April 22, 2016

LXX

In seminary (Gordon-Conwell) I cut my teeth on LXX-studies with the first edition of Invitation to the Septuagint (Baker, 2000, by K. Jobes and M. Silva). The same book again was used at Durham in a postgrad seminar on LXX Tobit (taught by Stuart Weeks and Loren Stuckenbruck) – clearly Jobes/Silva’s work gained notoriety and at the time it was the only “textbook” of its kind – even today hardly anything can be found so comprehensive, yet user-friendly.

A second edition – with the same structure and basic content – offers an update in light of the massive growth of LXX-studies in biblical scholarship and textual criticism (Baker, 2016). I have skimmed through the new edition and the inclusion of up-to-date scholarship since 2000 is well-integrated, both into end-of-chapter reading recommendations and also footnotes. One should note the added discussion of the “interlinear” paradigm in association with the NETS (86-90), trends in modern translation theory (303-304), and certain people added to the biographic profiles in ch. 11 (including Ziegler, Soisalon-Soininen, Barthelemy, and Wevers). Also, the appendix on LXX organizations and research projects has been updated including information on, e.g., the Brill Septuagint series and the SBL Septuagint series (quite a lot of activity and opportunities in LXX studies – it is an exciting time!).

I would say Septuagint nerds will want this update for their collection, even if they have the old edition. Folks in NT studies (like myself) ought to have one edition of Jobes/Silva, and if you never got a copy of the old edition, now is the time for the new one!

 

March 11, 2014

I wish to bring two items to your attention today, both in relation to J. Ross Wagner (Duke) and Septuagint hermeneutics. The first item is that Creig Marlowe and I, as co-chairs of the program unit on the Relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, have invited Dr. Wagner to be the main speaker for our meeting from 4-6PM Friday evening (Nov 21, 2014). This is under the auspices of the Institute for Biblical Research which is an affiliate of the Society of Biblical Literature.

We are very excited to have Dr. Wagner talk about the nature of the Septuagint and how NT writers used and thought about the Septuagint (specifically as Scripture for them). Wagner will have two skilled respondents: Dr. Telford Work and Dr. Robert Wall.  More info to come, but this will be a session you won’t want to miss!

WagnerSecondly, I want to draw your attention to a book recently released by Baylor University Press called Reading the Sealed Book: Old Greek Septuagint and the Problem of Septuagint Hermeneutics (2013). Dr. Wagner is well-versed in the study of the Septuagint (and esp the Greek text of Isaiah), so this is bound to be a worthwhile monograph. My impression, just from poking around in it today, is that Dr. Wagner intends to zoom in on Isaiah, but in the end to draw out some important implications regarding how to approach the Septuagint from a theological and hermeneutical perspective.

August 3, 2013

A single hour lovingly directed to the text of the Septuagint will further our exegetical knowledge of the Pauline Epistles more than a whole day spent over a commentary. (Adolf Deissmann; The Philology of the Greek Bible, 12)

August 2, 2013

In the last post, I talked a bit about the importance and legacy of the LXX. Here I would like to talk about the Apocrypha, which is included within the LXX.

Disclaimer: it is a bit misleading to talk about “the Septuagint.” Someone once wrote that to refer to the Septuagint is like referring to the English Bible. Just as with the English Bible, the Septuagint (as a term) represents a variety of text traditions with a long and winding history. The same goes with the Apocrypha. Which texts make up the Apocrypha? Again, while there are variant collections, there is a central set of texts (Tobit, 1-2 Maccabees, Epistle of Jeremiah, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, etc…) and peripheral texts that appear in fewer collections (4 Maccabees, Odes, etc…). Still, I think we can refer to the Apocrypha generally for convenience.

The books of the Apocrypha are post-exilic compositions. The Septuagint (as a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Pentateuch) was written to meet the needs of Hellenistic Jews who desired the sacred texts in the common language of the time. But why was the Apocrypha included in the LXX?

To be quite frank, we don’t know. Perhaps it was added, not because Jews considered it on par with the Pentateuch, but because it was instructive. It nurtured Jewish identity and piety. However, there was no official notation of this in the Septuagint. Nevertheless, we do not see Jews of the second temple period appealing to the Apocryphal texts explicitly (as Scripture), though they sometimes show knowledge of it.  Also, Josephus (Ant. 8.159) makes reference to “books of our own country” as a source of reference for his historical material. Perhaps he refers to the Apocrypha (perhaps other Jewish writings).

