Textual Criticism & Translation: Ephesians 5:22

There are very few textually transparent translations of Ephesians 5:22. In fact, there are only three truly transparent ones of the 12 shown below – four if you include the NET, which though providing a text critical discussion is not actually transparent to the text it reads. What we need are translations that accurately represent their textual decisions either by a footnote or in the translation.

These first eight give no indication in either direction as to what text is read – the imperative or the ellipsis.

  1. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. ESV
  2. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. GNB
  3. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. NIV
  4. Wives, yield to your husbands, as you do to the Lord. NCV
  5. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. NLT
  6. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. NRSV
  7. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. RSV
  8. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. TNIV

The next three either give a note or italicize the words not in the original text:

  1. Wives, submit i to your own husbands as to the Lord. HCSB
    i Other mss omit submit
  2. Wives, submit yourselvesi to your husbands as to the Lord. ISV
    i Other mss. lack submit yourselves
  3. Wives, be subject to your own husbands, NASB95

Finally, the NET provides a lengthy note, but reads an imperative in the translation anyway. So much for accuracy.

  1. Wives, submit32 to your husbands as to the Lord, NET


    32 tc The witnesses for the shorter reading (in which the verb “submit” is only implied) are minimal (P46 B Cl Hiermss), but significant and early. The rest of the witnesses add one of two verb forms as required by the sense of the passage (picking up the verb from v. 21). Several of these witnesses have ὑποτασσέσθωσαν (hupotassesthōsan), the third person imperative (so א A I P Ψ 0278 33 81 1175 1739 1881 al lat co), while other witnesses, especially the later Byzantine cursives, read ὑποτάσσεσθε (hupotassesthe), the second person imperative (D F G M sy). The text virtually begs for one of these two verb forms, but the often cryptic style of Paul’s letters argues for the shorter reading. The chronology of development seems to have been no verb – third person imperative – second person imperative. It is not insignificant that early lectionaries began a new day’s reading with v. 22; these most likely caused copyists to add the verb at this juncture.

Most the translations are disappointing, providing no note at all. Two of the translations that do, well, follow the more difficult reading to defend text critically. One translation makes the translated source text some what clear by using italics, but provides no explanation or note, not to mention the fact that the use of italics in a translation is itself a dubious procedure. Finally, the last translation provides an extremely helpful and length note, but then creates the same textual reading in English that it says in the note is not original.

Thus, just as John Hobbins has discussed for the Old Testament, translations generally do an extremely poor job on textual criticism and explanation in the New Testament.

11 thoughts on “Textual Criticism & Translation: Ephesians 5:22

  1. You seem to be using “transparent” as effectively equivalent to “literal,” although I don’t really think that’s what you mean. Is it the business of the translator to convey the sense of the original in the target language or is it to do textual criticism? So far as I know, only NET even attempts to help the reader to see the TC problems. I suspect that the variant readings are attempts to rectify the lack of clarity in the original author’s Greek formulation.

  2. Mike, while I appreciate your concern that these translations are misleading, I am concerned about your translation principles here. It seems to me that you are expecting general purpose translations to be like interlinears, indicating precisely which Greek words are rendered how in the translation. Only extreme form-based translators insist on translating word for word and explicitly marking every word which has to be supplied for the sense, as NASB has here. But this doesn’t make for a good translation. Indeed in a good meaning-based translation it will often be impossible to say which words have been supplied.

    You say NASB “makes the translated source text clear”, but most readers in fact will take the italics as emphasis, suggesting that the words Paul elided are in fact the most important ones. I would suggest that if you want this kind of information, you need to turn to the Greek text, or to the much-maligned interlinear.

  3. Carl: To be honest, I failed at clear writing here. I had initially written “honest” instead of transparent.

    Peter: Well, its not so much a “translation principle” of mine as much as it is simply poor communication in the post what I’m looking for. And that will become more clear in future posts – I’m going to look at pericope next and how translations handle this text.

    Carl & Peter: To give everything away before I finish writing about this text: What I want in translations is an ellipsis to be treated as an ellipsis in translation. Its a perfectly felicitous construction in English and deserves to be represented. If a translation is going to accept the shorter reading (and I know many have), they should make that clear either by dropping the words or by transferring the meaning/function of ellipsis into natural English.

    Ellipsis is pragmatically significant and all translations ignore that in this passage, potentially ideological grounds. And this is the only place in Paul where an ellipsis begins a new sentence, paragraph or pericope.

  4. The NET note speaks as if Paul is bending over backwards to prevent people from taking the verse out of context! He must be rolling in his grave. Er, his cloud.

    1. Wouldn’t the “unit” begin at verse 15? There are a series of not/but staetments of which the one in verse 18 is the third…

  5. In many cases, textual variants clarify what is implicit in the text. When the NET goes to translate the text, they often for purposes of translation make the English explicit too. This will have the effect of appearing to adopt a rejected variant.

  6. Stephen, yes. And I suspect that most translations do that here. What I would prefer is a translation closer to that of John Muddiman in his HNTC/BNTC volume on Ephesians where the ellipsis is left in place. Its perfectly understandable in such a manner.

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