Paul : Wright :: Thucydides: Woodruff
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.)