Tuesday, November 17, 2015

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 ("let wives be silent")

1. I usually process these verses by reading them against 1 Corinthians 11, where wives pray and prophesy in public worship. These verses must be about disruptive speech because Paul has already assumed that wives will speak spiritually in the public assembly. That's what the veil is for, to negotiate an awkward situation where wives are speaking around men who aren't their husbands.

But if you have read my commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, you know that in the end I actually lean toward another position as a scholar. That is that these verses weren't even in 1 Corinthians originally. When I put on my big boy shoes, I lean toward the position that these verses are an "interpolation" into 1 Corinthians. I join other scholars like Richard Hays and Gordon Fee in this leaning.

To clarify, we do not have the original copies of any book of the Bible. We only have copies of copies. Evangelicals and Wesleyans affirm that some work needs to be done to determine how the biblical texts read originally, since we do not have any of the original manuscripts. We affirm that all the texts have been transmitted without any loss or corruption of doctrine. But the task of reconstructing the original text is necessary and should be conducted with great gravitas.

2. Here are the reasons why I think the balance of evidence points toward 14:34-35 not being original.
  • Although 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 appear in all known manuscripts, they do not appear in the same place in all known manuscripts. In several manuscripts considered part of the “Western” tradition, these two verses appear after verse 40, at the end of the chapter. This displacement might indicate that these verses were not part of the original text but something first written in the margin of some very early manuscript.
  • The passage reads more smoothly without the verses. "God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the churches of God—or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" The instruction to wives comes out of nowhere and returns to nowhere just as quickly.
  • Similarly, the point of view changes from "you" in 14:33 to "they" in 14:34 and 35 and then back to "you" again in 14:36.
  • Paul shifts from addressing the church, singular, of Corinth (1:1) to addressing churches, plural (14:34). But Paul is not writing churches. Instruction to churches does not fit the context of 1 Corinthians because only one church is listening. 
  • It is uncharacteristic in the extreme for Paul to consider Gentiles to be under the law, yet this text says that wives must be in submission, "as the law says."
  • Finally, even though the disruptive speech approach softens the tension between 1 Corinthians 11 and these verses, it still is hard to fit women prophesying in church with, "it is disgraceful for a women to speak in church." It just doesn't sound like the same person talking, and there are no textual issues of this sort in 1 Corinthians 11.
These are the reasons I and others lean away from these verses even being original to Paul.


RDavid said...

So should they be in the canon?

Ken Schenck said...

The custom in the Greek New Testament is to put important but possibly not original variants in brackets. So you could put this text in brackets in the main text (much as the HCSB does with the ending of Mark). If I were making the version, I probably would put it in a footnote, so the reader could see how well the text flows without it.