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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Paradigms and translation

On John's blog recently, Tom commented,
    There is a lot more to being a good biblical scholar than knowing a few (or even all) biblical languages. No one knew Hebrew, Aramaic, and the Bible better than the Pharisees and yet Jesus roundly condemned them for not being able to understand the Bible. I would therefore say that one's paradigm for understanding the Bible is more important than one's knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, etc.
It seems that this is a common opinion and one that certain authors hold to. This is why we are having some trouble with Gen. 5:2. For example, since Adam can be translated as either "Adam", or "human", or "humankind" etc. or "a man" one must have some reason to choose one over the other. Most scholars would say that they would use the context found within the text. However, others suggest that a certain interpretive paradigm controls this decision.

For example, in this address, Grudem explicitly says that God did not name the human race after the Hebrew word for "human" but God named the human race after "man". Grudem says,
    God names them Man - the Hebrew word there is Adam. God did not name the human race the Hebrew equivalent of "person" or "humankind" - God bestowed on the human race the name "Man".
Now, as far as I know adam is the Hebrew word for "the human race". Correct me if I am wrong. The only other word I can think of, enosh, could be translated by θανατος in Greek, or "mortal' in English. It is also a name for the human race, but it is not the one that we normally translate as "human" - I suppose one could. But adam means human.

Second, in Gen.5:2 adam was often transliterated and stayed Adam, but in several versions it was translated as "human". These are the Berkeley Version, 1945, the Good News Bible, 1966, and Moffat's Bible, 1926. The discussion of Gen. 5:2 should be corrected in Grudem's book where he says that it is translated as "Man" in every Bible known to him. In all fairness, I do think that the least Dr. Grudem could do is make a short list of those Bible versions which are known to him. That would save me a lot of time.

The question is really, why have these errors been made. I suggest it is because a paradigm is brought to the Bible, rather than a paradigm being taken from the Bible. The tail is wagging the dog.

The following are 7 reasons Grudem believes male leadership is found in the creation order. There were three more, which I don't mention but they come from the NT and I don't want to use NT material to influence a translation paradigm for the Hebrew scriptures. (my comments added)

1. Adam is created first, so he is our leader. (He is?)

2. "In Adam we all die" means that Adam is our leader. (It does?)

3. Adam names woman and naming always expresses authority. (And Hagar names God.)

4. God names the human race "Man". (Or God calls Adam the "human". Either way.)

5. Adam has primary accountability for the sin. (And Saphira is accountable for her own sin.)

6. Woman is helper. She has a "helping role". (God also has a "helping role".)

7. The curse is a distortion of roles which are already established and known to be good and proper. The curse on the woman is that she has a "hostile desire to resist the fair and right leadership role of her husband."
(As far as I know, the curse introduced an altogether new dynamic. Eve labours to bear children and Adam labours the grow food. No children and no farming in the garden)

In every case above, the idea of male leadership is read back into the narrative. I have not yet understood how Adam has authority over the human race, or why the human race is called "Man", rather than the first man being called the "Human". And how does helping someone make them the leader? More likely if you help, you would say, "Here let me show you, now it's your turn, and I'll help." You lead and then you graciously stand back.

Leadership is a blessing but believing that you have authority over someone else because of your biology is not too brilliant, no matter how you cut it. Dr. Grudem even goes so far as to say that there should be "faint echoes" of this male/female difference with respect to leadership in all our male/female relations. That is, male leadership should enter into all male/female encounters.

It appears that the paradigm of male leadership is established outside the creation narrative and then the translator has brought the paradigm to the Hebrew and declared that adam means "Man" in Gen. 5:2. But a translator benefits greatly from learning the language first. A translator also benefits greatly from knowing how previous translators have translated a verse, apparently not done, in this case.

With reference to the male leadership paradigm, David writes,
    The only connection between naming and "dominion" in Genesis 2 is that Adam's naming of the creatures is one of a number of ways that God grooms Adam for a position of authority and responsibility over creation. If complementarians and egalitarians are to debate the significance of this connection for questions of gender, they must focus on whether it is significant that Adam is given the opportunity to name the creatures before Eve is created. Does this fact imply that God has passed authority over creation to Adam as male or to Adam as human (and therefore also to Eve)? If Adam is given such authority before Eve is "taken out of" him, does that mean that she is excluded from that authority or that she participates in it?
I don't agree with David's suggestion that women might be excluded from stewardship over creation, if that is what he is suggesting. However, I am very glad that we can share a common Bible translation.

