April 23, 2016

What does 1 Cor 11:10 really say?

It certainly is extremely easy to lose something in the translation. For those of us with more than one language to contend with, we usually have to ask: "Which is best, a literal translation that is faithful to the words even if it means being unfaithful to the meaning, or a figurative translation that is faithful to the meaning even if it means being unfaithful to the words?" Perhaps it would help if we had the original words for 1 Corinthians 11:10: "διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους." (Here's a sampling of the English: "It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels." - NIV, "That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." - ESV, "That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels." - RSV) And here's the same words, transliterated and with it's most common English translation:

dia - through, on account of, because of (1 - same word)
touto - this; he, she it
opheilei - is owing / ought
- to, the (2 - same word)
gynē - woman/wife
exousia - power/authority
echō - have
epi - on, upon
tnc - to, the (2 - same word)
kephalē - head
dia - through, on account of, because of (1 - same word)
tous - to, the (2 - same word)
aggelos - messenger / angel

So a rough translation might be: "because of this the woman/wife ought to have power/authority on the/her head because of the angels/messengers"  

(2 is a definite article, English would use "the" the same way at all times, Spanish and Portuguese borrow from Greek in that "the" changes depending on it's use: "la or a" (feminine, singular), "el or o" (masculine, singular), "las or as" (feminine, plural), and "los or os" (masculine, plural). The definite article retains the same meaning, even though it is used in the form of different words. Likewise, "the" here displays three different forms, hé - t_ Nom Sg f, tnc - t_ Gen Sg f, and tous - t_ Acc Pl m. Let's do a little decoding t_ = definite article, Nom = nominative case, Gen = genitive case, Acc = Accusative case, Sg = singular, Pl = plural, f = feminine, and m = masculine. So for those of you who are unfamilliar with non-English grammar, it's not a trick that "to, the" would have three different words that mean the same thing.)

So the other day I decided to see what other languages translated that verse into in their own languages - to see how they compare:

Portuguese: Assim uma mulher deveria usar a cabeça coberta como sinal de que reconhece a autoridade do marido, um facto que todos os anjos constatam. - Thus a woman should wear a head covering as sign that she recognizes the authority of her husband, a fact that all the angels verify.

Spanish: Por esta razón y debido a que los ángeles observan, la mujer debería cubrirse la cabeza para mostrar que está bajo autoridad. - For this reason and due to the angels observing, the woman should cover her head to show that she is under authority.

Italian: Per questa ragione e per riguardo agli angeli, la donna deve portare il capo coperto, come simbolo della sua sottomissione all’uomo. - For this reason and out of respect for the angels, the woman ought to have her head covered, as a symbol of her submission to man.

Latin (Vulgate): ideo debet mulier potestatem habere supra caput propter angelos - For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels

Spanish: Por eso, la mujer debe ejercer control sobre su cabeza, para respeto a los ángeles. - Therefore, the woman must exercise control over her head, out of respect for Los Angeles.

It's interesting to see how some translators opted to take some of it as an idiom, others as euphemism, some decided to explain the meaning of it. They didn't all arrive at the exact same interpretation. They had to choose. The thing is - problems often arise as a result. Take a word like exousia (power/authority). It was pretty much never used to refer to the object (the thing that is acted upon) but always belonging to the subject (the thing in the sentence doing the action). So in the fragment: "the woman ought to have power" or "the woman ought to have authority" the power/authority in question belongs to the woman, not to some unnamed party who has authority over her - that would make her the object of an unspoken subject. Power/Authority is just not used that way. Remember the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13? He identifies himself as being under authority with the power to give orders to those below him, soldiers and servants alike. He is the subject who possesses authority, the doer of the action, the object is the receiver of the action, the soldiers and servants obey. None of the soldiers and servants would say that: "for this reason, we recognize the authority over us the centurion has, because of the pantheon of gods." Grammatically speaking, that's just now how the word 'authority' was used, ever. So that must mean that the authority can only belong to the woman, and to no one else.

One notable feature about some Bibles is that they don't hide the fact that words were added to the text to make it make more sense - such words were italicized. In the New King James Version - this can be seen plainly: ""For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." Not all bible have such a feature, added words look like ones that were in there all along like in the New Life Version: "For this reason a woman should have a covering on her head. This shows she respects man. This is for the angels to see also."

I think the answer to the question that is the title of this post is: "Whatever you want it to." It doesn't matter what it really says because it can be twisted to allow for any number of interpretations and applications.

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