Discovering Nuances in the Greek: An Evaluation of Eph. 5:21-25…

As mentioned in my last post, Greek has been reviving my interest in the Biblical text. Learning all the different features of how the grammar works provides a whole new sense of understanding the text. And again during class on Monday, another passage came into a whole new light. But this time, it has left me carefully considering the kinds of study Bibles I spend my time reading.

Ephesians 5:22-24 is a controversial passage for it appears to be giving a complementarian view of marriage (where the husband is the head of the marriage while the wife submits to the husband). But this word “submit” is actually becomes a little more interesting when one takes a look at the Greek (with my literal translation after):

αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησίας ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

“the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ (is) head of the church, he savior of the body but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and so the wives to husbands in all.”

What’s odd about this passage? If one takes a look at the beginning of the passage, it appears that there is something missing, no? Here is how the ESV Bible has translated it:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Notice the difference? In my literal translation of the Greek, any form of the word “submit” only appears once, but yet, in the same amount of verses, the ESV has it listed three times. What is even more problematic is how the first usage of “submit” appears: “Wives, submit to your own husbands…” It is an imperative (a command). Yet if one looks in the Greek, one not only does not see the imperative form of “submit” (which would be ὑποτάγητε, for the second person, plural; Cf. James 4:7), but one does not see any form of “submit” anywhere, certainly not in v. 22. Where is it coming from then?

For our translation assignment last week, we were asked to translate Eph. 5:21-25 to get a full sense of what is going on here. Here is what the full passage looks like in Greek:

Ὑποτασσόμενοι ἀλλήλοις ἐν φόβῳ Χριστοῦ, αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ, ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας, αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ, οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί.

Οἱ ἄνδρες, ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας, καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς…

“Submitting to one another in reverence of Christ, the wives to their own husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of a wife and as Christ head of the church, he savior of the body, but as the church is being submitted to Christ, and thus the wives to husbands in all.

Husbands, love the wives, even as Christ loved the church and delivered of himself over on behalf of her…”

What is particularly significant about this passage is that the “submit” command that the ESV implements in v. 22 (which is nowhere in the Greek v. 22), comes from a participle and not an imperative (Ὑποτασσόμενοι). Instead of suggesting a command, Paul is reshaping (though not dramatically) what is known as the “household code.” This is proven true by the only imperative in or near this particular passage: ἀγαπᾶτε, which is a direct command to the ἄνδρες, the “husbands.” In a culture where men mostly married to produce heirs rather than for love, this is a huge statement and not quite as demeaning to women as the ESV (NIV and NASB as well) has it. What is even more deceptive on the part of these popular translations is that little subheader placed in between v. 21 and v. 22; “Wives and Husbands” for both ESV and NIV and “Marriage Like Christ and the Church” in the NASB.[1] With that direct (and theologically driven) break in the text, one would not at all see the discrepancy.

However, there are two translations I have recently picked up that actually give interesting renderings here – renderings that are much closer to the sense of the Greek. The first is the Common English Bible (CEB), which came out two years ago. Here is its rendering of the passage:

“… and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While it still inserts “wives should submit” (again, not quite present in the Greek), they have at least placed the header “Be filled with the Spirit” all the way back right before v. 15 and keep the entire passage as one paragraph (all the way to the end of the chapter). And when the Greek is considered, this is precisely the sense conveyed (note also the “For example”; this comes closer to presenting the “wives submitting to husbands” as an example of what reverence in Christ looks like, but still avoids the participial sense by inserting “should”).

The second translation is the Inclusive Bible, which is an explicitly egalitarian Bible:

“Defer to one another out of reverence for Christ. Those of you who are in committed relationships should yield to each other as if to Christ, because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body – the church – as well as being its Savior. As the church yields to Christ, so you should yield to your partner in everything. Love one another as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for it…” – Eph. 5:21-25.

