Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Timothy 3:11~Wives or Women?

In this post, I want to look at the use of “gune” the Greek word for woman/wife, which is used by Paul in I Timothy 3:11. Some argue that Paul cannot mean “wives” here, especially wives of deacons.  The argument is often made that "gune" simply means "woman" not wives and therefore a better translation would be "women" not wives. Let’s look at the data and see how Paul uses this word. Paul uses this word, by my count, sixty-four times, with over half of those uses coming in I Corinthians. 

Here is where Paul uses the word "gune":
Romans 7:2
I Corinthians 5:1
I Corinthians 7 uses the word 21 times.
I Corinthians 11:1-16 uses the word 16 times.
I Corinthians 14:34-35 uses the word twice.
Galatians 4:4
Ephesians 5:22-33 uses the word 9 times.
I Timothy uses the word 9 times
Titus 1:6

In Romans 7:2, Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, I Corinthians 5:1, 9:5, and Titus 1:6 the word means “wife.”

Galatians 4:4 does not strictly mean wife though it could be in the background. 

I Corinthians 7 is about the relationship between husbands and wives. Even where the ESV translates “gune” as “woman” wife would usually work as a substitute. For example, in 7:2, 7:3 and even 7:1 where the ESV translates it as “woman” wife makes sense also. The word translated “unmarried woman” in 7:28 is actually the word for “virgin.” “Gune” is not there.

The only place in I Corinthians 7 where “wife” does not make sense as the proper translation of "gune" is if we take the ESV’s translation of 7:34. The NKJV and ESV have different translations of this verse based on different manuscripts. 

I Corinthians 11 is one of the more hotly debated passages in the New Testament for numerous reasons. It is possible to translate “gune” as wife or as woman. Woman makes more sense in the passage as a whole, especially verses 8-15. However, a married woman is not out of the question throughout the passage. Even if we translate it as "woman" most of them would have been married women, that is wives. I think the emphasis in the passage is on her being female, not her being married. But being married would probably have been in the background and some commentators would argue in the foreground.  For example, in verse 5 "head" could refer to the husband.  However, the passage does not appear to be limited to married women though they are the primary paradigm Paul is working with. 

Paul uses “gune” several times in I Timothy. In I Timothy 3:2, 3:12 and 5:9 it clearly means wife, not just woman. In 2:9-15 it means “woman" though we should not discount the mention of childbearing at the end of passage, which points to a married woman. However, Paul is not saying, "Only married women cannot teach in verse 12." This restriction is on all women in the church, though married women are the primary group referred to. 

One of the difficulties is that when we say "woman" we mean any female of any status usually over the age of 18. She could be single, divorced, widowed, married, twice-married, a virgin, a prostitute, twenty-five, eighty-five, etc. While these categories existed in Paul's time, when he used "gune" the primary reference is to married women because most women married.  In our age marriage is an option for women, not necessarily an expectation. For Paul, marriage was the norm both in Christian society and Roman society. An unmarried women would have normally been referred to as a virgin, harlot, or widow. For example, in I Timothy 5 Paul used "gune" to refer to a married woman (I Timothy 5:9), but the rest of the passage he uses the word widow. (Gune is not used in verse 16 where the ESV says, "woman.") 

The second complication is that in our age independent women are the norm. Women are not seen as connected to their household either as wives or daughters. Even married women function independently of their husbands. In Paul's time, this would have been the exception, not the rule. There were independent women, but most women were either married living under the authority of a husband or at home living under the authority of a father. My point is that when Paul uses "gune" he is more than likely referring to married women. However, when we hear the word "woman" we have a much broader group in mind. There is semantic confusion because of cultural differences. 

I want to make one main point with this post. In I Timothy 3:11, wives cannot be ruled out as the proper translation of "gune" given Paul's normal use of the word. There are very few times where Paul uses the word "gune" where "wife" would not make sense. Of course, context is the final determination, which I will look at later. There are objections normally raised to translating "gune" as wives, which I will also address in a later post. For now, I just want to make the point that Paul's usage of the word "gune" does not make woman any more likely a translation than wife. In fact, a study of Paul's use of "gune" tips the scales towards "wives" not the more generic women. If Paul had wanted to say "wives" in I Timothy 3:11 he would have used "gune" just as he did. 

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8