Fresh Butter at Ephesus
by Douglas Wilson
The other day, when I responded to N.T. Wright’s foray into extreme Pauline makeovers, a friend sent me a link to a longer and more scholarly defense of Wright’s posish. That link I now pass on to you. And being a good Christian, and a fair-minded soul, I read it. All the way to the end.
It is not really necessary to respond to the first part of his paper, which actually dithers in ways that actually reinforce aspects of the traditionalists’ case, and so let’s just leave that part be. But 1 Tim. 2:12 is the locus classicus, and that is where his grim business really begins. Of course, if you are an egalitarian farmer, 1 Tim. 2:12 is actually the locust classicus, with palmerworms, and cankerworms, and caterpillars joining in the feast, eating your whole crop of estrogen-reinforced ministry right down to the dirt. Thus far the reading of the prophet Joel (Joel 1:4).
I don’t have a ton to say about Wright’s treatment of poor Timothy either, but I hope that what I have to say will be sufficient.
First, Wright clears his throat nervously, because he is smart enough to know that there are other smart people out there in the world, and if they happen along, they will see right through what he is doing. Not only is he blowing smoke, it seems that he knows that he is.
“I fully acknowledge that the very different reading I’m going to suggest may sound to begin with as though I’m simply trying to make things easier, to tailor this bit of Paul to fit our culture. But there is good, solid scholarship behind what I’m going to say, and I genuinely believe it may be the right interpretation.”
Well, yes. That is exactly what it sounds like. And did you notice that it does make things easier, doesn’t it? Paul does fit into the current climate a little better than before, doesn’t he? What a relief! Fortunately, there is good, solid scholarship (all rise!), six yards of it and all wool, to cover our butts here. You know what these gender equality conferences need? Some horse laughs from somewhere in the ventilation ducts.
The reason Wright sounds so furtive is that, after much mincing discussion, he is about to pull a translation ninja move.
“How then would I translate [note that he uses the word translate, not interpret, for this] the passage to bring all this out? As follows:
So this is what I want: the men should pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, with no anger or disputing. 9 In the same way the women, too, should clothe themselves in an appropriate manner, modestly and sensibly. They should not go in for elaborate hair-styles, or gold, or pearls, or expensive clothes; 10 instead, as is appropriate for women who profess to be godly, they should adorn themselves with good works. 11They must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God. 12 I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed. 13 Adam was created first, you see, and then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and fell into trespass. 15 She will, however, be kept safe through the process of childbirth, if she continues in faith, love and holiness with prudence.”
But the problem with translation ninja moves is that more than one can play. Once we have kicked over our exegetical traces, and we are no longer trammeled by those doggone original words, then that misogynist Zeke, who lives up the road a piece, might think himself up to this kind of translation his very own self.
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:12, ESV).
“I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; they should be left undisturbed” (1 Tim. 2:12, Wright).
“I do not permit a woman to drive stick shift unless a man is present to yell at her; rather, she should stay at home and make us some biscuits. The kind we like, with fresh butter” (1 Tim. 2:12, Zeke).
And let us enquire, in a spirit of frank and earnest investigation, whether Zeke has done anything in principle that Wright didn’t do — with the possible exception that Wright knew what he was doing. And Zeke did add a few more words than Wright, but in his defense, the priestesses of the Temple of Diana in Ephesus, where Timothy was at the time, used to eat fresh butter.
Wright has said that his translation above is the fruit of good, solid scholarship. Well, then, it seems that we have stronger reasons every day for walking away from good, solid scholarship. If this is serious scholarship, why on earth are we taking it seriously?