The situation regarding the status of the Apocrypha is similarly unclear for the earliest Christians. The NT writers do not quote the Apocrypha explicitly, despite the fact that they did treat the Septuagint as Scripture. Did the NT writers allude to or draw from the Apocrypha? There is ample evidence to show that Jesus, Paul, James, and others certainly were acquainted with the Apocrypha and probably positively influenced by texts like Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach.

Interestingly, the Patristic theologians seemed to have a high respect for the Apocrypha. 1 Clement quotes Wisdom of Solomon, and so does the Epistle of Barnabas. Tobit was cited by Polycarp, and Hippolytus included discussion of the Apocryphal  “Additions to Daniel” in his commentary on Daniel. According to Martin Goodman, “These citations generally treated the text of the Apocrypha as inspired like the rest of Scripture.” Goodman mentions that the Muratorian Canon includes Wisdom of Solomon (though with a caveat). [see OUP’s The Apocrypha; Goodman wrote the very insightful introduction, pp. 1-12].

So, we know that the Apocrypha commanded great respect in the Church for many centuries. Even Jerome, though he challenged the preeminence of the Septuagint, included these works in the Vulgate. But Daniel Harrington sums up well Jerome’s attitude: “Even though he quoted from them and praised their content, he did not regard them as part of the canon and argued they should not be used in establishing doctrine” (Invitation to the Septuagint, 5). But Jerome’s delineation and demotion of the Apocrypha was not indicative of the attitude of the wider Church. Until the Protestant Reformation.

This is where Sola Scriptura comes in. When Luther and the later Reformers pondered the nature and limits of Scripture, the authority of the Apocrypha was reconsidered. Luther himself did include the Apocrypha in an appendix in his German translation of the Bible. He encouraged its use in worship, but felt that it should not be a basis for the development of doctrine.

In response, the 1546 Council of Trent reaffirmed the Apocrypha. Protestant Reformers fell across the spectrum on their treatment of the Apocrypha. Not long after Trent, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer included readings from the Apocrypha. The Puritans, though, rejected these texts completely. For many Protestant Christians today, especially evangelicals, the Apocrypha are treated as uninspired and uninspiring “rejected” texts. When I tell my students that they are going to learn about the Apocrypha, some express fear (as if it will transfer cooties to them), others excitement (as if I were promising to bring the Iron Curtain down), but most appreciate the opportunity to address their ignorance on the subject.

There is one scholar today who has taken it upon himself to promote interest in the Apocrypha amongst Christians: David deSilva (Ashland Theological Seminary). deSilva does not simply want Christians to read the Apocrypha to learn more about Jewish history and genres (though he mentions these benefits). He encourages interest in the Apocrypha as tools for spiritual growth.

[T]he Apocrypha are rich in devotional insights, ethical admonition, and spiritually formative guidance–to such an extent that the majority of the world’s Christians include them among their inspired Scriptures. The apocryphal books teach about repentance and humility before God; they give insights into the spiritual and practical disciplines required to achieve breakthroughs in personal transformation; they teach about the importance of keeping our focus on the life of eternity with God for the preservation of a life of ethical integrity. Because many of these texts were born from the struggle to discover and nurture the way of faithfulness in the midst of significant challenges, they remain devotional literature of the highest order–devotional literature that has stood the test of time and has been repeatedly affirmed by the reading practices of Catholic and Orthodox communions. Even if Protestants do not turn to these texts as sources for theological reflection, the Apocrypha can be valued as worthy and serious conversation partners in the quest for theological truth, wrestling quite openly as they do with questions of perpetual interest. (The Apocrypha, Abingdon, 2013, xiii).

I am probably not as passionate about this as deSilva, though I too try to cure evangelicals of the fear they have of the Apocrypha. Not only are they not dangerous, they are good for you!

In a wonderful article entitled “Never Without A Witness: The Apocrypha and Spiritual Formation” (Ashland Theological Journal 2006), deSilva argues that, even if we treat the Apocrypha as flawed or imperfect, we should at least afford to them  the same value that we do modern books related to Christian devotion and discipleship. So deSilva cogently and elegantly writes:

There is no doubt that the works of Max Lucado or Rick Warren represent the finest devotional fruit that blossoms on the tree that is the church, and many are nourished and delighted by this fruit. But the authors of the Apocrypha are located deeper down among the roots of that tree. The apostles themselves drew their nourishment from these roots as the tree began to sprout when it was but a young sapling. In the most formative centuries of our faith, Christian teachers mined these books as rich treasure troves on the life lived with God, and the life of responding to God. The whole tree has continued to be nourished by them, even though some of its branches do not seem to know it. (p. 77).

