Sister as wife? 1 Cor. 9:5
What would it mean to take along “a sister, a wife” on a missionary journey?
Consider the following versions of 1Cor. 9:5
KJV: “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?”
NIV: “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us,…”
Bible in Basic English: “Have we no right to take about with us a Christian wife”
The Message: “we have a right to support for us and our families.”
In this sentence, a Greek grammatical construct is used where two nouns are put together (sister, wife) the one determines the other. The same form is used in Mat. 1:18 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was this way…” Here “Jesus” is determined as the “Christ”, that means the “Anointed One”. First we have to determine which is the main object of the sentence. Did Paul plead to take along “sister that is a wife” or a “wife that is a sister”? Then we have to determine what Paul meant, for he didn’t only say “Wife”.
Most probably Paul had been a widower at that time (1 Cor. 7:8). In his young days, before his conversion, while he had been a member of the Sanhedrin, (Acts 26:10) he had to have been married, for that was a prerequisite. Though Paul had a true gift of chastity, (1 Cor. 7:1-8) he was pleading the case in the interest of others.
The KJV just translates the words, “a sister, a wife” but shouldn’t a translation be comprehensible to the reader?
It is possible that Paul uses a Hebraism like “sister-bride” like we find in Song of Solomon 4:9, emphasizing the intimate spiritual unity. That is the version we find in the NIV and the Bible in Basic English. The question arises what should be done in the case of an apostle married to a non-Christian?
Since the pericope 1 Cor. 9: 1-18 focuses on the responsibility of the Church to support the material needs of the apostle, it is also possible that Paul wanted to stress their responsibility to also care for the wives of the apostles. In Acts 13:2-3 it is recorded that the Church of Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas on a mission journey. Most probably this became the normal way apostles were employed, the sending Church taking responsibility for their material needs. Paul now stresses that the wives could not be excluded and should be treated on the same level. Hence the version found in the Message.
The question translators of the Bible are always confronted with is to what extent he should only translate the Greek words, and whether he should ensure that the version he presents, will be understood as God intended.
Translating the Bible remains a delicate but extremely responsible challenge!
If Bible translation had been your task, what would be your approach?