Friday, January 4, 2013

Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and the Interpolation Hypothesis

I was reading through Gordon Fee's commentary on 1 Corinthians[1] and managed to make my way into a studded field of land mines and hand grenades when I broached the section on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Before I get into my thoughts on the matter (and I acknowledge I write from the standpoint of an egalitarian), I should just post the text and get on with it.


According to BibleGateway (TNIV):
34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.[a]

  1. 1 Corinthians 14:35 In some manuscripts these verses come after verse 40.
Kurt Willems, a blogger I enjoy very much (who is a fellow egalitarian), offers his response to this "seemingly" clear section of verses in what follows.

In this first Corinthian letter, Paul spent several chapters discussing orderly worship.  In the flow of the letter, this text seems out of place and what some scholars refer to as an interpolation.  It appears to be an appendix that was added by a second or third generation Pauline letter compiler. This means that it was not authentic to Paul, but was inserted by a scribe because of some pressing agenda that was facing a segment of the church.  Both Richard B. Hays and Gordon Fee believe that this is indeed the case.  [1] If interpolation is not viable and this is authentically Pauline, then there are several explanations; one of which seems to be plausible.  Clearly, in 11.2-16, Paul has already stated that women may pray and prophesy in church as long as their head is covered in appropriate cultural dress.  Therefore, it is proposed that in the ancient Middle East women and men would sit in separate parts of the gathering area.  Most likely, worship gatherings in Corinth would have been taught in the popular language of the day: Greek.  Unschooled women lacked education and were less likely to understand, as they were fluent in their own local ethnic dialects.  They could have become bored or had questions that caused them to talk loud amongst themselves until the minister would have had to say: “Women, be quiet!  Ask your husbands at home.”  Paul may have written this to promote order in the Corinthian context so that worship would be orderly.  In any case, it was not a prohibition on women in a general sense, but an occasional circumstance.[2] 
You can read the rest of the post and his series here. I don't find his reasons compelling, but I won't rule them out as impossible. Just highly unlikely. I will offer my thoughts on the interpretation of this text below.

For my part, I never was quite certain what to do with these verses. My initial response was to laugh and say Paul was contradicting himself again (given my annoyances with Paul initially when I started studying him). But this wouldn't do.

So I ventured into the bombed out realm of this terrain and discovered a few different hypotheses, none of which seemed to make sense entirely of the text. The refutation of a "false prophecy" seemed to initially solve some of the issues, but when I started listening to textual critics, I considered a different option. I still consider the "false prophecy denouncement" to be a possible option, but it still doesn't answer my questions.


The reason I write this is because inerrancy is the first thing people think about when these sorts of issues are discussed. As of this current moment, I affirm the inerrancy of the original autographs of Scripture. However, if these verses (or any other verses) were not in the original autographs, then they are to be rejected.


Simply, an interpolation is an addition to the text not originally written by the author.


The list of scholars who argue for the interpolation explanation is impressive. Seriously. Most text critics analyses of this passage have concluded that it is indeed an interpolation[2]. I will list a few:

Richard B. Hays[3]. E. Earle Ellis [4]. Eldon J. Epp [5]. Bart Ehrman and Bruce Metzger [6] [7].

So, just thinking about the likelihood of this interpretation is not without it's heavy hitters in support.

My (tentative) reasons:

One, they contradict Paul's affirmation of women of women elsewhere. People have tried to reinterpret those verses, but haven't been successful.

Two, as you can see with the footnote from BibleGateway, some manuscripts have the two verses at the end of the chapter, several verses away. The movement to verse 40 doesn't assuage any of the problems, introducing more issues into the text, both theologically and exegetically.

Three, in accordance with the nearly universal recognition of John 7:53-8:11 as an interpolation (an interpolation far longer than 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which should silence comments about "length"), we see that both manuscripts contain varying locations of both texts. The movement or replacement of "texts" is a strong sign of an interpolation[8].

Four, I believe verses 1-25 are an affirmation of prophecy, and verses 26-40 are instructions for such principles and is of chiastic structure. The climactic moment is in verse 33, where Paul announces that God is "not a God of disorder, but of peace, as in all the congregations of the saints." Verses 34-35 do not reflect the arguments made in the previous chapters and interrupt the flow of the argument.

Five, most manuscripts have verses 34-35 as separate from 33.

Six, the phrase "just as the Law says" does not fit Paul's use of language as we cannot find any OT law that restricts the speech of women. Also, he speaks of Christ "redeeming us from the Law" (Galatians 3:13).

I'm still wading through this territory, but having read D.A. Carson and various other responses to the arguments made, I haven't been convinced. As the evidence stands, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is most likely an interpolation.

As I mentioned, if this text is not from Paul and wasn't in the original autographs, then it does not carry authority. It should not be used to establish doctrine nor should it be given a proper place in studying the Scriptures to determine the standing of women in ministry.



1. D.A. Carson, "New Testament Commentary Survey" pg94, recommends Fee's commentary as one of the best general commentaries on the epistle despite what Carson terms "extraordinary lapses" in Fee's treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as an interpolation. I found Carson's response far from compelling.

2. For the long list, P.B. Payne, "Man and Woman, One in Christ" pgs226-227. Its all one footnote. Its an entire page long. Seriously.

3. Richard B. Hays, "The Moral Vision of the New Testament" pgs54-59 for footnotes. Also see "First Corinthians" pgs244-248.

4. E. Earle Ellis, "New Testament Textual Criticism, Its Significance For Exegesis" pgs213-220.

5. Eldon J. Epp, "Junia: The First Woman Apostle" pgs15-20.

6. Meztger and Ehrman, "The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration" pgs288-290. Say what you will about Ehrman, but he is a studied textual critic and I consider him an authority on textual criticism.

7. See Payne, "Man and Woman, One in Christ" pg247 for Dr. Payne's conversation with Dr. Bruce Metzger. Dr. Metzger is in agreement with Dr. Payne on the likelihood that Bishop Victor of Capua (who commissioned the writings of Codex Fuldensis) regarded 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as an interpolation.

8. D.A. Carson, "The Gospel According to John" pg333. However, Carson unfortunately doesn't apply the same principle to 1 Corinthians 14.

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