Thursday, July 28, 2011

any person ... faithful to their partner

In the previous post, I quoted Ann Nyland's exegesis of a Greek phrase in I Timothy 3:2.  Let's look at that a little more.  First, however, let's back up to I Timothy 3:1.  Eventually, then, let's go even further back to Aristotle and his Politics.

In I Timothy 3:1, Nyland translates the Greek pronoun τις as "any person."  NRSV translates it "whoever" and so does NIV 1984, TNIV, and NIV 2011; ESV, similarly, translates it "anyone."  Lest anyone misses it, Nyland also gives a footnote to make clear that the little pronoun is "Non gender-specific in the Greek."

The question then becomes, for I Timothy 3:2, must the "anyone" or the "any person" be restricted to males only.  Is this what Paul was writing to Timothy as we read their mail?  For Nyland, it doesn't really matter so much because she finds that Paul uses similar phrases for partner faithfulness in a relationship, whether he's specifying a one-woman man or a single-man woman.  Thus, she has her readers consider together Paul's two phrases:
μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, mias gunaikos andra. "faithful to one's partner".  See also 1 Tim. 5:9, ἑνὸς ἀνδρὸς γυνή, henos andros gune
Let's just compare what NRSV, TNIV, NIV 2011, NIV 1984, ESV, Richmond Lattimore, Willis Barnstone, and Julia Smith have respectively done with these Greek phrases in English translation.  And then we'll get back to Aristotle.

married only once / married only once - NRSV

faithful to his wife / faithful to her husband - TNIV, NIV 2011

the husband of but one wife / faithful to her husband - NIV 1984

the husband of one wife / the wife of one husband - ESV

married to one wife / widow of one husband - Lattimore

a man of one wife / the wife of one man - Barnstone

husband of one wife / wife of one man - Smith

Most translators specify some sort of marriage relationship in the phrase.  The Greek, nonetheless, does not demand this.  Moreover, most of these translators use a gendered spouse word for the one phrase or the other.  NRSV and Nyland, nonetheless, see this spouse gender specification as not so important for Paul.  The context of widows makes clear what is what in 1 Tim. 5:9.  And the "any person" or "whoever" or "anyone" of 1 Tim. 3:1 (the τις) seems to leave wide open the question of the gender, although clearly Paul has written ἄνδρα and the γυνή when referring to the sorts of persons who might be faithful to their partner.

Now, when we leave Paul and go back to Aristotle, the household rules and the politics of city states and the practices of leadership get much, much more restricted.  One little and very clear example is Aristotle's assertion as follows.  There's his Greek and then H. Rackham's English translation (1277b, around line 20):
ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικὸς ἑτέρα σωφροσύνη καὶ ἀνδρεία (δόξαι γὰρ ἂν εἶναι δειλὸς ἀνήρ, εἰ οὕτως ἀνδρεῖος εἴη ὥσπερ γυνὴ ἀνδρεία, καὶ γυνὴ λάλος, εἰ οὕτω κοσμία εἴη ὥσπερ ὁ ἀνὴρ ὁ ἀγαθός· ἐπεὶ καὶ οἰκονομία ἑτέρα ἀνδρὸς καὶ γυναικός· τοῦ μὲν γὰρ κτᾶσθαι τῆς δὲ φυλάττειν ἔργον ἐστίν).

temperance and courage are different in a man and in a woman (for a man would be thought a coward if he were only as brave as a brave woman, and a woman a chatterer if she were only as modest as a good man; since even the household functions of a man and of a woman are different—his business is to get and hers to keep).
What Aristotle is assuming and is asserting to be scientific fact is that men and women are different such that they really are not partners at all in the human race.  They're not partners, that is, unless you objectively see females as deficient males and as lesser than males in every role, in each domain.  Aristotle would regard Paul and Timothy as barbaric if they allowed a woman to hold office over a man, to be the bishop of a church, and so forth.  The real interesting question for us today is How much, if at all, did Paul follow Aristotle and whether he tried to get Timothy and other men to do the same?

Nyland (and perhaps the NRSV for I Timothy) seems to suggest that Paul is much more egalitarian that Aristotle's Nature would let him be.  What matters for Paul, Ann Nyland appears to claim, is that any person may prove responsible and may be recognized when faithful to their partner.


Paula said...

This illustrates the timeless tug-of-war between semantic range (as an outside limit) and context (as an inside limit). If I may, I'd like to illustrate as well with a recent experience of mine in a message board.

The topic was hierarchy among believers, and I used the term Nicolaitan in the sense of its root meaning, "to conquer the people", a minority but legitimate view. I appealed to the only context in which it appears in scripture, the two instances in Revelation. I made it clear that MY use of this term referred only to control, not licentiousness. I then used the term to identify the clergy/laity class distinction as something Jesus hates.

I was reprimanded by forum staff for "flaming and goading" because I used a "false" definition of Nicolaitan.

Needless to say I appealed the verdict, made as it was without having asked me what I meant, and they graciously reversed the ruling with a caveat to be more careful in the future. o.O

This all happened because I complained about another person who flatly accused me of equating pastors with wife-swappers. I kid you not. In spite of making it abundantly clear which meaning I had in mind when I related Nico to Pastor, this is what everyone who read my words decided I meant. They substituted a meaning I never intended and then inserted that meaning into my argument. Equivocation once again wreaks havoc with communication.

So even when people are speaking or writing directly to each other, same language and culture, they can reach tragically comical conclusions and utterly fail at that communication. Everything hinges on what the writer had in mind, and when the writer cannot be asked directly (and even sometimes when they can!), we remain in the realm of speculation and not divine law etched in stone.

Kristen said...

There is a certain logic to the idea that, since Paul also said deacons had to be "husbands of one wife," and he elsewhere referred specifically to Phoebe as a "deacon," that "husband of one wife" has to be able to be used gender-inclusively, or Phoebe would have to have been male.

If we know there was a woman deacon, then we can't interpret "husband of one wife" when used of deacons, to mean "male only." And if we can't use "husband of one wife" to mean "male only" for deacons, how can we use it to mean "male only" a few verses earlier for overseers?

Paula said...

Well put, Kristen. Even if someone interprets Paul's instructions to women deacons as to wives of deacons, Phoebe still defies that interpretation since the male form of the word is used for her. So their last resort is to interpret deacon as "servant" only at this spot in scripture while always rendering it as "minister" everywhere else. And that goes back to the semantic range vs. context problem.