But, and here is the million-dollar question – are they “inspired?” Did God imbue these texts with his own unique authority? That is an extremely onerous question, but I like to share with my students a helpful (though complex) quote from Ross Wagner:

[John] Webster’s appeal to God’s gracious and sovereign superintendence of Holy Scripture ‘from pre-textual tradition to interpretation’ bears close affinities, of course, to the theological justifications offered by Origen and Augustine for the role of the Septuagint as a norm for Christian practice and belief. It is because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit in the translation, canonization, and reception of the Christian Bible that we are enabled to hear in the Septuagint, too, ‘the terrifying mercy of God’s address.’ (“The Septuagint and the ‘Search for the Christian Bible'” in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible, pg. 28)
There is a lot of back-history of discussion packed into this quote from Wagner, but the bottom line is this: would God breathe his Spirit into only the original Hebrew Old Testament, and not to the Septuagint which was widely used and learned from by Jews of the Hellenistic period and beyond? Does God’s Spirit not also work and prompt and “inspire” past the text itself and into the actual interpretation of Scripture (which, undoubtedly includes the Septuagint)? The questions come easy; the answers do not.
The last post in the series will offer some suggestions for further reading on the Septuagint and the Apocrypha.
August 1, 2013

I love the Septuagint! Well, I love Greek. I find the Septuagint, as a translation and interpretation of the Hebrew Jewish Scriptures fascinating. I love digging into the LXX for help with NT word studies in particular.

However, I am disappointed that it is not emphasized very much as a resource for pastoral ministry (esp Biblical interpretation), and that many pastors are simply unaware of its legacy, and the influence it has had on the NT writers. Perhaps Ferdinand Hitzig took it a bit too far when he told his students, “Sell all you have and buy a Septuagint!” But he knew something a lot of pastors don’t – there wouldn’t be a New Testament without a Septuagint.

I have spent some time reading articles and essays on the LXX ranging from recent ones to some dating several decades back. Over and over again, scholars have tried to emphasize the importance of the Septuagint for history of Christianity.

Lois Farag wrote this in 2006: “The status of the Septuagint as an inspired text was firmly fixed in the minds of early Christians” (“The Septuagint in the Life of the Early Church,” W&W 2006, p. 393). Another article author, Steven Briel, affirms the same: “Quite simply, the Septuagint was the Bible for the ancient church” (“The Pastor and the Septuagint,” Concordia Theological Journal 51.4 [1987]: 261-274). Briel points back to an article from 1970, where George Howard stated “Paul is…writing the Greek of a man who has the LXX in his blood” (“The Septuagint: A Review of Recent Studes,” RestQ 13 [1970] 154).

Perhaps, with a bit more detail, Melvin Peters’ statement is most persuasive: “It was not a secondary translation to Hebrew but was Scripture. It is quoted, expanded, exegeted, and allegorized in Hellenistic Greek religious literature and thus was the Scripture known to early Christians” (“Why Study the Septuagint?,” BAR 49 [1986] 178).

As history tells us, the Septuagint (referred to as LXX, for short) had this status (“inspired”) until the end of the fourth century. What happened then? Put simply, Jerome happened. Basically, Jerome felt that the Latin Biblical translations at his disposal (along with translations in other languages) were convoluted and too often divergent. He desperately wanted to write a new Latin translation. In order to do this properly, he felt compelled to work from the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament (as the earliest sources), and not solely or even primarily from the Greek Septuagint. Two points, though, should be made at this point. First, he had respect for the LXX and considered it inspired (or at least “special”). Secondly, he was not necessarily the voice of an anxious consensus. In many ways, he was alone. In particular, St. Augustine disagreed – quite passionately.

We have the benefit of extant letters from Augustine that express his protest against Jerome’s intentions. Augustine felt very strongly about the Septuagint, even stronger than Jerome. In his work, De Civitate Dei, Augustine wrote, “The Spirit which was in the prophets when they spoke, this very Spirit was in the seventy men when they translated” (18, 43). Interestingly, Augustine apparently believed that the LXX was ordained for the Christian Church because, as a Greek text, it was most suitable for outreach to the Gentile world (see Doctr. Chr. 2.22).

There is an excellent essay by A. Kotze (Stellenbosch) called “Augustine, Jerome, and the Septuagint,” where the conflict between these two theologians is analyzed in detail (see Septuagint and Reception, Brill, 2009). Kotze explains, “In letter 28 of 394 or 395 C.E., Augustine pleads with Jerome not to make a new translation of the OT from the Hebrew and in letter 71 of 403 C.E. he again expresses the wish that Jerome should rather make a new translation of the Septuagint” (245). She adds that there may have been a regional bias at work. The “Western Church Fathers” treated the Septuagint as “normative,” while in the East there was a tendency to prefer the Hebrew text (p. 246).

