N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God

N.T. WrightThis is how N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham and now a professor at St Andrews, ends a paper on Scripture and the Authority of God:

Scripture is then part of the Spirit-given means, along with the koinonia of the church and the strange new-Temple significance of the sacraments, by which the people who find themselves in Act 5 [i.e. the church age] are able to improvise appropriately as they move towards the ultimate goal. The Bible is not an end in itself, in other words. It is there so that, by its proper use, the creator may be glorified and the creation may be healed. It is our task to be the people through whom this extraordinary vision comes to pass. We are thus entrusted with a privilege too great for casual handling, too vital to remain a mere matter of debate.


This paper, adapted from something Wright wrote in 1991, has been published in six parts over the last month at The BioLogos Forum: N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 (the quotation above is taken from part 6). This seems rather unconventional material for BioLogos, but it is certainly an excellent paper.

N.T. Wright: Paul doesn't direct women to teach

N.T. WrightAt 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.
C. command.

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.

Wright's NT for Everyone: Not the Kingdom in the UK

In May I wrote about The Kingdom New Testament, the new title for N.T. Wright’s new version. As I noted in an update two days ago, the former Bishop of Durham’s translation is now scheduled for publication on 25th October, by HarperOne (a Murdoch company) and can be ordered from Amazon.com – but not from Amazon.co.uk.

The New Testament for EveryoneI thank Theophrastus for the information, at the new BLT blog, that apparently the same version has been published in the UK under a different title, The New Testament for Everyone. This is presumably why the American title is not on offer in the UK. The UK version, published by SPCK (nothing to do with the Murdochs), is already available – it was published in July. I presume that US readers can order the UK version from Amazon.co.uk, as Theophrastus, at least, has a copy.

I wonder why yet another title has been chosen for this UK edition, after “The King’s Version” and “The Kingdom New Testament” were both rejected. It seems perverse that a title including “Kingdom” is acceptable in the anti-monarchist United States but not here in the United Kingdom.

But how suitable is this version “for everyone”? As I haven’t seen the text I cannot judge it. But in the past (the link is to a 2005 comment which I found from Google, but my criticism dates back to a 2002 paper) I have been critical of the claims made that ESV is “one Bible for all of life”, and of similar claims for other versions. I don’t agree that any Bible version is suitable “for everyone”, even for all English speakers, as different people need different kinds of translation. For this reason Wright and SPCK would have done better to stick with the title “The Kingdom New Testament”.

Theophrastus also discusses this version’s interesting rendering of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. I intend to discuss that in a further post.

N.T. Wright: Jesus in 3D

Brian LePort has an interesting post N.T. Wright on the Chalcedonian Definition. For those who don’t know, the Chalcedonian Definition was the climax of the early church’s quest to define the nature of Jesus as both God and man,

perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; … in all things like unto us, without sin; … in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved …

This definition was and still is accepted by the church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches, and most Protestants also consider it a touchstone of Trinitarian orthodoxy. But it was and still is rejected by some Oriental churches as well as by non-Trinitarians.

N.T. WrightWright, as quoted by LePort, writes:

the Chalcedonian Definition looks suspiciously like an attempt to say the right thing but in two dimensions (divinity and humanity as reimagined within a partly de-Judaized world of thought) rather than in three dimensions. What the Gospel offer is the personal story of Jesus himself, understood in terms of his simultaneously (1) embodying Israel’s God, coming to rule the world as he had always promised, and (2) summing up Israel itself, as its Messiah, offering to Israel’s God the obedience to which Israel’s whole canonical tradition had pointed but which nobody, up to this point, had been able to provide. The flattening out of Christian debates about Jesus into the language of divinity and humanity represents, I believe, a serious de-Judaizing of the Gospels, ignoring the fact that the Gospels know nothing of divinity in the abstract and plenty about the God of Israel coming to establish his kingdom on earth as in heaven, that they know nothing of humanity in the abstract, but plenty about Israel as God’s true people, and Jesus as summing that people up in himself. The Council of Chalcedon might be seen as the de-Israelitization of the canonical picture of YHWH and Israel into the abstract categories of ‘divinity’ and ‘humanity.’ I continue to affirm Chalcedon in the same way that I will agree that a sphere is also a circle or a cube also a square, while noting that this truth is not the whole truth.

In other words, the true Jesus is a three-dimensional person in a Jewish real world context, living the life of a real man and doing the works of a real God. But the Byzantine theologians took him out of that context and flattened him into a two-dimensional abstraction derived from Greek philosophical concepts of divinity and humanity. They were not wrong, but they gave us only a small part of the picture.

Sadly most of the church today sees Jesus in the same way. He is worshipped as a static two-dimensional image, even when portrayed in three-dimensional statues, and honoured for the important things he did 2000 years ago. He is not understood as the living God. Nor is he taken as our fully human example, as I posted about him being nearly five years ago.

The world has recently rediscovered 3D cinema. In a few days from now the BBC will offer 3D television for the first time, for the Wimbledon finals. It is time for the church to rediscover the real 3D Jesus, and broadcast him to the world.

N.T. Wright on Bell's hell and God's love

T.C. Robinson quotes a passage from N.T. Wright (taken from a post by Trevin Wax) in which the bishop emeritus (not I think his formal title) starts by considering the question “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?”, then moves on to discuss Rob Bell’s teaching, presumably taken from his book Love Wins. Here is part of what Wright writes (emphasis added by TCR):

And it seems to be part of [Americans’] faith, often a central part of their faith that a certain number of people are simply going to go to hell and we know who these people are. I think Rob is saying, “Hey wait a minute! Start reading the Bible differently. God is not a horrible ogre who is just determined to fry as many people as He can forever. God is actually incredibly generous and gracious and wonderful and loving and caring. And if you paint a picture of God which is other than that, then you’re producing a monster and that has long-lasting effects in Christian lives and in the church.”

Rob BellIndeed. Wright accepts, as I do but Bell seems not to, that ultimately some people do reject God, and so God rejects them. That means that hell, whatever it is, is not completely empty. It doesn’t mean that we know who is going there, or how many they will be.

But Bell’s main point is one which Wright and I would agree with, that God’s love is more powerful than his wrath. Wherever the church paints a different picture from that, of God as “a horrible ogre”, then the good news, the gospel of Christ, is seriously distorted if not lost completely.

Judgment Day not yesterday: a post-non-mortem

For yesterday, 21st May, Harold Camping and his associates were predicting not just the Rapture but also worldwide earthquakes and Judgment Day. But nothing special seems to have happened. Yes, there was a landslide in Malaysia, which I mentioned in an earlier post, and a small volcanic eruption in Iceland. But these kinds of disasters, sad though they are for those involved, are everyday occurrences.

"We just went for a short walk and then ... poof ... gone ... um ... what's that smell? ... yikes! ... brimstone."

"We just went for a short walk and then ... poof ... gone ... um ... what's that smell? ... yikes! ... brimstone."

As far as I can tell from the news, no one has died from anything which could remotely be called an act of God’s judgment, and, despite some apparent photographic evidence, no one has been raptured either. I suppose somewhere in the world someone might have been trampled underfoot or suffered a heart attack because of rapture fever, but I hope not.

Meanwhile the BBC reports this morning that

the evangelist at the centre of the claim, Harold Camping, has not been seen since before the deadline.

This could mean that he has been raptured, or has died at age 89, but more likely that he is keeping a deliberately low profile. The BBC seems to have missed the news item I posted last night, that Camping’s Family Radio colleagues were conceding in advance that they might be wrong.

In the absence of any bodies I can’t really conduct a post-mortem. But I can offer a sort of post-non-mortem on this whole affair. What lessons can it offer for us, as Christians or as interested outsiders?

Firstly, I would say, we should never trust people like Harold Camping who set themselves up as teachers apart from the church as a whole. I’m not saying that such people are always wrong. Sometimes individuals, even ones without formal training like Camping, find truths in the Bible which have been ignored by the church as a whole. That is one reason why the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture is important. But this happens rather rarely. So others should treat any such claims with a lot of caution until they have broader confirmation. I’m sorry to say it, but the man who, according to the BBC report, “spent more than $140,000 (£86,000) of his savings on advertisements in the run-up to 21 May” was simply being foolish.

