Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Reports of the Death of the Gift of Singleness Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Recently, Gortexgrrl posted this over at the Gift of Singleness blog:



After months of campaigning to have it removed from the remaining modern Bibles where it still occupies a place in 1 Cor 7:7, IT HAS FINALLY BEEN REMOVED FROM THE NEW LIVING TRANSLATION.

Check the online version for yourselves here.

Dr. Eugene Peterson at The Messsage has also agreed to do the same.

This is a tremendous victory, folks. Now the next task is to get the NLT to have the word "better" ("to remain as you are") changed to "good" in 1 Cor 7:8 (as it is written in most Bibles). Also, there are still some problems with The Message's version of Matthew 19:10-12. But for now, let's savour this moment and express thanks!

Now, I happen to know one of the translators of the NLT. So, I e-mailed him, and he fowarded me the meeting notes from their discussion of this passage. Here are the meeting notes that were fowarded to me:

We have received an eloquent letter from four single women who take issue with our translation of this passage. They have respectfully asked that we reconsider our translation of this verse (the wording of which is similar to that of The Living Bible) and make it more generic in relation to the various gifts.

Norm has read and evaluated their letter, and he responded with this translation draft:

7But I (might?) wish that everyone was just like me. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.

He went on to say, "I think the important feature is to eliminate a reference to the gift of tongues [does he mean singleness?] and then make the final phrase of 7:7 a general statement applying to all and any gifts, not denoting the gift of tongues [does he again mean singleness?]. Paul affirms that all Christians have a spiritual gift, but not all Christians have the gift of tongues [??], as he proceeds to apply the matter to marriage and abstinence.

Now, before we get too excited, I was also fowarded a letter by the editor of the NLT, Mark Norton in which he explained the committee's reasoning at this point. It will give you all of the context you need [The reference to the idea of manhood is something I had mentioned about Dr. Albert Mohler's recent statements on his blog]. You will just be left shaking your head that such a thing would ever be misconstrued as the "death" of the Gift of Singleness:

Hi Mark and Grant.

I just pulled up this content on our discussion forum as well and have been reviewing it. I think we did the right thing We were concerned that our rendering “But God gives to some the gift of marriage, and to others the gift of singleness” was too specific. I don’t think anyone disagreed with the meaning expressed in our earlier more dynamic/contextual rendering. I think it obvious that in context some are gifted with singleness. But with our more literal rendering (“Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another”), we have allowed Paul to connect this discussion of marriage and singleness to the larger discussion of spiritual gifts.

I recall that the young woman who brought this up was concerned that our wording (“the gift of singleness”) was fueling an unhealthy assumption among some Christians, i.e., that if God hasn’t provided a mate for you, then you must have the “gift of singleness” and should just accept it and be happy. From perspective of the young woman who wrote us, we had given unnecessary ammunition to people who had drawn a black and white conclusion in a world of difficult gray.

The problem in this case is a little different, where someone out there has taken our change toward the literal as an indication that we have strong feelings against the idea of a gift of singleness. I don’t think any such thought was ever expressed. I think we were happy with the meaning of our earlier rendering. We don’t advocate the idea that the only path to manhood is through marriage. Paul made it clear that there are some would be far better off single. On the other hand, we don’t want to fuel the idea the young woman was struggling with, i.e., that there is this particular “gift of singleness” that (assuming God’s sovereignty) all the “unclaimed” must be gifted with.

Anyway, Grant, I think the young man who has queried you can rest assured that BTC isn’t against the concept of a “gift of singleness,” only the abuse of such a concept.


Notice, the NLT is not against a concept of the "gift of singleness," but against the abuse of that concept, that is, if God hasn’t provided a mate for you, then you must have the “gift of singleness” and should just accept it and be happy, which is something I stand on the record as being totally against. I have said many times that I have no problems with a woman pursuing marriage if she wants to do so. I also have no problems with a woman wanting marriage. In other words, they [like me] are against the fatalistic notion that, if you are not married, you should just accept it, and do nothing to get married. The issue is whether or not God can say "no" to your request for a spouse both in your actions and in your prayers, and how you will handle it if he does.

