The heading in Eph.5
Butler Bass recounts her reaction to the difference in formatting between the NIV and the NRSV in Eph. 5.
- When reading Ephesians, my friends thought it would be funny to have me -- the only woman with a theological degree -- lead the study on chapter 5: "Wives, submit to your husbands." Preparing for that night, I looked up Ephesians 5:21-33, a text that had long riled me, in my new Bible. What I saw stunned me: The version in the NIV was different from the NRSV!
The editors of the NIV had separated Ephesians 5:21, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ," from the rest of the passage, disconnecting the call for mutual submission from the rest of the instructions. To further distance verses 21 and 22, the NIV inserted a heading, "Wives and Husbands," that breaks the flow of the text. Thus, the NIV makes it appear that the teaching begins with the line, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord."
The NRSV surprised me because no division existed. The text moves smoothly from verse 21 to 22, reframing wifely submission as part of a whole teaching on servanthood as discipleship.
- So, where then do we insert the paragraph break in this debated section of Eph. 5? I suggest, based on the Greek syntax which we have just examined, that there is no paragraph break between Eph. 5:15-33.
In defense of placing a break before verse 21 rather than after, I quote The Anchor Bible *,
- In Pauline teaching mutual subordination is neither self-contradictory nor a call to chaos, but a challenge to the conservative and patriarchal concepts of social order which have often been attributed to Paul or derived from his teaching. The unique message of Ephesians is silenced whenever the dominant position of vs. 21 over the Haustafeln and the peculiarly startling content of this verse are neglected. page 610
- How is marital love related to love of the neighbour? It is obvious that both are called for and held together (a) by the command of the same Lord, (b) by the employment of the same word "love"; and (c) by the specification "as yourself". page 718
Bibles today fall within one of two groups - those that place a heading before verse 21 and those that place the heading after verse 21. This is one of those many times when the difference between Bible versions cannot be measured on a spectrum of more to less literal. I am happy to blog about this because I often feel that discussing the degree to which a translation is, or is not, literal, can be a smoke screen for other issues.
With no further ado, here is how the more popular translations place the heading in Eph 5.
Heading before verse 21 - NRSV, NLT, TNIV, Message, CEV, GNB
Heading after verse 21 - NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NKJV, NET, UBS 1968
Frankly I am surprised at such a clear cut distinction between the two groups of translations in terms of how they treat gender issues. Each of these versions clearly influences the reader in favour of one interpretation or another, based on something that is not in the manuscripts. (I checked out P46 just to make sure of this. No paragraph breaks!)
There are a few questions which one can profitably ask about the translation of verses 21 and 22 in Eph. 5. First, is it legitimate for a literal translation to supply the verb in verse 22? Next, how do headings fit into a literal translation - aren't they interpretation? And doesn't this bring us to the understanding that every Bible translation is in some way shaped by the preconceptions of the translators, by the beliefs that the translators bring to the text, not the ones they gain from the text. How one interprets this passage can have a tremendous impact on one's life, and yet this may hang on a decision made by a team of translators.
One last note with regard to the King James Version - this is a situation where the lack of paragraphs and headings in the King James Version renders it a translation that offers less interpretation to the reader. It is simply more literal. The Geneva Bible, by contrast, marks the beginning of a new paragraph at verse 22 with a pilcrow, and the headings at the beginning of the chapter mark verse 22 as a new section.
Once again the value and durability of the King James version seems to me to be based not only on its literary excellence but also on its relative lack of an interpretive stance. It holds an unique place in Bible translation history and could still be the version most suited to studying the scripture as literature.
Thank you to Anonymous for suggesting I revisit this.
* Barth, Markus. The Anchor Bible: Ephesians 4 - 6. 1974. Doubleday. NY.
Update: There is an excellent follow-up post on εν εφέσω: Thoughts and Meditations which concludes with these thoughts.
- Simply put, Paul exhorts the husbands and wives of Ephesus to live humbly with equity in their culture, while continuing in the systems already set up. This is key to an accurate application for the twenty-first century. The question of application for Ephesians 5.21-33 for husbands and wives is not how to structure their relationship, but how to live in a Godly manner within their own culture, each submitting and loving the other.
Update #2 More comments and another good post by Mike here.