Skip to content

Paul : Wright :: Thucydides: Woodruff

September 7, 2011

At his blog, Peter Kirk, Bible translation project coordinator and exegetical adviser, makes a suggestion for N. T. (“Tom”) Wright:

But if he is to convince people of this, he needs to offer an explicit scholarly exegesis of this Greek word [(οὐκ) ἐπιτρέπω] in its context, and not rely on what people might infer from his renderings of the verse. And there is bound to be strong resistance in certain quarters to even the strongest of arguments which might undermine deeply entrenched patriarchal understandings of the church.

The “this” that Kirk believes Wright must convince us people of is his translation of 1 Timothy 2:12. (See “Deduction and Tom Wright’s Translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12” by Theophrastus and “not overruling the man” by Suzanne McCarthy, for more background).

While not even attempting to build an airtight case for some singular and invariable and unambiguously “explicit scholarly exegesis of this Greek word in its context” one way or another, I do want to offer something else. In this post, I’d like us to see the analogy between how Paul’s Greek comes across in Wright’s English and how Thucydides comes across in Paul Woodruff’s English. (The bit from Thucydides is out of what we’ve come to know as The History of the Peloponnesian War, an excerpt from Book II, Chapter LXXII, Section 2, Line 8, around the verb phrase οὐκ ἐπιτρέπωσιν.)

So here’s Paul and then there’s Wright with his two different renderings.

Διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.

Now here’s Thucydides and then there’s Woodruff.

μὴ ἐκείνων ἀποχωρησάντων Ἀθηναῖοι ἐλθόντες σφίσιν οὐκ ἐπιτρέπωσιν

once the Spartans had gone, the Athenians might come and disregard their neutrality

To give us a sense of how unusual and how deductive Wright’s translation of Paul is, Theophrastus already showed us the common sense translations. There’s the ESV, the NIV2011, and the Inclusive Bible respectively to reconsider:

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

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;** she must be quiet. [Notes: ... **Or over her husband].

I don’t permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man. She must remain silent.

Now to give us a sense of how unusual and how deductive Woodruff’s translation of Thucydides is, let’s look at the common sense translations. There’s the one by Benjamin Jowett, the one by Thomas Hobbes, and the one by Richard Crawley.

When the Lacedaemonians were gone the Athenians might come and not allow them to carry out the treaty;

lest when the Lacedaemonians were gone, the Athenians should come and take the custody of it out of their hands

After his departure, what was to prevent the Athenians from coming and taking it out of their hands

Notice how the common sense translations render the Greek phrase as something like “not permit” and “not allow” and “take out of.”

Notice how Wright and Woodruff have the Greek phrase as something like “not saying” and “not mean to imply” and “disregard” so that the negative adverb in the verb phrase means less a prevention or a prohibition and more an allowance or a looking the other way. Doesn’t Paul’s Greek and doesn’t Thucydides’s Hellene allow this ambiguity? (Aren’t the histories important here, as Wright stresses it and as Thucydides maps it? If you read the fuller context of the excerpt of the latter, then you do see an expressed concern for wives and women and children.)

About these ads
5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2011 10:18 pm

    Brilliant. Where do you get all of this stuff, Kurk?

    After I made that post, I was directed (by a comment on Suzanne’s blog) to this book which appears to argue a sustained argument for Wright’s reading. I’ve ordered the book, but have not yet read it.

    However, it is a little hard to believe that all sides (female inferiority/egalitarian) in the debate over the translation are not primarily motivated by the consequences of their reading rather than the linguistic merits of their reading. That doesn’t bother me as much as it might upset some Protestant believers who believe in a single, unambiguous meaning of Scripture — after all, as anyone who as read the Talmud can tell you, the art of classical interpretation of the Bible is one of riding ambiguities.

    I do believe it is a bit hard to stomach the argument that there is no ambiuguity in this passage. It clearly can be read in more than one way, and I think that all sides need to acknowledge that.

  2. September 8, 2011 7:20 am

    I do believe it is a bit hard to stomach the argument that there is no ambiuguity in this passage. It clearly can be read in more than one way, and I think that all sides need to acknowledge that.

    Well said, Theoprastus!

  3. September 8, 2011 8:15 am

    Thanks for the link and the discussion. Indeed it seems clear that the verb, in the negative, has a more nuanced and more ambiguous meaning than a clear prohibition. I wouldn’t expect from anyone “some singular and invariable and unambiguously ‘explicit scholarly exegesis of this Greek word in its context’”. But it would be useful to have more input on the meaning of the word.

  4. September 8, 2011 9:53 am

    Peter,
    I have to say, I appreciate how in your post you helped us focus on the salient phrase “ἐπιτρέπω.” Thank you also for commenting here, especially to bring to our attention the possibility that it’s “the verb, in the negative, [that] has a more nuanced and more ambiguous meaning than a clear prohibition.” I’d never thought of the negative particle as being what helps make the difference here; I’ll be thinking about that a long time. Could it be something like we do in English with our phrases, “ne’er do well” and “never mind” and “no brainer” and such, in which the little attached particle changes the composite meaning(s) of both the adv/adj and also the adv/noun/verb it modifies?

  5. September 8, 2011 10:09 am

    Indeed negatives make a difference, and in some cases cause ambiguity in English. In an equivalent construction, “I allow to teach” is not ambiguous, but in different varieties of English “I allow not to teach” has two very different meanings: “I don’t allow to teach” i.e. I forbid it or “I allow to not teach” i.e. I don’t insist on it. And I might suggest that Διδάσκειν … οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω has exactly this ambiguity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 394 other followers

%d bloggers like this: