On the authenticity (or not) of 1 Corinthians 14.34-35: Assessing motives

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June 2, 2013 by jmar198013

I continue my vintage Jeremy retrospective by presenting a paper I wrote 7 years ago on the textual evidence for the authenticity (or inauthenticity) of 1 Cor. 14.34-35. I was a student at a small Christian liberal arts university in West Tennessee at the time; and, in the words of Bob Dylan, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” To say that I was walking on eggshells would be an understatement. But for all my eggshell walking, this paper still raised eyebrows. In this section, I contrast the argument of Gordon Fee–a conservative scholar–that these verses are a gloss, with those of feminist critic Antoinette Clark Wire, who insists on their authenticity.

What Role do Motives Play?

When assessing the validity of interpolation theories regarding our passage, noted textual critic Carroll D. Osburn lays a rather broad charge against those scholars who subscribe to such a view: “All theories of interpolation look suspiciously like attempts to liberate Paul in terms of modern agendas” (“Interpretation” 223).  Now, it may be observed that what Osburn has asserted here is an over-generalization. We should probably be going a bit overboard if we attempted to lay this charge upon an interpreter such as Gordon D. Fee. The question of motivations, then, is not so simple.

On the other hand, what is most surprising is that some of the more recent intensive studies done in order to demonstrate the authenticity of this passage have come from feminist critics. Munro was correct in her observation:

Strange to say, these scholars are not from among theological and political conservatives seeking to arrest the progress of women’s liberation in church and society, not anti-ERA campaigners, but true-believing feminists who in some sense and to some degree identify with traditions connected with the Jewish and Christian scriptures . . . Thus, Paul remains for them a dangerous other, instead of a supporting brother. (26)

Some feminist interpreters are in favor of retaining an image of Paul as a chauvinist, and our passage is definitely one of the easiest to use to construe the apostle as such. These interpreters refuse the conciliatory gesture of a non-Pauline authorship for the offending passage, arguing that more is at stake than these verses: they are standing on what they take to be Paul’s fundamental posture toward women. “The women’s critique is not of a few isolated passages,” declares Mary Daly, a champion of a hermeneutic of suspicion, “but of a universe of sexist propositions” (5).***

It is helpful to be cognizant of the perspective from which a particular scholar makes their case, even–perhaps especially–if that that perspective diverges from one’s own. In the words of Miroslav Volf:

We enlarge our thinking by letting the voices and perspectives of others, especially those with whom we may be in conflict, resonate within ourselves, by allowing them to help us see them, as well as ourselves, from their perspective, and if needed, readjust our perspectives as we take into account their perspectives. (213)

Recognizing someone’s underlying assumptions—even if we  find them disagreeable—does not mean that we must automatically dismiss their case. In short, we should not automatically dismiss A. C. Wire’s dogged pursuit of textual evidence to support her thesis that Paul was an anti-woman voice; likewise, we should be fair with Gordon D. Fee as he tries to hammer out the textual and interpretative difficulties presented by these verses.

***Unfortunately, I somehow left off the Daly source from my original bibliography. If someone is ever able to track down where she said that, it would be awesome.

Works Cited

Munro, Winsome. “Women, Text, and the Canon: The Strange Case of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 18 (1988): 26-31.

Osburn, Carroll D. “The Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35.” Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity. Vol. 1. Carroll D. Osburn, ed. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993.

Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Explanation of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon, 1996.

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