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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Junia: a parallel? 1 Corinthians 6:4

I have found in 1 Corinthians 6:4 a possible parallel to the wording in Romans 16:7 about Junia the probable apostle. And here also the meaning is debated. Here is the second half of the verse in Greek and with my literal translation:

τοὺς ἐξουθενημένους ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ, τούτους καθίζετε;

(as for) the ones who are despised in/among the church, do you seat (as judges) these?

Note that the question mark has been added by the editors of the Greek text (UBS 4th edition). There is nothing in the Greek to indicate clearly whether this is a question, a statement, or a command. So this is one of the two main issues in this verse. The other is, are the despised people here members of the church, or are they people whom the church despises? It is on this second point that we see the parallel with Romans 16:7, for in both places we have an evaluative comment about people followed with ἐν (en) plus the dative.

Gordon Fee, in his New International commentary on 1 Corinthians, discusses and rejects the NIV rendering of this half verse,

appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!

(The NIV marginal reading has the same wording rephrased as a question.) Fee notes (my emphasis) that:

In making the clause and ironic imperative, the NIV follows a long interpretive tradition. In this case the verb must take the meaning of "appoint judges" and the object must refer to insiders, "those of little account" within the church itself. However, this interpretation faces the nearly insuperable difficulties of having an imperative appear as the final word in a sentence, especially in an instance where irony is the intent, and Paul's use of such pejorative language - even in irony - to speak of fellow believers (see below).

It is interesting that TNIV has changed this verse significantly, and not just to remove the unjustified gender bias of "men":

do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?

Thus TNIV (not surprisingly, since Fee is a member of the Committee on Bible Translation) seems to follow Fee's second and favoured option (my emphasis):

The alternative, also adopted by a long line of scholars and translations, is to see the sentence as a question and the object as outsiders, "those who have no standing at all in the church."

Fee quotes with approval the NEB rendering:

how can you entrust jurisdiction to outsiders, men who count for nothing in our community?

A little later he continues:

The more difficult item is the object, "those held in disdain"; but this is true for either interpretation. In fact, as noted before, it is difficult to imagine Paul, even in irony, so referring to fellow believers - especially in light of 12:21-25, where he attempts to disabuse the Corinthians of viewing the body of Christ in such a way. Furthermore, the softening to "even men of little account" simply has no lexical basis.34 In the view adopted here, Paul would not mean that Christians despise the pagan judges - that, too, is a totally un-Pauline view - but that they are those people whose values and judgments the church has rejected by its adoption of totally different standards.

The problem with Fee's preference as expressed in TNIV is that it requires that ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ is read effectively as "by the church", specifying the subject of "despise". But if this verse is a true parallel (an antithetical parallel, in fact) with Romans 16:7 this interpretation is rule out. For we are forced to understand τοὺς ἐξουθενημένους, the ones who are despised, as ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ in the sense "in or among the church", and so members of it. For, if the arguments we have looked at concerning Junia are valid, the grammar, as well as consistency within Paul's theology, demands that "despised" cannot be the attitude held by or among church members, but rather the attitude held towards these members.

Given the situation in Corinth, I would be reluctant to rule out completely the NIV interpretation that this refers to church members who are despised by other church members. After all, Paul does continue "I say this to shame you" (6:5, NIV and TNIV), so he is not necessarily agreeing with their assessment. But I do see the force of Fee's objection to this understanding.

So I find myself obliged to accept, more or less, the explanation suggested in Fee's footnote 34:

One solution for this point of view is to see the word as designating believers from the pagan point of view, as in 1:28. But in such a case it would still divide the house, as it were, and the irony would be completely lost.

Well, it seems to me that ἐν (en) "divides the house" only to the extent that there is a necessary division between those chosen as judges and others. But Paul does not specify the subject of "despise"; it certainly includes outsiders but may also include the church members whom Paul so roundly condemns, even in this very chapter.

As for "the irony would be completely lost", there is no good reason to assume that there is irony in this verse, although there is condemnation. It could be a non-ironic statement or command. But it makes sense as a statement only if the despised ones are outsiders, the judges of verse 1. And Fee claims that "having an imperative appear as the final word in a sentence" is a nearly insuperable difficulty; can anyone confirm that? But if this is a rhetorical question, there must be some irony here.

So I find myself, despite Fee's comments, drawn back to something rather like the original NIV version, but without its gender bias and also without the irony signalled by the exclamation mark, so something like:

appoint as judges the "despised people" in the church.
Or maybe the rather odd Greek grammatical structure can be interpreted in some kind of conditional sense, so:
if any in the church are despised people, appoint them as judges.
I would be very interested in any comments on this verse, as I need guidance on how to translate it.


At Tue Nov 14, 09:31:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

Go Peter!

That is so cool! Showing how this obscure but solid point of grammar rests at the fulcrum of such a pivotal point is amazing. Your translation sits wonderfully well with my understanding of the rest of 1 Cor., but I have no wisdom to add on the subject.

Thank you.

At Tue Nov 14, 05:53:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

I can't find anything in Smyth about word order with imperatives, so I'm not sure what that is about. I do think it is somewhat unusual to have an imperative come after its object, but word order is, of course, very fluid. It seems to me that, just as you are saying, since "among you the world will be judged" (v. 2 - now there's an interesting use of en with a plural dative), "certainly if you have ordinary lawsuits, you should set up the despised people within the Church [as judges, rather than Pagans]." I think there's a bit of rhetorical flair with the word despised, i.e., even the most despised people in the Church will be better than the Pagans.

Where did you get "if any in the church are despised people?" And what do we do with the strange pronoun? We could change the punctuation (through accident more than design, I don't have a copy of the UBS, I only have the Majority Text and the Patriarchal Text, and they have the same punctuation in this verse, except that the Majority Text has a comma after ekklesia), and get "If [your] lawsuits [are] ordinary, you have despised people in the Church - appoint them [as judges]." This takes care of the spare pronoun, but it's not clear what the protasis means, and echete shouldn't be in the subjunctive if it's in the apodasis. Hmm...

At Tue Nov 14, 09:07:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

The meaning of εξουθενεω is actually 'account as nothing". So keep with that and don't switch to 'despise'. That will line up with Fee.

These are men who do not have standing in the church. It doesn't mean they were despised by the church, but that they did not have any account in the church. That means they are outside of the church. However, it in no way contradicts my treatment of Romans 16:7.

It is the negative within the word. The word is from εξ ουθεν - nothing. They did NOT have recognition AMONG the church members.

The ESV is the most literal translation in this case, also the NEB.

So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church?

how can you entrust jurisdiction to outsiders, men who count for nothing in our community?

Fee wants it to be stronger than just 'of no account' so he intensifies it and says 'of no account at all'. In the translation it switches to 'scorned' but the exegesis is done first with the Greek word along with its negative force εξουθενημένους εν τη εκκλεσια. Then the translation is done afterward.

At Wed Nov 15, 03:38:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I recognise the etymology of ἐξουθενέω, but its meaning is not governed by its etymology. Fee wrote, as I quoted before, "the softening to "even men of little account" simply has no lexical basis." Is he wrong here (except of course about "men")? The word is used 11 times in the New Testament: Luke 18:9; 23:11; Acts 4:11; Romans 14:3,10; 1 Corinthians 1:28; 6:4; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 10:10; Galatians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:20. In all of these contexts it seems very negative, in the semantic domain of "scorn" and "contempt"; in at least several of these places it must mean more than just "of no account" in the sense of "not special". Louw and Nida define as "to despise someone or something on the basis that it is worthless or of no value - to despise"; Barclay Newman glosses as "despise, treat with contempt; look down on, count as nothing; reject". Are all these scholars wrong about this word? LSJ is surprisingly unhelpful; it treats ἐξουθενέω as a synonym of ἐξουδενόω, and simply glosses the latter as "set at naught".

But 1 Corinthians 6:4 is the only place where ἐξουθενέω is used with ἐν. And I fail to see why the grammatical position is different from Romans 16:7. After all, ἐν only rarely indicates an agent, and much more commonly, especially with a plural, means "among". If the meaning was "the people whom the church despise", why didn't Paul use ὑπό? I guess 6:2 is an example of ἐν with a plural agent, as Kenny points out. But 6:5 is an example of ἐν meaning "among", and this is closer, both in the text and semantically, to 6:4; indeed on my understanding this part of 6:5 is more or less synonymous to the part of 6:4 I am considering.

