Skip to main content

σκεῦος = penis

Most of your Bible translations have two possible rendering of 1 Thes 4:4, something along the lines of either
that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honour (NRSV)
that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honour (NRSV, note)
But the word translated variously "wife" or "body" is σκεῦος, which is a very strange word to use for either.  Of course the "wife" translation is especially wierd, as "knowing how" to take a wife presumably has little effect on your behaviour unless you actually do so!  And they are both wierd because if σκεῦος is a metaphor for either, what does the use of that metaphor add to the discussion?  σκεῦος is essentially a word for a useful object and has a semantic range broad enough to cover ship's rigging, kitchen pots, and human functionaries!  Instead, as both FF Bruce and Gordon Fee argue in their respective commentaries on 1&2 Thessalonians, σκεῦος is here best understood as a euphemism for penis.  There is even an example of this usage in the LXX (the Greek version of the OT) in 1 Sam 21:5-6.  

My contribution to this discussion is simply to concur with Fee's (much more detailed- this is just a very brief summary) argument and to point out that this would help explain Paul's use of τιμή (honour) here as in 1 Cor 12:23 he also talks about how the less presentable parts need to be treated with special τιμή (honour).

My translation suggestion?
that each one of you know how to control your own thingy in holiness and honour
Let me know what you think, :-)


  1. my suggestion :)

    '...that each one of you know how to manage your member in holiness and honour.'

    or 'instrument' or 'manhood' ;)

    and yes, the 'member' translation would fit well with the 'body' metaphor of 1 Cor 12 (a 'member' of the body?) :)

  2. The idea of 'vessel' is probably the most likely: as in the body being a vessel or tent.

    That said, I think that the idea of its use as a euphemism for penis is an interesting one. After all, the NRSV does sometimes have a tendency to 'water down' some of the less pleasant parts of Scripture. (Compare 1 Kings 16:11 to the Hebrew original! The AV has retained the sense of the Hebrew here!)

    In the context of πορνεία in the previous verse ('harlotry', 'prostitution'), the sense ought, I think, to contain the idea of sex, or rather the abstention therefrom, and so perhaps penis might be a valid rendering.

    Love in Christ!

  3. Dale, for exactly that reason "member" is not appropriate because it suggests all sorts of resonances that aren't there! But that is used in one translation, perhaps the Jerusalem Bible?

    Matt, leaving the euphemism/metaphor in place is the option taken by some interpreters but one expects the original readers would have been fairly confident what it might mean. "Vessel" really isn't very close to the definition of skeuos, if you are going to leave the euphemism/metaphor as its stands then "utensil" would probably be better, vessel has so many metaphorical overtones (e.g. needing to be filled, or used to float on or contain water!) personally I'm convinced by Fee's argument so I refer you to that commentary!

    Good discussion gents, pax vobiscum

  4. Here's another suggestion coming from my daughter (in another context completely):

    '...that each one of you know how to manage your water stick in holiness and honour.'



Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .