Note: If you are not able to meet alone with someone without feelings of attraction that you are afraid you might act on inappropriately, remove yourself from ministry immediately and get help and support.
Someone asked what I thought of the NET Bible (https://netbible.org) and, rather than giving a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, I decided to go through the steps I took to make my evaluation, in case anyone wants to use them to evaluate other translations. Jump to the bottom if you just want my conclusions. (Note that almost all of my links are to Marg Mowczko’s blog. That’s because she does a great job of explaining the issues for non-scholars, and she has lots of footnotes for anyone who wants to dig deeper. Also, I don’t need to repeat what others have said at least as well as I could!)
While we are here, we can also look at endorsements: https://netbible.com/endorsements/ They are all male except for Beth Moore and one seminary student. They are also mostly complementarian, from what I can see. And Beth Moore’s comment specifically references the notes, which I will come back to.
Next, I want to look at a series of verses that are helpful to get a sense of the translators’ gender biases. There are many options, but these are mine:
Gen 3:16: There are two issues here. The beginning of the verse says, in Hebrew, “I will greatly increase your pain and your conception/pregnancy.” Most translators combine this idea with the next line and assume that the pain referred to is specifically pain in childbirth. That is quite possible, and a hendiadys is something that Hebrew does do quite often. However, in the footnote, the translators justify their choice by saying “there is no pain in conception.” That comment could only come from an exclusively male perspective. The fact that they did not seriously consider the pain many women experience during conception and also during the whole of pregnancy reveals a bias that is confirmed by the translation of the second half of the verse. There, the NET says, “You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” All translation is, of course, interpretation, but this goes beyond what I would consider to be allowable. You can read more about the issues here: https://margmowczko.com/translation-genesis-316/ The NET translators justify their choice by importing the idea of domination from Gen 4:7 into not only Gen 3:16 but also (based on the footnote for 3:16) into sexual desire as well. This turns natural sexual desire into rape, which is sin. I can only say I am horrified. 0/2
Malachi 2:16: My Hebrew prof, who was, incidentally, complementarian, said that this is the most difficult verse to translate in the whole Old Testament. That is because the text in Hebrew, as we have it, simply does not make sense. The translators have chosen one option. The NIV (2011) chooses the other: “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty.” What I object to the most here is the footnote which says “Though the statement ‘I hate divorce’ may (and should) be understood as a comprehensive biblical principle, the immediate context suggests that the divorce in view is that of one Jewish person by another in order to undertake subsequent marriages.” First, on what basis should this be taken as a comprehensive biblical principle? That goes against the often-stated rule that a Bible verse without a context is just a pretext for a prooftext. Bible verses must be taken in context. And then, this footnote suddenly becomes gender neutral when what is going on in the context is that priests are divorcing the mothers of their children in order to marry young foreign women (see Mal 2:11–15, as well as the whole book). 0.5/1
Rom 16:1, 7: There are several issues here. In verse 1, diakonos is translated “servant.” That is a possible translation, but the note is a bit disingenuous. On the basis that neither Epaphras nor Timothy are deacons, it is supposed that Phoebe cannot be. Yet the possibility of her being a minister is not considered. Especially given the support that Paul is requesting for her (v. 2), it seems likely that she is some sort of leader. (See https://margmowczko.com/phoebe-a-deacon-of-the-church-in-cenchrea-part-7/) 0/1
In verse 7, Junia is correctly identified as a woman, although do I read reluctance in the tone of the note? I am a bit confused by the reference to the TLG. The TLG is “a digital library of Greek literature.” It is possible that it has been updated since Moo did his search. But when I looked, I found 23 entries for Junia, and only one that is early (Plutarch, Brutus 7.1.4), from the 1–2nd century CE, where it’s a woman’s name. So I am not sure what the three are that Moo is referring to. In fact, however, the TLG does not differentiate between Junia (f.) and Junias (m.), and the same 23 instances come up when references to Junius (which Rom 16:7 cannot mean) are removed. Additionally, the Epiphanius reference that is mentioned in footnote 6 is from the 4th century CE, and therefore not particularly relevant. Junia, as footnote 6 mentions, is quite common in Latin, and apparently in Greek inscriptions, although I have not been able to verify that (see the footnotes here: https://margmowczko.com/junia-and-the-esv/). Finally, the end of footnote 6 and the entirety of 8 seek to support the NET’s chosen translation, “well known to the apostles.” Here is the argument against that translation: https://margmowczko.com/is-junia-well-known-to-the-apostles/ Additionally, I have looked for instances of episemoi en which is the phrase under debate, and I found two examples. One states that Aristophanes, as compared to the other authors, “shone forth among them all,” and the other, Lucian, in the 2nd century CE suggests that if there are rumors that you did not praise your boss/owner enough, you must be sure to raise your voice next time so that you stand out among her admirers. In both cases, the one being described is clearly part of the larger group to which he is being compared. I found no examples of the phrase being used the way the NET Bible translates it. Thus, it seems much more likely that Phoebe is a leader of the church at Cenchreae, and that Junia and Andronicus are outstanding among the apostles. 1/2
