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Burk: Unconvinced by Blomberg on 2 Tim. 2:2

Posted in New Testament by Denny Burk on December 17th, 2010

I would like to thank Dr. Blomberg for taking the time to interact with me on the proper translation of anthrōpois in 2 Timothy 2:2. I remain, however, unconvinced of his arguments in favor of rendering anthrōpois as “people.” I will explain why by responding briefly to items he raised in his last post.

1. Blomberg says that I am not “acknowledging the normal usage of language.”

But what I have demonstrated in my previous post is that “the normal usage” of anthropos includes both gender-inclusive and gender-specific uses of the term. A quick glance at the entry in BDAG confirms this point. According to BDAG, anthropos can refer to “a person of either sex” (meaning number one) or “a male person” (meaning number three). Even the NIV 2011 at times will translate anthropos as “man/men” (1 Tim 2:5; 6:11; 2 Tim 3:8). Is Blomberg suggesting that the NIV 2011 is going outside the “normal usage of language” when it translates anthropos as “man/men”? Probably not. In those texts, the translators determined that the referent of anthropos was contextually defined as male, so they translated accordingly. Once again, citing the “normal usage” of anthropos is not by itself determinative for interpretation. Context is. I do not think we have yet seen Blomberg offer a compelling argument from context in favor of “people.”

2. Blomberg says that an anti-egalitarian prejudice has kept me from accepting the gender-inclusive significance of anthrōpois.

I am indeed a complementarian, but I do not regard this text as any kind of crux for either side of the gender debate. Let’s face it: The interpretation of 2 Timothy 2:2 does not bear the weight of a 1 Timothy 2:12 or a 1 Corinthians 11:3 as far as being a complementarian is concerned. One can be a perfectly consistent complementarian while translating this term as “man” or “people.” Paul has elsewhere instructed women to “teach” other women (Titus 2:3), so one can imagine an appropriate application of the NIV 2011′s rendering within a complementarian framework. I do not think the same can be said, however, for the egalitarian cause. To interpret this term as “men” would mean that Paul is assigning a special responsibility to men for the passing-on of the faith. That interpretation cannot be neatly fitted into an egalitarian framework. As far as theological bottom lines are concerned, egalitarians have more at stake here than complementarians.

We should also note that the interpretation of this term among commentators does not divide neatly down complementarian/egalitarian lines. Yes, many complementarians prefer the translation “men” (e.g., Knight, Mounce, Köstenberger). But there are also other interpreters who favor “men” but who could in no way be accused of being complementarian. Both I. Howard Marshall and Luke Timothy Johnson, for instance, prefer the translation “men.” Johnson is an unabashed liberal in his view of Scripture and has a feminist outlook on gender. His comments on this text are apt:

The phrase pistois anthrōpois could be translated as “faithful people,” since anthrōpos is inclusive for all humans, in contrast to anēr, which can mean only males. I translate “faithful men,” however, because that is clearly what the text means. In the case of the Pastorals, an attempt to create a gender-inclusive translation only camoflouges the pervasive androcentrism of the composition. For better or for worse, the assumptions of the author’s culture (or place within his culture) should be accepted by the translation. It is the task of hermeneutics to decide what to do about those assumptions (The First and Second Letters to Timothy, p. 365).

Johnson thinks the text means “men,” even though he goes on to reject its normative significance for modern readers. Of course I disagree with his rejection of biblical authority, but his interpretation is certainly correct. Once again, one’s position on the gender issue is not necessarily determinative of how one interprets this text. Second Timothy 2:2 is simply not a locus classicus for the gender issue.

Having said all that, the foregoing argument is a bit of a distraction from the question at hand. From a purely exegetical point of view, the real issue here is not how this text impacts this or that side of the gender debate. The real issue is what Paul meant by what he said when he wrote it. If he meant “people,” so be it. But if he meant “men,” we will have to let that stand as well. For my part, the context of 2 Timothy (and indeed the pastorals together) dictate the latter rather than the former. For my argument on this, see my previous post.

3. Blomberg says that Paul’s use of the masculine plural heterous “hardly means that the person is teaching everyone within that group at the same time.”

I actually agree with Blomberg on this point, and I plead nolo contendre to the LXX texts he cites. But I do not think his point is germane in this case. My argument is not that the “faithful anthrōpois” have to teach the others (whoever they are) all at once. The “faithful men” need not be qualified to teach everyone in the group at the same time, but they do need to be apt to teach everyone in the group at any given time. Timothy needs to pass on the faith to “men” who will be able to teach in whatever situation they find themselves in. The qualification is quite like the one applied to elders in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 2 Timothy 2:4. They have to be “able to teach” (διδακτικόν).

4. Finally, Blomberg says this: “The NIV translation of this verse in no way precludes even the most conservative of complementarians views. On the other hand, Burk would desire a translation that excludes all egalitarian views. Whether or not that is legitimate interpretation, it is certainly not objective translation!”

I have to contest Blomberg’s apparent definition of “objective translation” here. He makes it sound as if an “objective translation” will not “exclude” egalitarian views. On the contrary, I would argue that any translation that tries to accommodate one or both sides of the gender debate is not doing objective work. Objective translation has nothing to do with whether one’s complementarian/egalitarian view is included or excluded by the translation. Objective translation has everything to do with rendering faithfully into a receptor language the author’s original meaning. If one’s agenda in translation is anything but that, the translation cannot be deemed “objective.”

Once again, thanks to Dr. Blomberg for the stimulating exchange. I am grateful to be sharpened on the interpretation of this text (Proverbs 27:17).

Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament and dean of Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

This entry was posted by Denny Burk and is filed under New Testament.