Sunday, August 14, 2011

Classics Greek Scholars translate Ephesians 5


"... and subordinating yourselves to each other in awe of Christ.  Wives should subordinate themselves to their husbands as to the Lord."

   -- Richmond Lattimore


"   Be submissive to each other in awe and fear of the Mashiah.

Husbands, wives, and rules of the household
    Wives, submit to your husbands as to the lord.*

*Few passages have aroused more controversy and ire, on both sides, than these instructions about wives and husbands. As an apology for the commanding position of the husband, it is argued that there is a reciprocal agreement of responsibility that affects both husband and wife, especially with regard to love and loyalty. However, in the end [by this "complementarian" argument] the wife must obey her husband, and given his CEO position (financial images, from wages to redemption are favorite metaphors in New Testament persuasion), there is no question [in the minds of "complementarians"] where ultimate authority lies: 'Wives, submit to your husbands as to the lord.' ...

Between the initial and end verses that prescribe a wife's position in the household, it should be seen [contra the hierarchical argument] that there is also a core of idealized love between man and woman, with emphasis on the mystery of caring for person and flesh. After the diatribe against ill use of the body, an idealized love appears immediately in verses 31-32, ending with 'This is a great mystery.' However, the author immediately catches himself and warns inconsolably in verse 33, 'and a wife should be in awe and fear of her husband.'"

   -- Willis Barnstone


"... while you are supporting one another out of love and respect for the Anointed One, wives, with your own husbands, as with the Lord.*

*ὑποτασσω, hupotasso, support. The oft-quoted verse, "Wives, submit to your husbands" does not occur in any known Greek text, yet has made its way into nearly every Bible version. The word, erroneously appearing as an imperative (in verse 22 where no verb appears), is in fact a participle and is in verse 21: 'supporting one another'. Even if mistranslated [in this context as] 'submitting', it would be 'submitting to one another'...."

   -- Ann Nyland


Of all three scholars, Nyland is the one whose English translation follows the Greek syntax and phrasing in such a way that the participial verbal ὑποτασσω, hupotasso, is part of a subordinate clause running down from an important main-clause imperative right through to expectations of one positioning oneself to one's others, under those others, always keeping the holy spirit and Jesus and God-as-Master in view.  The main verbs for Paul and his readers in Ephesus are further away from the "submit" verbal, the commanding imperatives much much earlier in what we call verse 18.  These main verbs are a negative and a positive put in contrast well before the subordinating verbs.  So pardon my pun, my looking at how subordinate is submitted below what's truly more important, start to finish:

μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ,
ἐν ᾧ ἐστὶν ἀσωτία,
ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε
ἐν πνεύματι,
ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις
ἐν φόβῳ χριστοῦ
αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν
ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ

"Don't be intoxicated with wine,
in a way that's unsavory,
Do instead be filled up
in Spirit...

positioning oneself under one's others
in fearful awe of Messiah
the women to their own men
as to Master."

The phrasing is clearly ambiguous, allowing the Greek reader and the English translator to interpret according to his or her own viewpoint.   Where one breaks the section headers, the verses, the sentences, the clauses, and the phrases matters.  Whether one sees women as inherently and naturally equal ontologically and functionally with men matters.

In Viet Nam, when I grew up there, left handers were seen as naturally and inherently inferior to right handers.  Get this; lefties were ontologically equal with righties.  But, functionally, they were not equal.  Hence, left handers were not accommodated in the school classrooms.  Left handers had to sit in desks made for right handers.  Left handers had to hold their pencils and chalk in their right hands to write.  This  was actually prescribed in the school code and also in the culture.  If you were born a lefty, as all of my siblings were, then nothing else about you mattered; you had to submit yourself to the right handers and their world.  When my mother started teaching my siblings and me, however, she threw these rules right out.  She was our schoolmaster.  We submitted ourselves to new rules that allowed for my siblings to learn to write with their left hands.  There was a new school code of freedom for each and all of us.  None of us could  feel or act superior to the other because of which hand we used naturally.  Turns out, one of my sibs found out he was ambidextrous.  The point?  Our new school master made all the difference, gave new freedom, didn't give room for superiority because of default or majority biology.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

What a provocative analogy! It especially hits home for me as a leftie, and is analogous in more ways than one.

I have no idea where I got my left handedness from: nobody in my parents' generation is, and everyone in my grandparents' generation lived during the time in the US where right handedness was enforced. I count myself fortunate that my left handedness was never punished or "corrected", but I did come up against situations where I was reminded that I was different, and the world was made without me in mind.

Actually I only got that clear sense after I stumbled upon the random times when I encountered something that was actually made with me in mind--the first left handed desk I sat at was a revelation, and I remember the surprising joy of looking at the pencil I was writing with and noticing that the words on it were right side up! (I was young; it's the little things)

Once I knew better, I noticed more the ways in which I was, if not functionally inferior (because left handedness doesn't have the symbolic weight it did previously or it does in other cultures), then functionally marginalized. I didn't know how bad it was until I got a taste of a different way. It's a little thing, this left handedness thing, but let me bring it back around.

In a similar but deeper way, I knew I was "wrong" as a female person, that the world was not made for me, and I shouldn't expect it to, so I didn't. Sure, I walked around with this diffuse feeling of utter tragedy that I had been born female, and I felt that somehow God was disappointed with me, and that I didn't really matter, and my life didn't have the symbolic importance that my (first born!) brother had, but that's just how it is, right? Until those little things came breaking through, where I read something and feel the shock of recognition when the author assumes that their audience is female, where someone didn't tell me to put that heavy something down and let a boy carry it, a woman is giving a sermon and no one's acting like it's the sign of the freakin' apocalypse, and such.

Slowly, piecemeal, the vision of a better way breaks through, and then there's no turning back. So then, it's much, much better, but worse because then I look back and realize what a horrible position I was in to begin with. Not much compared to so, so many other women, but still horrible. That for me is the kicker--I didn't have this that bad AT ALL and I'm still pretty messed up in the head over it. My parents never ever favored my brother over my sister and me and never told the two of us there was anything we couldn't do because we were girls and our church growing up was probably closer to the "soft" complementarian position--and I STILL got the message loud and clear that I was inferior.

So, having found a different way I found myself a different master (or, more accurately, saw my true Master as if for the first time).

Because there is no being in this life without doing, without functioning. And when you are given an inferior functioning (and oh yes it is inferior) solely based on your essence (oh hi there female person! Here's your function sorry no returns), there is no way but you understand yourself as inferior. So this equal essence different (inferior) role/function can go back to the pit of hell from whence it came as far as I'm concerned.