Witherington’s Non-Patriarchal Reading of 1 Timothy 2:12

1 Timothy 2:8-15 has a been a battleground in the recent history of interpretation as scholars have been offering varying interpretations of a passage that at first blush cuts against modern egalitarian sensibilities. Verse 12 has proven to be particularly problematic for modern interpreters who support the ordination of women as pastors.

A literal translation of verse 1 Timothy 2:12 reads: “I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority over/domineer a man.” At the heart of the exegetical dispute is the problem of translating the phrase “to teach or to exercise authority over.”

Dr. Ben Witherington, who will soon be adding to his impressive list of literary accomplishments a new commentary on the pastoral epistles, has recently offered some reflections on his translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15 (see his blog). Witherington argues that understanding the background of Paul’s command is absolutely critical to a proper interpretation of the verse. He writes:

What I would stress at the outset is that Paul is correcting problems in worship— correcting both men and women as is perfectly clear from vs. 8 where he tells the men to not dispute or get angry but rather to start praying. He then corrects women in several particulars. I would stress then that the correction of an abuse of a privilege is not the same as the ruling out of a proper use of a privilege, in this case the privilege of speaking in worship or even teaching. Paul is not laying down first principles here, he is correcting an existing problem . . .

In other words, Witherington avers that Paul is not laying out a general principle that would be normative for all Christians. Rather, Paul is confronting a specific abuse in the Ephesian community: “The issue here in Ephesus is that there are some women who are seeking to teach or take authority over men, without first being quiet and learning about their faith .” Therefore modern readers should not treat this verse as if Paul were laying down a limitation on women in ministry because “the correction of an abuse of a privilege is not the same as the ruling out of a proper use of a privilege.”

There is much that needs to be said in response to Witherington’s exegesis here, but I would like to point out one difficulty that I see with his reasoning. Even if we grant that Paul is confronting a specific abuse in the Ephesian church, it does not necessarily rule out the possibility that he might appeal to “first principles” to address that specific problem.

So even if we grant the background as Witherington has described it, it may very well be that Paul sees a specific abuse and corrects it by appealing to a more general principle that is rooted in Jewish-Christian patriarchy. That is in fact what I think Paul is doing here.

Dr. Witherington disagrees and has responded to my objection in the comments section of his blog. Even though he did support his reading by appealing to egalitarian readings of other Pauline texts, I am still not satisfied that he has answered my specific objection.

I suppose the debate will have to continue.

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Unspeakable Abortion Tragedy

I read an unspeakably tragic story today in the BBC News (click here to read it). It’s about a 16 year old girl who tried to abort her twins early in her pregnancy. Later in the pregnancy, she found out that one of them survived the procedure.

Now, the surviving twin is four years old, and the mother is suing the hospital because “she suffers an impediment in her ability to obtain employment in consequence of her care for the child.”

Consider these lines from the mother and weep: “I still don’t know if, or what, I am going to tell Jayde when the time comes. Maybe when she is nine or 10 I will sit her down and explain it to her.”

As my wife completes her eighth month of pregnancy before the delivery of our first child, tragic stories like these take on a new poignancy. It just takes your breath away that this story could possibly be true.

Maranatha.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Unspeakable Abortion Tragedy

I read an unspeakably tragic story today in the BBC News (click here to read it). It’s about a 16 year old girl who tried to abort her twins early in her pregnancy. Later in the pregnancy, she found out that one of them survived the procedure.

Now, the surviving twin is four years old, and the mother is suing the hospital because “she suffers an impediment in her ability to obtain employment in consequence of her care for the child.”

Consider these lines from the mother and weep: “I still don’t know if, or what, I am going to tell Jayde when the time comes. Maybe when she is nine or 10 I will sit her down and explain it to her.”

As my wife completes her seventh month of pregnancy before the delivery of our first child, tragic stories like these take on a new poignancy. It just takes your breath away that this story could possibly be true.

Maranatha.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Follow-up on Ben Witherington’s post on the ESV

Yesterday I wrote in response to Ben Witherington’s critique of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. Today, Dr. Witherington apologizes for the remarks that he made there (HT: Justin Taylor). He explains that he didn’t have the whole story when he originally wrote, but now he does. You can read the entire apology in the “comments” section of the original post which is titled “The Problem with the ESV.”

I understand where he’s coming from. I had to revise my post after reading the critiques of those who visited my site. I had overgeneralized on one point, and I’m glad that someone pointed it out to me.

Oh, well. Nobody’s perfect. Including me!

Follow-up on Ben Witherington’s post on the ESV

Yesterday I wrote in response to Ben Witherington’s critique of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. Today, Dr. Witherington apologizes for the remarks that he made there (HT: Justin Taylor). He explains that he didn’t have the whole story when he originally wrote, but now he does. You can read the entire apology in the “comments” section of the original post which is titled “The Problem with the ESV.”

I understand where he’s coming from. I had to revise my post after reading the critiques of those who visited my site. I had overgeneralized on one point, and I’m glad that someone pointed it out to me.

Oh, well. Nobody’s perfect. Including me!

Follow-up on Ben Witherington’s post on the ESV

Yesterday I wrote in response to Ben Witherington’s critique of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. Today, Dr. Witherington apologizes for the remarks that he made there (HT: Justin Taylor). He explains that he didn’t have the whole story when he originally wrote, but now he does. You can read the entire apology in the “comments” section of the original post which is titled “The Problem with the ESV.”

I understand where he’s coming from. I had to revise my post after reading the critiques of those who visited my site. I had overgeneralized on one point, and I’m glad that someone pointed it out to me.

Oh, well. Nobody’s perfect. Including me!

New Testament Scholar, Ben Witherington, Takes a Whack at the ESV

Ben Witherington’s apocryphal account of the origin of the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible has been roundly refuted on the ESV Bible Blog (HT: Justin Taylor). Among other things, Witherington alleges that the ESV translation too often manifests conservative biases rather than accurate translation.

His comments imply that he detects complementarian biases being manifested in the ESV’s translation of texts like Romans 16:7, 1 Timothy 2:12, and Ephesians 5:21-22. Witherington writes, “The ESV doesn’t do justice to any of these texts, and at the expense of women.”

For Witherington (himself a Methodist), he thinks it’s important to speak out about the ESV now because someone else has told him that “the Southern Baptist Convention is considering endorsing the ESV as the one true Baptists ought to use.”

I have about one-thousand things that I would like say in response to Witherington’s blog, but the most important issues have already been addressed by the ESV Bible Blog. I would, however, like to offer some reflections on one paragraph in particular. Witherington writes:

The ESV we owe chiefly to one particular scholar who has spent much of his career opposing the idea of women being involved in minstry. I am told that this scholar did everything he could possibly do to scuttle the TNIV, in the main because he abhorred the idea of the use of inclusive language in the translation even where it was fully warranted and did better justice to who was being spoken of in particular cases. A good example would be when the Greek term ‘anthropoi’ (‘human beings’)is used to refer to a mixed group containing both women and men. To translate the term ‘men’ in such a case is in fact to misrepresent the meaning of the word in such a case since there were also women present who were not mere ciphers or appendages of the men who were there.

First, let me start out by saying that the unnamed scholar is Wayne Grudem. If you’ve read anything on this topic or even attended one meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in the last several years, then you know that it’s no secret that Wayne Grudem has been the most exercised about the issues at stake in the gender debate and in the debate on gender-inclusive translations of the Bible.

Second, and to the point I want to address, Witherington is in error when he says that translating anthrōpoi as “men” misrepresents the meaning of the word. In English usage, as in Greek, the plural form “men” can refer to mankind or people in general without respect to gender. A quick perusal of any English dictionary will confirm that this is in fact a long standing English idiom.

So, for instance, when the Declaration of Independence declares that “that all men are created equal” and that “Governments are instituted among Men,” no one misunderstands “Men” to be referring to male humans only. We know that “Men” means “mankind” or “people” of all genders.

The question is whether the idiom is still in use today such that English readers can still understand “men” to refer to “human beings” without respect to gender. It is true that about forty years of Western-style feminism has resulted among other things in a successful revision of the way we use the English language. Today, from the halls of Congress to the college campus to the style-manuals of modern publishing houses, it is no longer acceptable to use masculine words like “men” to stand for males and females. The forces of political correctness have achieved a change in usage. But that doesn’t change the fact that at least some English speakers are still able to distinguish the difference between “men” when it refers to male humans and “men” when it refers to all people regardless of gender. One could argue that the usage is fading, but it’s not gone yet.

I say all this because Witherington claims that “men” actually misrepresents the meaning of anthrōpoi. This is a serious charge because Witherington says the mistranslation is driven by an ideological agenda “at the expense of women.” Yet the charge rings hollow when one realizes that English speakers can still recognize the idiom of “men” standing for “all people” regardless of gender. The idiom may not be politically correct, but it’s perfectly understandable to the native English speaker. I think Witherington’s critique really misses the mark on this point.