Silent women and dotty manuscripts

Many people seem to think that every interesting question about the Bible has been answered long ago. After all, it has been studied in depth for nearly 2000 years (more, of course, for the Hebrew Bible). For some of these people the best answers were given by their favourite Church Fathers, popes or Reformers. For others, the answers have come from 19th or 20th century biblical scholarship. Yet, it turns out, there are many questions still unanswered, and not just ones which cannot be answered for lack of data.

So the discipline of biblical studies is still alive and fairly well. Last week it had its annual jamboree in New Orleans, a double whammy of ETS and SBL, attended by many of my blogging buddies. I’m sure a lot of what was presented there was speculation on the basis of old evidence, or of no evidence at all. But at least a few really new things seem to have come up. And they are not all about purely academic matters; some actually have practical implications.

One of the latter, amazingly enough, has to do with some dots in an ancient biblical manuscript. These dots, occurring in pairs and so known as umlauts or distigmai (Greek for “two dots”), are in Codex Vaticanus, which is one of the oldest known manuscripts of the New Testament. They were (at least according to textual critic and Evangelical Textual Criticism blogger Tommy Wasserman) discovered by the biblical scholar Philip Payne. Payne himself blogged last month about his discovery and analysis of these dots, at Zondervan’s Koinonia blog, where he wrote:

The paper I will read at the ETS Annual Meeting at 8:30 AM, Thursday Nov. 19 in the Waterbury Ballroom on the 2nd floor of the Sheraton will establish with conclusive statistical evidence that the distigmai in Codex Vaticanus are marks of textual variants.

Now this might appear to be of little interest to anyone much except for the textual critics. But not so! These dots turn out to be major supporting evidence for the theory that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation, not an original part of Paul’s letter. This is the notorious passage in which the apostle allegedly tells women to be silent in church. It is hardly surprising that egalitarian evangelicals, most notably the well known exegete and commentator Gordon Fee, have tended to conclude that this passage is not original. The evidence for this which Fee gives in his NICNT commentary on 1 Corinthians has not convinced everyone. So of course it was of great interest to many people when Payne claimed to have found further evidence of the passage being an interpolation.

Move on from ETS to SBL, still in New Orleans, probably in the same Sheraton hotel, and just two days later on Saturday 21st. A new scholar, Peter Head, who also blogs at Evangelical Textual Criticism, has arrived from England during the night, having put the finishing touches to his presentation on the plane. So he wasn’t at Payne’s presentation. Had he seen a report of it? I’m sure he had at least seen the kind of summary of arguments which Payne had already posted. But, as Wasserman reports, Payne was in the front row when Head presented his paper, and so witnessed his argument being thoroughly demolished – at least if Wasserman’s account (which continues here) is fair.

Payne dated the distigmai to the 4th century. Head turned this theory on its head by dating them a full 1200 years later, to the 16th century, and even suggested the name of the person responsible for adding them to the manuscript: Juan Ginés de Sepulveda (UPDATE: this name was first put froward by Curt Niccum, as Tommy Wasserman points out in a comment below). Part of Head’s argument was in the positioning of the dots, avoiding other marks dated to as late as the 15th century. But his main argument related to which textual variants are marked. Payne apparently claimed a 60-70% match between the locations of the distigmai and the locations of textual variants known to date back to the 4th century. Head claimed a 98% match between distigmai and textual variants known to Erasmus in the 16th century. And it is known that Erasmus corresponded with Sepulveda about the text of Vaticanus at these very locations. If Head’s findings can be confirmed (and analysis of the ink of the dots might allow this), it seems that the mystery of the distigmai has been solved.

