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Thursday, February 16, 2006

J I Packer and 2 Tim. 2:2

I met with Dr. Packer last Friday and interviewed him on many aspects of the TNIV controversy. I have written about part of our conversation here and here.

Now I shall write about how he responded when I asked him about 2 Tim. 2:2.

Suzanne: I have to ask you about 2 Tim. 2:2. Did you think that anthropos referred to 'men' in this verse?

Dr. Packer: I think it means 'men' exegetically. We think that it means 'men'. You know surely that one of the rules of linguistics is that the meaning of any word in any sentence is that which adds least to what is already there in the sentence.

Suzanne: I was brought up with that verse in our Christian Fellowship and I always thought that it was 'men and women'. It was quite a shock to me to find that people would think that it was 'men only'.

Dr. Packer: Well, Paul doesn’t say that it was 'men only', he just says 'men', but in the situation, it was to the teachers, surely it is obvious from the context that they were men.

Suzanne: But isn’t it adding something. If I sit down with a Greek woman today and I ask her to read that verse back to me in English she will say it is 'people' in plain English.

Dr. Packer: Plain reading by a contemporary Greek, well, 1900 years have a gone by, you can’t take it out of the situation.

Suzanne: Luther translated it mensch. He didn’t add the masculine meaning. It was a disappointing verse for me.

Dr. Packer: Remember though until very recently the word, that the masculine word 'men' was understood as generic, 'men' was including women when the context implies it. Are you saying that the context implies women teachers especially in light of the second half of the second chapter of 1 Timothy?

Suzanne: I would have thought that taking meaning from the context would be an interpretation and would not turn up in the translation.

Dr. Packer: Let me say straightaway, we will have to agree to disagree. I get to specifics from the context. I start with the flow of the context, what is the whole thing about, the paragraph, things like that.

Suzanne: Thank you. You have answered my question.


In any case, this verse had not been translated by the ESV in such a way that it is 'transparent to the Greek.' I want it on the record that this is why I did not stop to understand and enjoy the rest of 2 Timothy during the manuscript copying project. The ESV translation committee did not consider that it was written for women.

However, in light of the final verses of 2 Timothy I would be interested in hearing if there is another way of interpreting this epistle so that women could be included.
    Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. ESV
The incongruous 'brothers' should also be reconsidered. 'Brethren' was marginally possible, but 'brothers' is downright odd in this context.

I have written more about this and other topics on my bookshelf blog.


At Thu Feb 16, 10:08:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.

Suzanne, it seems to me unlikely that Paul would have used a male-only word with the meaning of English "brothers" when the preceding proper name at the end of the named individuals is that of a Christian sister.

If the ESV team were to claim that English "brothers" is inclusive here, as they suggest as one meaning footnoted for Rom. 12:2, we have a dilemma, namely, how can readers of the ESV know when their English masculine words are intended to refer to males and when are they intended to refer to gender-inclusive groups. Logically, it would be easier for ESV readers to understand the meaning of the translation if they simply stated in the preface that they intend a gender-inclusive meaning for "brothers" when the situation allows it, as here in 2 Tim. 4:21. The NET Bible translators word in the text and explain in a footnote that both sisters and brothers are included in adelphoi in Paul's final greeting here.

The only two recently published English versions, the ESV and HCSB, to follow the CSG are exactly the only two which use the English word "brothers" in 2 Tim. 4:21. I admit to being confused as to the meaning that both translation teams intend by the word "brothers" in this verse.

At Thu Feb 16, 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

There is a footnote in the ESV that it means 'brothers and sisters'.

At Thu Feb 16, 11:09:00 PM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...

I looked this verse up in the 3 major Dutch Bible translations. The "Statenvertaling" (comparable to the King James in style and age), the NBG translation (1951, the major translation of the previous century) and the NBV (2004).

They all have "mensen" (people). Also the catholic Willibrordvertaling uses "mensen." There seem to be some agreement among Dutch translators of all ages!

Note: I hope you find the Dutch input interesting in this English Bible Blog :-)

At Thu Feb 16, 11:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I hope you find the Dutch input interesting in this English Bible Blog

Thank you, Ruud, I do.

At Fri Feb 17, 12:13:00 AM, Blogger Ruud Vermeij said...

By the way, do you know about
There are a lot of bible translations online in different languages. You can also choose several interface languages (English, French, Dutch, Spanish, ...)
It is a very convenient online search tool. It also includes footnotes (you can click on an asterix * inside the text.)

At Fri Feb 17, 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I must say I am amazed that Packer is capable of such bad exegesis. The word ἄνθρωπος anthrōpos simply does not have a male meaning component, even though at times e.g. when used in contrast with γυνή gunē "woman" it can refer to men only. And there is nothing in the context in 2 Timothy to restrict to men only the role of passing on the gospel to others. Indeed quite the opposite: Eunice and Lois (1:5) are credited with doing this for Timothy himself; for surely it was these two, rather than Timothy's Greek father (Acts 16:1), who taught him the scriptures in childhood (3:15). And of course the ἄνθρωποι anthrōpoi of 3:2,13 are also gender generic.

Packer claims "in the situation, it was to the teachers, surely it is obvious from the context that they were men". No, with respect, it is not at all obvious. The only argument that Packer could make that teachers were all male is not from this letter at all, but from 1 Timothy 2:12, and perhaps from 1 Corinthians. I don't want to go into the exegesis of those verses here. But it is a very bad exegetical practice to introduce into one book concepts, especially theologically controversial ones, which are plainly taught only in another book, in other words to harmonise different books. There are a few places where it may be necessary to do this in order to make a comprehensible translation. But this verse is not one of those. There is no good reason not to translate the normall generic ἄνθρωποι anthrōpoi in 2:2 with the generic "people", as TNIV does, and allow this "people" to be restricted by the wider context, rather than specify maleness here when the apostle did not do so. Packer complained that TNIV practised "a sort of concealment of what was said in the Bible". Well, this is a case where ESV is practising the same kind of concealment, and betraying its published philosophy that "it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original", by concealing from the readers the important fact that the Greek word used here is normally generic.

And Packer can't even appeal to the practice of the church to limit teaching of others to males. Almost all churches allow women to teach children and other women in certain circumstances. Since there is no reason to restrict the "others" in this verse to adult males, there is no reason to restrict the teachers to males.

I suspect that this is a case where Packer has simply misunderstood traditional translations of 2 Timothy 2:2 as referring to men only (for even when he was young "men" was usually not gender generic here in England), and so has resisted any later attempts to challenge his misunderstanding on the basis of what the Greek text actually says.

At Fri Feb 17, 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Respectfully, I do not think that Dr. Packer misunderstood traditional translations in English. There is a distinct possibility that Dr. Packer, like myself, learned Greek long before he learned exegesis, in which case one is unlikely to make that kind of mistake with the word anthropos.

I did not actually ask him, but I assumed that there was a possibility that he learned Greek in high school as I did, starting with Homer.

Aothough, like Timothy, I also was, for the most part, taught by faithful women, both in the home and at school.


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