While they have steered slightly away from a literal translation of the Greek, it is crucial to note the language used in place of husbands being the heads of wives: “because you are inseparable from each other, just as Christ is inseparable from the body.” Does this not convey the sense of Gal. 3:28 precisely: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (CEB, emphasis mine)? Of course, it is worth noting that Ephesians is a “partially disputed” letter of Paul (term Dr. Gupta introduced to us last night in our NT class); this means that it is possible that Paul did not actually write Ephesians. While I am on the fence about that, the Greek (at least to me, a novice) in this passage does not drift too far from Paul’s profound statement in Gal. 3:28.

As my Greek class plunges on through controversial passages of Paul’s letters, it is becoming overwhelmingly clearer and clearer that there is a massive amount of patriarchal language that must be unraveled – not necessarily patriarchal language from Paul himself, per se, but certainly from the more modern translations. The ESV and NASB footnotes pertaining this passage were terribly geared toward a patriarchal lens of the text, which, in my view, is exceedingly dangerous as it enables all sorts of manipulation and abuse of power and goes directly against Jesus’ teaching of not lording one’s power over another (cf. Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-44; Luke 22:24-27).

So, yes, studying Greek this year (although it may kill me), has proven to be one of the wisest decisions I have ever made.

God bless.

[1] I cannot give the NRSV a full pass either, but the Catholic Edition I have at least places the header “The Christian Household” above v. 21.


Sundays With St. Paul: Crises of Identity…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

For our discussion this week, we were asked to look at Paul’s somewhat negative view of the law in Ephesians 2:15; “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace…”[1] We were asked to consider why Paul appears to have such a negative view of the law. Why would he say the law has been abolished when Christ explicitly declares in Matt. 5:17 that he came to fulfill it?

I had said that if we take into account the preceding verse, we find a clue. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” What was circumcision? It was an outward expression of Israel’s unique, “set apart” relationship with God. Yet, as has been discussed before, it seems to have been a sign of national identity, which of course meant that if you were a Gentile, you must take on all the procedures of Jewish identity to become a member of the people of Israel.

So what I think Paul is doing in Ephesians, which appears to be a mostly Gentile community, is preventing them from separating over any issues of national identity (i.e. circumcision/non-circumcision). This works in both directions: neither Roman national identity, nor Israelite national identity. Instead, because of Christ, “both groups [are] one” because the wall of division (commandment of circumcision) has been removed.

Ever since our discussion, though, I’ve been wondering what this would have looked like for the average Gentile? After believing for most – if not all – of one’s life in many gods and goddesses, what would it be like to suddenly focus on one? And what if one was aware of the requirements for becoming Jewish? Now imagine another Jew, Paul, coming around and saying this one requirement was no longer necessary in order to believe in and follow the one God of Israel. It now meant one was no longer either Jew or Gentile; it meant one was now absent of national identity.

Imagine yourself as a Gentile in 1st Century Rome (or within the Roman Empire); what would you think of the Jewish people? What would you think of your own national identity? Now imagine a Jew wandering around telling people to believe in the God of the Jews, but not to subscribe to many of the ordinary customs. “Instead,” he says, “believe and follow the Messiah.” How might you react? What are your thoughts as you listen to this Jew named Paul?

[1] New Revised Standard Version

Sundays With St. Paul: “Covenant Blood” Similarities…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

During my reading for this week, I was struck by this passage from Frank Thielman:

“[Jesus’] reference to covenantal blood in Matthew and Mark takes the form ‘this is my covenant blood’ (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24) and in Luke, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (Lk 22:20). Paul’s version of the statement in [1 Cor.] 11:25 is so close to Luke’s that the slight differences cannot be detected in translation. The version in Luke and Paul make explicit what the one in Mark and Matthew imply: Jesus interpreted his death as the establishment of the new covenant predicted in Jeremiah 31:31 and understood the blood shed in his death as analogous to the blood that, according to Exodus 24:8, Moses sprinkled on the people at the establishment of the Sinaitic covenant.”[1]

For one thing, I had never thought of Jesus’ “covenant blood” as mimicking or relating to Moses’ sprinkling of blood as a mark of the covenant. I think I tend to focus too much on the vampire-like aspect of drinking blood for communion.

For another thing, I haven’t studied the similarities between Luke and Paul before and I found Thielman’s insight interesting. I have heard before that, according to tradition and a mention in one of Paul’s letters (I forget which one), Luke was a traveling companion to Paul (at least at one point). What I’m wondering, though, is why, as Thielman says, Mark and Matthew would imply this analogy of Jesus?