Eph 5:21–22: It’s always interesting to see where various translations divide the text. Manuscripts differ, but Paul’s sentence in Greek actually starts either at verse 18 or at verse 21. Furthermore, the verb “submit” was likely not repeated in verse 22, so starting the paragraph farther up (CEB chooses 15, NIV & NRSV 21) seems to make more sense. 0/1
1 Tim 2:12–15: Footnote 19 here is helpful in that it reminds readers that saying that women should learn was likely revolutionary. However, footnote 20 ignores the pages of writing and gallons of ink spilled over the meaning of the Greek verb translated here “exercise authority.” Here’s a summary of the issues: https://margmowczko.com/authentein-authenteo-1-timothy-2/ Footnote 24 goes a long way to come to an explicitly complementarian conclusion. It does do a good job of mentioning some of the various solutions to the verse along the way. And footnote 25 unaccountably dismisses the problems that the shift to the plural raises. Not sure how to grade this, but I will suggest a 1/3.
1 Tim 2:9; 3:2: The word κόσμιος (kosmios) is translated similarly for both women and men (“suitable” and “respectable”). 1/1
1 Tim 2:9, 15; 3:2; 2 Tim 1:7; Titus 1:8; 2:2, 5; Acts 26:25: The word σωφροσύνη (sōphrosunē) and cognates is sometimes translated differently for men and women. In the NET we find: “self-control” (6x for both men and women), “sensible” (men), “rational” (Paul). 3/3
1 Cor 11:10: The Greek here says, “the woman should have authority on her head,” and while there is debate about what this means, the NET adds the word “symbol” and maintains male leadership in the church in the footnote without noting other possiblities. 0/1 (For other possibilities, see my review of Cynthia Westfall’s Paul and Gender.)
1 Peter 3:7: This verse in the NET does a good job of following my best understanding of the Greek text, with which both Mark Dubis in 1 Peter: A Handbook on the Greek Text and Greg Forbes in 1 Peter Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament concur. Both the NIV (2011) and the NRSV (and others) oddly put “living” with “consideration,” “weaker partner” with “respect” and then sort of tag “heirs” onto the end. The Greek makes it more likely that “considerate living” goes with “weaker partner” and “respect” with “heirs,” and the NET reflects that. I am confused, honestly, by how the verse was ever translated differently. Many of the foreign language translations that I consulted (Bible en français courant, Parole de Vie 2017, Bible Segond 21, Elberfelder Übersetzung, Schlachter 2000) follow the Greek, although the Lutherbibel does not, and several of the Spanish versions move the phrases around in various configurations. I asked Dr. Douglas Moo about it when they were updating the NIV, and he responded that it was “an exegetical decision,” but did not offer anything further in the way of explanation. 1/1
Conclusions: With a grade of 11.5/23, I would not recommend the NET. One of the positives of its development was that it was open to input from everyone; however, it is clear that the editors followed a complementarian bias in their final decisions. I had intended, like Beth Moore, to comment on how helpful the notes are, but now that I actually work through them, I am finding them misleading, more often than not. If readers weren’t already aware of the broader conversations around these issues, they would not find out about them from these notes.
I recommend the CEB (18.5/23) or the 2011 NIV (14.5/23). I sometimes use the NRSV, but it only rates a 10.5 on my scale. The Passion “Translation” comes up from time to time. I appreciate what Dr. Nijay Gupta says here.
“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
~ Augustine of Hippo
Definitions of Power:
Although Max Weber emphasized the destructiveness of power-over, others have brought nuance to the discussion. Groups may have power when people work together (Hannah Arendt), and in this way marginalized groups may become self-empowered (Amy Allen). Allen distinguished power-over, power-to (which emphasizes the goal), and power-with (people working together). But power-over is not always destructive. Thomas Wartenberg studies what he calls transformative power-over that is not oppressive because (1) it seeks the good of the weaker one, and (2) it seeks to make itself obsolete. That kind of power is sometimes equated with womanliness or motherhood, but Kathy Ehrensperger notes that not only women/mothers act in these ways, and not all women/mothers do. She concludes that unequal power relations are not inherently oppressive as long as the essential equality of the weaker is recognized and power is not continually held by the same person/people (summarized from Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul and the Dynamics of Power, pp. 16-34).
