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Thursday, September 13, 2007

head and submission poll results - post #4

I will try to make this the last post in this series. It has been a difficult series for me to write. I admit that I have not enjoyed it. It has taken me out of my comfort zone and stretched me. That's good. I have tried to be honest with the biblical text. I don't expect everyone to agree with me on my analysis of the poll results, especially whether or not a particular statement in the poll is explicitly taught in the Bible.

As I have been posting this series, I have been discovering that there are differences of understanding (or opinion) about what it means for something to be "explicitly taught" in the Bible. I must admit that when I put up the poll I thought that this concept was fairly clear. It seemed clear to me! But this exercise has showed me that I was wrong, so I have learned something. And that is good also. What I intended by the wording "explicitly taught" was that either in the biblical languages texts or in any accurate translation, something is explicitly taught if a proposition (roughly, a proposition corresponds approximately to a clause or sometimes a sentence) in the text states something to its original addressees as a command or an example to follow.

For some, this begs the question of translation itself, since the meaning of the biblical text is not always clear. And since it is not clear, it is not clear how to translate it. And if something is not clear, it may not be clear whether or not it is explicitly taught. These are clearly difficulties. But I wasn't thinking about such difficulties when I put up this poll. I was thinking in more layman (Leman?!) terms, of when something in the biblical text or a translation of it looks like a command or an example to follow, for the original addressees.

By "explicitly taught" I was *not* thinking of post-translation interpretation of the text. And, yes, I realize that there is no clear line between pre-translation interpretation necessary to translate at all and post-translation interpretation of the kind that many would consider "personal interpretation" or interpretation that lacks scholarly consensus. And I was definitely not thinking of *application* of the text to current readers.

Let me illustrate with an example that I hope that is fairly clear and not tied to any difficulty in interpretation of the biblical text necessary for accurate translation. The biblical text of Deut. 22:9, both in the Hebrew and, here, as in translation:
You shall not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together. (NRSV)
To me, anyway, this is an explicit teaching in the Bible not to wear clothing which has fabric made from the two different kinds of woven cloth, wool and linen. I don't think there is much debate that that is what this verse explicitly commands (teaches). Now, I don't know if I have ever worn such clothing. I quite likely have. And to be truthful, it doesn't bother me if I have. I am a normal person who picks and chooses what I believe directly applies to me in the Bible (yes, you are normal and you do too!). I do believe that there are principles that I follow for determining which commands of the Bible I consider applicable to me. But others will almost for sure not agree with me on everything in my personal list of teachings that I follow from the Bible. That is not the issue for this poll. The issue is whether or not the biblical text ever commands someone to do or not to do something. If the text does, then I consider it to be "explicit."

By explicit, I mean that it is directly stated in the text. I am not referring here to literal translation of the text or a literal interpretation of the text. I am only referring to what the text commands whether by imperatives or examples we are follow. There is plenty here that can be debated, but I hope that my explanation will help clear up uncertainty about the word "explicit" in the poll. I'm not trying to split some semantic hairs here. I really was trying to have a fairly straightforward poll, based on what I thought was a common understanding of terms. You are welcome to debate my understanding of what "explicit teaching" means. You are welcome to find flaws in my logic. And you are welcome to include about your disagreements in comments to this post. I would, however, request that, if you can do so, you attempt to put yourself in the shoes I was trying to wear when I put the poll with its wordings in the margin of this blog. Many of us are gifted with finely tuned analytical minds which can quickly spot flaws. And that is good. We need such analytical skills to benefit the Body. But sometimes, I suggest, it is also good to try to see things from another person's point of view, or from a commonly held point of view, at least once that has been clarified (as best as we can!). Phew! This can be tiring! But it's important to be clear, isn't it?

The seventh statement in the poll is: "A husband has authority over his wife." I know of know statement in the Bible which explicitly teaches this. By post-translation interpretation or theological preference, one might say that since the Bible teaches that a man is the "head" -- I should emphasize that the Bible actually has the Greek word, kephale and the meaning of that word is debated, but I thought its meaning was fairly clear in the passages I have cited -- of his wife and that a wife is to hupotasso (which I am comfortable translating "submit"), therefore the Bible explicitly teaches that a husband has authority over his wife. But this is not a use of the word "explicit" which I intended for this poll, which I tried to explain at the beginning of this post. When I asked in the poll if this statement was explicitly taught in the Bible, I intended the meaning that Hebrew or Greek words for 'authority' (or synonyms such as 'rule over') would be in the biblical text, leading to a translation of that text that had the word "authority" (or a close synonym).

Paul told the Christians at Rome (Rom. 13:1) that they were to submit (hupotasso) to government authorities (the Greek singular is eksousia). Therefore, the Bible explicitly taught the Roman Christians (I believe that it is true for us, also, by application) that governmental entities had authority over them.

