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Friday, September 08, 2006

In which I attempt to answer a question

In the comment section a few days ago I wrote,
    Certain words in Greek simply were more gender neutral than older English translations indicated. So the trend toward gender neutrality is usually a trend towards greater accuracy. So far I have yet to see the opposite.

    Replacing 'brothers' with 'people' or 'friends' simply reflects the way the Greek word was used to refer to a collective of people, whereas in English 'brothers' does mean the men. And, of course, αδελφοι in Greek is easily understood as refering to both the αδελφοι the brothers and the αδελφαι the sisters. There is no easy way to represent this in English.

    It is very important to start with the Greek first, each and every time. Once must not assume that earlier translations were more literal.

    A simple example is the replacement of 'workman' with 'worker'. Of course, 'worker' is a word that much better reflects the morphology of the Greek word εργατης. This kind of thing is found throughout the Bible. The move towards gender neutrality reflects a more literal translation. So no discussion about gender should start from an older English translation.
And Gummby asked the following question.
    Suzanne, how would you answer a person who says that much of your approach is informed by classical Greek that is being read into Koine?

I would like to answer this question as fairly as possible. Not that much.

1. First, grammatical gender is not usually translated. Brother and sister in Greek are differentiated by grammatical gender alone. It is a general prinicple not to represent this in translation. Everyone agrees that αδελφοι means a group of both men and women.

2. For υιοι Luther and Tyndale translated this as 'children'. I am not sure if I need to review why. The υιοι Ισραηλ really were the 'people' of Israel, the men and women both. 'Sons' would not mean that today. It would mean the men.

3. For ανθρωπος, classical Greek, and modern Greek, both secular and religious, understands this to be a person, a human being. When we use derivatives of this word in English that is what we mean. There is no difference for Koine Greek.

Woman has always been a person, that is a human being, to God. However, in terms of the law and social customs, a woman did not function as a full human being. She did not share the rights and privileges of men. So, ανθρωπος means human, and not male, but is woman fully human? That is the real question. Is woman a person?

I can only refer you to Susan B Anthony's speech given in 1872. I suggest a software reading of this speech. Go to edit>find and type in 'person' and see how she analysed this word in terms of the right of women to be considered persons.

4. Women are overwhelmingly served by a literal and accurate translation of the text. A text like the King James, which uses the 'children' of God, in which 'brethren' are a collective of men and women, in which Junia is an apostle and Mary sat at the feet of Jesus as Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel, serves woman.

In addition to that, a literal translation shows that Pheobe was a 'minister', as was Paul, and she was his advocate or patron, possible giving him legal or financial support.

5. The pronoun αυτος means that same person or thing which was just mentioned in the antecedent. If it is ανθρωπος or τις it is completely gender neutral. In fact, the only trend in gender neturality for Bible translation is a trend in English; it has nothing whatsoever to do with changing the Greek text, or misinterpreting it.

6. The loss of number accuracy in translation is legitimate. Thou, thee, thy and thine is now lost - more or less. I have heard that it is not completely lost, but I have also noticed that those who understand it well, can use it properly and can make the verb form agree with this pronoun naturally in fluent speech are in decline. The loss of this pronoun makes English an inferior language altogether, but we live with it.

A French - English dictionary certainly supports translating 'on' with either 'one' 'they' 'we' or 'you'. I cannot find that a loss of number, switching from the singular 'he' to a plural 'they' or using a singular 'they' represents a loss of accuracy. Nor does it have anything at all to do with Koine or classical Greek.

In summary, Gummby, I am not really sure what you meant by my 'approach'. Would you like to know more about my training and background, my qualifications? You may ask more about that if you wish. But the short answer is that I did study Hellenistic Greek. I have no difficulty telling you more, but I am not entirely sure if that is your question.

Others have mentioned so called 'poor scholarship'. Would that be refering to Longenecker, Fee, Waltke, R K Harrison, Pietersma, or some other men from whom I may have picked up habits of bad scholarship? Maybe Northrop Frye, who taught at my home college!


At Sat Sep 09, 03:11:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

What a sensible address by Dorothy L Sayers! And, apart from the stereotype of a Kaffir as "skilled ... in tracing the spoor of big game", remarkably modern, despite being nearly 70 years old. Would that the aggressive complementarian Christians would read this and take it to heart. Thank, you, Anon, for this contribution to the debate.

