Saturday, February 02, 2013

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 not original

Since this came up in a comment under the previous post, I thought I would also post the rest of the section in the booklet.
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... In the end, however, I would side with those who do not think these verses were even in 1 Corinthians to begin with. We do not need this argument—1 Corinthians 11 alone shows that women prophesied and thus spoke spiritually in the public, mixed worship of the church. Nevertheless, I believe the balance of evidence is against these verses being original.

First, if you are not aware of the situation, we do not have any of the original copies of any book of the Bible. All we pretty much have are copies of copies of copies. The originals disintegrated long ago. Someone, whether it be the experts behind the King James Version four hundred years ago or those behind modern versions today, had to decide which of the surviving copies is more likely to preserve the way the original text was worded.

There is only the slightest manuscript evidence that something funny happened to these verses. A couple copies of 1 Corinthians from the 500s put the verses after 14:40 rather than where they are in all the others. There is also a Christian from the 300s who indicated the verses were in that spot. It is very slim evidence, quite curious, but it hints that something else might be going on here.

Here is how the copy from the 500s reads, the one I just mentioned:

"Let two or three prophets speak and let the others pass judgment. And if something should be revealed to another who is sitting, let the first person be silent. For you are all able to prophesy individually so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, for God is not about confusion but about peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints. Or did the word of God go out from you or did it come to you alone? If someone seems to be a prophet or someone spiritual, let them understand that what I am writing to you is the command of the Lord. And if someone is ignorant, he is ignorant."

I guarantee you that no one reading this version would think something is missing. It reads smoothly and naturally.

By contrast, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 do not fit 1 Corinthians—or Paul—very well. We saw earlier in the booklet that women played significant roles in Paul’s mission. And we've just seen the tension that would result if Paul told Corinthian wives to be silent, given his assumption earlier in the letter that they did speak regularly.  I'm not surprised that someone might think these verses seem more sweeping than disruptive speech--and to that extent they don't fit well in 1 Corinthians itself.

There are other clues. The verses immediately before and after 14:34-35 are about prophecy. If the verses belonged here, you might think they were saying women should not be allowed to prophesy. That is what you would think they were saying given the immediate context. But Paul has already assumed women will prophesy in church, so they cannot be saying that. As such, they are an interruption to the natural train of thought.  They come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly without a trace.

There are a couple other subtle shifts. For example, these verses are not just an interruption of topic. They also change the perspective. 14:31 addresses the community with "you," in the second person.  14:36 continues with "you," the second person. But these verses shift to "they," the third person. It is a minor shift, but it shows that these verses shift grammatically as well as in content.

More significant is the shift from addressing the singular church of Corinth to give instructions relating to churches elsewhere.  The church at Corinth was exactly that, one church, one assembly. The entire church could meet in the house of Gaius (Rom. 16:23). It would not make sense for Paul to give it instructions for churches, plural--"let wives be silent in the churches." He was not talking to churches.  He was talking to a singular church.

This discrepancy hints strongly that someone created these verses after 1 Corinthians began to circulate more widely, after it was no longer just a letter for one church but was being read in multiple churches. Someone apparently believed wives were disruptive in the charismatic worship of early Christian assemblies. Perhaps he added these words in the margin of a key early copy of 1 Corinthians, perhaps even in the late first century.

As I said above, these verses cannot forbid women to speak prophetically or spiritually in worship even if they are original. However, there are good reasons to believe that they were not part of the original letter.

9 comments:

Bob MacDonald said...

I think the exclamation of 1 Cor 14:36 marks 34-35 as a quote from the letter of the Corinthians to Paul. That effectively reverses its plain meaning.

Ron Price said...

I entirely agree that Paul would not have forbidden women to speak in church. But the discrepancy may predate the extant textual variants of 14:34-35. The whole of 1 Cor 14:33b-36 is taken as an interpolation by Duling & Perrin and by Udo Schnelle in their 'introductions' to the New Testament. Also it is surely significant that the best modern Greek texts (e.g. NA27 and UBS3), as well as the RSV, set out 33b-36 as a distinct paragraph. The NRSV goes a step further, enclosing it in parentheses. These modern editorial decisions indicate that these verses can be seen as a unit. If this unit is removed, the mention of prophets in verses 32-33a and 37 gives the resulting text a better sense of continuity.

Ken Schenck said...

My judgment here has to be considered suspect because it fits with my biases, but I truly believe it is the most objective conclusion.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...

Greetings Ken.

When I pasted this post, part of the earlier post, and your much earlier analysis into Word, and reduced the font-size to 12, it filled five pages with almost 3,000 words. Obviously I am not going to be able to respond to that in this little comment-box. But I will try to cobble together a response within a week or so, about the same length, and send it to you for your further consideration. I hope your current conclusion has not altogether ossified.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.

Nathaniel said...

First, there is no evidence that the text was ever absent. The variant manuscripts only suggest a different position, not fabrication.

Second, the exegesis that you and Dr Lennox taught me (further confirmed by my graduate studies) prefers the more difficult reading. Based on this principle, it would seem that a copyist relocated the verses to aid the flow of the passage.