So, does this undermine Payne’s argument? It certainly undermines his dating of the distigmai to the 4th century. Therefore he no longer has clear evidence that the textual variant in 1 Corinthians 14 was known as early as that. However, he has found evidence that this textual variant was known at some time, perhaps in the 16th century. Quite probably this relates to the fact, probably well known to Erasmus and Sepulveda as it is to modern scholars, that the passage in question, 1 Corinthians 14:34-45, is displaced to after 14:40 in many manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate as well as in the so-called Western Text of the Greek; in one Vulgate manuscript, Codex Fuldensis, the passage is actually a later addition. This is basically the same evidence which Fee used to claim that these two verses are an interpolation into the original letter. And Fee’s argument, even without added evidence from the distigmai, is a strong one.

However, even if the passage is not an interpolation, it should not be concluded that the apostle Paul was a misogynist or that the Bible teaches that women should not be allowed to say anything in gatherings of Christians. Paul cannot have written that because it would be in direct contradiction to what he had written in 11:5, that women may pray or prophesy (the latter at least must be out loud in a gathering) as long as their heads are covered. If he did write 14:34-35, his meaning must have been that women were not to disrupt meetings by chattering or asking questions.

So is this a case of the apparent complementarian Peter Head, formerly of Oak Hill College, winning an argument over the egalitarian Philip Payne? No, that would be a caricature. I’m sure Peter’s motivations for presenting his paper were entirely scholarly, concerning his field of textual criticism, and nothing to do with proving a point about women. Perhaps one speculative piece of support for the egalitarian position has been found wanting, but  the position as a whole has not been compromised at all. Certainly no one should use Peter’s SBL presentation as grounds for silencing women in their churches.

Mounce Misunderstands "Man"

Bill Mounce is a top expert on exegesis and translation of the Bible. He was a major contributor to the ESV translation, and a regular contributor to the Koinonia blog. It is good that, as I announced last month, he has joined the Committee on Bible Translation which is currently revising the NIV.

Unfortunately Bill Mounce is not an expert on advertising. As a result he has made himself look rather stupid by misunderstanding a car advertisement, and by repeatedly posting his misunderstanding. The first time he posted this on his personal blog:

But “mankind” continues to be used as a generic term in English, as does “man.” I know there are people who disagree with this point, but the fact that it is used generically over and over again cannot truly be debated; the evidence is everywhere. Have you noticed the new advertisement for the Prius: “Harmony Between Man, Nature And Machine.” I’ll bet Toyota would be glad to sell to women.

Yes, Bill, this “fact” can be debated, as I do below. (Joel Hoffman also blogged about this.)

Bill Mounce repeated his error this week in a summary he posted at Koinonia of his SBL paper on the ESV and the TNIV, in which he wrote, in support of his argument that “man” can have a gender generic meaning:

Just watch enough football and you will see the ad for the Prius: “Harmony between Man, Nature, and Machine.” A person may not like using “man” to mean “mankind”; a particular subculture may not like it, …

I assume the ad that Mounce has in mind is this:

See also this analysis of the advertising campaign.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on advertising myself. But one thing that I do know is that advertising is highly gender specific, and targeted to particular groups. Now of course “Toyota would be glad to sell to women”; indeed the only Prius driver I know is a woman. Nevertheless the advertising for most cars is clearly directed towards men, meaning not women. The days may be past when nearly naked women were draped across them, but there are all kinds of subtleties of design and presentation designed to appeal to men. I’m sure that is true, and deliberately so, of the very shape of the Prius.

I accept that in this particular ad, with lots of flowers, the message is a bit sexually ambiguous and might attract women also. But I also see a clear sexually charged allusion at the end in the way the car rushes up a hill with a somewhat phallic shape, and this is when the words “Harmony between Man, Nature, and Machine” are used. Perhaps the message they are trying to drive home is that you can be a real man, with a manly car, and still love nature and flowers.

One thing is certain: the advertisers considered very carefully what message they were giving with the word “man”, and it was by no means a simple gender generic one. As such Bill Mounce, in quoting this as an example of generic “man”, had missed the point of the ad, and in the process made himself look a bit stupid.

Nevertheless Mounce does have some very good points to make in his SBL paper summary, especially this:

I am not convinced that non-academic celebrities should be making pronouncements on translation theory.