At Sat Sep 09, 06:34:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I wouldn't say that an accurate translation into contemporary English would have Phoebe as a minister. An accurate translation would say that she was serving with Paul or something like that. A minister in contemporary English is something like what the NT would call an elder, except that ministers aren't usually seen as team members but as running the show. There's nothing of that in the Phoebe reference, and translating that as if she is a minister would be so inaccurate as to be irresponsible. She may have supplied the local congregation with funding, but there's no indication that she was an elder, and that's what it would mean to call her a minister.

It's also not so clear with Junia. There are three issues. (1) Is Junia a woman? (2) Is Junia beloved or well-known/liked as one of the apostles (rather than by the apostles)? (3) Is the word for apostle indicating Apostles (i.e. the level of authority of the Twelve and Paul) rather than apostles (i.e. missionaries)?

The scholarly consensus is much stronger on the first question than on the second. This is probably a woman. I don't know all the recent literature on the second question, but I think scholars are more often leaning toward a positive answer to that question. But it's clearly a controversy still. I don't think the third question is settled at all, and I think it's far more like a small-a apostle on that score. But what's important here is that all three questions need to be answered in exactly the right way for your conclusion to follow, and not one of them has an absolute consensus. I generally favor translating according to ambiguities if possible (it isn't always), and thus a translation that leaves open all the possibilities would be ideal on any of these questions with enough scholarly disagreement.

At Sat Sep 09, 07:20:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

From what I understand, Junia was definitely a woman as there was no such name as Junias (which would be the masculine form) in the ancient world. The name was changed by those uncomfortable with the concept of a woman apostle, but Jeremy, you're right that she could still have been a "small-a" apostle. However, if she were more than that it wouldn't bother this complementarian since there's biblical precedent for women prophets (both testaments) and judges (OT).

Unfortunately, there's just not enough information to go on, and unless some missing work detailing her life were to appear, it will be impossible to ever draw firm conclusions.

At Sat Sep 09, 07:46:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I don't actually believe that there is only one possible way to translate the passages regarding Phoebe and Junia. However, I believe that a 'concordant' and woodenly literal translation would translate διακονος as minister, since that is how the word is translated for Paul and αποστολος as apostle.

So, in some sense I was presenting a very literal approach, but in reality, yes, they are open to discussion. I was trying to say that an exremely literal approach serves woman well. Probably Junia was in a sense a missionary. I have no trouble with that. Women missionaries should be given equal honour to men in their home counries, and in my experience they are not.

At Sat Sep 09, 08:09:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you Anon,

I do not know that women, as women, want anything in particular, but as human beings they want, my good men, exactly what you want yourselves: interesting occupation, reasonable freedom for their pleasures, and a sufficient emotional outlet.

The disturbing part of my interview with Dr. Packer is that off-tape he looked directly at me and said, "Women are fulfilled in difference." He had acknowledged in conversation that I had a classical education, something that some of his fellow translators had not had, that I was an evangelical Christian with some knowledge of the history of translation. That I was able to engage in a discussion of propitiation on a level with himself. Actually I gave up on that because he wasn't sure how the word had come into the English language. It was frustrating really.

But then he said that I must be 'fulfilled in difference'. He has written that women exist to 'nurture their fellows', and they live to 'receive from' and 'respond to' 'worthy men'.

I should be able to ignore this, to walk away, but by chance I attend the same church as Dr. Packer, and the pastor (not Packer) must decide each and every Sunday when he stands in the pulpit whether women are human beings with the same desires and ambition for fulfillment that men have, or if they are 'different', and therefore fulfilled in 'joyful submission' as Packer believes. Lately he has been favouring the latter.

At Sat Sep 09, 08:40:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am trying to remember Dr. Packer's exact words which I did not write down or record. The import of what he said was that he did not like the term role and how it was used by CBMW. Rather than saying 'role', one should say that women have a 'different fulfillment' than men. Of course, I think he was trying to say that submission is okay for women, as the Danvers Statement claims, for the very reason that this fulfills them. But maybe he meant that 'nurturing' fulfills women.

At Sat Sep 09, 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, if your pastor is preaching that women are not human beings, he is teaching false doctrine and you should leave his church.