Third, 14:35 appears to echo the hierarchy of 11:3,7-9. Thus the only conflict in this passage appears to be 14:34 and 11:5. The context of 14:34 is explicitly the "assembly" (ὅταν συνέρχησθε), as is the context of the second half of chapter 11 (συνερχομένων ὑμῶν). Yet, there is no such grammar for the first half of chapter 11. So any apparent conflict is easily resolvable by assuming that 11:5 applies either to private prayer/prophesying or to small groups, but not "the assembly."

Forth, I am highly suspect that this interpretation is influenced by bias. The Wesleyan Church long ago stated its support for ordained women. Your reading seems to me to go beyond the evidence while simultaneously supports your institutional commitments.

Ken Schenck said...

I'm not suggesting it's a slam dunk, only that I believe it fits the internal evidence much better. The more difficult reading asks whether it was more likely for a passage to have been fixed than messed up. In this case, while the passage reads much better without the verses, I'm not sure the other reading would have led a copyist to think he needed to fix something here.

My potential bias is clear. However, I think if you read all of Paul and bracket these verses and the 1 Timothy verses, you will find that my reading of Paul on the topic of women fits the vast majority of his writings and Acts far better than the reading that filters everything through 1 Cor. 14 and 1 Tim. 2. Thus I believe I am on strong grounds for suggesting that these verses are more anomalous than focal when trying to identify Paul's thought.

Nathaniel said...

But the relocation of the text does in fact smooth out the grammar of the section. There are three options here:
1. The verses are original in the majority position
2. The verses are original in the minority position
3. The verses are not original at all

#1 is the most difficult reading. #2 would be the result of smoothing out the logic and perspective problems (as you pointed out). #3 is the least difficult reading, but there is no evidence *whatsoever* for this. The evidence for #2, as small as it is, is in noways evidence for #3. You simply are arguing non sequitur.

Thus, the opinion that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is not original is not poorly supported, it is an outright fabrication. At best you can say that the text was moved from one position to another. Everything else you've written is just hand-waving.

I understand the need to create a systematic theology of Paul. And I am not for a moment suggesting that we filter all of Paul through these small passages (Paul seems to contradict himself in 1 Cor 11, so 14:34-35 are the least of our concerns). But there comes a point at which you just make things up to justify your theology. And that is the case here: there is zero evidence that these verses are not original. There is some remote evidence that the verses were moved, but the more difficult reading, as you pointed out, is the majority position.

Without dismissing the need for textual criticism, there comes a point where these kinds of speculations are little more than an academic rephrasing of Marcion's textual excision.

Ken Schenck said...

I don't agree that the out-of-placeness of the verses is obvious enough to motivate a scribal displacement. There probably are but off the top of my head I can't think of any other places where verses are shifted to this extent to improve smoothness. I also can't see someone moving them for ideological reasons. If anything the church moved away from a more charismatic approach that freed up female participation to a more structured lack of female participation. So any movement from an ideological perspective would have been away from moving the verses. Lectio difficilior has to do with the contextual motivation to change a text, not with an abstract sense of which reading is more difficult.

The textual displacement counts as evidence. It is slim, but it is external evidence. The internal evidence, by contrast is strong, especially the unlikelihood that Paul would give instructions to churches, plural, to a church, singular.

Your bias is way larger than mine, since I am more than willing to draw any conclusion while you are bound to reach the conclusion of the orthodox tradition (in fact, I associate orthodox scholarship with bad scholarship for this reason). I continue to maintain that while it is a close call, the most likely conclusion by someone willing to form either conclusion is that the verses are an early marginal note introduced into two different places in the text.

I could be wrong, of course, but I wait for a real argument against it that I haven't already thought of.

Nathaniel said...

You are incorrect about my bias. There is significant debate in the Orthodox world these days on these topics. Thus, I feel no need to defend any particular interpretation as this appears to be an open question in my church. Not to mention that, lacking Sola Scriptura, the Orthodox feel no need to justify such positions in regard to the NT. That is, even if Paul doesn't permit the speaking of women in church, the Orthodox Church may, on other grounds, permit such. Vice versa is also true. In short, I am completely open to whatever the text may say without any necessary correlation to contemporary praxis.

Let me grant that there is some internal evidence that such language is an odd fit. The crux of the issue is that if you move v34-35 to after v40, as supported by some minority manuscripts, this internal evidence disappears. Thus, the external evidence you are proposing actually argues against your position. The best you can say for your position is that the scribe also noticed the odd grammar and moved it where it fit in better (this is the reading I would take). So if the alternative position of the verses is original, it argues against your position. If the scribe repositioned the verse in the alternative manuscripts, it is unrelated to your thesis. My point has always been: the manuscript evidence in this case adds nothing to your internal evidence.

Further, arguments from later theological disputes (such as the transition from charismatic to hierarchical) or systematizations of Paul are anachronistic and question begging, respectively.

In short, I'm not arguing the verses *are* original. I am however arguing that there is no (external) evidence that they *are not* original. The second argument does not imply the first. My frustration with this blog post is that you are trying to create a logical relationship between some objective external evidence to your subjective internal evidence that doesn't exist. The variant manuscripts do not support your position. At best, they are ancillary.