Indeed. Let those who have never studied translation theory stop criticising translations.

Five statement Bible summary

Sorry for not much blogging recently. As a newly married man I have new responsibilities, and a new way of life to adjust to. Also I have been doing some temporary paid work, for the first time for some time, and on top of that I have been having serious computer problems. Now the work has come to an end, at least for this week, and the computer is just about working again. So I have had some time to catch up on blog reading, and have just found enough for a short post …

Doug Chaplin, a.k.a. Clayboy, has tagged me with The new five statement bible summary meme. He also tagged David Ker, whose response is the only other one I have seen. These are the rules for the meme, which seems to have originated with Doug:

Summarise the Bible in five statements, the first one word long, the second two, the third three, the fourth four and the last five words long. Or possibly you could do this in descending order. Tag five people.

I’ll try this in descending order.

  1. God created everything very good.
  2. Human beings messed up.
  3. Chosen people failed.
  4. Jesus succeeded.
  5. Wow!

Of course here I gloss over the entire church age, by no means a “wow” time, to the best one word summary I can think of for the ultimate Christian hope.

Like David Ker I will decline to tag five others. Part of my excuse for that is that I can’t find links easily on my newly restored but still not quite right computer. But the main reason is that I don’t want to put people on the spot to be original on this one. So instead I’ll tag all five people who actually read this. Or if the number is in fact 500, this could be the world’s fastest growing meme.

More people are hungry than ever before … what can we do?

I was shocked to read the following alert from the campaigning organisation, which I received from them by e-mail (because I have signed previous petitions from them), and which is part of the text of a letter which I am encouraged to pass on to others, and which can be read in full here:

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. Yet the number of people suffering from chronic hunger across the planet has reached the record-high figure of 1 billion this year.

Hundreds of billions are spent by wealthy governments to bail out banks and financial institutions, but the G8 countries are trying to cut a promised $20 billion commitment to agricultural investment to only $3 billion in new money. With literally millions of lives on the line, this is a scandal.

Yes, more people are hungry than ever before, and their number has now reached one billion! Apparently earlier this year wealthy countries, including my own, promised to do something about this, but are now going back on their commitment. Yes, we have our own problems in the West, but nearly all of us have enough to eat. So we really should meet our commitments to help those who do not, and who have become poorer than ever largely because of side effects of an economic crisis largely caused by us in the West.

What can we do about it? Well, when we get the chance to vote we can tell our governments what we think about their policies. And we don’t have to wait to sign the petition which is promoting, which I just signed. Here is more of their letter:

With the recent financial crisis, poverty is skyrocketing in poorer countries, with 1 in 6 people on the planet now facing life-threatening hunger.

Next week, leaders will meet at the World Food Summit in Rome to address this growing crisis. The best solution is funding to boost sustainable agriculture in poorer countries, but France, Germany, UK, Italy and Japan are backing out on a $20 billion promise made earlier this year.

Millions of lives are on the line. Sign the petition below for rich countries to keep their promises, and it will be delivered directly to world leaders through a spectacular stunt at the Roman Colosseum on the eve of the Summit:

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. Yet the number of people suffering from chronic hunger across the planet has reached the record-high figure of 1 billion this year.

By taking the kind of action which is promoting, we can all, without spending even one penny, put effective pressure on our political leaders and actually do something practical about world hunger.

Deeply De-Christian Doctrines

David Keen, David Ker and Doug Chaplin have been posting on “5 Deeply De-Christian Doctrines”, a meme for which they have been tagged. So far no-one has tagged me specifically on this one, as far as I know. Is that because my name doesn’t fit the meme’s alliteration by starting with “D”? But David Ker did write:

If you’re a reader of this blog consider yourself tagged.

So I will make my contribution. The challenge is to

List 5 doctrines that are taught within the Christian church that you believe to be deeply de-Christian.