To my understanding, male leadership is the paradigm which certain people use to interpret the creation narrative, thus obscuring the fact that Adam named the creatures to establish that they were not "of his flesh', and he ruled over them; but when he met Eve he recognized her as "of his flesh" and she was an ally or companion.

However, in our fallen humanity women want to control men, and men are harsh to women. We all know this, it is sorrow configured in so many different ways that every narrative in the Bible has a different plot, it is not one simple story, there is no one way that this is acted out. It is also brother against brother, and son against father, and the female parallels to these stories. Fortunately there are gentler stories too that recount heroism and fidelity. In God's great goodness, we do experience hesed from others in our life. Those who experience hesed in marriage are doubly blessed.

Let us reject the paradigms and listen to the narratives of the Bible, and let them bless us wherever we are in our journey. Thank you, David, for ending your post with this,
    Whatever our answers to those questions, we need to understand that all such questions are peripheral to the main points of the creation narrative, which are that God is the author of creation, that humanity has been called to reflect God's image by reigning over and caring for creation, and that we can only accomplish that creation mandate as male and female. The genius of the naming episode in Genesis 2 is that it serves to establish and reinforce all three of those points.
Unbuild the paradigm of biological authority and immerse yourself in the Biblical languages. It is an unmixed pleasure.

I do want to say that I feel honoured to participate in a blog where we do not all hold identical positions. It is stimulating and challenging. I have learned a lot about the creation narrative and yet I know it is only a little piece of what there is.


At Thu Aug 30, 11:06:00 PM, Blogger David Lang said...


Rest assured that I would never suggest that women should be "excluded from stewardship over creation."

In the post you quoted I was merely trying to focus the discussion of any perceived connection between naming and authority. I do not think the act of naming demonstrates authority in itself. However, the context of the naming episode in Genesis 2 does touch on the theme of humanity's authority over creation.

If complementarians are to demonstrate any connection between the naming episode and male authority, they must place great emphasis on the fact that this episode took place before Eve was created. The questions I asked were merely meant to show the different ways that fact might be interpreted by each camp.

Now that I've tried to clear up any potential misunderstanding of what I wrote, let me ask you to do the same. You wrote:

As far as I know, the curse introduced an altogether new dynamic. Eve labours to bear children and Adam labours the grow food. No children and no farming in the garden

I doubt you meant it this way, but it sounds as if you're saying that childbirth itself is a result of the curse! As I understand it, the "be fruitful and multiply" mandate was given pre-Fall. The fact that no children were born prior to the Fall shows me how quickly Adam and Eve blew it; not that childlessness was somehow Edenic.

The essence of the curse was that God would mercifully allow humanity to fulfill its mandate to subdue the earth and fill it, but that work and childbirth would now be associated with painful labor.

But all that is probably a subject for another post. ;-)

At Thu Aug 30, 11:55:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks David,

I was intentionally conditional about this suggestion. Since it seems rather remote, I assume you are not actually putting forward any support for complementarianism.

Regarding childbirth, I consider Gen. 1 and 2 to be two parallel narratives, not sequential ones. I believe that it is possible to interpret Genesis saying that children are a necessity brought about by death. Otherwise there would be an overpopulation problem pretty soon.

Children are a blessing but bearing children is a consequence of the fall. Since I don't consider the creation account to be literal, I am with Dr. Waltke on this, I do not worry about the fact that animals had offspring and died before people had children and grew old and died.

So, as far as I can see, the fall brought about both childbirth and cultivation of the ground. I could be wrong but this is just an idea.

In any case, it doesn't change the curses. They have been so interpreted and reinterpreted that one more change won't matter any.

The woman's curse, teshukah, has been interpreted as "lust after", "desire" "long for" "be drawn to" "resist" "want to control" "turn toward" "turn away" etc. And each of these interpretations has been accompanied by strict injunctions to women about their nature, how it is, how it should be and how it should not be. We have lived without understanding this curse for the last 2 millenia, I doubt it will sway us one way or the other on this debate.

Actually I recommend Martin Shields paper. He goes through all this in detail. It is very good.

At Fri Aug 31, 02:04:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Phew. I didn't know what David you were talking about or what translation. It's that Lang guy! :)

I keep trying to figure out how to jump into this topic but I can never get my head around the opposing points of view. Or see a good way to say anything constructive without getting into a long tired debate.

