrible for his welfare! Things are much improved now!

believer333 said...

Excellent information. Thanks Sue.

However, I'm rather surprised that you got that treatment on BBB. :(

Suzanne McCarthy said...

However, I'm rather surprised that you got that treatment on BBB. :(There are two sides to every story-even mine. :)

Thanks, Bob, Kurk and Gem for adding so much to this post.

CD-Host said...

I'm kinda curious about what got so controversial in the Philemon post that they had to delete the entire thread plus all comments. Care to let those of us out of the loop know?

Suzanne McCarthy said...

The post was fine but my comments, and others were considered off topic. That's it.

CD-Host said...

OK what were you and the others talking about?

Suzanne McCarthy said...


You can go to the BBB and see the short post called Philemon posts withdrawn. That's it. It wasn't really any one thing.

J. K. Gayle said...

David Ker, who posted then pulled the posts at BBB, has allowed it all to be reposted - which I did here:

(please honor his requests for reading when you visit, thanks).

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks Kurk,

I had not seen the update with the pdf's of the comments posted.

I am only upset that since I am uniquely (and I think perhaps John also, but no one else) put on moderated status, I can no longer participate in any further dialogue on the BBB. It all started with John advocating strongly for acceptance of the "love obey" also called "love respect" marriage framework. This makes my PTSS act up. I used to get socked in the head for not obeying.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I really need an environment where the equal rights of women are upheld. Compegal, where this conversation with John took place, was not such a place.

I would have stayed away but a few people emailed me to verify, or not verify as the case may be, some exegetical facts posted there.

J. K. Gayle said...

You (and John and anybody else, woman or man equally) should feel free to comment at my blog. I've only deleted comments there at the requests of the ones who made the comments.

In the case of David's allow me to repost what he deleted, I'd only ask that we all respect his requests about not mentioning commenters by name (as if that might dishonor them somehow). His other concern, which he mentions, is that he doesn't have or want to give energy to monitor comments.

I had no idea about the BBB practice of selectively moderating individuals (especially you and John). So sorry to hear!

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I have no intention of returning to that conversation. This post and your very thoughtful comment on it above are useful to me and pick up on my interest very well.

CD-Host said...

Well now that I've read the whole thing over on J.K's site it just confirms.

The ESV is totally inconsistent. the only consistency one can find in their translation is how best to translate within the RSV tradition that is the most degrading and demeaning to women.

This sort of systematic mistranslation is what conservatives claim to be upset with the Jehovah's Witnesses or other Arian sects about. And now they've gone much much further than the JW ever have. At least the JW publish the Kingdom Interlinear which indicates where they engaged in theological overrides. The ESV people pretend it is in the Greek as part of their pattern of disinformation.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

In defense of the ESV they do publish an interlinear. And no translation is concordant.

What bothers me is that the ESV makes the claim to be concordant AND at the same time, users of the ESV tend to use the English text as a lawbook to determine what women can and cannot do.

If it was not for these two things, then I think the ESV could be considered to be more or less in line with many other bibles.

CD-Host said...

Suzanne --

Sorry to disagree but I see the interlinear as part of their propaganda. What they publish is not an interlinear designed to educate but rather to mislead. Your Greek is go good you might not catch what they are doing for those less skilled. In the ESV Reverse, the only English translation is the ESV so you don't see the places where ideology has overridden translation. Most interlinears would use a very formal translation next to the Greek with the ESV off to the side.

They do ESV reversed
ASV version looks like concordant.

The effect is to reinforce their propaganda. Here is a sample from the Jehovah's Witnesses and you can see they clearly follow the traditional pattern so the changes in the NWT (theological overrides of the translation) end up being clearly marked KIT.

And I'd go further than you, and argue the ESV has to be looked at in a political context. It is a bible designed with a goal in mind not just a translation that happens to further a goal.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

You are right, the ESV reversed is not really something that I can read. The ASV one also has problems. Where is the homepage for the third one that you labeled KIT?

IMO all bibles have a political context. Some reveal their context more honestly than others.

CD-Host said...

The KIT predates the web, there isn't really a webpage. maybe? AFAIK the Watchtower society pretty much lets people distribute electronic versions freely so for example KIT online. They did a run of 800k of them back in 1985 and they still have copies to distribute to libraries, elders.... They aren't trying to make money on it....

Sorry for the no information.

J. K. Gayle said...

IMO all bibles have a political context. Some reveal their context more honestly than others.This comment makes my day - thanks for saying it so clearly!