Saturday, June 18, 2011

Here is a particularly tricky passage. What does skeuos mean in this verse? Vessel, body, wife, private parts? Hmm.

εἰδέναι ἕκαστον ὑμῶν τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγιασμῷ καὶ τιμῇ, 1 Thess. 4:4

Skeuos means equipment, inanimate thing, body vs soul, or subordinate being. Here are the two most likely options.

1. Skeuos could mean "wife." Each person, that is each man, should acquire his own wife. Ktaomai usually means "acquire" so it is likely that this does not refer to one's own body. However, skeuos had not been used to refer to a wife prior to this text.

2. Skeuos means "one's own body." This is consistent with the use of the word elsewhere in the Greek scriptures. Ktaomai could mean "to become the master of."

I tend to think that skeuos refers to one's own body, since Paul does not indicate that he is talking only to men in this passage. He does not say, "You men, .... "

On the other hand, perhaps the author of 1 Thessalonians really is calling a wife a skeuos. We cringe because it sounds sexist. What do we do if we believe the scriptures are sexist? How do we respond to this?

Some feel that Paul really did refer to a wife here, and that he was sexist, althought this is not a criticism of Paul, but just simple acceptance that we have moved beyond this ethic, that we don't have to adhere to everything Paul says, but only abide in the instructions for holiness and love.

Others feel that Paul, who was a friend and co-worker of many women, would not call a wife a skeuos.

So, I commend to you the King James Version,

That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;


Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, this is a good question. But I wonder if everyone is off the mark in translating this passage. Could skeuos ktasthai in fact mean something like "earn a living"?

After all ktasthai usually means "obtain", sometimes "buy", and if skeuos means "wife" it can really only apply to the minority of unmarried men in the Thessalonian church.

I guess this has been interpreted in terms of sexual matters because it is sandwiched between porneia in verse 3 and epithumia in verse 5. But the latter word means "covetousness" more than "lust". Verse 6 can very well be understood as about business (pragma, see RSV margin).

So my tentative suggestion is that this passage is about practical holiness in the workplace, to put it somewhat anachronistically. This does of course include avoiding porneia. But more importantly it is about earning a living in a holy and honest way, avoiding covetousness and fraud.

How would this tie in with your understanding of what the Greek could mean?

Bob MacDonald said...

Psalm 31:13 leaps the Hebrew-Greek divide: I am become like a broken vessel. כלי seems to have a similar range as skeuos which is the LXX for this one item I looked up. The psalms have it in many places, e.g. also 16:7, 139:13 both around the very personal. It never refers to someone else. In the two above the Greek is kidneys but the English of RSV for 16:7 is also a euphemism. The LXX for 139:13 is rendered as procured my kidneys in the NETS. I wonder if there is some relationship to Paul's thought in Thess.

But this gets close to the procurement accomplished in the NT - that we are bought with a price. Our bodies are purchased - our vessel and all its parts. How do we then make use of it? By participation in the work of the purchaser, i.e. the one who died for us. This is what is worked out in the later epistles especially Romans 8, 1 Cor 6, etc. I think it is the same experience as the Psalmist that motivates Paul in his mission to the Gentiles. 1 Thess letter is the first record of what he expressed to his hearers in the Spirit.

The astonishing part for Paul is that he was sent to the Gentiles in accordance with the instructions to Isaiah, and the tale of Jonah, and of course the psalms. It is possible that psalm 106 was written by someone outside the covenant community (see verse 4).

Gordon Tisher said...

It's nicely colloquial if you just translate it "literally":

"Each of you should handle your own equipment in holiness and respect."

C.f. "wedding tackle" :-)

CD-Host said...

Terms like "the blessed vessel" (to kalon skeuos) are fairly common references to the believers body. I think its just control your own body.

Mani is vessel of communion so I don't think the word carries the dehumanizing connotations it does in English.

BradK said...

Is there anything in the context that would indicate Paul is using skeuos to refer to a wife? Wouldn't he just use gune if that is what he meant? Paul doesn't use skeuos anywhere else in all his writings to refer to a wife, does he?