Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Timing Is Everything

I came across this quote one night last week:

“It is astonishing how often a book or article gives false information; and if we rely on such a work too heavily, our exegesis will be badly skewed. Even ordinarily careful scholars make mistakes …”
— D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies

Only a day later I happened to encounter a bit of badly skewed exegesis that is, just as Carson warns, the direct result of relying on false information. Naturally, it leads down an increasingly familiar and doctrinally-errant road.

Margaret Mowczko starts with this:
“Christians often make a point of saying that the Scriptures never state that husbands are to be submissive to their wives. In his instructions to Christian men, however, the apostle Peter comes very close.”
Not so. Still, Mowczko erroneously concludes that “husbands should be submissive to their wives”.

Peter On Relationships

The interpretation in question arises out of 1 Peter 3:7, which reads (in the ESV):
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
There is much useful wisdom for the Christian man in his relationship with his wife contained within a single verse here which, depending on the disposition of the husband in question, may necessitate submission to the scripture, the Spirit of God and the authority of the Lord.

Understanding, check. Showing honour, check. Awareness of weakness, check. But on the face of it, nothing obvious in the English translation of the verse suggests that a husband ought to be in submission to his wife.

Likewise Live Together

Mowczko makes her case primarily from a study of the Greek word homoiōs, translated “likewise” in our English Bibles. She starts by assuming her conclusion:
“Each occurrence of this word is in the context of submission.”
then wanders into an exegetical mess, first by truncating what Peter says to suit her argument:
“Then he says, ‘Husbands, likewise live together with your wives ...’ ”
and then by bolstering that argument with a statement that, as it turns out, is categorically untrue:
“The NIV has added the verb ‘be considerate’ … ‘Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives’. But in the Greek, the words ‘be considerate’ are not there; the Greek simply says ‘likewise live together with your wives’.”
Mowczko may be relying on the scholarship of others here, or there may be a little sleight of hand employed; I have no way of knowing. Sure, the NIV is a more dynamic translation than some and opts for a different word order than that of the Greek in this instance. But when she says the words “be considerate” are not there, she is plainly wrong. The words “be considerate” in the NIV are a translation of the Greek preposition kata (generally rendered “in”, “according to” or “through”) followed by the noun gnosis (consistently translated “knowledge”). They are present not only in the NIV but in every modern translation available. The King James, NASB and Darby render them “according to knowledge”. The ESV quoted above uses “in an understanding way”.

And the NIV, contra Ms Mowczko, translates them “be considerate”. You don’t need to be a Greek scholar to notice this. You just have to look at any English rendering of the verse. Any one at all, even wild paraphrases.

Considerately Disappearing

But there is a doctrinal reason Mowczko needs these words to disappear.

Establishing that “the Greek simply says ‘likewise live together with your wives’ ” enables her to conclude (by insisting on an overly rigid understanding of the word “likewise” and then reading backwards to supply the allegedly missing “main verb” from previous paragraphs) that Peter really means “live together with your wives in the same way as your wife lives with you”, or in effect, “live together with your wives submissively”.

Voila, mutual submission.

Except that the “main verb” (or really, in English, the adverb) that Mowczko insists is missing has in fact been supplied. Peter’s statement has nothing to do with living submissively with your wife and everything to do with living knowledgeably with her.

Heeding the Alarm Bells

I will leave to more experienced and godly men the messy and difficult business of applying Peter’s teaching and instructing husbands more specifically how they ought to conduct themselves as a result. My point is that false teaching often becomes obvious under even the most cursory examination. No matter how appealing a new interpretation may be and no matter how beautifully it harmonizes with the spirit of the age, if it is wildly out of sync with the traditional understanding of the church of God over the last two millennia — not to mention the work of every major English translator — there is good reason to heed the alarm bells clanging in your head, no matter how reasonable, polite, persuasive, knowledgeable or charismatic the teacher may seem.

D.A. Carson is right: it is astonishing how often a book or article gives false information.


  1. My reading the other day took me through Jer. 8 and a great verse jumped out I hadn't noticed before (v8):

    “How can you say, 'We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,' when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?"

    The scribes, known for their precision, also knew all about spin 2800 yrs ago!

  2. I don't have a problem if you disagree with the content of my article, but some of your statements are incorrect and you have misunderstood my point.

    For starters, there is no verb, let alone a "main verb", in the Greek of 1 Peter 3:7. συνοικοῦντες and ἀπονέμοντες are participles, not verbs.

    I stand by my statement that: “Christians often make a point of saying that the Scriptures never state that husbands are to be submissive to their wives. In his instructions to Christian men, however, the apostle Peter comes very close.”