I'm sure there are people like Grudem out there but I seldom encounter them so it's kind of like the "never wrestle with a pig" advice: You just get dirty and the pig enjoys it.

I don't understand the original author of Genesis as being particularly interested or careful about delineating gender roles. A lot of it is "origin story" telling us where we came from, how animals got their names, why there are many languages on the earth, etc. I don't wish to imply that what is depicted is not factual, but it is stylized language.

I'm resistant to identify myself as an "e" or a "c" since the two terms carry so much baggage that I'm not in control of.

You've inspired me and so I'm going to sign off here and continue composing in Live Writer for a post on my own blog!

David (the WinXP version)

At Fri Aug 31, 09:49:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Ling and Lang, the Siamese twins! What can I do with that.


You don't meet these guys and if you did you might no notice. But I do meet these guys. Most of my pastors over the years have been "these guys".

I am tired of hearing that they have authority to interpret God's word and I don't. You should hear all the praises sumped on the kephale article. I was actually expecting something noteworthy. Why, I have no idea, I am naive.

They also want women to hang out and "help" and "support" their husbands all day.

Be a home secretary. Answer the phone, answer mail, act as social convener. etc.

They have the right to a 'calling" or a "career" themselves but women don't have these rights.

Rebecca writes in her review of Ev. Fem. and Bib. Truth,

If you, like me, are not a scholar, you'll appreciate that while Wayne Grudem is a scholar--and this is a very scholarly piece--it is still quite readable and understandable for the nonscholar.

A serious critique of Grudem's work is badly needed. I consider Rebecca to be a smart woman, but she is not able to deconstruct Grudem's book. She is actually influenced by it.

This doesn't mean I am simply what Grudem calls an "instinctive complementatian". In fact, my instinctive (or default) position would probably have been more toward egalitarianism. However, every argument I heard egalitarians make sounded "grasping" and flimsy, so I began to view the whole viewpoint with suspicion.

She ought to go with her instincts! She knows the Bible, she is a mature and experienced woman. If God puts egalitarianism in her heart, then she should not let anything Grudem says change that.

I cannot discern from listening to or reading Grudem that his arguments are backed up by a knowledge of the Biblical languages. Therefore, the word scholarly should not be used in conjunction with his books.

Imagine what it means to a woman whose whole life is dominated by these teachings. No profession if your husband doesn't want you to have one, even if you do. No ability to make decisions around the house unless your husband graciously "grants you" these rights.

This is not about women having to have a career. This is about women not being able to choose to do so, it they are so inspired. Unless, of course, the husband sees that it is a "help" to himself.

Look at this, from a woman's blog,

What does being a helpmate look like in your marriage?

Responding to the priorities he has established in the realms of caring for the home, such as cooking, cleaning, food shopping, errands, and any other tasks he delegates to me.

Regularly sharing my “to do” list with him and asking him if anything should be removed or added, which items are his priorities for me to do, etc. Then, I should do whatever I can to serve him on a daily basis, even if it means that items I’d rather get done don’t get done.
(5) Providing companionship in ways that are meaningful to him. In our marriage this includes things like getting up early to have breakfast with him, not only so I can prepare it for him but also because he appreciates spending a little time with me in the morning. It also includes joyfully greeting him when he comes home at the end of the day, relaxing with him when he desires to relax together (even if my ‘to do’ list beckons), giving him my attention when he wants to talk (even if I am tempted to be distracted by something else).

Don't forget, that woman has children, so her to do list might actually be a priority.

Can you see a woman not being able to tell her husband to put a lifejacket on a child because she would be interrupting an important conversation he was having. I was in that position once.

This teaching ought to be outlawed. it is so dangerous.

At Fri Aug 31, 11:44:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Ling and Lang, we should be superheroes!

S., thanks for the update on the fish by the way.

I am blessed in a lot of ways to live in a very different environment. Our mission is about as girl friendly as it gets. Our executive something or other is a woman (you can see I'm not big on administration!) and we have an ethos permeated with the value of every member no matter what their chromosones. So I've been taught by, worked with, administered by both sexes. Hilary is a stay-home 110% homeschool mommy and domestic engineer (with full-time maid, ah the joys of living overseas!) but there are other mom's that are in the office 8 to 5 and our organization supports both. When I met Hilary she was in my linguistics classes and was the best at phonetics (I'm hopeless). Down the road she'll get to contribute more in that area I'm sure.

