Monday, November 08, 2010

Excuse me, *tap tap* is this thing on?

He blogs! I don't know if April 28-November 8 (which is... *counts on fingers*... 6 months) is a record for silence on this blog, but it's got to be close. What's worth, I've probably lost both of my regular readers in that time. Anyway, what brings me back to the blogosphere is the a post by Denny Burk on the NIV 2011's translation of 1 Timothy 2:12.

For those unfamiliar with the issues, a few years ago the Today's New International Version (TNIV) translation of the Bible was released. On the whole it is an excellent translation and should have replaced the older NIV, as it was intended to do. It was severely hampered, however, by a)a lack of adequate marketing by Zondervan, and b)a significant amount of controversy over some of its translation choices. It was marketed as "gender accurate," which basically means that it replaced "man" (ἄνθρωπος) with "human," "humanity," or "human kind," and "brothers" (ἀδελφοί) with "brothers and sisters" when a mixed-gender group was in view. It also regularly employs "they" as a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun, which is a common feature of modern American English. These and other choices made the TNIV a major point of contention in the complementarian-egalitarian debate (again, for those unfamiliar, this is basically the debate over whether women ought to be allowed leadership roles in the church; complementarians say nay, egalitarians say yea; that's an oversimplification, but it works to be going on with).

One of the most significant controversies dealt with the TNIV's translation of 1 Timothy 2:12. This verse is extremely significant in the comp-egal debate, as (depending on how it's translated) it provides a significant bit of evidence for the complementarian side. In the NIV it reads "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Complementarians take this verse as a universal declaration that women are never to be allowed positions or authority over men within the church. Egalitarians (of which I am one, it should be noted) counter that what Paul has in view here is women - who are, perhaps, accustomed to having a place of importance in the local cults in Ephesus - who are taking assuming positions of authority without having the proper training to fulfill the role, and that as such the prohibition on women teaching is limited to the situation in Ephesus at the time the letter was written.

The TNIV seems to support the egalitarian view: in it this verse reads, "I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." The switch from the NIV's "have authority" to "assume authority" is taken as evidence of an egalitarian bias in the TNIV.

So, now we get to the above blog post. As it turns out, the new NIV 2011 (another revision of the (T)NIV) follows the TNIV in its handling of this verse. In the post, Professor Burk argues that this is a distinctly egalitarian reading, and that it consequently casts doubt on the NIV 2011 as a whole. In the course of his argument (as you'll see if you read the post) he quotes Wayne Grudem's statement that the TNIV's "assume authority" is a "highly suspect and novel translation."

In point of fact, the Greek word underlying the translation - αὐθεντέω - is quite problematic. It may mean simply "to have authority," but most likely it has other, less pleasant connotations. More significantly, however, the TNIV and NIV2011's handling of this verse is far from "novel." The King James Version, published in 1611, has "usurp authority" here. Many very early English translations handle the verb similarly. Which means that what Dr. Grudem derides as "novel" is in fact supported by some of the very earliest English translations (and several Latin, French, and German ones as well, including the Vulgate) ever produced.

The fact that Grudem, Burk, et al ignore this fact is frustrating. Even more frustrating, however, is this: I personally have posted two comments on Dr. Burk's blog, pointing out the error in Grudem's statement. Neither of these comments - both quite reasonable and respectful in tone, if I may say so myself - have made it past moderation. Now, anyone with a blog is within his or her rights to enable comment moderation, and to refrain from allowing whatever comments he or she wishes. What's disappointing to me is that Dr. Burk, a New Testament professor at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville and dean of Boyce College (which is part of Southern), has chosen to eliminate not only my comments, but every comment that offers objection to this post (except by Douglas Moo, a notable scholar and one of the translators of the NIV 2011; Moo also falls on the complementarian side of the debate). Again, that is his prerogative - bloggers are not required to allow the free exchange of ideas in their comment sections. Yet I would have expected better, especially in a professor and dean who would, I'm sure, have sharp words for a student who similarly disregarded contrary evidence.

UPDATE: After a third (somewhat strongly worded) comment addressed directly to Dr. Burk, he sent me an email assuring me that his intent was not to suppress objection, but to keep the flow of the conversation focused tightly on his and Dr. Moo's interaction. Interestingly, though, apart from comments by Drs. Burk and Moo, the only comments that have made it through are those supporting Dr. Burk's position.

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