As for the rest of Kenny's comments:

Kenny, how can you possibly study the Greek NT seriously without a copy of the text which is not corrupted by mediaeval additions? Even if you prefer the Majority Text for theological reasons, you still need some version of the scholarly text for comparison. But there are no textual issues here, although there are ones of punctuation, which is editorial.

I assumed, with the Nestle-Aland text and most translations, that the division between condition and consequence comes after ἔχητε. I see that you could read ἐὰν ἔχητε τοὺς ἐξουθενημένους ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ together without a comma, but then what do you do with βιωτικὰ μὲν οὖν κριτήρια, which is left as a hanging noun clause with nothing to be in apposition to? Of course on my analysis τοὺς ἐξουθενημένους ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ is left to some extent hanging, but it is in apposition to τούτους and so meaningful. My suggested interpretation is effectively to infer here ὄντες and so read "there being despised ones in the church, seat them", hence, giving conditional force to the implied participle (and not transferring ἐὰν here), my tentative "if any in the church are despised people, appoint them as judges". But I am open to other grammatical explanations of this strange construction. Suzanne, what do you make of this?

At Wed Nov 15, 04:27:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


IMO the meaning is 'of no account' but much stronger. The lexicons aren't wrong but one has to preserve the negative within the word and then make it stronger. I guess I can't explain it but I still think the meaning is 'of absolutely no account at all' in the church. So you cannot say that they were 'in the church and despised in it.' Rather, they were entirely and absolutely NOT in the church.

They were absolutely and utterly not recognised as members of the church or of consequence in the church. That is the traditional meaning and I think Fee was right to clear up what the NIV had. So now the TNIV, ESV and NEB more or less line up in meaning although expressed differently and with varying strength but the same basic intent, no? Or have I missed something?

I admit the LSJ doesn't help much but it gives the etymology at least which I think is worth something.

if any in the church are despised people, appoint them as judges No, I don't see that.

I don't think I would break with the major tradition here. Boring, I know, but I can't help it. I refuse to accept that the NEB got it wrong.

At Wed Nov 15, 05:45:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Thank you, Suzanne. You are up late, or was it early?

Well, at least this means I don't have to change the current draft translation, which is literally "do you choose as judge(s) those who you do not count in the community of believers?", "count" here implying something like "respect" so the point is not that these people are reckoned to be outside the church.

At Wed Nov 15, 09:16:00 PM, Blogger Kenny said...

Peter, as to my texts, the Majority Text provides a very detailed apparatus for textual discrepancies, including enough information to determine precisely what the text of UBS says, but of course does not preserve UBS's punctuation, hence my question. The implication that the Majority Text is not a "scholarly edition" is highly unfair, as both Hodges and Farstad have long publication histories in respectable peer-reviewed journals, and hence certainly count as 'scholars.' The TR is not a "scholarly edition," but it is not the same as the Majority Text. Whether the Patriarchal text is a "scholarly edition" is questionable - it was the result of extensive scholarship, but pursued under strong theological assumptions more than 100 years ago (the Majority Text claims, rightly or wrongly, to be the result of theories in textual criticism, and not of particular theological assumptions). As to a preference for one text over the other, I used to prefer the Majority Text (which is why I have it), but am now unsure. I have the Patriarchal text because I was in Greece and it was very affordable, so that I was able to get a good pocket-sized edition, as well as a full Bible including the LXX (every edition of the LXX I've found for sale in the US or online has been very expensive). The contents of my bookshelf are not, however, terribly relevant at present.

I agree that the punctuation is probably better the way the printed texts have it; I was just trying to make sense of your translation. It works if you are supplying an onta, though I'm skeptical about this being a second conditional. I think the first of your two proposed translations is better.

At Thu Nov 16, 03:03:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Kenny, I did not say or intend to imply that any edition of the Majority Text is not a scholarly work. When I referred to "the scholarly text" I meant the text which is accepted (with some minor variations) by the vast majority of the scholarly world today. I accept that a small number of scholars make certain claims about the Majority Text; quite frankly, if those claims are that the Majority Text represents the authors' original text (rather than theologically motivated claims that changes to the text should be accepted as divine providence or because they have been accepted by the church), I find such claims totally incredible. But this is not the place to get into an argument about this.


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