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Editor's Reflection: Winter 2022

by Jeff Miller | February 03, 2022

Cara Quinn created and graciously provided the artwork displayed on the cover of this issue of Priscilla Papers. Cara runs Know Your Mothers, a project seeking to empower women in the church by uncovering buried stories of women from the past (see https://knowyourmothers.com and @Knowyourmothers on Instagram). Cara also created the artwork for the fall 2020 cover of CBE’s Mutuality magazine and wrote the article, “Six Black Female Artists Christians Should Know,” in that same issue (https://cbeinternational.org/publication/mutuality-blog-magazine/print-archives).

The cover art is titled, “The Levite’s Concubine.” In the context of Know Your Mothers, it accompanies “Take My Story to Heart: Thoughts from the Levite’s Concubine in Judges 19,” a creative writing piece by Kimberly Dickson. Kim also wrote the opening article in this issue of Priscilla Papers, “Rape, Dismemberment, and Chaos in Judges 19–21.”

When I became editor of Priscilla Papers, I knew I would be working with many articles about what could be called the core biblical texts, those texts over which complementarian/egalitarian debates are commonly held: Genesis 1–3, Deborah in Judges 4–5, Song of Songs, 1 Corinthians 11 and 14, Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, etc. And I knew, of course, that I would encounter other texts and themes as well.

What I did not expect, however, was how frequently articles submitted to Priscilla Papers would grapple with “texts of terror,” to borrow a now-common phrase from Phyllis Trible’s 1984 book, Texts of Terror: Literary Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Nevertheless, the first issue I worked on (fall 2014) included pieces on Jephthah’s daughter and on Tamar of 2 Samuel (by Rollin Ramsaran and Deirdre Brouer, respectively). In that same issue, we reviewed Philip Esler’s book, Sex, Wives, and Warriors (Cascade, 2011), which includes chapters on Bathsheba, both Tamars (Gen 38 and 2 Sam 13), and other alarming texts. Over the years, the horrors of Judges 19 keep coming up, again (“A Negative Model of Manhood in Judges 19” by Craig Keener, spring 1995), and again (“The Levite’s Concubine: Domestic Violence and the People of God” by Elaine Heath, winter 1999), and again (“Voices of Outrage against Rape: Textual Evidence from Judges 19” by Deirdre Brouer, winter 2014), and again (“Judges 19 as a Paradigm for Understanding and Responding to Human Trafficking” by Chuck Pitts, fall 2015), and again (“He Made Her Play the Harlot: Judges 19 through the Lens of Domestic Abuse” by Evelyn Sweerts-Vermeulen, summer 2021), and still again in the present issue.

In hindsight, though I did not anticipate encountering just as many articles like these as I do articles addressing so-called core texts, I am not surprised. It seems that sin still prowls the world like a roaring, devouring lion (cf. 1 Pet 5:8)—hence the theme of this issue, “Overcoming the Effects of Sin.”

This editorial will make you aware of some developments in gender-accurate Bible translation.

N. T. Wright, The New Testament for Everyone

First, I was pleased to discover that N. T. Wright’s translation of the NT is now freely available at BibleGateway.com, as The New Testament for Everyone (NTE). Wright’s translation is not new. It was published in 2011 as The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation, and before then it became available in increments as part of the “For Everyone” commentary series (Matthew for Everyone, Mark for Everyone, etc.). Wright’s main purpose was not to create a gender-accurate translation. Nevertheless, certain features of his translation will tend to be viewed positively by egalitarian readers. These include, for example:

  • Wright’s choice not to separate Ephesians 5:21 and 5:22 with a subheading.
     
  • Wright’s translation of 1 Timothy 2:11–12: “They must study undisturbed, in full submission to God. I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.”
     
  • Wright’s use of “brothers and sisters,” or other expressions, instead of “brothers.”

Translations within commentaries are helpful because the translator has ample space to explain her or his choices. In this case, Wright’s translation has been removed from its original context (a commentary series), and as a result some texts have lost their clarity. For example, Wright translates Romans 16:7 as “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and fellow prisoners, who are well known among the apostles. . . .” His wording, “well known among the apostles,” could be viewed as a compromise between the competing options, “outstanding among the apostles” (NIV) and “well known to the apostles” (ESV). But his commentary clarifies, “the phrase ‘well known among the apostles’ doesn’t mean that the apostles knew her and Andronicus . . . but that they are apostles. . . . She has the same status as all the other apostles, including Paul himself” (Paul for Everyone: Romans [Westminster John Knox, 2004] 134).

NRSV Updated Edition

The New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition (NRSVue) is a revision of the 1989 NRSV. The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. holds the copyright. It is currently available for purchase in digital format from Friendship Press and the Word@Hand app; print editions are anticipated later in 2022.

Though the NRSV made significant progress toward gender-accurate Bible translation, it also left much to be desired for egalitarian readers—to a certain degree in 1989 and even more in hindsight. You can expect a fuller review of the NRSVue when print and searchable online editions are available, but for now, two examples (drawn from friendshippress.org) will provide some optimism to readers of Priscilla Papers.

Matthew 2:1

NRSV: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East came to Jerusalem,”

*Or astrologers; Gk magi

NRSVue: “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, magi* from the east came to Jerusalem,”

*Or astrologers

Galatians 1:11

NRSV: “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters,* that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;”

*Gk brothers

NRSVue: “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin.”

In the Galatians example above, the wording of the NRSV and NRSVue is identical. The difference is that the later edition lacks a footnote. The 1989 footnote implies that “brothers and sisters” is an expanded, adapted, non-literal translation of the Greek word for “brothers” (adelphoi, singular adelphos). Removing the footnote was a good decision, and the website rightly explains, “adelphos is not intrinsically gender-exclusive” (NRSV Updated Edition: Bible Sampler, xxii). To try to adopt the point of view of first-century Christians may help us think clearly about this. When such Christians heard, for example, one of Paul’s letters read aloud in a house church, and the letter addressed them as adelphoi, the women and men in the group did not hear this word differently. It is not the case that the men heard it directly and literally (“adelphoi refers to us men”) while the women heard it indirectly and metaphorically (“adelphoi refers to those men, but it can also connote us women”).

Surprising Steps

The summer 2021 issue of Priscilla Papers included a review of the 2020 revision of the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) titled, “Surprising Steps in the Right Direction.” The review identified a modest trend among complementarian Bible translators toward certain egalitarian translation choices. The review noted, for example, that the 2020 revision of the CSB changed “fathers” to “ancestors” over 200 times. Going back a step, the first CSB (2017) was a revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), first published in 1999. The 2017 CSB moved away from its predecessor, the HCSB, and used “brothers and sisters” to translate adelphoi about 175 times.

Shifting to a different translation, I am pleased to report that the 2020 revision of the New American Standard Bible (NASB, © The Lockman Foundation) translates adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” (or adelphos as “brother or sister”) about 150 times. CBE International does not endorse the NASB, and Priscilla Papers will not be publishing a fuller review of it. Nevertheless, its treatment of adelphoi is significant as further evidence for the trend noted above, especially since the NASB is widely assumed to be the most literal English Bible (though neither the NASB translators nor the Lockman Foundation would make such a vague claim).

CBE continues to recommend gender-accurate Bible translations such as the Common English Bible (CEB), the 2011 NIV, and the NRSV/NRSVue. If patriarchy and androcentrism are results of sin, and if such translations work against patriarchy and androcentrism, then perhaps we can say they are part of overcoming the effects of sin—the theme of this issue of Priscilla Papers.

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