So, with Jerome’s Vulgate, the Septuagint began to fade. However, the “acceptance” of the Vulgate did not happen overnight. It took a couple of centuries for it to gain traction (the Venerable Bede used the Vulgate in his commentaries). However, after Jerome, it appears that the Septuagint started to lose its prize place as the primarily “inspired” translation of the Christian Church.

What about the Apocrypha? Did it fall out of use after Jerome? Good question. That will be the subject of the next post in this series.

March 11, 2020

Dr. Bruce Longenecker talks about his new book In Stone and Story: Early Christianity in the Roman World

 

 How did you get interested in studying the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum?

Pompeii and Herculaneum are fascinating ancient sites. My interest in them grew out of my 2010 book Remember the Poor: Paul, Poverty, and the Greco-Roman World. In that book, I examined economic dynamics within the Roman world and sought to understand Paul’s theology and mission in light of those dynamics. After I finished that large project, I imagined that there still might be more to do, with the next step being an examination of  the economic dynamics within a single indigenous context, to see how a localized setting might refine the more general approach I had taken in the book. The first-century towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were perfectly suited for taking things to the next level. I imagined that I might someday write a little article on the economic life of the Vesuvian towns as a supplement the book (a project that is still on my “to write” list, even ten years later).

What I didn’t count on is catching the Vesuvian bug (or what my sons call “ancient site-itis”). Pompeii and Herculaneum are a lot like Hotel California: “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” So for ten years now, those Vesuvian towns have increasingly become the backdrop to most of my thinking about the early Jesus-movement in the Roman world.

 

Why should students of the NT be interested in what historians and archaeologists have found in these cities?

There are a lot of different ways of studying the texts of the New Testament. One of the most fruitful ways is to attempt to interpret them in relation to what we know about the historical setting in which they were written. Nuances of meaning multiply incrementally as texts are situated within those settings. I think this conviction plays out in every chapter of In Stone and Story, with Pompeii and Herculaneum inviting us into the multifaceted textures of first-century urban settings — precisely the settings in which the majority of the early Jesus-followers were immersed. Although delving into the contours of life in these Vesuvian towns can be an end in itself, it can also help to refine our understanding of what was involved in the rather remarkable emergence of devotion to Jesus within the Roman world.

In this way, the task of exploring the emergence of Christianity within the first-century context captures a sense of the essential features of earliest forms of Jesus-devotion — never a bad thing, especially for those invested in considering how texts of the New Testament are to resonate within twenty-first-century contexts.

 Can you give a few examples of things in In Stone and Story that might surprise modern readers of the Bible (about ancient culture, social norms, values, laws, lifestyles, etc)?

If this were a rapid-fire round, I would highlight these things about life in first-century urban contexts in general:

  • some women had significant amount of influence in the public arena

  • there were notable differences in sexual ethics for men and for women

  • gladiators were the cultural icons of the day, like the rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s

  • people in the Roman world often thought it important to dine together in the presence of the dead

  • many ordinary people had attained some level of literacy, even if they weren’t among the literary elite

  • people were welcome to scratch or write graffiti on the external walls of other people’s houses (fortunately for us, since we know so much more about the Roman world as a consequence)

If I had to pick just one thing to mention more extensively, it might be how important the “mystery deities” were, with mystery devotion of various kinds spreading like wildfire through the Roman world. These deities were, in some ways, just a bit different from the “traditional deities” of the Greco-Roman panoply of deities. (In the Vesuvian towns, the two most significant deities of mystery devotion were Isis and Bacchus/Dionysus.). Throughout the Roman world, people seemed to think that mystery deities were more intimately and more caringly involved with their own lives, especially at times of sorrow and/or hardship — precisely because the mystery deities were themselves thought to have experienced sorrow and/or hardship. In the book In Stone and Story, I enjoyed tracking how some New Testament texts seem almost intentionally to resonate with some aspects of devotion to these popular mystery deities, even if only to contrast them with Jesus-devotion.

 Do you have a favorite story of anecdote from Pompeii or Herculaneum?

There is one graffito that always makes me smile, just because it is so “out there.” It translates this way: “It took 640 paces to walk back and forth between here and there ten times.” For someone to have wondered “how many paces would it take…” just seems so intriguingly whacky. But she/he didn’t just count the paces; she/he also thought it notable enough to record the results in a graffito. That is just a curiously exquisite moment in history! (Unfortunately, I don’t think it sheds much light on the emergence of Jesus-devotion.)

