Friday, March 23, 2007

1 Thess. 2:7: "little children" or "gentle"

One of my favorite bloggers, Ted Gossard, has posted about being like children in mission. Ted begins:
I was struck in my Bible reading this morning by Paul's description of himself and his fellow workers when they had come and were serving the Thessalonians with the gospel and their lives. He likened himself and those working with him as being like young children among them (1 Thessalonians 2:7). It can read "gentle" among you, my Greek New Testament categorizing the reading the TNIV adopts as "almost certain". There is one letter difference. Gentle among you is powerful as well. But I especially find the thought of being like young children among these new believers, intriguing. He also likens himself and his fellow workers to a nursing mother and a father dealing with his children.
I want to follow up on Ted's observation that there is a text critical issue of whether Paul told the Thessalonians that he had been like "young children" or "gentle" among them.

The translators of the TNIV chose to follow the "B" reading of the UBS Greek New Testament 4th edition which has the word nhpioi in the text. The "B" grade is elevated one level from the "C" grade ("considerable degree of doubt") this reading was given in the 3rd edition of the UBS Greek New Testament. As Ted pointed out, there is only one letter difference between the two readings. nhpioi means 'little children' while hpioi means 'gentle.'

The NIV translates 1 Thess. 2:7 using the hpioi reading:
but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.
The TNIV follows the nhpioi reading which was elevated in degree of textual certainty from the time the NIV was produced. Here is the TNIV translation:
7 Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you.
Notice that versification differs from the NIV, as well, to better reflect the translation change.

Here are some other recent Bible versions which follow the "little children" reading:
We chose to be like children or like a mother nursing her baby. (CEV)

we were like children* among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children (NLT)

we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children (NET)
The NET Bible footnote on "little children" is instructive:
The variant hpioi (epioi, “gentle”) has fair support ('2 A C2 D2 Yc 0278 33 1739 1881 ˆ), but nhpioi (nepioi, “little children”) has significantly stronger backing (‰65 '* B C* D* F G I Y* pc it bo). It is not insignificant that the earliest Alexandrian and Western witnesses in support of nhpioi are actually not Alexandrian or Western; they are the second correctors of Alexandrian and Western MSS. Such correctors generally follow a Byzantine Vorlage. The reading nhpioi is thus superior externally. Further, nhpioi is much harder in this context, for Paul mixes his metaphors (“we became little children in your midst…Like a nursing mother…”). Thus, the scribes would naturally alter this reading to the softer hpioi (“we became gentle…”). Paul is not known for his consistency of figures, however (cf., e.g., Gal 4:19); hence, the intrinsic evidence points to nhpioi as original. On the other hand, it is possible that nhpioi was caused by dittography with the preceding -men (-men). It is even possible that nhpioi was caused by an error of hearing right from the beginning: The amanuensis could have heard the apostle incorrectly. But such a supposition cuts both ways; further, Paul would no doubt have corrected the reading in the ms before it was sent out. If so, one would surely have expected both earlier witnesses on the side of hpioi and perhaps a few first correctors to have this reading. The reading “little children” thus stands as most probably original. (For an extended discussion of this problem, see J. A. D. Weima, “‘But We Became Infants Among You’: The Case for NHPIOI in 1 Thess 2.7,” NTS 46 [2000]: 547-64; T. B. Sailors, “Wedding Textual and Rhetorical Criticism to Understand the Text of 1 Thessalonians 2.7,” JSNT 80 [2000]: 81-98.)
Recent versions which follow the traditional reading of "gentle" include:
Instead, we were gentle when we were with you, like a mother taking care of her children. (GW)

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. (ESV, with this footnote on "gentle": "some manuscripts infants"

we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother nurtures her own children (HCSB, with this footnote on "gentle": "Other mss read infants")

we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own children. (ISV; footnoted on "gentle": Other mss. read infants)
I am thankful for the care that the TNIV translators paid to text critical issues. They were willing to revise the NIV text when they felt it was supported by the textual evidence.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Hi Wayne, thanks for the post. It was very interesting to see this minute distinction that makes a difference to the meaning. It is attention to little details like hpioi (epioi, “gentle”) vs. nhpioi (nepioi, “little children”) that make the TNIV a better translation than the NIV. I trust the up-to-date scholarship of the TNIV. I prefer the rendering of “little children” because it just seems to fit better with the context of 1 Thes. 2:7.