A Woman’s Literal Bible Assessment 2

I shall label this series the WLBA for lack of better name. Here is installment #2.

Doug at Metacatholic has responded by suggesting that I do not cast a wide enough net. I am not ambitious enough. I must have a more expansive view. Whew.

But we have discussed already which translations do not have the Deuterocanon, and which have congregation or assembly instead of church – and, let us not forget that there are Bibles with and without bishops! There is also an ongoing lively, and let me add significant, exchange about how the Hebrew scriptures, (and believe me, I won’t get this right because now I am supposed to refer to the Tanakh) are translated.

The fact is that we have spent the better part of the last 18 months narrowing down the discussion. So you must explore our archives sometime. We have discussed gender language until I heartily wish that the Christian scriptures had been written in a language with 2 colours and 5 genders.

On a more sober note, I have been counseled not to focus too heavily on my own favourite interpretation, but to look for a meditating position. And Jeremy suggests that there is a difference between a translation which would be compatible with one’s position on women, and a translation from which one can derive one’s position on women.

My feeling is that the need to derive either male leadership or egalitarian leadership from the scriptures, is not spread out equally across the different groups or through the various periods of church history. It probably was not the predominant concern in 16th century England, nor is it now a pressing concern in the mainstream protestant churches. That is why I am focusing on the evangelical community. But, I open to thinking more about this.

The data I am using is contained in this post. I will keep it stored there and discuss one translation at a time for a while.


Ta da! I am sure that it is no surprise that the TNIV is top of the list. Here is what it looks like. I have scored it as 4 out of 4, giving 1 mark for Rom. 16:1 and 2 combined.

Rom. 16:1 – deacon
Rom. 16:2 – benefactor
Rom.16:7 – outstanding among
1 Cor. 11:10 – have authority over her own head
1 Tim. 2:12 – assume authority

Here are a few notes about the TNIV choices.

Rom. 16:1

Here the TNIV has deacon, which is a transliteration of the Greek diakonos. The NLT2 and the NRSV also have deacon. The RSV has deaconess. Although I originally felt that deaconess should not be considered as equivalent of deacon, this is a bit tricky, and I don’t know if it is worth spending more time on right now. Greek has one word for deacon and another word for deaconess, but here it says that Phoebe was a deacon.

However, the word could also mean servant, so it really depends on the context. I do believe that both sides could accept either servant or deacon here. There is no real mediating position, but certainly the role of deacon itself is open to discussion.

Rom. 16:2

To continue with Pheobe, in verse 2 she is called a “benefactor”. This is a true middle position if we consider the historic and literal alternatives. Prostatis has been translated as “leader”, “respected leader”, “defender”, “succourer”, “patron”, “benefactor”, “great help” and “helper”. I would position “benefactor” in the middle. The three contrasting senses of “leader”, “benefactor” and “help”, sufficiently cover the lexical range. However, “help” is itself somewhat ambiguous, so the BDAG has said, “a woman in a supportive role, benefactor, patron”. This word never means “help” as in “assistant”.

This verse is interesting because there is a bit of a play on words. Paul literally says “stand by Phoebe, because she has stood before many, also myself.” There are a variety of ways to take this, but it implies that she has helped Paul on her own initiative from a position of influence and wealth, and provided for or defended him in some way. She helped from out front; she wasn’t his ‘girl friday’. The male word prostatês can mean “front rank man”, “chief”, “ruler”, “guardian” or “protector”. In the LSJ the word used to describe Phoebe is simply listed as the female form of the above.

Now think of how watered down it sounds to call a chief or ruler a “helper”. Yes, there is a play on words and some translations couldn’t resist the quip – “help Pheobe because she has been a great help to many”, but I don’t think that does Phoebe justice. She championed Paul. The French L-M says that this word means “celle qui a la puissance de direction” – “la directrice”. The translation should reflect the meaning of the word in some way.

Rom. 16:7

Let’s move on to Rom. 16:7 and Junia. Andronicus and Junia are “outstanding among the apostles”. You really can’t get a closer lexical and grammatical equivalent – “distinguished”, “famous”, “remarkable”, “prominent”, literally “of exceptional quality” – take your pick. It seems to me that if Jerome was happy with Junia, we should be. And there is no one to stop people from adjusting the meaning of apostle accordingly. Afterall, women were prophets too, and there must be some way of dealing with that one.