Not only that, but also notice that the main reason why the translated it this way is because of the context of spiritual gifts. One of Gortexgrrl's main arguments is that the phrase "one in this manner, the other in that manner" can be a generic statement of all gifts, without referring to any specific gift. However, I argued that we are in the context of marriage and singleness here, and that there is a contrast presented in the text. The NLT committee agreed [and still does agree] that marriage and singleness are both gifts. The NLT committee is taking a position somewhere inbetween what I stated and what Gortexgrrl stated. They agree that the phrase "one in this manner the other in that manner" is referring to a general statement [which it certainly can], but are arguing that singleness and marriage are two of these gifts, along with the spiritual gifts that are mentioned in this chapter. Thus, they wanted to stress the connection between this passage and the discussion of spiritual gifts that will follow. In other words, they reject Gortexgrrl's argument that, because the phrase "the one in this manner, the other in that manner" can be used generically, that, therefore, it precludes the inculsion of singleness and marriage within the realm of spiritual gifts.

Here is again where professional exegetes trump college graduate level exegetes, and why I am still learning in college while they are making money selling translations. I must say, I am impressed with this interpretation of this text. It fits Paul's argument nicely, and shows that Gortexgrrl's arguments from the text are irrelevant.

We must again point out that Gortexgrrl has no training in this area. Now, it would not be hard to get training in this area. In fact, I think one of the main reasons that Debbie Maken's book has become so popular is that young girls and boys are not trained how to do exegesis of their English Bibles in their preteen years, and thus, are left with their feelings, the way things always were, what is "countercultural," and the endorsement of the author on the back of the book to decide who has done the most accurate exegesis of the passage. Her linguistic philosophy is basically, if the Bible does not use a specific term to identify something as a "gift," then, therefore, the Bible does not say it is a gift. However, almost no one today holds that philosophy of language. In fact, the reality is, divorced from a context, words have no meaning whatsoever. My hermeneutics professor, Dr. Grant Osborne, in his book The Hermeneutical Spiral writes that:

Without grammatical relationships to other words, there is not meaning. If I utter the term counter, the hearer has no idea what I mean. Without a context in a grammatical sentence, a word is meaningless. Only as I say "Look on the counter" or "Counter his argument" does the term have a connotation [Osborne, Grant. The Hermeneutical Spiral. IVP Academic. Downers Grove, IL 2006 pgs.82-83 (emphasis mine)].

However, by contrast, Gortexgrrl believes that the specific term "gift" must be used of singleness, or the Bible does not say that singleness is a gift. However, what if other words were used in such a way that they stated that singleness was a gift without using the specific term "gift?" Or, in the case of this passage, what if a generic phrase was used in the context of singleness and marriage to clearly include singleness and marriage as a gift, but not to the exculsion of other spiritual gifts? Indeed, if we allow what Dr. Osborne has said to be true, then we can see that it is not impossible.

In fact, the whole reason why Gortexgrrl is leaping for joy, and misrepresented the NLT translators is precisely because of this odd view of language. She thinks that, if they don't translate the passage with "the gift of singleness," then they must not believe that the text teaches that singleness is a gift. That is saying too much. In this case, they wanted to emphasize the continuity with the passages that follow, without denying that singleness and marriage is a gift, and thus, they decided to make the translation less specific.

As to Gortexgrrl's statement, that "the next task is to get the NLT to have the word "better" ("to remain as you are") changed to "good" in 1 Cor 7:8 (as it is written in most Bibles)," she is referring to an article she wrote here for Thegiftofsingleness blog. In this article, she said:

Verse 8: The NLT translates this verse to mean that it's BETTER to not marry, despite the fact that the original Greek uses the word "KALOS", which is more correctly means "GOOD", as written in the KJV, NASB and the NRSV. Again, it leaves us to wonder why the editors of the NLT would take an interpretation so denigrating of marriage? Even if there are other passages in 1 Cor 7 that suggest the superiority of singleness over marriage (v. 38), they must be looked at within the context of "the present distress" (v. 26, and also 29, 31) that faced the Corinthian people at that time.

