A question in 1 Cor 11:14-15?

LNE asked on the SHARE page whether the question in these verses could be understood as a statement. The ISV translation takes it as a statement, but everybody else take it as a question. (The Wycliffe Bible is unclear, the only other contender to the statement option.)

It is quite true that it can be difficult at times to decide whether a Greek sentence is to be interpreted as a question or a statement. Question marks were not used, so it is a matter of context and common sense. It is theoretically possible that ISV is correct and all other translators are wrong, but I am always sceptical of people who claim to have discovered that everybody else is mistaken. At least, they must have very strong arguments for their position and some new insight that others have so far missed.

I am not familiar with the ISV, but thanks to LNE for the link to their website. I listened to how they praise their own translation. They claim to have discovered a new way of translating which they call literal-idiomatic. I have worked with both literal and idiomatic translations for 30 years, and I am familiar with the benefits and weaknesses of each of these two classical approaches to translation. Most translations are in the middle somewhere between the extremes, but some can be said to belong to the mostly literal camp while others belong to the mostly idiomatic camp. This new literal-idiomatic approach belongs to the literal camp, but it is claimed to have the benefits of the other approaches and none of the weaknesses. My reaction to that is the same as it would be to an architect who wants to build a round square. The ISV prouds itself of being original, and 1 Cor 11:14-15 is not the only place where they claim that they are right and more or less everybody else are mistaken.

ISV renders 1 Cor 11:14-15a as follows: “Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman’s glory…” Is that a reasonable and accurate translation of the Greek text? I am afraid not.

The Greek OUDE is made up of two parts, the negative particle OU (meaning not) and the discourse particle DE which can mean “but”, “or” or “and”, but often there is no direct English equivalent word for it. One has to look at the whole context. OUDE can also mean “not even”. Paul is here using a rhetorical question where the answer is assumed to be obvious: “And is it not the case that the nature of things teaches you that on the one hand if a man wears long hair it is a dishonor to him and/but on the other hand if a woman wears long hair, it is an honor to her?” Expected answer: Yes, it is obvious from the nature of how things are (we might call it current culture of that time and place).

English often indicates the statement/question dichotomy by word order, so if we were to change the question above to a statement, it would become: “And it is not the case that the nature of things teaches you that on the one hand if a man wears long hair it is a dishonor to him and/but on the other hand if a woman wears long hair, it is an honor to her.” Does that make sense to you? I cannot figure out what that is supposed to mean. Since the ISV translators apparently find the question option to go against their theology and culture, they have a problem. In order to make some sense out of the statement option, ISV moves the “and/or/even not” from the beginning of the main clause to the beginning of the dependent clause. They also introduce a “nor” to connect the two contrastively coordinated dependent clauses, but there is no “nor” in the Greek text, only the bare DE (and/or/but) without the “not” part. The DE here is the counterpart to the MEN in a common Greek contruction: “Man on one hand, woman on the other hand.”

So, to answer LNE’s question: No, based on what the Greek text is actually saying, you are not on the right track, and it is pity if ISV has led you and others to get off track.

4 Comments

  1. Aristofanis
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    14th verse in Greek starts with ἢ. that is “ἢ οὐδὲ αὐτὴ ἡ φύσις διδάσκει ὑμᾶς..” http://goc.biblos.com/1_corinthians/11.htm.

    ἢ(= or else), in this case, is an interrogatory schematic conjunction after which apostle Paul presents his alternative descriptive argument with a
    question. his intention in 1Co 11, 2-16 is to resolve convincingly the matter, issued by the Corinthians, that women’s worship participation in church ought to be decent and not to imitate pagan practices (Cassandra, Pythia) taken from mythology where women provokingly are using their hair to prophecy and deliver oracles. issues on women’s appearance in society are discussed elsewhere (1Co 14,34-36; 1Tim 2,9-14; 1Pe 3,1-5).

    It could be translated from Greek (verses 13-15),
    “ἐν ὑμῖν αὐτοῖς κρίνατε· πρέπον ἐστὶ γυναῖκα ἀκατακάλυπτον τῷ θεῷ προσεύχεσθαι; ἢ οὐδὲ αὐτὴ ἡ φύσις διδάσκει ὑμᾶς ὅτι ἀνὴρ μὲν ἐὰν κομᾷ, ἀτιμία αὐτῷ ἐστι, γυνὴ δὲ ἐὰν κομᾷ, δόξα αὐτῇ ἐστιν; ὅτι ἡ κόμη ἀντὶ περιβολαίου δέδοται αὐτῇ.”
    in English,
    “consider by yourselves; is it appropriate for a woman to pray bareheaded to god? or else, does not even nature itself teach you that while a man is
    disgraced in the case of having long hair, a woman instead is praised if she has it? since long hair is given to her as a head scarf.”

    ISV’s, “Decide for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful
    for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman’s glory, for hair is given as a substitute for coverings.” convey, unfortunately, the opposite meaning and to the wrong track.

  2. andrewjohnchapman
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    The η at the start of verse 14 is not in all manuscripts, I note.

    ‘Head scarf’ seems a very surprising translation for περιβολαιον. I think ‘mantle’ is worth considering – see eg Hebrews 1 v 12.

    Andrew

  3. Aristofanis
    Posted December 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Not all but most. some transcribers maybe felt perplexed for this nature’s lesson and omitted the “ἢ”. and by doing that, delivered the opposite lesson. that is, theirs.

    An engine picture search of “head scarf” vs “mantle” will be more surprising for sure.

    Mantle (= a loose, sleeveless cloak or cape) for heavens. (He 1,12)

    Head scarf for the hair. there are scarves for the neck too.

  4. Posted July 20, 2013 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    The Fresh Agreement, using a modified version of the Etienne “Edito Regia” puts these verses like so:
    First to Korinthos 11: 13- 16
    “Judge among yourselves right now: is it proper for an incompletely covered woman to pray to God? Alternatively, doesn’t even a long habit that has become natural teach you that whenever a man indeed styles his hair, it is insignificant to him, but whenever a woman styles her hair it is exaltation, because the hairstyle is given her for a wrap?


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