“Women as Gossips and Busybodies: Another Look at 1 Timothy 5:13”

This is the title of my paper which has just been accepted for the Disputed Paulines Consultation at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in November 2007.  The abstract of the paper is below and no doubt I shall be musing on this here as my thoughts develop.

Nearly all English translations translate the
flu&aroi kai\
in 1 Tim 5:13 as “gossips and
busybodies” (ESV, GNT, NAB, NIV, NKJV and NRSV, for example), and the
concluding phrase
ta_ mh_ de/onta
as some variation of “saying what they should not
say”.  This paper revisits the suggestion
by Spicq, Hanson, Kelly and others in their commentaries on this passage that the
former phrase has to do with working magic and the latter with the actual
formulae used.  I argue that the phrase
“gossips and busybodies” has, therefore, been consistently mistranslated and
that the apparent misogyny of this passage has to be seen in the context of
very real opposition arising from what the writer views as false teaching and
magical practices within the community.


  1. Rick says:

    Hi Lloyd.

    Sounds interesting. I just checked BDAG, LSJ and EDNT on φλύαρος (of course, an NT hapax). Josephus uses it (Vita 150) in the context of "the allegation about witchcraft" but I don’t have the Greek handy at home to check and see the exact wording. The other word, περίεργος, occurs 2x in NT (also in Ac 19.19). BDAG lists citations in other literature (TestIss 3.3; Jos. C.Ap. 1.16; Hermas Visions 4.3.1) that each seem to be used in the sense of "busybody". But the Ac 19.19 instance of περίεργος seems pretty clearly to have to do with magic/divination. So it’ll be interesting to see where you go with this. (Haven’t checked the commentaries yet).

  2. Lloyd Pietersen says:

    Hi Rick

    Many thanks for this. Whilst περίεργος most often does mean something like "busybody" context is all important and, of course, significantly Timothy in 1 Timothy is in Ephesus – the very context for Acts 19:19. I am also continuing to ponder whether there is any intertextual link between Luke’s περιέρχομαιin Acts 19:13 and our author’s περιέρχομαι in 1 Timothy 5:13 (the only other occurrence of the verb is in Heb 11:37 (and in some textual variants of Acts 28:13)).

  3. Rick Brannan says:

    Hi Lloyd.

    Sounds like you could be building a case for Luke as Paul’s amanuensis. 🙂

    I found the Josephus text I mentioned above, so I thought I’d post the follow-up here.

    πυθόμενος δὲ περὶ τούτων ἐγὼ πάλιν τὸν δῆμον ἀνεδίδασκον μὴ δεῖν διώκεσθαι τοὺς καταφυγόντας πρὸς αὐτούς· τὸν δὲ φλύαρον τῆς περὶ τῶν φαρμάκων αἰτίας διέσυρον, οὐκ ἂν τοσαύτας μυριάδας στρατιωτῶν Ῥωμαίους λέγων τρέφειν, εἰ διὰ φαρμάκων ἦν νικᾶν τοὺς πολεμίους.
    Josephus, F., & Niese, B. (1888). Flavii Iosephi opera recognovit Benedictvs Niese … (4:347, Vita 150). Berolini: apvd Weidmannos.

    but when I was informed of this, I instructed the multitude again, that those who fled to them for refuge ought not to be persecuted: I also laughed at the allegation about witchcraft; and told them that the Romans would not maintain so many ten thousand soldiers, if they could overcome their enemies by wizards.
    Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1996, c1987). The works of Josephus : Complete and unabridged. Includes index. (Life 1.150). Peabody: Hendrickson.

    So "the allegation about witchcraft" is from τὸν δὲ φλύαρον τῆς περὶ τῶν φαρμάκων. Thus while φλύαρος is used in the context of witchcraft/wizards, it speaks only of the allegation and doesn’t appear to have much to do with witchcraft itself.

    Still interesting that it would appear in this context, though. I also note that φλύαρος occurs in 4Ma 5.11 where the NRSV translates it "foolish", modifying φιλοσοφίας (ἀπὸ τῆς φλυάρου φιλοσοφίας ). It doesn’t appear in the Apostolic Fathers or Philo from what I can tell.

  4. Mike Aubrey says:

    Hi Lloyd,

    Do you plan on perhaps posting your paper here after you present it at SBL? It sounds quite interesting.

  5. Lloyd Pietersen says:

    Hi Rick

    Thanks for the Greek text of the Josephus passage. I have it in English at home but not in Greek and I had not yet got round to looking it up on TLG. (As an aside how near is Logos to getting enough pre-pub orders on the Niese Josephus apparatus to go ahead? I have had it on pre-pub order for ages!) The Josephus text is still interesting in that it shows that there is at least one text where the content of phluaros concerns witchcraft.

    I don’t know about Luke as amanuensis. I seriously considered Lukan authorship whilst doing my doctoral research but did not find the arguments persuasive. Nevertheless I do think there are substantial links between Luke-Acts and the PE and I did draw on Acts 19 in my work.

  6. Lloyd Pietersen says:

    Hi Mike

    I will certainly publish my thoughts here as they unfold so that others can comment. I probably won’t post the finished paper as I hope to be offering it to JSNT.

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