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Friday, 25 January 2008

What were those women doing in the upper room? The TNIV in Acts 1-2

In a series of earlier posts, I examined the first few chapters of Acts in evaluating the TNIV's mistranslations of terms referring specifically to males, as if they were inclusive of females. I'd like to get back to that topic, but from a little different angle (if I can). I'll use the King James Version as my base, with reference also to the Greek text.

Acts 1:13 gives a list of people who were gathered in the upper room. These eleven men are the very disciples formerly known (when Judas was one of their number) as The Twelve. Then in verse 14, others are mentioned as being in their company:
- [some] women
- Mary the mother of Jesus
- his [Jesus'] brothers

I can't resist pointing out here that the TNIV missed the chance to turn this last item into "Jesus' brothers and sisters," which is the obvious meaning of the passage in TNIV-speak. But the point here is that some unmistakably female persons are listed along with some unmistakably male persons as being in "one accord in prayer and supplication" with the Eleven. There is no question, then, that what those women were doing in the Upper Room was praying in mixed company. If the women were just sitting in as observers, then so were the brothers of Jesus, among them the future leader of the local church there in Jerusalem. There is no gender basis here for the exclusion of anyone from joining in public prayer.

In verse 15, we see Peter rising to address this mixed company. Or do we? In the base text of the NIV (based in turn on the Alexandrian manuscript tradition), Peter addressed "the brethren." Whomever he was addressing, he directly calls them 'Men' (andres) so let's recognize that for the next few verses, the women present are only listening in on someone else's discussion. As ample proof of that, Peter continues with male-specific language:

v. 21 "of these men (andrwn) . . . must one be ordained"

And in fact, it was two men who were put forward to replace Judas, though at least some of the women present would have been eligible under the guidelines Peter gave, minus the male-specific language. I mean, come on--who would have better fit the qualifications than Mary herself? But only two were found qualified--and they were both men. Of the two eligible candidates, Matthias was the one chosen.

Now we come to chapter 2 of Acts. The ordination service is over, and the mixed company is back at their business of praying and supplicating in one accord. Note in this chapter the total absence of male-specific language in reference to this company:
v. 1 they
v. 2 they
v. 3 each [one] of them
v. 4 they all; them

This is when the Spirit falls, and the company switches over from praying to proclaiming.

In v. 5, as in v. 14, 22, and 29, the audience is specified as male. But not so the speakers:
v. 6 them
v. 7 these
v. 11 them
v. 13 they (KJV has 'these men,' a paraphrase]
v. 15 these

Now Peter is going to make application of this phenomenon to the book of Joel, which mentions:
v. 17 all flesh; sons and daughters; youths and elders [KJV & TNIV have 'young men' and 'old men']
v. 18 manservants and maidservants [KJV 'servants' and 'handmaidens']

It's pretty obvious here that what Peter claims is being fulfilled really is: both men and women are proclaiming the wonderful works of God. Backing up a bit, both men and women were visited with the tongues of fire. Both men and women were praying in one accord.

So, what were those women doing in the Upper Room? They were publicly participating in prayer and worship inside the church, and proclamation outside the Church. They were not participating in the governance of the church.

This is in keeping with the teaching of the rest of the New Testament.

1 comment:

  1. WOW, I never thought about who all was there in the upper room. Very interesting. Makes me want to go and read that part in the Bible. thank you for the posting on this subject.


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