Incoherence in 1 Timothy 2

I just got home from an event of which I was in fact one of the organisers: Jim Ramsay,  Director of the Department of Evangelism in the Diocese of Sydney, was speaking at my home church building (as a hired venue) on Every church a mission centre – strategy, leadership and ideas. I appreciated what he had to say, much of which was about the importance of prayer in evangelism. But it came as no surprise to me, and probably wouldn’t to others familiar with Sydney Anglicanism, that he based his talk on a passage from the ESV Bible. And, given his subject, it made sense that he used the very same controversial chapter from ESV that Suzanne McCarthy has recently been complaining about: 1 Timothy 2. But Jim, reading only as far as verse 8, avoided the gender issue which upset Suzanne, except that on verse 8 he said that women were also called to pray.

It was concerning the ESV rendering of verse 5 that Suzanne wrote:

It is no longer possible to preach even the basic salvation of half the human race from the ESV … the ESV states clearly that Christ Jesus is not a mediator between Christ and women.

In a follow-up post Suzanne quotes the following from the ESV preface:

Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original.

What I noticed when Jim read out the passage was ESV’s lamentable failure to keep to this principle in this passage, 1 Timothy 2:1-8. In the Greek two different words for “man” or “human being” are used, one four times and the other once. Here is how they have been translated in various versions, in approximate date order:

Original Greek: v.1: panton anthropon; v.4: pantas anthropous; v.5: anthropon, anthropos; v.8: andras.

KJV: v.1: all men; v.4: all men; v.5: men, the man; v.8: men.

RSV: identical to KJV.

NIV: v.1: everyone; v.4: all men; v.5: men, the man; v.8: men.

NRSV: v.1: everyone; v.4: everyone; v.5: humankind … human; v.8: men.

ESV: v.1: all people; v.4: all people; v.5: men, the man; v.8: men.

TNIV: v.1: everyone; v.4: all people; v.5: human beings … human; v.8: men.

It seems that none of these versions have done a good job of maintaining the coherence of this passage. In verses 1-7 there is a clear theme of what is applicable to the whole of humankind irrespective of gender (anthropos): prayers are to be made for them (v.1) because God desires them to be saved (v.4) and has provided the mediator to make this possible (v.5). Following that the author provides different instructions for male (aner) (v.8) and female (vv.9-15) readers. For this passage to make sense as a whole the Greek words anthropos and aner need to be translated consistently and distinctly. But none of the versions I have quoted have done this properly.

I applaud KJV and RSV for maintaining coherence in their rendering of anthropos as “man”, a good rendering at the time when “man” was commonly used in this gender generic sense. But they were let down by the weakness of the English language of the time, which has since been corrected, in that there was no suitable distinct word that they could use to refer to male humans only.

NRSV and TNIV have at least managed to make a clear distinction between gender generic anthropos and gender specific aner. But they have done so at the expense of losing the coherence of the “all people” theme in vv.1-7.

ESV, I am sorry to say, has gone for the worst of both worlds. It starts well by revising RSV’s “all men” in vv.1,4 to “all people”, and maintaining the contrast with “men” in v.8. But it is let down by its rendering of v.5, which seems to have been considered in isolation from its context. Or perhaps they simply omitted to revise this verse, which is identical to RSV. As a result a reader of ESV could easily assume that the “men” referred to here are to be contrasted with the “all people” of the previous verse and are instead to be identified with the “men” of v.8. Indeed this is how Suzanne seems to have read this verse.

Now I am sure that it is not the intention of the ESV translators to teach that “Christ Jesus is not a mediator between Christ and women”. But if so they need to demonstrate this. I suppose they have done so by putting this footnote on verse 5:

men and man render the same Greek word that is translated people in verses 1 and 4

But Jim Ramsay didn’t read out or refer to this footnote, or copy it on his handout, and I’m sure the same will almost always apply when this verse is read out during public preaching or teaching. It is simply not appropriate to put a misleading translation in the main text and a correction in a footnote.

So I call on the ESV translation team, as well as the TNIV and NRSV teams, to revise their wording of this passage to ensure that the theme of “all people” is clear in verses 1-7 and contrasted from the “men only” instruction of verse 8.

0 thoughts on “Incoherence in 1 Timothy 2

  1. Hi Peter,

    A very nice post as always. In my view the ESV cannot be revised in the direction of clarity without going against its stated principles.

    First, for the ESV “man” can mean humankind, both men and women.

    But “men” is supposed to reflect a male meaning component in the Greek.

    We know that it doesn’t in 1 Tim. 2:5 and a dozen other verses like this.

    However, Cbrist is called a “man” from anthropos, and “men” also a translation of anthropos must accord in English. So we read “between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” If “men” was changed to “humans” or “people” then Christ would have to be called “human” as the TNIV and NRSV do.

    But the ESV can’t call Christ human because that would neuter him. This is their box. They believe that when Christ is called anthropos, it must mean “man” the male.

    Surprising though that Ramsay thought women were called to pray. I don’t see that in the ESV.

    I think actually I was clearer about the problem in this post here.

    I don’t think you have linked to this, I’m not sure.

  2. Sue, I suspect the problem is really that the ESV’s principles are contradictory. On the one hand they “have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original”, and on the other hand they pick and choose their rendering based on their judgment on “where a male meaning component is part of the original Greek or Hebrew”.

    They might claim that 1 Timothy 2 is not a place where “plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows” a consistent rendering of anthropos – and they have a point considering that none of the post-RSV translations I quote have managed to be consistent. Nevertheless, if they really don’t think that Christ died only for males (and if they do believe that Christ was human! – what on earth is their objection to saying this?), they really should be able to find a good consistent rendering.

    The real problem is, I don’t think they want to.