Does the Bible ever teach that a husband has eksousia (authority) over his wife? Not that I know of, but please do correct me if I am wrong. There is only one explicit teaching that I know of that comes close, and that is 1 Cor. 7:4:
The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (NASB)
Note that this does not say that a husband has authority over his wife; it says that he has authority over his wife's body. And the wife, in turn, has authority over her husband's body.

Some point to what God told the serpent, Adam, and Eve in Gen. 3:14-19, after Adam and Even sinned. They cite this passage believing that it explicitly teaches that a husband has authority (rule over) his wife:
14 The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspringn and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.” (ESV)
Read this passage very carefully. Does it command Adam (or the man as representative of all men) to "rule over" his wife? No, it does not. There is no instruction to Adam to do so, as part of the curse after the Fall. There are two things which are cursed (remember, we're being explicit!) in this passage and only two:
  1. the serpent (Gen. 3:14)
  2. the land (Gen. 3:17)
What, then, is the rhetorical force of God's statement to Eve that "he (her husband, Adam) will rule over you"? Is it a command? No. It is a prediction of how her husband will treat her. It's a prediction that was stated *after* Adam and Eve sinned. My own guess is that Adam did not rule over Eve before the Fall. Is it God's desire for husbands to rule over their wives? I can't say for sure, but I doubt it. And I can say that I know of no explicit teaching in the Bible that it is God's desire for a husband to have authority over his wife (or to rule over her). Nor, for that matter, is there any explicit teaching that a wife should rule over her husband. And as I have tried to say in previous posts in this series, I do not believe that God's plan for marriage includes rule of one person over another. If that were God's plan and God considered it an important teaching for us to know, surely he would have ensured that somewhere in the canon husbands would be commanded to have authority over their wives (or, synonymously, to rule over them). (FWIW, the marriages I have observed in which one spouse (either the husband or the wife) rules over the other are quite dysfunctional. I know that God does not want us to have dysfunctional marriages, but will sure help us if we have one and are willing to accept his help. It is most helpful if both spouses are willing.)

I respect those who disagree with what I have just said. They have a right to believe differently from what I have come to believe, slowly, about the marriage relationships of headship and submission. But I would challenge them to find any scripture that explicitly teaches husbands to rule (or have authority) over their wives. I do not believe that such scripture can be found. One can only find passages which are post-translation *interpreted* or *applied* to mean that a husband has authority over his wife.

My intentions have once again been better than my performance. I have again run out of space, time and energy to write more. It is my hope and, yes, even my prayer, that something in this post can be of help, if nothing else, the spirit in which I write it, recognizing that I may be wrong and others may be right, but that what I have said is what I understand the Bible to explicitly teach.

I'll try again in my next post to complete this series!


At Fri Sep 14, 04:13:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Wayne, thanks for the clarification about what you mean by "explicitly teaches". The problem is that your definition only makes sense in cases where your basic or pre-translation interpretation is clear and unambiguous. Unfortunately I cannot agree that this is true of kephale in passages like 1 Corinthians 11:3, as I would have expected to be clear from the large number of electrons spilled about this word on this blog and others over the last few years.

At Fri Sep 14, 09:52:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Wayne, Thanks for posting the poll results w/ your comments. Peter is right in his comment here that what it means for something to be "explicitly taught" in the Bible depends on your basic or pre-translation interpretation.

I know why you use the passive voice past participle here (i.e., "explicitly taught"). A text such as "the Bible" presupposes some kind of static, objective, non-personal authority over us readers.

Can we imagine, instead, writers (i.e., Paul or Peter or Matthew or Mark or Luke or John) talking with us? What if they were around today and could speak English (or "American" as lingamish calls in in a recent post of his)? Would we give them as much authority as we give a static text we must read (with basic or pre-translation interpretation)? I doubt it! Or might these people say to us, "You disciples in this place at this time with your different cultures should really give us a break for what we wrote to those other disciples back there over there who were dealing with such different issues related to women and men of their cultures. Don't you know how Jesus spoke about women and men to the religious leaders of our day, who were all hung up on the static-text interpretations of the law, as if maleness and femaleness isn't something out of God's image from the beginning and as if God hasn't progressively revealed himself to us over time?"?

So, in addition to giving authority to a static Greek-and-Hebrew text (i.e., "the Bible," as some sort of monolithic law that has one meaning for all people at all times), we also give precedent to our own individual interpretation (by barely assuming it is individual human beings who intended the textS by writing them in the first place, but who often wrote things that have second meanings many of which they didn't necessarily intend).

I think it's quite funny how we argue over whether anyone should use an interlinear translation or whether anyone should have a Ph.D. (see the comments on Suzanne's post, "Hen Scratches 11-09-07"). I imagine Paul laughing in "American" at our efforts to become experts on his texts (i.e., at our belief that we must and can become the authority on "reading someone else's mail" as Richard B. Hays puts it).

