At the new BLT blog Theophrastus has posted about Deduction and Tom Wright’s Translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and Suzanne McCarthy has responded. Yesterday I also responded to Theo, but only to one thing which he wrote, the UK publication and title of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone. Now, as I promised yesterday, I want to discuss the main substance of Theo’s post, Wright’s take on 1 Timothy 2.
This, according to Theophrastus, is Wright’s rendering of verses 11 and 12:
They [women] must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.
Compare this with NIV 2011:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.
ESV differs mainly by reading “exercise authority” rather than “assume authority”, for the Greek authentein. And it is that one word difference which has been the focus of huge controversy over the last few years, and indeed has provided the main grounds on which Denny Burk has rejected and condemned NIV 2011.
The innovative part of Wright’s translation is something different, in his rendering of the Greek ouk epitrepo not as “I do not permit” but as “I’m not saying that … should”. In other words, he understands epitrepo not as “permit” but as something like “direct”. But is this a plausible translation of the Greek? Theophrastus quotes Wright’s “rather extensive discussion of his reasoning in translating the passage this way”, but at least in the rather extensive quotation Wright offers no justification for his rendering of the Greek. Well, this is a commentary “for everyone”. But he does offer an interesting alternative paraphrase of verse 12:
I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.
So perhaps here Wright is suggesting that epitrepo means something like “appoint”.
But what does this Greek word mean? The gloss in Barclay Newman’s Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament is simple: “let, allow, permit”, and that seems to fit with the 18 New Testament occurrences of the word. But the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon of classical Greek gives a rather different picture of the meaning of this word, within the Greek language as a whole. Here is a summary of its definitions:
A 1. to turn to or towards; to overturn upon.
2. turn over to, transfer, bequeath.
3. commit, entrust to another as trustee, guardian, or vicegerent; also a son for education; refer a legal issue to any one.
4. c. dat. only, rely upon, leave to ; refer the matter to a person, leave it to his arbitration.
5. Med., entrust oneself, leave one’s case to; also, to entrust what is one’s own to another.
6. Pass., to be entrusted.
B 1. give up, yield; later c. inf., permit, suffer: abs., give way.
2. intr., give way.
Senses A5 and A6 don’t apply here as the verb is active. Sense A4 “rely on”, which might fit Wright’s interpretation, is attested only from several centuries before the New Testament. The “later” version of sense B1 corresponds to Newman’s “let, allow, permit”. But this was not the only sense of the word in Hellenistic Greek, as LSJ cites two second century AD papyrus examples as evidence for its sense C “command”. I note that in many, but not all, of the other New Testament occurrences “command” fits just as well as “allow”; in Mark 10:4 epitrepo is used where the parallel in Matthew 19:7 is entellomai “command”.
So can the controversy about 1 Timothy 2:12 be resolved by understanding epitrepo as “command” or “direct”? Wright seems to think so. But if he is to convince people of this, he needs to offer an explicit scholarly exegesis of this Greek word in its context, and not rely on what people might infer from his renderings of the verse. And there is bound to be strong resistance in certain quarters to even the strongest of arguments which might undermine deeply entrenched patriarchal understandings of the church.