I have also found the following books and videos helpful in sorting through issues of power, particularly power in the church and the way it intersects with gender. I hope you do, too!
For an example of a microaggression, note the comment by Tony Morgan at the end of Empowering Women Leaders when he asks John Ortberg if he has ever won any other argument with his wife. Although brief, this comment communicates to every woman watching that it’s okay to shame women for winning arguments. It communicates to every man watching that it’s okay to ignore the substance of the argument and simply laugh at how many times she “wins.”
Note: Saying, “In general, women are better than men at most things” or the reverse (“Well, what do you expect, I’m just a man”) is also benevolent sexism. In this view, the expectations for success are set higher for women than for men, and men’s failures become more acceptable than women’s.
Changing one’s mind is a slow process, and I did not come to believe women could be ordained without a lot of prayer and study. Check out the introductory books, and then I recommend regular reading on one or more of the websites listed here. And if you really want to dig into Scripture, be sure and follow Dr. Pierce’s course on the Theology of Gender.
How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadershipoffers 21 vignettes from Christians leaders, some quite well-known, sharing their journey towards affirming women’s ordination. Along the way, you will be able to watch them address some of the most common Scriptures and attitudes that tend to stand in the way of women’s ability to fulfill the call of God on our lives. See a detailed review here.
Liberating Tradition provides a great introduction to the the whole topic of the place of women in the church. As a Free Methodist elder, Kristina LaCelle-Peterson covers Free Methodist doctrine in the areas of ministry and marriage. This book should be required reading for any pastor who works in a denomination that ordains women. See a detailed review here.
I had another question come up with the ESV today (English Standard Version), so I thought I would post a round-up of blogs that address these issues. As an ordained Free Methodist, I cannot put this too strongly. The ESV is not suitable for use in our denomination. (The NLT is similarly problematic. I recommend the CEB, the 2011 NIV, and the NRSV.)
The first link is to this endorsementof the ESV by a group opposed to the Free Methodist position on women. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is dedicated to the promotion of what they believe to be God-ordained complementary roles for men and women including the unilateral submission of wives to husbands and the prohibition of women from leadership roles in the church. The Free Methodist church, by contrast, believes in mutual submission in marriage as in the church (Eph 5:21) and in leadership according to gifts and calling, regardless of gender (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12).
This linktakes you to a paper by Mark Strauss. Note that he, himself, is a complementarian; however, he finds many problems with the ESV beyond gender translation issues.
Then, Rachel Green Miller discuses a broader theological issue that complementarians regularly struggle with, often walking on the edge and sometimes over the line into the early church heresy of subordinationism. The ESV translation supports this heresy in some places.
I have been looking forward to reading Cynthia Long Westfall’s latest book, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ since it came out last year. It is a meaty book (315 pages), that digs into Greek words and ancient cultures (Roman, Greek, and Jewish), and I decided I would need to read it twice: once skipping footnotes, to get the gist of her arguments, before going back a second time and working through the book more slowly, analyzing, summarizing, and evaluating. But since it might be a few years before I get a chance to do that, I thought I would write out some first impressions, and I have chosen to focus on innovative sections that might be of particular interest to pastors and preachers.