Here is my list, taking up themes already discussed on this blog:

1. Original Sin: Doug in his list has a go at Augustine, but doesn’t mention this, perhaps the most fundamental of his doctrinal errors. The Church Father and former Manichaean seems to have introduced into the church aspects of his non-Christian Manichaean teaching. I am not sure if the Manichaeans taught original sin, but, as I wrote more than two years ago, Augustine did, and justified his teaching from a misunderstanding of one poorly translated Bible passage. Later scholars have recognised Augustine’s exegetical error, but have relied on his authority as a Father and so failed to reject the false teaching that came from his error. Now I do accept that humans are born with a tendency to sin, and that, apart from Christ, all are guilty before God because all have sinned. But I reject as “deeply de-Christian” Augustine’s doctrine that babies are born guilty and subject to condemnation, apart from anything they might have done, because of the sin of Adam.

2. Church leadership by a special caste of pastors or priests: Now I know Doug would disagree with me on this one, but I don’t think either David would. It seems clear to me that Jesus and his apostles entirely rejected the concept of a special priesthood and hierarchy of church leadership. Doug is of course right that these ideas are found in the church as early as the second century. That simply shows how quickly the church became de-Christianised by taking on the values of the world. But then many Protestant Christians who would reject this concept of priesthood have set up a new priesthood by another name consisting of their pastors, elders or whatever name they choose to give – a self-perpetuating small group of those considered qualified for church leadership, and to whom deference is due. This is also “deeply de-Christian”. Of course churches do need leadership, but not on this model.

3. Leadership is male: This is one I have discussed many times before on this blog, so I won’t go into the details again. Just let me say that I can find no basis in authentic biblical Christianity for this concept, which also seems to have been imported into the church from the surrounding culture.

4. War is an acceptable means for Christians to further their aims: As we come up yet again to Remembrance Sunday here in the UK, I want to mention this one again. I do want to honour those on all sides of each conflict who have chosen to fight for what they believe is right, or have been coerced into fighting, and especially those who have died or have been injured in horrific ways. Also I don’t want to take a doctrinaire position that war can never be right or just. But I consider “deeply de-Christian” the way in which professing Christians like Bush and Blair considered it acceptable to start wars of aggression when there was no real threat to their countries or to world peace.

5. Salvation by right doctrine: In his point 5 Doug touched on this one, the idea that one is justified or saved by assenting to the right doctrine. The idea is particularly prominent today among conservative evangelicals, especially the latest crop of younger Calvinists. But it has ancient origins, in the historic Creeds of the church, assent to which came to be seen as necessary for salvation. The biblical position, however, is that the only requirement for salvation is to repent and believe that Jesus is Lord – not as a propositional truth to be accepted in an intellectual sense, but in allowing Jesus to be the Lord of one’s own life.

Although I’m not officially part of this meme’s set of links, I will challenge Eddie Arthur, TC Robinson, John Richardson, Brian Fulthorp and Suzanne McCarthy.

Wedding photos

Thanks for all the best wishes for Lorenza and me on our wedding day. It is hard to believe that this was already more than a week ago! We had a good few days away. We spent the first two nights at a local hotel with a spa – the weather was so good that we were even able to sunbathe outside briefly. Then we went to Eastbourne on the south coast and enjoyed some more pleasant fine weather there.

By popular request here are some pictures of our wedding, copied from Facebook, courtesy of our friends Joyce and Simona. Click each photo for a larger view.

Outside the church

Outside the church

Peter and Lorenza in the church

In the church

Lorenza, Peter and flower girls in the church

In the church with flower girls

Peter kissing Lorenza in the church

Kissing in the church

Cutting the millefoglie at lunch

Cutting the millefoglie at lunch

A lunchtime kiss

A lunchtime kiss

In our wedding car

In our wedding car

Carrying the bride over the threshold

Carrying the bride over the threshold

An evening toast

An evening toast

Cutting the cake in the evening

Cutting the cake