At Fri Sep 14, 02:03:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter commented:

Unfortunately I cannot agree that this is true of kephale in passages like 1 Corinthians 11:3, as I would have expected to be clear from the large number of electrons spilled about this word on this blog and others over the last few years.

You may be right, Peter. But I'm assuming that translation of kephale as English "head" is accurate and appropriate for those passages which address the relationship of a head to its body. I don't know what else we would call the thing that sits atop a body and is physically united with it.

I agree that there may be some passages where it is not clear what a non-body metaphor involving kephale would mean.

And I recognize that when Paul speaks of the kephale:soma relationship, he is not speaking of a literal head and a literal body, but, rather metaphorically extending the meaning of the Greek terms referring to these two body parts.

Since Paul focuses so much attention to the head-body metaphor, I would hesitate to use some other English words or metaphors to translate them.

The problem, of course, comes when English speakers assume that the word "head", even in the head-body passages is an English metaphor, referring to 'leader' or 'authority'. But that is eisegesis, IMO, It is imposing an English meaning upon the biblical text, instead of using the metaphorical meaning from the biblical text itself.

Clearly, this is a dilemma for English translators. I would suggest that there be a footnote that clarifies that the Pauline metaphor is extended from the meaning of the physical head of a body and refers to the unity that the head has with its body.

I wish I could ask Paul what the semantic focus was that he had in mind for kephale when he wrote about its relationship to soma. There are several other things I want to ask him, also! At this point, all I know is that Paul was addressing how intimately connected a head is to its body. Paul quite possibly intended some other meaning for kephale in the head-body passages, but I do not know whaat it is.

I do believe that it is speculation to suggest that it means 'leader', 'authority', 'boss', 'military chief,' etc. We have nothing clear and explicit to support that any of these meanings were intended in the head-body passages.

Might you have any suggestions for what else a physical head does for its body, that might be metaphorically extended to the three head-body relationships that Paul mentions?

At Fri Sep 14, 02:05:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

J.K., thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, I don't know what it is that you are trying to communicate to me by them. Perhaps you can use a specific example and describe it, so that I can understand.

At Fri Sep 14, 03:21:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Wayne, I wrote too much. Now I don't know what part of that you don't understand without giving me some specific reference. Oh well.

Let me try to rephrase one point. In an earlier post, you wrote:

I do not find anything explicit in the Bible that teaches that husbands have a hierarchical position over their wives. Instead, I find the Bible teaching husbands to do as Christ the head of the church did for his body, the church, namely, to lovingly sacrifice for it.

In this final post in your series, you say something similar:

there are differences of understanding (or opinion) about what it means for something to be "explicitly taught" in the Bible..

The one thing I want to say again (lest I might be clear somehow) is this:

When we consider "the Bible" a "teacher," then there's this huge thing that happens. First, the people who wrote the various texts that make up the Bible are no longer important as communicators. Second, the specific people who were the audiences of their texts no longer matter as much.

What seems to matter most is whether the text impacts me and my interpretations. I pretend the Bible teaches me, that the people writing and the people reading it (in all their historical and cultural contexts) really take a back seat. That what Paul writes about women and men relations to one group of people is something that I must follow. The text (not Paul or the Corinthians) and I are what matter.

Hence, I can justify my beliefs about men and women in the context of my life here and now, because a text (with various possible meanings, especially for the author and the recipients) says something to me.

I think William J. Webb's Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals is worth a review. He suggests that God, through the various texts of the Bible over time, is gradually and progressively saying things about different classes of people. We won't get some platonic ideal of man-woman relations by getting our teaching from The Text. Rather, the text of the Bible has texture, it has context, and most of all it is people and the persons of the one God in communication via texts (now conveniently collected in one text).

Now, I've said too much again. But does that make more sense?

At Fri Sep 14, 04:03:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

J.K., thanks for clarifying your comments. I'm sorry but I'm still not sure I t understand the point you are trying to make.

Are you making it clear that there is a difference between what the Bible as a text says and how what it says should be applied to us today?

If so, I fully agree with you. My poll is about what the Bible explicitly teaches, that is, what it says, before a theological grid is placed over it for additional interpretation.

As a Bible translator, I am, obviously, concerned with how people apply the Bible's teachings to themselves, but that cannot be my concern when I actually translate the Bible. When I'm translating I have to translate the explicit teachings of the Bible, not applications of those teachings.

Have I addressed your concern?

If I haven't, could you use a specific example of some teaching that is in the biblical text and then discuss what it is that you do or do not believe about that teaching, if that is what you are saying. I often understand abstract things better if I have a specific example to work with.