Ever since college, I’ve been fascinated by the subtle, yet significant differences between the Gospels. Or, rather, the Synoptic Problem (so similar, yet so different). Any time the first three gospels (and occasionally John) flow stride-for-stride and then one deviates slightly, I’m compelled to wonder what might be implied. Yet at the same time, I know that not every difference within the Synoptics is for a specific, significant reason – an underlying message, if you will.

So that’s why I’m posing the question to you all: Do you think something’s intended by Luke’s subtle deviation from Mark and Matthew or is it the other way around; are Mark and Matthew intentionally distinguishing their account of the Lord’s Supper from that of Luke? If either of those is the case, what might be the reason? And do you think Paul had a strong influence on Luke’s account?

[1] Frank Thielman, Paul & the Law: A Contextual Approach (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 105

Sundays With St. Paul: “Uphold the Law” in Romans 3:31…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

For our discussion this week we were instructed to look at Romans 3:31 and discuss what Paul meant by “we uphold the law.” It seems that throughout Romans Paul is anticipating pushback from his Jewish audience about their “chosen-ness.” Romans 3 begins with a question of what the “advantage” of a Jew even is in light of their newfound faith in Christ, which goes to show Paul knew what he was writing would threaten the privileged status of the Jewish community. Sanders and Thielman were our guides in this week’s discussion.

In his discussion of the preceding verses to 3:31, Sanders notes “that the term ‘boasting’ in Rom. 3:27 picks up the same term in 2:17, 23.”[1] In those verses, “boasting” is an “assumption of special status on the part of the Jews.” Discussing the same verses, Thielman says, “Paul criticizes the Jew who relies on and boasts in the law, but the reliance and boast of which he speaks are in the possession of the law, not in its observance.”[2] So, then, Paul seems to have been addressing Jews who felt their privileged status (not by anything they’ve done, but by what they possess) being lessened by “this faith,” as he says in Rom. 3:31.

If Romans 2 is likening the Gentile “law” to the Jewish law – in the sense of practice, rather than knowledge of – and Romans 3 shifts to the “advantage” of a Jew, then it seems Paul is, overall, readjusting the Jewish role in this newfound Christian faith: It isn’t to convert all the Gentiles to Judaism (as is indicated by being so adamantly against circumcision and separation at the dinner table in Galatians), but rather to teach the Gentiles of what it means to “love one’s neighbor.”

Of course, I’m borrowing from Thielman’s discussion:

“If possession of the law gives the Jew no advantage over the Gentile on the day of judgment, as Paul has argued in chapter 2, then what is the value of the Jews’ supposed election? Paul replies that the benefit of being a Jew is great, despite what he has said previously. The reason for this is that the Jews have been entrusted with the ‘oracles of God.’ They possess, in other words, ‘form of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ (2:20) and therefore, as 2:17-20 says, have an advantage over Gentiles in knowing God’s will. Gentiles may possess some intuition of God’s requirements and so have an elementary understanding of the law in themselves, but the Jews’ possession of the law is so great an advantage that they can instruct the Gentiles in the knowledge of God.”[3]

With Paul’s likening of the Gentile to the Jew in 3:29 and his dismissal of “boasting” in 3:27, it then seems that 3:31 is a capstone to his argument for equality between Jew and Gentile; “[upholding] the law” is only possible after equality is established.[4] If Jew and Gentile are equal, then the “advantage” Paul refers to in 3:1, as Thielman explains, then becomes about what they are to do: teach the Gentiles “in the knowledge of God.” It seems to me that Paul redefines the Jewish possession of the law not as a point for a privileged status, but rather for a role of responsibility – to teach the law to the Gentiles who do not have it.

What do you think Paul means in Romans 3:31 in light of what’s discussed here? Is there another part of Romans 3 that you think is crucial for understanding Paul in 3:31?

[1] E.P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Fortress Press, 1983), 33.

[2] Frank Thielman, Paul & the Law: A Contextual Approach, (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 179.

