Monday, January 15, 2007

Headcoverings, Part 2: Translational Issues


Here is the outline that I’m going to try to follow.

1) Translation Issues
2) What the Text Says
3) Because of the Angels?
4) Visible Submission
5) Trans-cultural Issues


First, I want to look at some translational issues regarding 1 Cor. 11:2-16. While I love the ESV, and use it every day, I think it is mistaken on this passage. As a rule, it translates the Greek word gune (woman or wife, depending on the context) as “wife.” A footnote explains that, “In verses 5-13, the Greek word gune is translated wife in verses that deal with wearing a veil, a sign of being married in first-century culture.”

Here’s my question: “Which first-century culture? Jewish, Greek, or Roman?” Each culture had its own traditions. Jewish culture required women to not only cover their heads, but their faces as well. And it seems that in Corinth, this was not a cultural requirement at all:

Christian women were expected to wear headcoverings at religious gatherings (probably also whenever in public) without the face-veiling, even in those places (like Corinth) where the pagan society did not currently require a woman to wear any headcovering. (Headcovering Customs of the Ancient World by Michael Marlowe)
To limit the Greek term here to “wife” based on some supposed first-century culture begs the question. Since context always determines whether or not the terms for man and woman should be translated as husband and wife, the ESV should get the benefit of the doubt. But the ESV also translates gune in passages that do not include the concept of a headcovering. Since almost all translations have traditionally rendered the terms in these passages as man and woman, it would seem the ESV should give a better reason for leaving the well worn path they claim to be coming from.

I think the problem shows itself most clearly in 1 Cor 11:3,

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV
First, note that this passage does not mention headcovers. This is a universal statement about all men and Christ, men and women, and Christ and God. The ESV has not stuck to their noted method of translation for this section. The NASB, NET, NIV, HCSB, ASV, KJV, NKJ, and the NLT all translate this verse with man and woman throughout. It would seem that the ESV translators should demonstrate that Paul is limiting this apparently universal statement to just husbands and wives. By the way, there is no reflexive pronoun here in the Greek either (her man/husband); it simply reads, “the head of woman is man.” I find it interesting that the more liberal NLT has actually been corrected from its older versions so that, whereas The Living Bible rendered the passage with husband and wife language, the NLT reverts back to the traditional rendering of man and woman (leaving only a footnote concerning the possibility of husband and wife language).

The other verse that I would like to point out is 1 Cor. 11:10. The ESV is simply hard to follow. The Greek construction at the beginning of the verse would best be translated something like this, “For this reason” or “This is why,” with the reason following at the end of the verse, “because of the angels.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible handles this quite well with its use of the colon at the end,

This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head: because of the angels.
1 Corinthians 11:10 HCSB
Well, more later.

Above: Karis at Nino's this past Christmas with quite a headcoving!

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