  3. Peter, I got it. But what do you propose as a smooth, English sounding rendition of anthropos: “all people” v.1; “all people v.4; “people” and “person” v.5? Now that’s going to be difficult.

  4. TC,

    That is why I suggested that they could edit the preface and remove the statement that “men” has a male meaning component. It certainly didn’t in the KJV.

  5. TC, I wish I knew what would work well. Do you have any suggestions? Perhaps we can go with NLT (1st edition) which has “people” in v.1 and v.5, and then “man” for Jesus – but this loses the force of the comparison in v.5. Similarly, The Message has “everyone” in vv.1,4,5, but misses out the explicit humanity of Jesus.

    Sue, I don’t think it would work to go back to the KJV/RSV approach, even if explained in the preface. First, whatever it may say in a preface (which most people don’t read), “men” is today understood with a male meaning component (the ESV preface got this part right!), and so people will misunderstand vv.1,4,5 as about males only. Second, there is then no way to make the distinction that v.8 is really intended to be about males only.

    By the way, Ramsay recognised that v.8 was literally about males only but suggested that women were also called to pray. I think he suggested that it was men, not women, who needed encouragement to pray. (In that case, perhaps all should be quiet and not authentein, but it is women, not men, who need encouragement to do this – but Ramsay didn’t mention this aspect, only in passing that he prepared only men for ordination.)

  6. I see that Ann Nyland in “The Source” has done a better job than any of the versions I listed above:

    v.1: all people; v.4: all people; v.5: people, the person; v.8: men.

    If “people” is understood as the plural of “person”, this meets my criteria of coherence and distinction. But, while calling Jesus a “person” is theologically unobjectionable, it doesn’t really make the point that he was human.

  7. v. 1: “all people; v. 4: “all people; v. 5: human beings, a human being; v.8: men.

    I know it does meet your criteria 100%, but it’s the only way to handle v. 5 without much objections.

    But I do see a slight different use of anthropos at v.5.

  8. I had noticed that Ann used person throughout to maintain concordance, but it doesn’t have the sense of human. Look at how we can discuss whether the spirit is a person, but the spirit is defninitly not a human.

    No, I think “himself human” is necessary to explain what is being said about Christ. It gives the meaning even if there isn’t concordance.

  9. TC, that may well be the best solution in English, and is quite similar to NRSV’s, and to TNIV’s except they messed up v.1. But I don’t think there is a perfect solution in English. And it’s so easy in so many languages.

  10. Hi Peter,

    I suspect that many translators intentional avoided strict consistency in their quest for readability.

    On a seperate lated matter In the pastorals, Paul uses the word ‘elder’ (officer or merely old man?) and especially ‘minister’ (deacon, officer, servant?) in ways that are also incoherent, imo. Wish you would do a post on this sometime. Ever given it any thought? Some have been led to dismiss an office of elder and deacon.

    Context is everything, that I know, or as realtors say: location, location, location…

    “Every church a mission centre.” On that we should all unite!

  11. TC,

    Have you read the NET notes for the last verse in that chapter? Yes, the NET makes a big show of inluding women along with men in other verses so the big whammy looks more innocent.

    “The idea of childbearing, then, is a metonymy of part for the whole that encompasses the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man, though it has no specific soteriological import (but it certainly would have to do with the outworking of redemption).”

    It makes you wonder how it was that in the 19th century there were twice as many women as men in the mission field. OTOH, it all makes some sort of sense.

  12. D, I realise that not all translators are looking for complete consistency. And they are right to do so – although I think they should try to be consistent within a short passage like this. But the ESV translators have explicitly said that they are trying to be consistent – and then completely fail here.

    TC, thanks for the NET rendering which is one of the best I have seen. But I share Sue’s reservations about its note on a later part of this chapter.

  13. TC, I’m not sure that we can answer that kind of question about the Bible. But I rather think Sue has an answer, so perhaps she can post here a summary, or a link to a post or other site giving a fuller explanation.

  14. Many people, and myself included, think that 1 Tim. 2:15 refers to a woman being kept safe through childbearing. The main argument against this is that many women died in childbirth. However, there are other places where the scriptures make promises that are not fulfilled in our earthly life.

    I think being kept safe through childbirth has been the number one all time concern for women from time immemorial.

    That is just an opinion, but it is as good as any other, and it is the way most women prefer to read this verse.

    This is the NET Bible note referring to this interpretation,

    “(2)Despite the curse, Christian women will be kept safe when bearing children. This view also is unlikely, both because it has little to do with the context and because it is not true to life (especially life in the ancient world with its high infant mortality rate.”

    The context is up for debate. What was heppening in Ephesus? Wasn’t there a concern that if women did not worship the goddess of fertility, they would not be kept safe during childbirth? And how meny promises in the scriptures come true in our earhly life? I am sure that every woman since Eve has been happy to think that there is a God, when they face childbirht without modern medicine. OTOH, who knows.

    These are just my candid thoughts. No need for men to use this verse to assert authority over women. It gets a little tiresome.

  15. Sue/Suzanne has written more about this subject (and linked here, but this blog does not pick up Blogger trackbacks) in a new post on what was going on in Ephesus, and other good stuff.

    The post by Sandra Glahn which Sue links to gives excellent background to 1 Timothy 2:15. Don’t miss Sandra’s own comment in which she makes explicit the application to this verse. She has convinced me with her argument.

    Meanwhile I was appalled at how the abused wife was treated by Saddleback church, as reported in another article Sue linked to. In partial defence of Saddleback, their pastor does seem to have broken their rules by telling the husband about what the wife said (surely a serious breach of confidentiality in anyone’s book), and there is some sign of ways being mended. But I’m horrified that even at Rick Warren’s church such attitudes are promoted.

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