    I also stand by my statement that “Each occurrence of this word [ὁμοίως] is in the context of submission.” But I reject your understanding that this is an "assumption". Rather, the article explores the basis for my proposition.

    Furthermore, I did "truncate" 1 Peter 3:7 because of my argument. But that doesn't mean that I wanted people to remain ignorant of the rest of verse 7, or that the rest of verse 7 somehow contradicts my argument. In fact, the rest of verse 7 supports the overall idea of a husband and wife as co-heirs living in mutual honour and submission.

    But I can't find some of the other statements in my article(s) that you seem to be attributing to me.

    Are you working from an old version? I admit that I made an error in an early version regarding the phrase κατὰ γνῶσιν, but I believe (please let me know if I've overlooked it) that I made the correction long ago. Since your article is dated September 14, 2016, it seems fair that you use the current version.

    Also, I do not suggest that 1 Peter 3:7 means, “live together with your wives in the same way as your wife lives with you.” This indicates that you've missed my point which is about the function of ὁμοίως *throughout* 1 Peter, not just 3:7.

    I completely agree with you that "nothing obvious in the English translation of the verse suggests that a husband ought to be in submission to his wife." My whole argument rests on the repeated use of the Greek word ὁμοίως which carries the theme of submission from the Greek verb which occurs 1 Peter 2:3. Allow me to repeat, there is no Greek verb in 1 Peter 3:7.

    Anyway, even if you don't agree with my points, please don't misrepresent me, use an old version of an article when an updated, more correct version is available, or misjudge my motives. Like you, I'm sure, I seek to understand God, his word, and to live it.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Marg. I've posted them in their entirety.

      I worked from your article as it stood when I read it back in October 2014. The above is simply a re-posting of my original October 27, 2014 critique, as the "Recycling" label indicates.

      The link above directs readers to your current version so they can consider your entire proposition for themselves.

      I don't have an archived version of your post as it appeared when I originally commented on it, so I can't respond with respect to things I seem to attribute to you that you may not have written. Usually I simply cut and paste a person's arguments from the source, and I don't imagine I did anything different in this instance.

      I note that in the current version of your post you have either reworked or entirely removed the paragraph I called categorically untrue, which originally read as follows:

      “The NIV has added the verb ‘be considerate’ … ‘Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives’. But in the Greek, the words ‘be considerate’ are not there; the Greek simply says ‘likewise live together with your wives’.”

      My objection to that statement remains. The words 'be considerate' in English have a solid basis in Greek. The translators of the NIV and other modern versions have not added them.

      I take it you no longer feel they did.

    2. For anyone interested, I believe this is Ms Mowczko's article as originally published (at very least, it's considerably closer than the current version and it contains the quote that prompted my post):

    3. My first thought was that the NIV translators had included the verbal idea "be considerate" as their way of "explaining" ὁμοίως.
      But later realised that, if so, it leaves the phrase κατὰ γνῶσιν completely untranslated. I removed the paragraph when I realised my error. I admit it was a hasty, dumb mistake. But I don't use trickery or sleight of hand in my work.

      What do you think ὁμοίως refers back to?

    4. I'm not being smart-alecky here: I don't usually answer a question with a question. But let me ask you one first, and I promise to go somewhere with it. The last instance of ὁμοίως in 5:5, "Likewise, you who are younger, be subject". What does that "likewise" refer back to?

    5. Hi Tom, I get that you are being genuine. :)

      The whole point of my article is to show that the Greek words for "likewise" point back to an original statement and are part of a sequence. So I'm surprised that you ask your question. Again, it seems that you've missed the major points of the article.

      My proposition is that all the "likewise" statements in 1 Peter, including 5:5 are to do with submission. The word ὁμοίως links them all. So 5:5 refers back to the previous statements about submission (1 Peter 2:13; 18; 3:1; 3:7?).

      If you think that 1 Peter 3:7 is not part of this sequence then it must refer back to something other than submission. And I can't see another clear antecedent.

    6. No, that's fine. I figured you probably saw it that way, but I was curious. I see the "likewise" as pointing directly back to the previous verses about elders (5:1-4). We have very different takes on what "likewise" connotes and what the "likewise" statements refer back to.

      I think he's referring back to 2:9-12, particularly v12, which starts the whole ball rolling about how various groups within the church are to abstain from the passions of the flesh and keep their conduct among the Gentiles honorable. Submission is part of that, and affects certain of the groups he addresses (though not all), but I do not believe submission alone is sufficiently broad to be the antecedent for every "likewise".

      Setting that out clearly is probably better done in a blog post than here -- what I've written about it so far is way too long for the comments already. I'll shoot for having a decent response up on the 29th.