In the comments to my first post on the NET Bible, it became clear that this Bible is not valued for its English style but for its notes. In this discussion on the NET bible site, there is no mention of an in-house English stylist; however, on this page Wayne Leman is recognized as a translation consultant and W. Hall Harris III is mentioned as an English stylist. I will let Wayne jump in to comment or post on this as he sees fit. Dr. Wallace concludes his Open Letter with this invitation.
- We continue to ask for your assistance because the mutual cooperation benefits us all. And with nearly three quarters of a million words in the text and notes, the NET team needs all the editorial and proofreading help we can get!
I must mention that, in spite of this generous expression of openness, Dr. Wallace did not respond directly to my 17 posts on Junia but designated Michael Burer to rebut them. I will analyse Burer’s response to me in a subsequent post. But first, I would like to discuss the notes in general and a few in particular pertaining to women.
The notes are of three types, the study notes – “sn”, the translators notes – “tn”, and the ‘text critical notes – “tc”. When I read through the notes, I have a decidedly different reaction to each distinct type of note. I read through the study notes with non-critical interest, I enjoy tremendously the text critical notes, and I interact in a very critical and discriminating manner with the translator notes, assessing them one by one.
Here are some examples of text critical notes.
1. In John’s gospel, there are some extremely interesting issues in chapter 1, verses 18 and 34. Throughout the text critical notes, there is extensive reference to the visual aspects of the manuscripts, for example, evaluating whether the difference was one of one letter or several depending on whether a nomen sacrum was used.
2. There is an lengthly response to Fee’s article on 1 Cor. 14:34-35.
3. In 1 Thess. 2:7, the NET Bible has “we became little children among you” rather than “gentle” agreeing here with the TNIV.
4. In Eph. 5:22, the discussion about the ellipsis brings up the issue of page breaks in the lectionaries as a reason for an interpolated verb. It does not impact in any way on the translation or section break but is interesting nonetheless.
5. In Romans 16:7 the note indicates that it is highly unlikely that “Junia” was actually the male name “Junias”. However, it does mention the citation of “Junias” in Epiphanius, without including the critical information that Epiphanius also thought that Priscilla was a man. I don’t see why space could not have been spared for this tidbit? Why not close the loophole?
In general I find the text critical notes to the point and interesting. However, I am of the opinion that in several places the translation notes are somewhat unfavourable towards women.
For example, there is the question of Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2,
- Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant1 of the church in Cenchrea, so that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and provide her with whatever help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many, including me.
And here is the only note for this verse.
- Or “deaconess.” It is debated whether διάκονος (diakonos) here refers to a specific office within the church. . . . In any case, the evidence is not compelling either way. The view accepted in the translation above is that Phoebe was a servant of the church, not a deaconess, although this conclusion should be regarded as tentative.
The main difficulty that leaps to the eye is that there was no office for “deaconess”, nor was there a word for “deaconess” in the New Testament church. The term diakonissa occurs a couple of centuries later. Therefore, to suggest the word “deaconess” for diakonos is a simple anachronism. The rest of the argument seems sound, and it is buttressed by Wallace’s study May Women be Deacons, in which he says,
- As I read the NT, I do see deacons functioning in an authoritative capacity. If my understanding is correct, then the only way for one to see women deacons in 1 Tim 3:11 is either to (a) divorce this verse from the overarching principle stated in 1 Tim 2:12 or (b) reinterpret 2:12 to mean something other than an abiding principle for church life.
On the other hand, if deacons were not in roles of leadership, then what is to prevent women from filling such a role? To be sure, there are some who believe that women can be deacons, but who also believe that a female deacon functioned on a different level than a male deacon2 If such a qualification is made, then I have no problem with the category.
It is clear that 1 Tim. 2:12 is taken as the rule against which to measure other verses in the scriptures regarding women. What is to prevent others from taking a contrasting verse as their rule? There is a certain amount of casuistry involved in this discussion, in my view. Wallace states that in the case where a female deacon functions on a different level, a woman could be a deacon. I don’t have a strong disagreement with the NET Bible on this word “deacon”, but I want to show the kind of subtle slant and background justification that is behind the notes.
The more puzzling term in Rom. 16:2 is the translation of prostatis as “great help”. The ESV has “patron” here. There is no note on this word. It is passed over in silence and yet a significant decision has been made. There is no mention of the fact that the word prostatis is a cognate of the verb in 1 Tim. 5:17 which is translated as “leadership” in this verse – “Elders who provide effective leadership”. No mention of that!
