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.

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