And my church denomination is also very egalitarian in ordaining women, letting them teach, preach and increasingly lead churches. So, I've never had to put up with these kinds of attitudes.

Finally, all through junior high and high school I lived in a hen house with my sister and mother so I know the names of more nail polish colors than the average motor oil sniffer.

That's just a little of my "testimony" in this regard. I am a long way from walking a mile in your mocassins so I believe you completely when you say this kind of stuff is going on.

At Fri Aug 31, 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

This has nothing to do with whether a woman should stay home with the children or not. I have lots of friends who did that and half of them are not Christians.

My mom stayed home and I was brought up in a very female friendly atmosphere.

But if you read what was written above, the wife stays home, and the husband makes all the decisions. He decides how she is to run the house. This is about hierarchy, not complementary roles. My parents were in a traditional complementary relationship. She made decisions about certain things and he made decisions about other things. It just wasn't an issue.

I am not in any way accusing all people who self-identify as complementarian. It is the Comp authors themselves who set up little charts and tables, not me.

I am simply saying that these particular books teach a very damaging and non-scriptural paradigm about men and woman. There may be lots of people who are complementarian, many egalitarians have identified with that label, but without hierarchy.

At Fri Aug 31, 10:41:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

This has nothing to do with whether a woman should stay home with the children or not.

Why did you focus on that minor point of what I was saying?

My point about "staying at home" vs. "work" is that our mission org. is not about cookie-cutter people but encouraging a diversity of gifts which is how I wish "complimentarian" was defined.

the wife stays home, and the husband makes all the decisions.

Sounds like someone is fantasizing about their personal dystopia. The Bible can be used to advocate snake-handling and baptism of the dead as well but no one is particularly swayed by their arguments.

The issue at stake if I understand your post is hierarchy. Again, I don't see Genesis as prescriptive of anything but suggestive of a very ancient worldview regarding God, creation, animals, the sexes, etc. I've tried to do word studies on things like Adam "being a steward" over creation rather than "rule" but all it ends up proving is that my paradigm and the paradigm of the Genesis author are wildly divergent.

I've been grumbling about this with regard to origins as well. So much ink is spilled over what Genesis is "proving" about Creation vs. evolution, new earth vs. old earth, etc. but what we really need to figure out is: How should we relate to creation right now? How can we be stewards of what is all around us? Deciding on who did what and how ages ago based on an ancient text is tenuous. Even so I can see how your strategy of "fight fire with fire" is a good attempt to make their position wobble.

At Sat Sep 01, 12:29:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


It also includes joyfully greeting him when he comes home at the end of the day, relaxing with him when he desires to relax together (even if my ‘to do’ list beckons), giving him my attention when he wants to talk (even if I am tempted to be distracted by something else).

That post I quoted from is on a major blog advocating this life style. The woman stays home and meets the man's priorities all day long. Just read it! This is actively being taught. They are spreading the word.

I read some of these books and it breaks my heart. One woman says she went by a bridal shop and asked her 6 year old girl if the dresses weren't pretty. The girl says, "I don't want to get married if it means being talked to the way Daddy talks to you." These are not happy campers out there.

Another woman counsels young women about whether they should quit their jobs and stay home. She says that one young wife quit her job and her husband got a raise where his wages were doubled within the very same week. Can you imagine spreading that word. Someone's budget is going to fall apart.

It is a very dangerous teaching.

The problem with gifts is that some of these people want women to exclusively have the gift of hospitality. They don't get it. Women have a diversity of gifts. They aren't all the same.

The reason to take on creation is because the male leadership group feel that Gen 1-3 proves beyond the smallest doubt that male leadership was in the garden and a part of paradise.

It might even be in heaven, you have to ask who benefits from this. There is no doubt in Grudem's sermons that it is all about how the woman is made for the man.

Of course, I should just let it rest, but to see that some women don't know that it is pretty much all invented out of thin air is painful.

At Sat Sep 01, 07:46:00 AM, Blogger Brian F. said...

thanks for the post, for me Grudem's comments further agitate may problem(s) with him - he is just too dogmatic for my taste - plus I feel he has missed the point of the creation narrative by a long shot. It seems like he is reading into the text his own suppositions over and above letting the text speak for itself.

At Sat Sep 01, 09:55:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Thanks and congratulations on completing your M.Div.!


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