Secondly, we need to remember that Jesus clearly told us that the end would come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. He warned that false prophets and apparent signs would mislead people, as indeed they have repeatedly for 2000 years. It is amazing that so many people who call themselves Christians don’t pay attention to this part of his teaching. Rather, as Jeremy Myers writes, while we should “Live like the world will end tomorrow”, we should also “Ignore all future predictions” and “Plan for the future”.

Thirdly, we need to understand better what the Bible really has to say about the future and the return of Jesus. I don’t want to go into details here. But as I have argued here in the past, I don’t believe that Christians will be raptured in the way that people like Camping teach, before the return of Jesus. Tim Chesterton has helpfully linked to a 2001 essay by N.T. Wright Farewell to the Rapture, in which the former Bishop of Durham explains convincingly why the Second Coming “won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account”: in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere.

Finally, there are lessons for the church on marketing. The well known secular expert in this field Seth Godin has today offered his marketing lesson from the affair, on his blog which I don’t usually read (thanks to my friend tweeting at Adbolts for the link):

Here’s the simple lesson:

Sell a story that some people want to believe. In fact, sell a story they already believe.

I hope you can dream up something more productive than the end of the world, though.

Yes, Camping and friends have done their marketing well to spread their Rapture fever worldwide. I hope that Christians who have a truly biblical message to proclaim can learn better from this how to proclaim that message, not so much of God’s judgment as of his love, of how

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NIV 2011)

The Kingdom New Testament: N.T. Wright's new title

N.T. WrightI thank commenter Jonathan for alerting me to an interesting change in the title of N.T. Wright’s forthcoming version of the New Testament. The book title previously announced, including here at Gentle Wisdom, was:

The King’s Version: A Contemporary Translation of the New Testament

Now it has become the following, on the publisher’s product page:

The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation

The publication date has also been pushed back from 27th September 2011 to 29th November 2011. (Update, 3rd September: publication date is now given as 25th October 2011. Still not mention of it as Amazon.co.uk.)

Available from Amazon.com: The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation.

The old title had come in for quite a lot of criticism, for example in comments on the linked post at Better Bibles Blog. The new one, it seems to me, is much better. Any comments?

Auckland Castle: home of Bishops of Durham no longer

Auckland CastleThe Northern Echo confirms what was widely expected:

THE Church of England has confirmed that Auckland Castle will no longer be used as the home of the Bishop of Durham.

The castle, in Bishop Auckland, will still provide offices and the chapel for future bishops, but their living accommodation will be elsewhere in the town.

Thus, what I reported in late March will turn out to be correct: N.T. Wright, who moved to an academic post last year, was the last Bishop of Durham to reside in the 800-year-old castle.

My post in March was mainly about the famous Zurbaran paintings in the castle, and how they were saved for the castle and the nation through a donation by investment manager Jonathan Ruffer. The article in the Northern Echo also suggests how these paintings may be put on public view:

Discussions are still ongoing between Durham County Council and the National Trust over who will run the castle. It is home to the £15m Zurbaran paintings, which were bought last month by millionaire businessman Jonathan Ruffer after a campaign to prevent the Church Commissioners auctioning them.

It is hoped Auckland Castle and the paintings will become a major arts attraction, supported by the National Gallery.

Thanks for the link to Simon Sarmiento on Twitter, retweeted by The Church Mouse.

The King's Version: N.T. Wright's New Testament

HarperCollins has announced:

N.T. WrightThe King’s Version

A Contemporary Translation of the New Testament

By N. T. Wright

On Sale: 9/27/2011

No more details are given, but Timothy of Catholic Bibles speculates that

it will simply be the New Testament translation he did for the For Everybody series of commentaries published by Westminster John Knox Press.

Well, there is hardly a need for yet another English New Testament translation, but it will be fascinating to see what Wright comes up with. But why the title “The King’s Version”? Who is “The King” here? Not Wright, I hope. But I guess this is just a marketing ploy. Thanks to Eddie Arthur on Twitter for the link.