Now, I find it interesting that New English Translation, whose New Testament editor is none other than Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, translates the passage like this:

1 Corinthians 7:8 To the unmarried and widows I say that it is best for them to remain as I am.

Again, Gortexgrrl's erronious philosophy of language is coming back to bite her. It is, indeed, true that the Greek term kalo,j means "good" and not "better." However, again, Gortexgrrl has not considered the possibility that grammatical constructions, indeed, even the argument of a whole book can greatly effect the meaning of one word. This is an issue known as syntax. How is it that the usage of a particular for in a particular phrase, sentence, and paragraph can effect the meanings of words and grammatical constructions? What are the possible meanings for any given form? This is a very technical study, but books like Daniel B. Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, an Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, and Bruce Waltke and Michael O'Connor's An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax are very good tools for learning the basics of the syntax of Greek and Hebrew, and I am indebted to these scholars for all I have learned in this field, and highly recommend these books to anyone wanting to study this area.

First of all, let us define our terms in terms of the English language, so we can understand what we are talking about when we discuss the Greek language. If you add an -er to the end of a word, it makes the adjective comparitive. For instance, if you add an -er to the end of "high" you get "higher." If you add an -er to the end of "hard," you get harder. Thus, "higher" and "harder" are comparitives. Now, some English words are irregular. Consider the English term in question, "good." To make this a comparitive, you add an -er to the end, but the entire word changes to "better." The initial words "high," "hard," and "good" are what are known as "positives." Thus, "large," "hard," and "good" are positives, while "larger," "harder," and "better" are comparitives. The easiest way to remember this is that a comparitive adjective is used to compare something, while a positive adjective is just stating something positive about the object [there is one more category called the "superlative," but is not relevant to this discussion].

Now, Greek has a system very similar to this. They have positive and comparitive adjectives as well, and yes, this is not a comparitive adjective. However, Greek can, in point of fact, use a positive adjective in place of a comparitive adjective. Dr. Daniel B. Wallace in his Syntactical Grammar, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, writes the following:

2 . Positive for Comparative

On a rare occasion , the positive adjective can be used for the comparative.

Matthew 18:8 kalo,n soi, evstin eivselqei/n eivj th.n zwh.n kullo.n
it is better to enter life crippled

Here, h' is used later in the sentence to indicate comparison . Obviously, the idea of the positive adj. is insufficient, i.e., it is not good in and of itself to enter life crippled!

Luke 18:14 kate,bh ou-toj dedikaiwme,noj eivj to.n oi=kon auvtou/ parV evkei/non
this man went down to his house more justified than the other

In this text the adjectival participle functions as an adj. Zerwick notes that the true force of Jesus’ words here is that the tax-collector was"justified whereas the other was not." A better gloss would thus be justified rather than the other.

1 Corinthians 10:33 mh. zhtw/n to. evmautou/ su,mforon avlla. to. tw/n pollw/n
not seeking my own advantage, but that of the majority

Certain substantival adjectives which have the notion of comparison embedded lexically (esp .
polu,j) are used for an implicit comparison. Such examples do not follow the structural pattern of comparative adjectives(e.g. , they are not followed by a gen . or h').

c.f. also Matt. 24:12; Luke 16:10; John 2:10 [Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1995. from the Pradis Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics CD ROM.]

Notice, incedentially, that the term that Dr. Wallace translates as "better" in his first example [Matthew 18:8] is kalo,j. Also, notice that Gortexgrrl's methodology does not work here, as it is "totally insufficient" to translate kalo,j as good. Thus, we have established that, in New Testament Greek, positive adjectives can be used where one would expect a comparitive adjective.

At this point, this is where exegesis comes in to play. You have to be able to defend your choice of a positive translation, over and against a comparitive translation. How does Gortexgrrl do that? She says:

The NLT translates this verse to mean that it's BETTER to not marry, despite the fact that the original Greek uses the word "KALOS", which is more correctly means "GOOD", as written in the KJV, NASB and the NRSV. Again, it leaves us to wonder why the editors of the NLT would take an interpretation so denigrating of marriage?