What writing projects are you working on next? 

I’m doing a number of things. Three edited volumes are in progress, and I’m at different stages of writing two monographs.

The editing projects include the New Cambridge Companion to Paul, which I’m putting the finishing touches on at the moment, expecting publication this summer. With James Aitken (Cambridge), I am co-editing a volume on the relevance of the Apocrypha and Septuagint for the study of the New Testament for Zondervan’s forthcoming multi-volume series on Ancient Literature for New Testament Studies. With David Wilhite (Truett Seminary), I am co-editing the Cambridge History of Ancient Christianity.

The monographs include (1) a study in the theology of Galatians and (2) a project with the working title Mystery Women, which will be a study of female Jesus-followers in Corinth in comparison with other women whose identity will remain a bit of a mystery for the time being. I am really excited by these two projects, both of which seem to take up equal amounts of mental time each and every day. I’m enjoying every minute of it.

 

February 19, 2020

This blog series introduces readers to (4) of the “big ideas” in Paul and the Language of Faith

For the previous post, see “Faith is Something You DO” 

 

Idea #2: “Faith Language Points to Covenant”

There has been a long-time theological conundrum in Pauline theology studies. One the one hand, “covenant” seems like such a major concept in the Old Testament. On the other hand, the term “covenant” hardly appears in the New Testament, not even very much in Paul who spends a lot of time quoting the OT.

But in the midst of my research on Paul’s use of pistis (“faith”), I made an interesting and surprising discovery. Jews, like Paul, were comfortable in this time period (2nd temple Judaism) using pistis to point to covenant-like relationships. First of all, pistis was used commonly in the wider Greek world in reference to relationships of concord and mutuality. Thus, it was a perfect general term for a covenant-like relationship. Secondly, pagans (non-Jews) did not really have a perfect equivalent culturally to the Jewish concept of covenant, so it makes sense Greek-speaking Jews would use pistis as a way of talking about such a social phenomenon.

But where is the evidence?

We find Hellenistic Jewish texts where pistis clearly stands in the place of what one might expect as covenant language. For example, in the book of Nehemiah, we read about the rededication of the walls of the temple. The Jewish leaders make a special pledge of obedience to God. In the Hebrew text we read that they “cut” (krt) a “sure covenant” (emunah) (see Neh 9:38). The Greek Septuagint renders this as they “established” (diatithēmi) a pistis, which we might translate as “pledge of faith,” but which functions equivalently as a covenant. (Fascinating, right?)

Similarly, in Josephus’ Antiquities, he regularly substitutes out diathēkē (covenant) in favor of the plural form of pistis (pisteis), which could be translated “mutual pledges of fidelity” (See e.g.,  Ant. 6.228; 7.24; 10.63). Why does Josephus do this? Several scholars argue that, if Josephus expected pagans to read Antiquitiespisteis would communicate these kinds of relationships better than diathēkē. (See also Sirach 22:23 for a similar covenant-like use of pistis)

What does this mean for the study of Paul?

In many ways, it closes the perceived gap between the OT and Paul. Whereas we might have thought Paul didn’t have a “covenant”-oriented theology, now we might better conclude we were not looking in the right places. Now, not all of Paul’s uses of pistis are neon signs pointing to “covenant,” but on certain occasions this is a helpful perspective.

For example, in Galatians 3:23-26 Paul refers to the coming of pistis (“faith”). It makes little sense to see this as the coming of human faith; after all, human faith has been around at least since Abraham. This seems to be about the coming of Christ; but if that is the case, why didn’t Paul just say “when Christ came”? Perhaps pistis here refers to the new way humans could relate to God through Christ, a covenant-like relationship mediated by the person of Jesus Christ (and not mediated by Torah and works of the Law). It makes sense why Paul chose pistis if he was talking about a whole new way to connect with God.

Read more about pistis and covenant in these chapters of Paul and the Language of Faith

-Ch3: “Pistis in Ancient Non-Jewish and Jewish Literature”

-Ch8: “Covenantal Pistism: Pistis and the Quest for Paul’s Soteriology”

 

 

 

October 11, 2019

PGPIf you follow me on social media, you might know that I am really excited about the new book, Paul and the Giants of Philosophy, edited by Joseph R. Dodson and David E. Briones. I have a short essay in this work, and I have had a chance to read some of the other essays. It is an excellent comparative study, bringing the Apostle Paul into conversation with the moralists and big thinkers of his time. Below is a bit more about one of the editors, Joseph aka “Joey” Dodson (who I am going to hang out with this weekend, as it happens!).