Once again, I am not proposing that this word should necessarily have been translated as “leader” but I do want to point out that the NET Bible does not provide the full story on women. If translation tradition had favoured women over the centuries, this verse could have been translated,
- Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon of the church in Cenchrea, so that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and provide her with whatever help she may need from you, for she has been a leader/provider for many, including me.
These options are not discussed. This is really a very minor issue, but I have found several other times when the NET Bible made a decision in the translation, section headings or notes, which diminishes the status of women.
In Eph. 5:22 the note comments on, but does not provide adequate support for putting the break between verses 21 and 22. In 1 Cor. 11:10, the notes do not mention that translating exousia as “a symbol of authority” refering to a symbol of someone else’s authority over one’s person, is absolutely without precedent in Greek literature and therefore needs a stronger defense. The notes simply don’t provide strong support for the translation decision.
In 1 Tim. 2:12, the note for authentein says “to assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate to” and does not in any way support the translation “exercise authority”. I am of the opinion that on occasion these notes serve a decorative function only. They do not put one in touch with the actual translation issues.
In 1 Tim. 2:15, the notewriter waxes eloquent on childbearing and posits that it represents submission to male leadership.
- The idea of childbearing, then, is a metonymy of part for the whole that encompasses the woman’s submission again to the leadership of the man
This runs counter to the narrative of scripture, in which Hannah, Rachel, Ruth, Tamar and others take the initiative in order to bear children. This runs counter to the example of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and this runs counter to the injunction of Jesus,
- As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
This runs counter to Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7 that
- An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.
and this runs counter to the teaching that sexual intercourse is supposed to be a mutual arrangement as taught in 1 Cor. 7:4 (and Song of Solomon, so they say.)
- The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
I’d hate to see the NET Bible and its notes being used in a marriage prep seminar. The teaching in these notes seem so far from the Biblical narrative that I looked up an article by Wallace to ascertain if he actually approved of this teaching. I was unpleasantly surprised.
I find that Wallace explicitly states his views on women in an article called Biblical Gynecology. Although Wallace intends this to refer only to the “study of women”, he cannot be oblivious to the fact that gynecology has exactly one meaning in English,
- The study of the reproductive system of women.
So, once Wallace has women metaphorically under examination, “on the table”, so to speak, the question is, does he envision women only in submission to male initiative? Apparently so – women are for Wallace “responders” – that is their function, both in the home and in the church. Wallace does not mean that women respond to God, Wallace means that women respond to men – in the home and in the church. (Funny thing, I was always under the distinct impression that men respond to women.) Women, best discussed metaphorically by “childbearing” and “gynecology”, or the study of their reproductive organs, experience the redemptive work of God in their life inasmuch as they submit to man.
Not happy to leave it at that, Wallace goes on to share with the public his views on “egalitarian women” – those who defy being defined by their reproductive organs. On anecdotal evidence, Wallace remarks that egalitarian women are rude, “arrogant” and “disrespectful.” Wallace characterizes egalitarian women as “despising women” and “treating women as second-class citizens.” In fact, according to Wallace, it is almost without exception egalitarian women who behave this way; complementarian women have never been known to do this.
I just don’t think that providing evidence to the contrary would be useful at this point. My experience is that in the public school system and at secular universities, this kind of discourse is not allowed. I have certainly never run into this kind of officially sanctioned sexism in the non-Christian workplace. This does Grudem one better – he merely states, in Ev. Fem. and Biblical Truth, that egalitarian women are “unattractive to the opposite sex”.
Probably 500 years from now this isn’t going to matter – but now, this matters. My sense is that Christians are so desensitized to sexism that they simply let it go by without comment. What kind of witness is this to the world?
Next, I am going to review Wallace and Burer’s work on Junia. Stay tuned.
Update: This line “it is almost without exception egalitarian women who behave this way” has been edited in response to a commenter, to better conform to Wallace’s argument in the paper Biblical Gynecology. Wallace also writes, “” I am not saying that egalitarian women always treat other women disrespectfully”.
Nonetheless, Wallace pits egalitarian women against complementarian women and makes some unpleasant accusations. It is evident that egalitarian women could easily recount anecdotes which demonstrate the converse, but I don’t think it is appropriate for me to try and counter Wallace’s arguments, although I could easily do so. The simple fact remains that he should not have sunk to this level of discourse.