[3] Thielman, 175

[4] I mean “capstone” in the sense of establishing equality; not an end-all to the discussion. Paul continually emphasizes this equality throughout Romans.

Sundays With St. Paul: “As You Were”…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

Our class discussion this week brought us to 1 Cor. 7:17-24 with an emphasis on v. 19. Yet when I read the passage, I was struck by v. 20; “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”[1] I sensed echoes to what was mentioned in last week’s post, that Judaism and Christianity were not yet seen as separate belief systems. Yet if we’re to read this verse under what Paul says in v. 17; “… This is my rule in all the churches,” then might this be Paul’s purpose all along? For Jews to remain Jews, Gentiles to remain Gentiles, married to remain married, etc.?

In v. 18 Paul says, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.” This point of remaining in one’s own context is again emphasized in v. 21, “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it.” And later on in chapter 7, he says, “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” With this theme of “as you were” in mind, might it possible that Paul never intended to start something new?

In the particular topic of v. 19, which says, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything,” we discussed Paul’s implicit thoughts on the law or “the commandments.” Is he discussing ritual commandments or the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue)? Is he making a distinction between ritual purity and moral purity and implying the latter is more important than the former?

What do you think? Is Paul’s ultimate argument here to remain “as you were” and that one’s own context is not more “right” than another’s? What do you make of his comment about obeying the commandments? Is he going against the understanding of “law” of his time or stepping right in line with what Jesus says about fulfilling the law in Matt. 5:17?

[1] New Revised Standard Version

Sundays With St. Paul: What Happened At Antioch?

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

Our class discussion this week led us to the incident at Antioch as Paul describes in Galatians 2:11-14:

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’”[1]

Our ultimate goal was to figure out what happened at Antioch, why Paul was so upset, and also figure out what Peter’s perspective might have been. Essentially, I said both Peter and Paul were quickly realizing they didn’t have a unified definition of what a Jesus follower looked like – whether they continue practicing the law and retain their Jewish identity or surrender it all (or certain elements) to intermingle with the Gentile Christians. For as Dunn highlights, “The point is that earliest Christianity was not yet seen as something separate and distinct from Judaism. It was a sect, like other sects within first-century Judaism. The first Christians had some distinct and peculiar beliefs about Jesus; but their religion was the religion of the Jews.”[2]

Dunn’s point is something I grew up not even knowing about. Instead, I was oftentimes confused as to why Peter would return to Jewish customs after experiencing life with the risen Jesus. I had assumed he became “Christian” right at the beginning of Acts. Of course, given Peter’s track record in the Gospels (e.g. rebuked by Jesus, failure to stay awake with Jesus, denied knowing Jesus, etc.), I simply understood the Antioch incident as another one of Peter’s blunders. Yet if we understand that there wasn’t much distinction between Christianity and Judaism in his time, then it actually seems quite understandable that he would return to Jewish customs.

And this leads us to the next point in thought: What were those customs? Was it circumcision? Or was it food laws that divided Peter from the Gentiles? If Acts 10:14 can be of any use here, it suggests Peter was still struggling in surrendering Jewish ways, but particularly regarding food; “But Peter said, ‘By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.’”

A scholar named Mark Nanos argues that “[a] change of diet certainly would be a less threatening option, and one that non-Jewish men should be expected to accommodate more gladly than the alternative of circumcision – but that is not what Paul states to be at issue.”[3] As Nanos states earlier in his article, he’s in direct disagreement with Dunn, who argued that it was dietary laws (as well as circumcision) that retained their Jewish identity – particularly in response to anti-Jewish riots and turmoil stirring in other parts of the Roman Empire.[4] It means those “certain people from James,” as Dunn argues, were on a mission in reaction to that rising anti-Jewish threat.[5]

Thielman says if Paul had withdrawn from the Gentiles (as Peter had done), he would have violated “the ‘law of Christ’ of [Gal.] 6:2, a law that incorporates the Mosaic injunction to love one’s neighbor.”[6] Given Paul’s strong focus on Christ, I find this stance most convincing – that whether it was dietary laws or circumcision didn’t matter. What mattered was fellowship through faith in Christ. Yet both Peter and Paul began to recognize consequences of such a new identity. However, Peter seemed to have erred on the side of what was comfortable to him (continuing on as a Jew) whereas Paul erred on the side of what he believed the gospel meant (unity in Christ).

