Translating biblical quotes
And Jesus began to speak, saying,English Bible translators do not usually have much difficulty indicating where such ordinary quotations begin and end. There are a few passages where the boundaries of quotations are debated, such as in John 3, where it is not clear where Jesus' words to Nicodemus end and John's comments following them begin. But even there, we do clearly know, at least, where Jesus' comments begin.
And Jesus answered them saying,
But there are a few passages where many translators have not been aware that they are translating a quote. And in such passages it can make a great deal of difference whether or not a translation makes clear that part of the original message was a quotation.
I am thinking of two such passages in 1 Corinthians. First, let us remind ourselves that the book of 1 Corinthians is a response to a letter which the Corinthians had sent to Paul, asking him a number of questions. We do not have any copies of their original letter, but we do have several indications throughout the book that Paul is responding to their letter (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:1). Paul typically begins a section where he is responding to the letter from the Corinthians with the words "Now concerning ..." (1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12, 9)
1 Cor. 7:1 is the first passage where there is an important difference in meaning whether Paul is quoting the Corinthians or speaking for himself. Traditionally, English versions have not clearly indicated that Paul is doing anything in 7:1 other than speaking for himself. It might be possible to understand from the traditional wordings and punctuation that Paul was quoting the Corinthians, but many people would not get that understanding from these translations:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (KJV)A number of more recent translations, however, clearly indicate that Paul is quoting the Corinthians, which is, in my opinion, correct:
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (ASV)
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. (RSV)
Now, to deal with the matters you wrote about.
A man does well not to marry. (TEV/GNT)
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. (NIV; with a footnote indicating that the second sentence may be a quote)
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (NRSV)
Now I will answer the questions that you asked in your letter. You asked, “Is it best for people not to marry?” (CEV)
Now with regard to the issues you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (NET)This is a case where English Bible translation is catching up with biblical scholarship, and this makes for more accurate translation. Paul was not telling the Corinthians that a man should be celibate. Instead, Paul was addressing that question from the Corinthians.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." (ESV)
About the things you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman." (HCSB)
Now for the matters you wrote about: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." (TNIV)
The second passage in Corinthians where most Bible translators have yet to catch up with biblical scholarship about a quotation is 1 Cor. 14:33-35. Most English versions assume that these two verses are instructions from Paul, quoting from "the law", for example:
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)Readers who have no background knowledge other than the translation they are using will assume that Paul is referring to something from "the law" in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), or, more specifically, the Mosaic Law. But it is impossible to find any statement in the Hebrew Bible that "women are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission."
Exegetes have suggested several options to deal with this problem. Another problem, often discussed by exegetes, is that of an apparent contradiction since earlier in the book (e.g. 1 Cor. 12:7) Paul tells how women should prophecy:
but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.It sounds like a contradiction to give instructions for women to prophecy (presumably in a congregation) and then, later in the same book, tell women to be silent in a congregation.
What "law", then, is Paul referring to? No such law is found in the Hebrew Bible (or its Greek translation, the Septuagint). But, there was an oral law which contains some restrictions upon women speaking. Rabbis had developed this oral law as a commentary upon the written laws which are found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Jesus referred often to these oral laws when he taught. Later they were written down as the Talmud. Paul surely learned the oral law when he studied under Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).
UPDATE: Earlier versions of this post contained a number of quotes from the Talmud which I took from secondary sources. This section of my post generated many comments which debated the accuracy of the quotes themselves and the accuracy of references to their locations in the Talmud. I don't want disagreements about details of quotations from the Talmud to detract from the main point here, which is that there were statements in the oral law restricting the speech of women and Paul may have been referring to such restrictions in 1 Cor. 14:34. I have therefore deleted the questioned section from my post and have substituted the following paragraph which I think more of us can agree upon:
The oral law asks men to avoid unnecessary talk with women (Mishnah Avot 1:5). It forbids women from singing in the presence of men, or making a blessing over the Torah in the presence of men.Obviously, Jesus did not agree with any oral laws that he felt improperly restricted women. He spoke to women in public as well as in private. He spoke to Mary and her sister Martha. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He never gave credence to any of the discriminatory laws against women in the oral law.
I suggest that it is the oral law from which Paul is quoting or paraphrasing in 1 Cor. 14:34. Paul does not agree with that part of the oral law he cited, nor should we.
I know of only two English translations which reflect biblical scholarship which has connected 1 Cor. 14 to the oral law. It is the New Testament in Modern English (Centenary Translation), by Helen Montgomery, first published in 1924, and most recently re-published by Broadman & Holman in 1988, and even more recently cited by Cheryl Schatz in her well presented DVD series. (Montgomery's translation is available from amazon.com.) Montgomery reflected good biblical scholarship when she makes it clear that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is a quote:
"In your congregation" [you write], "as in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. On the contrary let them be subordinate, as also says the law.* And if they want to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church."Montgomery included this footnote to the word "law" in the preceding translation wording:
*This can only refer to the oral law of the Jews, as no such prohibition is found in the Law. Paul is probably quoting a sentence from the Judaizers.The second translation which reflects the connection to the oral law is The Source, by Ann Nyland, a Greek classicist. She translates 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as:
Paul now quotes from the letter which the Corinthian assembly sent to him.Paul next chastises the Corinthians, apparently for following the oral law silencing women:
"The women must be silent in the assemblies: for they are not allowed to speak, but to be supportive, just as indeed the law states. And if they want to learn something, they are to ask their own husbands at home; for it is a disgrace for women to speak in assembly."
36. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)Dr. Nyland translates Paul's disagreement even more forcefully:
37. Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.
38. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. (NRSV)
Utter rubbish! Did the Word of God come originally from you? Utter rubbish! Were you the only ones that it reached! If anyone thinks they are a prophet or spiritual, they are to realize tht what I'm writing to you is the Lord's commandment! But if anyone is mistaken about this, then they are certainly mistaken!As did Montgomery, Dr. Nyland footnotes information about the quotation in verses 34-35:
These words are a quotation from the letter sent to Paul by the church in
Corinth. He quotes from this letter in 7:1, refers to it in 7:25, 36, 39; 8:1;
9:3. The language in the quotation resembles known Jewish oral law, cf. S. Aalen, “A Rabbinic Formula in 1 Cor. 14,34”, in F. Cross (ed.) Studia Evangelica, II-III. Papers, Berlin, 1964, pp. 513-25; Holmes, op.cit., p. 235.
Sometimes it requires careful research to discover background information needed for making more accurate Bible translations. But better Bibles reflect such accuracy, as we have seen from translations of two quoted passages, above, in 1 Corinthians. And you can quote me on that!