1 Cor. 11:10

Another fascinating verse. The Greek “to have authority on the head” defies obvious interpretation. Either a woman has authority over her own head, or she has a symbol of her own authority on her head. To say that in this case “have authority over” really means “be under authority” just because it is a verse about women just isn’t going to wash.

There has not been one other example in Greek literature where this expression means to have a symbol on the head that a person is under someone else’s authority. No one has ever suggested that there is such an example in all Greek literature – to my knowledge. I hope people are reading and will bring up counter examples if there are any. I could have missed it, but there isn’t one in Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth. I think that is significant.

So the TNIV translates 1 Cor. 11:10 as “have authority over her own head”. The TNIV adds the word “own” which is not in the Greek. However, this is to counteract against the many years where this verse has been interpreted as a woman being under someone else’s authority. Maybe she is, and maybe she isn’t, but this verse does not say. It says she “ought to have authority”. The TNIV has a footnote offering the alternative interpretation.

1 Tim. 2:12

The TNIV once again, with “assume authority” offers a mediating position midway between “dominate’, or “rule” and “have authority” or “exercise authority”. However, there is no evidence that this word meant “to have legitimate authority.” The older BDAG had that as one meaning, but in view of the evidence, it has now been changed to “assume a stance of independent authority, give orders to, dictate.” But the evidence suggests something much closer to “dominate” or “compel.” Once again, I have no thoughts on how to interpret this, I would just like to see a literal translation.

So, overall, the TNIV has “deacon”, “outstanding among the apostles”, and “to have authority on her own head” as very close formal equivalent translations. Then the choices of “benefactor” and “assume authority” represent a mediating position. The TNIV closely resembles the King James Version in Rom. 16:7, 1 Cor. 11:10 and 1 Tim. 2:12. Check for the KJV here.

More another day.

5 thoughts on “A Woman’s Literal Bible Assessment 2

  1. Glennsp says:

    I have only looked very briefly at this post, but as regards 1 Cor 11:10, you cannot/should not take a verse out of its context; nor expect to be taken seriously when you comment on it on that basis.
    You are surely aware that “a text without a context is a pretext”.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    The TNIV is close to the Tyndale, Geneva, KJV, Luther, Darby and other literal Bibles for a start.

    However, Dr. Packer brought up the same point as you do, that a verse must be translated according to its context. But isn’t this in tension with the principle of being essentially literal?

    How do we resolve this dilemma? Especially when there is no consensus about how to interpret this verse.

  3. Psalmist says:

    These are the classic verses that, invariably taken out of context, are used by some Christians to proof-text to Christian women that the Bible relegates them to non-leadership service in the church. So it’s important to see what various translations do with these verses which people will continue to take out of context for this purpose.

    It amazes me that people who do the proof-text-based forbidding, when those proof-texts are shown even out-of-context to say something other than what they claim is being said in the proof-texting. It’s not OK for someone who disagrees with them, to do what they themselves have done: look at what a verse says outside its context. I don’t see that they can have it both ways.

    I agree with you, Suzanne: “literal” readings of verses invariably involve non-contextual treatment of them. This is true of any reading, not merely the Bible. Look at the way so many pundits quote their opponents out-of-context, for example. And what would politicians do without “sound-bites”? This technique relies upon people not bothering to read or listen critically for themselves.

    It’s been said that the devil can quote Scripture for his own purpose. You’ve shown here that, when it comes to convincing people that women aren’t permitted scripturally to lead in the church, the devil would do well to continue to quote from some translations and leave a few others alone. Even out-of-context, the TNIV wouldn’t suit the devil’s purpose in this area very well.

  4. Glennsp says:

    My point is that when assessing a verse you need to take into account what preceded it and what proceeds from it.
    Otherwise it (the verse) is being treated in isolation and that does not help assess its meaning.
    This applies whether it is the TNIV, ESV, KJV etc, etc. as a translation or in the original languages, it makes no difference.
    You appeared in your post to be trying to build your case based on what a verse said without any reference to the preceding or proceeding verses.
    My understanding would be that using context to aid with translation would be somewhat different to using context to aid in interpretation.
    A matter of degree perhaps but a difference albeit slight.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Yes, I think that it is understandable to use context to aid interpretation. However, if there are significant differences of opinion, then the translation should be more formal or word for word.

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