At Sat Sep 09, 12:00:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


What I meant was that he is teaching 'joyful submission' which to my mind amounts to the same thing.

At Sat Sep 09, 02:29:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Is he teaching 'joyful submission' of men as well as women to one another, as in Ephesians 5:21? I don't expect you to answer this, just consider it.

At Sat Sep 09, 07:35:00 PM, Blogger bulbul said...

A minister in contemporary English is something like what the NT would call an elder, except that ministers aren't usually seen as team members but as running the show.
Does it really? I'm wondering which 'English' do you have in mind and who would be the target audience for your translation. It seems likely that there are more than few English speaking churches/congregations/denominations where the word 'minister' does not carry the meaning you have given.

there are two issues you're touching upon:

1. The original gender neutrality of Greek and an appropriate translation. I will not waste any characters on this, since you are absolutely right. In addition, αδελφοι and its English equivalent "my friends" is a perfect example of what a translation should be: same thought expressed in the words and phrases normally used by the target audience.

2. The fact that the English language has undergone substantial changes in the last 50 years. In 1950s, it was normal to speak of, say, 'sons of England' and 'rights of men', but it isn't now. There are people who resist them, but these changes are as real as the thou > you shift.

In my experience, most criticism towards gender neutrality in translation comes from those who do not like the way English has evolved or those with very little understanding of the linguistic and translation issues involved. In the light of that, I see Gummby's question and remarks on "poor scholarship" as a miserable attempt to shift attention at best, a personal attack at worst.

At Sat Sep 09, 08:03:00 PM, Blogger Ian Myles Slater said...

Suzanne, I am only a little surprised that Dr. Packer hadn't considered it important to know the history of a word *in English.*

Classicists without a solid grounding in the history of English in general, or even the awareness that it required any special study, apparently used to be more common; a matter of education, rather than personal opinion.

The third edition of Wheelock's "Latin: An Introductory Course..." served me well when I took a "refresher" course as a graduate student, but I had to struggle not to laugh out loud at his admonitions about "proper" English -- for example, how "lazy" we all were not to pronounce all double consonsants, while giving examples where they are orthographic peculiarities (mostly governing a preceding vowel). These have, I think, been cleared out of its revisions, as "Wheelock's Latin," but it looked as if they had lasted from the 1940s to the 1960s without provoking a critical mass of complaints from college-level classics instructors. (Some of my fellow English majors shared my amusement, to the puzzlement of other students.)

As it happens, "Man" has a long history of being slightly ambiguous in English.

Back in the tenth century, when the language was still fully gendered, Abbot Aelfric "the Grammarian" taught that the corrrect gloss for HOMO was "MANN, aegther ge wer ge wif." Now, "wer" sort of survives in the word "werewolf," but back then it had pretty much the same implications as its Latin cognate, vir -- adult male. Wif, in the sense of "adult female human being," survives in compounds like "fish-wife," but has by itself changed places semantically with the compound wif-mann, which, post-Norman Conquest, came to be written vvoman, instead of the confusing vvivman. (The result of the loss of the letter wynn for W, and the substitution of u/v for f). For, it seems, although "mann" was sometimes an "indefinite pronoun," rather than a noun, and "ane mann" is best translated "someone," and not "a man," it could assume a more specific meaning by contrast. Hence Aelfric's considered care in describing the correct use to young monks -- a feminist agenda seems highly unlikely!

The same was true in the Middle English period; in 1922, Tolkien, not exactly a burning radical feminist at any point, carefully noted noted in a glossary for students that in the fourteenth century "man" often means "person."

And so down until relatively recent times, with a socially, rather than linguistically, determined assumption in favor the male usually at work, as English had shed most traces of grammatical gender.

I wonder if a careful investigation would show that the vestigial "common" meaning was eroded most by anti-feminist insistence on exclusive readings ("it says 'man wanted,' so go away").

(By the way, Wheelock seems to have been blissfully unaware of his ecclesiastical predecessor, and asserted that it was obviously impossible to discuss grammar properly without borrowing from Latin. Aelfric did nicely with invented compounds of native elements, producing a rather modern-German effect.)

At Sun Sep 10, 07:46:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

There is a wonderful post here called Real Wers Don't Eat Quiche!


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