Monday, August 24, 2009

An important grammatical nuance of 1 Pet. 3:1,2

I was reading I Peter again the other day, and when I came to the beginning sentence of chapter 3, I noticed1 something in it's grammatical structure that I haven't noticed before. This item is not so much a correction of previous error in my thought on this sentence, but rather an expansion of it.

Before I get into what I noticed, let me repeat the sentence itself:

Likewise, ye wives, [be] in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation [coupled] with fear.

First, let me point out that the popular teaching2 on this verse is that a believing woman's unbelieving may husband may yet be won through her biblical submission to his authority, even though he may (at first) reject the authority of the Scriptures.

Now on to the actual discovery, which is found at the end of the first verse. The application listed above implies a reading of "by the conversation of their wives", which, incidentally, is how the ASV, ESV, and RV render the text (as well as the 1909 Reina-Valera3).

However, the text rendered in the KJV is "of the wives".

It is not only the KJV that renders the text this way. In fact, the Bishop's and Geneva Bibles also give this reading. Additionally, there is no support in the Greek4 — in any of the major or minor variations — for "their" over "the". The manuscript evidence is 100% on this particular phrase, and the Vulgate witnesses the same5.

This reading ("the") seems to place the focus on the collective conversation of the entire group of "the" wives, in contradistinction to the usual focus of the individual conversations of the individual wives to "their" individual husbands.

Now, the individualistic application I first mentioned is, I believe, a valid application of this passage. However, in light of the grammatical nuance (of the implied reading versus the actual reading), coupled with the larger context of the book — I am beginning to think that the individualistic reading is not the primary interpretation of the verse.

Actually, the more I think about it, the more solidly opinionated I become that it is, in fact, harmful, in that it entirely loses the point the Holy Ghost, through Peter, is actually making in the larger context, completely missing the primary interpretation and application of the passage. Furthermore, the popular, individualist reading is an unnecessary limitation on the scope of the passage, because it is — evidently, I hope — included as a subset of the collectivist reading.

I will expound on what I believe6 to be the primary, collectivist interpretation in a follow-up post. In the mean while, 1) I need to go home and go to bed, and 2) I want to see your thoughts on this, via the comments.7

1When I say, "I noticed", I do not mean to imply that it was at all my own discovery, apart from the Spirit's teaching. I only phrase it this way because, this being a seed thought (not fully discussed and developed), I do not wish to blame the Spirit for this if I am wrong. Insofar as the thought is correct, it is the teaching of the Spirit, and not of myself. Insofar as I am incorrect, it is my own error.

2Indeed, I do not remember ever having heard the "larger context" that I am about to explore taught, nor have I read it in any commentary on the passage. Whether this is because it is not being taught or whether I just need to "get out more", I would be interested to discover. :)

3Largely held in KJV-preferred circles to be the Spanish equivalent of the KJV. It reads, "por la conversación de sus mujeres". "Sus" is the possessive plural, directly equivalent to "their".

4The entire phrase reads, διὰ τῆς τῶν γυναικῶν ἀναστροφῆς ἄνευ λόγου κερδηθήσονται. "The wives" is τῆς...ἀναστροφῆς. There is no possessive explicitly written or even implied. In fact, there is a Greek phrase "of their wives", used in two places in the Old Testament (LXX — Neh. 5:1; Jer. 44:9), which looks like this: τῶν γυναικῶν ὑμῶν. It stands to reason that if the Holy Spirit meant "of their wives", He would have had Peter write "of their wives" (though being dogmatic about it may be stretching the point, which you , indubitably by this time, get).

5per mulierum conversationem sine verbo lucri fiant. Once again, no possessive.

6Indeed, I have no source to draw upon for guidance (see footnote 2)! This fact does, of course, scare me, since I am of the opinion that, as ye olde Anonymous put it, "If it's new, it ain't true."

7Or you can contact me otherwise, if you know my contact info.

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Hi! Feel free to comment. However, I was getting posts from different Anonymous people, and it's difficult to know who is who so I can keep the conversation straight in my head. So I'm requesting that you please bear with my weakness, and identify yourself. Even if you want to use a different name than your real name -- that's fine. But give yourself a handle for me, please. :) Thanks...