Feminist Paul

Stephen MarshMormon 7 Comments

I’ve been reading translator’s notes and development comments on the NET Bible.  The section on gender accurate vs. gender inclusive has been interesting, since they finish up with some examples of what Paul wrote.

Psalm 36:1 is written “There is no fear of God before his eyes” while Paul quotes it in Romans 3:18 as “before their eyes.”  He does that quite a bit, and it is obviously intentional when he starts in quotes such as 2 Samuel 7:14 which reads “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me” and Paul changes that to “I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters” in 2 Corinthians 6:18.  Paul does that a number of times, even changing my daughter’s favorite scripture from “the feet of him who brings good news” to “the feet of those who …”

He isn’t using a common or even known version of the Old Testament when he makes these quotes many times, he is editing them for inclusiveness.  There is more, but I’ll leave that to Pistas3.

If Paul can use that language, why can’t we?

Comments 7

  1. Thanks for this – I have been accustomed to thinking of Paul as a sexist pig, but whenever I look closer I find him bucking the contemporary sexism and including women in unexpected ways.

  2. Stephen, I’m not a linguist, but I believe this has more to do with grammatical treatment of gender than Paul’s sexism. In Ancient Greek, neuter plurals are widely used in such cases. Isn’t it true that in Ancient Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament), unlike English, a gender must be assigned, and to speak of both genders, one uses the male pronoun?

    I do agree with you that in translating into English we should use gender inclusive language when possible.

  3. The phrases in the Septuagint, which was Greek, that Paul is quoting from, are very clearly male. Paul changes them to plurals or to add things like “sons and daughters” rather than just “sons.”

    I’d suggest the article at http://bible.org/article/do-gender-sensitive-translations-distort-scripture-not-necessarily for a very accessible discussion of the issues. July, whose AOL and FAIR handle is Pistas3, remarked after reading a number of earlier versions (commonly referred to as “witnesses” by translators) of Paul that he was by no means the sexist that everyone assumes, especially given the verses that are later glosses. I know a number of people just assumed that was bias created by her studying at the Claremont colleges, but she has a great deal of substance behind her positions. My post only glosses over the topic and the language, but it gives some excellent examples of where Paul would have started with a Greek text (the most prevalent version of the Old Testament was in Greek in his era) and his changes are from gender exclusive language to gender inclusive language when he quotes.

    I rather wish I’d read that article before I posted, he has better arguments and examples than I have, though his article is much longer than my blog post.

  4. I think we need to realize that Latin based languages will use the masculine and it implies both feminine and masculine. That doesn’t exist in English, but is quickly noticed in Spanish, Portuguese, and I think Italian. Probably more languages that I have experience with. Whether Paul wrote in Latin it doesn’t really matter. Since the Catholic Church adopted Latin as the official language of mass, Bibles would have been available in Latin. The translations done, were probably from Latin Bibles at first, as access to archives wouldn’t have been first on the Catholic Church’s to do list. It is only now that we are realizing that Paul and other writers might have been more inclusive than first assumed. I’m quite excited about this post, and look forward to additional information as it becomes available.

  5. Stephen, I read the entire article you cited (which was quite long!) I found it an interesting discussion of the problem of gender in Biblical translation. The author explains that some translators have suggested that many Hebrew gender exclusive words can and should be translated to be gender inclusive. Paul is used to illustrate this point, because he “did not feel constrained by limitations in his rendering of these Old Testament texts that some have suggested for such texts.” For example, instead of translating the Hebrew “son” into a single gender as the Septuagint did, he translated it to include both genders. This had nothing to do with whether Paul was sexist or not sexist, but rather his grasp of linguistic nuance. I wouldn’t call these “glosses” at all. From the article you cited:

    Note carefully what the apostle Paul has done. He has taken the third-person singular (“he will be a son to me”) and rewritten it as a second-person plural — not only a second-person plural, but in terms that expand the masculine “son” into both genders: “you shall be sons and daughters to me.” Nor is it the case that Paul is simply citing the common Greek version — some form of the Septuagint (LXX) — without worrying too much about the details, for here the LXX follows the Hebrew rather closely. Nor can one easily imagine that Paul was ignorant of the Hebrew and LXX texts. Even the more biblically literate in the Corinthian congregation would have been familiar at least with the Greek text …. There are complex reasons why Paul can argue this way, bound up with an important typology that needs to be explored. But the least we can say is that the apostle himself does not think that Hebrew singulars must be rendered by Greek singulars, or that Hebrew “son” should never be rendered by Greek “sons and daughters.” No one, I think, would quickly charge Paul with succumbing to a feminist agenda. (The Inclusive-Language Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998, p. 20)

    I have not read Julie’s article, though, so I don’t know what arguments she makes. Could you provide a link?

  6. I need to find a link to Pistas3’s thoughts.

    Interestingly enough, Old English has a word for men, one for women and then the word for both. The word for men fell out of use and the word for both got used for both men and for humankind.

    Anyway, BYUAgnostic and Bored in Vernal make good points.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *