Packer's bad exegesis of 2 Timothy 2:2
Now I have respected Dr Packer for about 30 years, since as a young Christian I read his "Knowing God". At about the same time, not long before he left Britain for Canada, I heard him speak and took part in a small group discussion with him, in which he gave a robust defence of his evangelical faith in front of an audience of largely liberal Christians. But I am sorry to say that my respect for Dr Packer, at least as a Bible scholar, is now being challenged.
In her posting J I Packer and 2 Tim. 2:2 Suzanne McCarthy reported on how she questioned Dr Packer about this verse, which is rendered in the ESV Bible:
and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.The word "men" here is a rendering of Greek ἄνθρωποι anthrōpoi. Dr Packer, as General Editor of the ESV Bible, must bear responsibility for this rendering.
Here is an extract from Suzanne's conversation with Dr Packer:
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.I must say I am amazed that Dr 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.
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?
Dr 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 Dr 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. Dr Packer complained, as reported by Suzanne in another posting here, 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"; for here ESV has concealed from its readers the important fact that the Greek word used here is normally generic, and forced upon them a particular interpretation that only men can teach in this way.
And Packer can't even appeal to the practice of the churches sponsoring the ESV translation (who just might be able to influence the text of the translation) 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. If so, I have to conclude that his understanding of this verse is bad exegesis.