What do you think the issue at Antioch was about? Do you think Peter was in the wrong as Paul suggests or do you sympathize with Peter considering his Jewish identity? What other elements do you think belong in the conversation?

[1] All Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version

[2] James D.G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), 131, emphasis his.

[3] Mark D. Nanos, “The Myth of the ‘Law-Free’ Paul Standing Between Christians and Jews,” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations v. IV, Issue #1 (Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, 2009), 11-12.

[4] Dunn, J.P.L, 135

[5] Dunn, J.P.L, 136

[6] Frank Thielman, Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 142

On Being a Seminarian: A Wonderful Exhaustion…

This is part of a weekend series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Be sure to check out other posts by other blogs, especially if you’re interested in biblical studies.

A couple years ago, I was really into running. I still go for a jog or two every now and then (with a few months in between jogs), but back then I was running nearly every day. Sometimes it was only a mile or two. Other times it was three or four miles. Once, to train for a 10k (6.2 miles), I ran a little over nine miles. I know these distances may not be very far for some, but for an asthmatic like myself, they were oftentimes torturous.

If it was such torture, then why did I do it? Why did I push myself through something as boring and miserable as running seems? For one thing, I needed the exercise (still do). For another, although the process wreaked havoc on my lungs, I enjoyed the “runner’s high” afterward (the extra boost of endorphins after a good workout). And after my recent Hebrew class, I had a similar feeling once I got home.

In the first semester of Hebrew, it was all about learning the grammar. For the second semester, it’s all about translating. There’s no final exam; mostly small assignments and displaying an efficient ability to read the language. And as I am quickly finding out, translating Hebrew is a lot like going for a long run for the first time: I’m exercising brain muscles I didn’t even know I had.

Such a feeling, though, isn’t applicable only to translating languages. I had that feeling again on Tuesday when I finished a fair amount of critical reading for my “Paul and the Law” class. Reading biblical scholarship is a style I’m still getting used to. I can’t let my mind check out for a paragraph or two and jump back in without really missing much. If I’m seeking to understand the scholar, I have to read more slowly and carefully lest I miss something important. Yet reading in this way, at least for me, requires a lot more mental energy. Like with Hebrew, I’m working brain muscles I didn’t know were there.

None of this is intended to suggest that seminary is too much work. One must take only as much as one can bear, but I believe I have a reasonably-sized workload this semester that’ll push me beyond the limits I thought I had. Again, I think of an example from my running experiences.

In 2012, Eugene hosted the Olympic Trials. There were a couple days in the middle of the trials when no athletes were competing. So, to keep people interested in the event, a local track club held an all-comers meet with several different running events. I chose to give it a whirl just for fun and signed up for the “jogger’s” mile. We were asked to write our expected time on our name tags so they could group us together with more efficiency. Not feeling like any record breaker, I put 6:45/mile. When it came time to run the event, I chose to run with the 6:15/mile group to see if I might get pulled to a faster pace. Sure enough, I ran the mile in 5:50, tying my high school best. So much for it being a “jogger’s” mile.

My point here is that seminary is becoming wonderfully exhausting. I don’t always get the “runner’s high” after every assignment or reading binge, but I get it enough to know that this is something I truly enjoy – this process of being pushed and pulled to a faster pace of studying and learning. I’m not sure if I’ll feel this way come the final weeks of this semester with my two 10-12 page research papers coming due, but for now, it’s a feeling I’m trying to harness and utilize to get through each assignment. Sometimes, in order to test our true abilities, we need to be pushed beyond what we thought we could handle. We need to be pulled to a faster pace.

With all that said, I think this raises an important issue for many seminarians: How much is too much? It also involves asking ourselves a tough question: Is this difficult challenge a healthy one or is it legitimately burning us out? If the latter, what are all the factors contributing to the “burn out” feeling? Too much ministry involvement? Poor time management? (I’m guilty of that one, but I think God is a Doctor Who fan, so I think He understands.) What’s your experience when it comes to the workload of seminary, your PhD work, or your everyday life?