NKG: How did you become interested in the subject of Paul and ancient philosophers?

 JRD: I became enamored with Socrates and Plato in ninth-grade when Mr. Gilmore lectured on their lives and works. I doubt Mr. Gilmore was familiar with N.T. Wright’s comment about Plato being the “New Testament” for the people in the first century, but Mr. Gilmore said something similar. “Socrates was like the Greek Jesus, and Plato’s books were kinda like the Greek Bible.” Intrigued, I checked out my library’s dusty copy of The Republic. Being one of those too-cool-for-school popular kids (e.g., an athlete, the prom king and most of the other John Hughes’ stereotypes), I remember hiding The Republic between the seats in my truck to keep my friends from seeing it so as not to ruin my reputation. Since I was also a part of an anti-intellectual church tradition, I would also stash the book under my bed to avoid freaking my parents out because their little Baptist boy was reading pagan philosophy. [NKG: LOL!]

It took me a couple of years in college to realize I didn’t have to hide my love for learning and that it was really okay to read ancient philosophers in addition to my Bible. This became all the more the case when I was assigned to write an undergraduate exegetical paper on Paul in Athens (Acts 17), where the apostle himself quotes philosophers and where Luke presents Paul as a “new Socrates.” (It dawned on me: I too was a “spermologos”!) [NKG: editor’s note, spermologos means “seedpicker” = “babbler”; get your mind out of the gutter] Later on I discovered Paul was not the only Jew to employ and integrate ancient philosophy. I started reading the writings of Philo, the Wisdom of Solomon, 4 Maccabees, and other Jewish works, which in turn lead me further beyond looking at Paul in light of Socrates and Plato to investigating Paul in dialogue with Seneca and Epictetus (for that story, see https://dailystoic.com/joseph-dodson/ ).

NKG: This is an academic book (Paul and the Giants of Philosophy, PGP), but the audience in mind is students, pastors, and anyone interested in the New Testament and in Paul. (Dodson edited a more scholarly book called Paul and the Greco-Roman Philosophical Tradition and also Paul and Seneca in Dialogue). Why would you say this kind of book (PGP) is helpful for Christians in general? What can pastors, for example, learn from this study? 

In The Republic, Socrates argued humanity would never reach the eutopia until kings are philosophers and philosophers are kings. I have a similar burden. It is to raise up pastors and Christian leaders who have the mind of a scholar and the heart of a shepherd. Because most people do not have the time or energy for academic works, I desire to take what’s cooking in the ivory tower and walk it down to the church in order to share it with our brothers and sisters doing the amazing work of ministry on the ground. Since placing Paul in dialogue with an influential ancient philosopher has been a burgeoning enterprise in the academy lately, I asked some of these authors to take their work and boil it down for students, pastors and interested laypersons. Similar to what John Barclay says in the preface, I myself learned so many new things about Paul and his theology from reading these essays. Aspects and passages at which I had previous yawned, now – because of these new insights – I gaped. “Wait, is that what Paul meant by faith in 1 Corinthians?!,” “Wow, that really changes how we should apply Romans 14-15 in our churches,” and so on and so forth. To borrow from what my co-editor, Dave Briones, says in the introduction: comparisons (properly done) lead to clarity in understanding the gospel, which leads to more poignancy in preaching to our people and to greater effectiveness in making disciples of them.

NKG: When you are not “scholaring,” what are your favorite hobbies?

I love traveling and watching Netflix with my wife, hiking and hanging out with my boys, drinking coffee and reading poetry with my daughter, and watching sports (especially the New Orleans Saints).

NKG: What are some other writing projects you have in the pipeline or are working on?

 JRD: Well I am not nearly as prolific as you are, but related to this interview, I am writing the “Philosophy” entry for the new edition of IVP’s Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. I have also been asked to write an essay on 4 Maccabees for The Septuagint and Old Testament Apocrypha volume (ed. James Aitken and Bruce Longenecker). In addition to these, I am writing a book on Romans 7 for Lexham Press, a commentary on Colossians-Philemon for Thomas Nelson, and one on Romans for Brill. 

NKG: Thanks for sharing, see you soon! 

 

June 6, 2019

Does 1 Timothy 2:12 Prohibit Women from Leading and Preaching over Men in the Church?

For those who argue that women should not be preachers, elders, or leaders (over men) in the church, they often appeal to 1 Timothy 2:12 as their most direct and clear biblical foundation. Here are some questions I want to discuss:

  • Is Paul offering universal and general teaching in 1 Timothy 2:8-15?