On any level, Gortexgrrl has failed to give an adequate defense of the positive here. The dictionary meaning is not in dispute. In fact, BDAG lists two definitions with several subcategories, and subcategories of those subcategories. The question is what is the syntactical function of the adjective here. As far as it being "denegrating to marriage," notice how Gortexgrrl has sorta begged the question. She seems to assume that, if you take this interpretation, you are denegrating marriage. Of course, she never bothers to prove that.

The reason why some scholars today take this to be a positive used as a comparitive is because these two are compared again in verse 9, where Paul says "It is better to marry than to burn." Thus, this sets up a parallel with verse 8, and thus, they argue, this is how we should understand verse 8.

Now, maybe they are wrong. However, Gortexgrrl's answer doesn't even begin to prove what she is trying to prove. To go back to the dictionary definition is to once again display this bad linguistic philosophy that every word has meaning in and of itself, and, you cannot identify something as a gift, unless the specific word is used of it. As a matter of fact, that is why Gortexgrrl thought that the gift of singleness was "dead." If the very words are removed from the Bible, then, obviously, it must not be in the Bible. As I pointed out, Gortexgrrl could never translate the New Testament or any document that way. However, I guess that is what you have to do to defend Debbie Maken.


LadyElaine said...

thank you for the references to delve into Hebrew and Greek syntax. Are there any resources you would recommend for studying Aramaic in the Bible?

gortexgrrl said...

Whatever, Adam.

We're just glad the GoS is G.O.N.E.

Now are you going to be a gentleman and remove CS's photo and personal information from your blog?

PuritanCalvinist said...


It is *not* gone. That is the point. The translators said they were perfectly fine with that translation, but wanted to connect it to Paul's proceeding discussion of spiritual gifts, and that is the reason they did not make the translation so specific. I would challange you to go over and post that on the Gift of Singleness blog, and see if Captain Sensible would even post it. The only reason you would think in such a fashion is because of the fact that you have this strange view of language.

And, I have already been over this before about that picture. It was already posted on the internet, and, if Captain Sensible were to request it to be removed from that website, it would be removed from my blog as well automatically. Hence, she is the one you should be talking to, as I was simply posting a picture via a link from another website, which was already posted with her permission.

Finally, I don't accept your standards of gentlemanhood in the first place. The fact that you endorse Debbie Maken should be proof of that.

God Bless,

Blue Sky, Autumn Leaves said...

young girls and boys are not trained how to do exegesis of their English Bibles in their preteen years

This is truly a shame...

kevin said...

I've always thought it odd that the word "gift" is such a huge deal in 1 Cor 7. Seems to me that the passage could be abused an misinterpreted, regardless of the exact English word used here.

I do think equating the "gift" in 1 Cor 7 to spiritual gifts is stretching it just a bit. I know of at least one author (McCulley) that has (in my opinion) connected the two in a way that just doesn't make sense to me.

It seems that those on both sides of the "gift of singleness" debate have put too much emphasis on the translation of one word.

Curiepoint said...

If the GoS is dead, can I at least try some CPR?

Curiepoint said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curiepoint said...

It amazes me that such a great caterwauling should be raised against such unacceptable men in the eyes of these women. If we are so God-awful, why isn't there a great rejoicing being raised to celebrate the fact that we aren't pursuing these women?

I am sorry the search for a slave...I mean husband...has been so hard, but then again that isn't my problem.

Yes, I am a sinner in the eyes of The Lord. It is his displeasure that concerns me.

Yes, contrition and repentance for my sins is in order, and will take the remainder of my life to engage in. My actions towards my fellow sinners are reflective of that contrition, or at least I hope they are. That does not mean that I submit to everyone else's will whenever they and however they say. Again, if my gifts are not enough for your contentment, then look elsewhere.

It's as simple as that.

The call of your nature is not an adequate reason for me to willingly sublimate my very identity so that it may be utterly consumed by the voracious appetite of someone no better than me.

In the end, the only judgement I fear is God's, not Debbie Maken's nor her acolytes.

But if the insistence is there, why not do what women have done for forty years, and appeal to the (in)justice system? Why not apply an effort to make bachelorhood illegal for men? It won't guarantee that he will love you, but then again the whole marriage thing isn't about love, is it?

It's about fulfilling your wants and needs...