At Fri Sep 14, 06:10:00 PM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Are you making it clear that there is a difference between what the Bible as a text says and how what it says should be applied to us today?

Thanks for asking again, Wayne. I am just interested that we use language such as "a text says," and, in the case of some canonized scripture, "the text says."

Three Mormon young men approached my wife and me in our driveway a few days ago. They said, "The Book of Mormon says. . . " And that book speaks to them, and they think it must speak to me. They gave testimony to how it speaks, how it rings true to them. As a non-Mormon (or a pre-Mormon to the young "elders," the "missionaries"), I think rather that who speaks are these boys, and the Church of the Latter Day Saints to them, and Joseph Smith to them. The Book says, because Smith says it says something, something he translated with God's help, translated from gold plates, from Morani the angel, from God again. And, of course, there's the Bible say the young elders. It speaks too, if you read it in the King James Version. (They concede the Hebrew and Greek also speak).

So, a specific Bible example? How about the "book" of Philemon, a letter. This is truly someone else's mail. How does it speak? What does it tell me in twenty-first century north america?

Or the Song of Solomon? How does that speak to my single friend?

Or kephale? If Paul spoke English to you, would he say "head"? Or does it matter what Paul says? Is it really important that the "text" has the word kephale because the "text" preserves some exact (if Greek) "meaning" however physical or metaphorical?

Are we putting the person (i.e., the speaker or hearer or writer or reader) first? Or must we insist that the "text" is elevated to some legal or mathematical code? It must "say" something because that's what "texts" especially "the Bible" does?

Yes, can we imagine that Paul uses kephale in various ways? And what if he had to switch to Aramaic Hebrew when talking with his fellow Jews? Or what if he had to switch to Latin if talking with a Roman official, another citizen of Rome with him? If the topic of discussion were the same (i.e., husband as head of or as head over wife), would the metaphor have to be different in Aramaic or Latin or American English?

Amazingly, the texts of the Bible are not written in just one language. Amazingly, the words of Jesus "the logos of God" (shall we translate 'the word of God'?) were not the language of the text in the gospels. Amazingly, the words Paul quotes of the "Old Testament" are not the Hebrew text speaking but usually the Greek translation (i.e., Septuagint). My point, I suppose, is that people make texts, and people make translations of those texts, and it is the people speaking, making choices about language and communication, not the texts that speak.

You keep on asking me to say what I mean. If only my text could speak :)

At Fri Sep 14, 08:24:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

J.K., third time's a charm, they say. I believe I understand better now what you have been trying to communicate to me. If I understand you correctly this time, your comments go beyond my post and beyond the scope of this blog, to a philosophical and theological issue having to do with whether or not there is any divine authority in teachings found within the biblical language text.

I work in the Bible translation field. I translate the text. I do translate it based on how I believe it should be applied. If I am asked to teach a Bible class from a translation, I will raise questions and offer suggestions about current application. But that is a separate exercise from translation itself. I do not believe that every command in the Bible is to be followed directly by me. Many things taught in the Bible are only to be followed by me, IMO, by trying to understand the basic *principle* behind the command and trying to follow that. I do not have slaves so commands for treating slaves are not directly for me. But there are principles even in the slave passages for how I should relate, for instance, to anyone who I employ. I don't struggle with the issue of meat offered to idols. But I should struggle with the underlying principle of not living in a way that causes someone else to be harmed in their spiritual journey with God.

The text is there. It can be studied. We can translate it. There are some passages about which there is uncertainty on its originally intended meaning. We need to be honest about that, and footnote translation options.

As for whether the Bible is more authoritative than the Book of Mormon or any other sacred text, that gets into a matter of what a person wishes to use as a metric for judging some document more reliable than others. It's an interesting topic. It cuts to the core of my own struggle with faith at times in my past. But it is not a matter directly relevant to translation of the Bible, as far as I know. So I will leave the matter there.

Thank you very much for patiently replying each time to try to help me understand what you wanted to communicate.

For anyone interested, I have considered the evidence as carefully as I can, and I do find the contexts of the Bible to have divine authority, while at the same time having been written by human authors. I have deeply struggled with questions such as whether or not the events recorded in the Bible are historical or not, such as the resurrection of Jesus. I eventually concluded that there was more evidence for believing what is recorded in the Bible than for believing alternatives. I was willing to stake my entire life on that conclusion and still am. Does that mean I believe every statement applies to me literally today. No, not at all. Nor do I believe that one must either suspend intelligent analysis or make a factless leap of faith. I choose to believe that we can sift the evidence and believe what seems most reasonable given that evidence.

At Sat Sep 15, 09:43:00 AM, Blogger J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you, Wayne, for being curious and patiently persistent with me. And for making clear what you believe and are willing to stake your life on. That's an all-too-rare commitment these days.


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