  • Does this passage teach that women cannot have authority over men in the Church?

 

1 Timothy is an occasional letter, not a comprehensive church leadership manual

The “Pastoral Epistles” are situational letters, from Paul to a particular individual (here Timothy) in order to address certain circumstances. Now, all of Paul’s letters contain some general teaching. But, sometimes, his teaching is more limited to one situation. Only the literary/rhetorical and socio-historical context will tell us whether the teaching is “once and for all.”

Did Paul write 1 Timothy?

Scholars continue to debate whether Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy, or if perhaps it was written in a later era by someone else. My own view is that it probably has some historical connection to the apostle Paul. I admit its style of writing and argumentation don’t match letters like Philippians and Romans, but I don’t see any contradictions in theological teachings when 1 Timothy is compared against the so-called undisputed letters.

Looking at the Text in Context (1 Timothy 2:8-15)

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 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.13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.15 But women will be saved through childbearing– if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

While Paul has some very firm commands to pass on to the Ephesian church through Timothy, one can’t help but notice that he argues in this manner:

-Do THIS, don’t do THIS

The prohibitions (2:8, 9, 12) included here lead me to believe there were serious problems going on in this church precisely on these matters. I think it is fair to assume men were disputing and creating a ruckus. Women were flaunting wealth. And, thus, I take 2:11-12 to be referring to clear misbehavior on the part of some of the Ephesian women.

If we take this as corrective teaching, we can better understand Paul’s harsh tone. Paul recognizes this church has been infected with many diseases of false teaching, in-fighting, and genderized furtive behavior—and he calls the theological physician, Timothy, to put the church on a very strict lifestyle and diet.

What Does “Assume Authority” (NIV) Mean?

This is where things get really tricky. When Paul normally talks about authority (power and leadership over another), he uses kyrieuo (rule over; w.g., Rom 7:1), or some form of exousia (e.g., Rom 13). These are relatively common word groups. But here in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul uses an extremely rare and unusual Greek word authenteo. It occurs less than a dozen times in ancient Greek (first century AD and prior). Compare that to exousiazo (“to have authority over”) which occurs over 900 times in ancient Greek. We will get to what authenteo means in a minute, but just take a second to think about this: why would Paul choose such a rare word unless it fit a strange and rare situation?

So what does authenteo mean? Many English translations render it as “have/exercise authority” in a neutral/positive sense.

HCSB: “to have authority”

ESV: to exercise authority”

NET: “to exercise authority”

RSV: “to have authority”

Essentially, then, these translation treat authenteo as a synonym of exousiazo. But, again, if they are so close in meaning, why choose such a rare word? 

Based on the meager evidence we have for how ancient Greek writers used authenteo (and other words based on the same root), another set of translators believe it has a more negative meaning of domineer (especially based on other forms of the root).

So the King James: “to usurp authority,” and the NIV seems to have moved in this direction: “to assume authority.” This kind of meaning is supported by the Latin Vulgate translation which reads dominari  (from which we get the English word “dominate”).

To my mind, it would make all the sense in the world that Paul would choose this rare word authenteo if Paul wanted to tell women not to try and dominate over men with their teaching or power. In this kind of situation, Paul would not be rejecting women who want to be equal in the church. He would be demoting women who want to seize total control.

Chew on this #1: It is hard for lay people to fully understand just how rare the usage of authenteo was at Paul’s time. So think about it this way: have you ever used a word that (1) you will never use again, (2) you will never hear from another person ever, (3) and will never read anywhere ever again? That is how unusual it would have been for Paul to use authenteo. So why would he not have chosen a more common word if he was giving a direct and clear universal command through a third party (Timothy)?

Chew on this #2authenteo does not occur (elsewhere) in the New Testament. It does not occur in the Septuagint (including the OT Apocrypha). It does not occur in the Greek OT Pseudepigrapha. It does not appear in any of the works of Josephus. Or Philo. Or any of the Apostolic Fathers. Isn’t that strange?

What about the Appeal to a Creation Story?

Some interpreters argue that women (universally) are taught here to be submissive to men because of the appeal to Adam and Eve in 2:13-14. Certainly when Paul points to key Old Testament stories, he has a broader point in mind. But the focus of this Scriptural appeal is not based on the inherent superiority of men due to privilege of the firstborn. After all, Paul elsewhere places the majority of blame on Adam, not (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15), not Eve. The mentioning of Eve’s deception by Paul is his way of humbling any arrogant Ephesian women who want to cause trouble for the men, believing they were wiser.

Chew on this #3: How could the same Paul who (supposedly) told women to be quiet in church and listen to the men teach also send Phoebe to deliver Romans and commend her as his patroness and deacon/minister? How could he maintain such a cordial relationship with Priscilla who certainly was not quiet in her leadership?

Conclusion

I understand this passage to be corrective of a disturbingly imbalanced situation in Ephesus where women were intentionally trying to domineer over men. Paul’s concern is not to force women into submission in the church under men, but to cultivate a healthy community by rebuking troublemakers. Everyone should learn peacefully and cooperatively.

Further Resources

This is a very complex discussion with many moving parts, so those with some Greek knowledge and training might want to read more. See below:

Cynthia Long Westfall (advanced article on authenteo)

Linda Belleville (more comprehensive discussion of 1 Timothy 2)

May 20, 2019

Wow, there was so much feedback and interest on social media from my first post, I feel like I should do a quick second one while I have a bit of time (sitting at the beach, “working hard”).

Translation and Terms: The Devil is in the Details

I am being honest when I say, one of the most important things I did to help me understand the “women in ministry” issue was: learn Greek and Hebrew. (And I took advanced Greek, advanced Hebrew, Classic and Ecclesiastical Latin, Aramaic, and Akkadian for good measure.)

Why?

So many people over the years had said to me: just read your Bible and the answer is clear. By this, they mean that there are many “clear” passages that forbid women from being pastors or preachers. But here is the problem: “translators are liars” (so the famous proverb goes). That is not a cop-out. Bible translators have to simplify texts to communicate clearly, but all along the way they make lots of little choices, and they have to “take sides” on issues even if the answer isn’t fully clear. So, my house of cards began to collapse when I was confronted with many translation issues. For example

Was Phoebe (Rom 16:1; diakonos) a “servant” (KJV), “deacon” (NIV), or “deaconess” (RSV)? Keep in mind Paul used diakonos for himself (1 Cor 3:5) and Christ (Rom 15:8), and it can also be translated “minister.”

When Paul calls women to be “silent,” is the issue one of lack of words, or is it about respect, peace, and harmony in the church? The verb sigao refers to being quiet, but it can be used in reference to quiet or still waters (LXX Ps 107:29). In Exodus, Moses instructs the Israelites crossing the river that “The Lord will fight for you, and you will be quiet” (LXX Exodus 14:14 NETS). Is Moses concerned with silence? No, so most translations of the Hebrew and Septuagint text prefer the language of peace or stillness.

Then we have the issue of “ordination” and “pastors” and “preaching.” There is little in the New Testament that lays out the specifications of ordination (see 1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6). As for “pastors,” this does not appear to me to be a dominant “office” in the first century. In Acts, Paul tells the Ephesians “elders” that the Spirit had made them overseers of the church, to shepherd the people (20:28). Paul mentions pastors/shepherds briefly in Ephesians 4:11. Aside from that, we know very little about “pastors” and their responsibilities. To say a woman cannot be a “pastor” is to place some construct on the Bible that is not explicitly there. We know far more about what Paul thinks about bishops than about pastors. As for “preaching” (i.e., “women cannot preach”), the NT says virtually nothing about sermons and what we think of as preaching (i.e., Bible lessons for the church). The language of preaching (kerusso, kerygma) in the NT is almost always about the proclamation of the gospel. And if rocks are qualified to do this (Luke 19:40), I can’t imagine women wouldn’t be.

Now, I am fine with modern ordination, and pastors, and elders, and preaching, but we must be cognizant of the fact that we sometimes read our modern assumptions about church practices back into the Bible. That is dangerous!

So, a crucial part of my journey was knowing what is and is not actually in the Bible, and seeing the complex, but beautiful Greek text which begs careful study. We will try to do some of that careful study, but for now I want to just reinforce the notion that it is misleading to say: The answer is clear in MY Bible. That usually means: The answer is clear in MY FAVORITE ENGLISH TRANSLATION.

Recently I heard Tish Harrison Warren say that whether you are egalitarian or complementarian, you can only be about 80% sure you are right. I think Warren is right. Scripture offers so many pieces of this puzzle to analyze, and it is really hard to put it all together. It is a beautiful mess, but it is anything but 100% clear to anyone.

In later posts, I will dig into particular texts, church roles, and questions about gender and leadership. I am not trying to throw everything out the window when I say that looking at the Greek makes things messy. I just want to emphasize that the first step in anyone’s journey on this issue must include intellectual humility and a sober recognition that the textual and hermeneutical issues are complex, especially when you look at the text in the original languages.

 

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