Sōfrosunē: modesty or good sense?
Over the last few days, as part of my Bible translation work, I have been looking at the Pastoral Epistles, and have been struggling with the rendering of σωφροσύνη sōfrosunē and related words like σώφρων sōfrōn. σωφροσύνη sōfrosunē is generally understood as meaning something like "good sense, sound judgment". Louw and Nida give an alternative, slightly different sense "moderation, sensibility". But for some reason which is unclear to me, in 1 Timothy 2:9,15 this word is commonly understood as meaning "modesty" (RSV, TEV etc, v.15) or "propriety" (NIV, TNIV). Perhaps this is because it is used of how women should behave, and in v.9 in explicit contrast with expensive clothing. But the regular meaning "good sense, sound judgment" fits very well in both of these verses; a woman with this quality will not waste money on expensive adornment.
In fact in v.9 there are two nouns linked together describing how women should adorn themselves, αἰδώς aidōs and σωφροσύνη sōfrosunē. RSV and NRSV render the phrase "modestly and sensibly" and TEV "modest and sensible", and this is good, for αἰδώς aidōs does mean something like "modesty, decency", and "sensibly" is a good rendering of μετὰ ... σωφροσύνης meta ... sōfrosunēs. The problem in RSV, NRSV and TEV comes in v.15, where μετὰ σωφροσύνης meta sōfrosunēs is rendered "with modesty", as also in NLT, cf. CEV "modest". Why no consistency here? Why not "sensibly" or "with good sense" in v.15? I note that KJV, ERV and ASV are all consistent in using "sobriety" in both verses. So I wonder if this actually started as an accidental error in RSV: someone may have tried to make v.15 consistent with v.9 but misunderstood "modestly" there as rendering σωφροσύνη sōfrosunē rather than αἰδώς aidōs. But, if so, it is an error which has perpetuated itself in TEV, NRSV, CEV and NLT, and has even found its way back into v.9, through NIV and TNIV's consistent rendering "propriety", and JB's consistent "modest".
For once I can report a real improvement in ESV over RSV: this is consistent in having "with modesty and self-control" in v.9 and "with self-control" in v.15. But is "self-control" a meaning of σωφροσύνη sōfrosunē? Not according to Louw and Nida. Nor are RSV, JB, NRSV, TEV, CEV and NLT's "modesty"/"modest" or NIV and TNIV's "propriety". Nor for that matter are JB Phillips' "gravity" or The Message's "maturity"; and whereas the "sobriety" of older versions may originally have had the right meaning, its modern sense of not being drunk is also misleading.
So I find myself in the interesting position that not one of the English Bibles on my shelf can offer an acceptable rendering of this word.
I hope that the Bible in another language which I am working on now will be an improvement, although it was hard to find a suitable word: the one which I am currently suggesting to the translators means something like "prudence", and is related to the adjective already accepted for σώφρων sōfrōn in 1 Timothy 3:2 and elsewhere in the Pastoral Epistles.