For one thing, Dr. Westfall’s approach is unusual for a book on this topic. Usually, each Biblical passage is addressed in turn, once each. In Paul and Gender, however, various passages (1 Cor 11, 1 Tim 2, for example) are not discussed just once, but are brought in several times from the perspectives of such topics as culture, stereotypes, creation, the fall, eschatology (end times), the body, calling, and authority—the titles of the chapters. Dr. Westfall has much to discuss and much to establish before she turns to 1 Tim 2:11-15 in the last chapter. Dr. Westfall’s biblical theology approach allows her to shed new light on the issues related to gender in Paul’s writing. Rather than using one microscope to look at each passage in series, she uses 8 different lenses to look at the issues, and brings in the passages that each lens best illuminates. Some of her most interesting suggestions are as follows:
1 Cor 11:10, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels” (NIV). This verse is often taken to mean that a woman ought to be under the authority of a man. Furthermore, interpreters frequently assume that the women in Corinth wanted to stop wearing veils, even though this is not explicitly mentioned in the text. If one assumes the opposite, that the women in Corinth wanted to wear veils, but the men were encouraging them not to, the passage makes more sense. In verse 10, the women are then being given the authority to do what they judge to be correct, to wear a veil. The reference to angels makes sense as it recalls 1 Cor 6:3 which says that we all (no gender restrictions) will judge angels, so giving women authority to judge now is part of our life in Christ. And the masculine pronoun in verse 11:16 also makes more sense: “If anyone [masculine] wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” Although this masculine pronoun could be a stand-in for men and women, if only the women were contending against wearing veils, it would have been feminine. So the masculine pronoun indicates that some or all of the men were involved. Finally, if veiling were the sign of an honorable woman (something I myself need to research further), it makes more sense that previously dishonorable women now part of Christ’s new creation would want to wear them, rather than the more usual assumption that honorable women would want to stop wearing them. New interpretations are always difficult because they strike us as suspect at first, as Dr. Westfall acknowledges. But this one is definitely worth pondering.
There are three other matters of theology that I found very insightful, and can summarize a bit more briefly. The first is that there is no indication that when the earth is restored, women will be subject to men (e.g., Rom 8:17; Gal 4:7), especially when we note that there is no subjugation implied in Gen 1-2. This means that as we live as Christians on earth, we live in a future reality that is (or should be) only constrained by our mission to particular cultures. There might have been, and in some places might still be, a reason for women to voluntarily (and likely temporarily) set aside our new creation privileges for the sake of mission. But there is no reason to do so in a culture that claims to aspire to the full inclusion of women. In fact, I would add that the Church ought to be better at it than the rest of the US, because we know that women are co-heirs of life.
I have long thought that Romans 12 was an important section for the gender discussion, and Dr. Westfall includes an excellent chapter on calling where she discusses the way Romans 12 and other spiritual gift passages include gifts, such as teaching, that are sometimes thought to only be given to men. (Another interpretation is that women can have these leadership gifts but only exercise them over children or other women.) However, both of these conclusions contradict the contexts in which they are found, which offer no gender restrictions whatsoever, and which explicitly say that the purpose of the gifts is to benefit the whole body (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:7). It has always seemed to me that we have to make a decision. If we are going to say that these gifting passages would be understood as addressed to men without Paul explicitly saying so, then logically we should say that nothing in the NT is addressed to women unless Paul explicitly says so. Instead, even Romans 4, where verse 8 specifically references a male and the whole passage speaks of circumcision which is restricted to men, is preached as if it applied to women as well, as if Abraham is our father, too (Rom 4:16). In James 1:8, also, the person referred to is explicitly a male, and yet we assume the passage applies to women as well. If we do not think that the broader NT addresses only men, there seems no reason to suppose that Paul did not expect both women and men to be given all the gifts mentioned, to use for the benefit of the whole body, as led by the Spirit.
Another of my favorite chapters in Paul and Gender is the one on authority. Dr. Westfall points out that in many of our American churches we have established a hierarchy that we call “servant leadership” that in fact looks nothing like servanthood but that rather focuses on authority. Furthermore, we have often interpreted verses that focus on submission as though the submission of Christians to those we take to be their pastor (1 Cor 16:16), or the submission of a wife to her husband (Eph 5:22) implies the authority of the pastor/husband over the congregation/wife. However, that view completely misunderstands the true (and revolutionary) nature of Christian leadership the way Paul describes it (Phil 2:1-11; 1 Cor 2:1-5). If I submit to you, that does not require you to rule over me.
This book just came out last year, so it will be interesting to see how it is received, and what arguments are made by others, both for and against Dr. Westfall’s work. In any case, it has certainly had an impact on me, and I look forward to having the time to go through it again, and interact with it in more detail. Let me end with a longer quote of one of my favorite paragraphs:
“The exercise of male rule and dominion over the church subjects more than half the members of the church, women (usually more than 50 percent of the membership), who according to Paul’s gospel are equal heirs; they have the same future of ruling with Christ as all believers have. But, what is more disturbing, it equates leadership in the church with imposing subjugation rather than serving—yet the true measure of leadership is to become a slave to everyone, which is both Christ’s and Paul’s model. Undermining this principle is the primary fallacy behind the overrealized eschatology of those who argue for only male leadership in the church. The claim that the unilateral exercise of authority in models of ‘male headship’ is ‘servant leadership’ creates an oxymoron on virtually every level.”