June 3, 2013 by jmar198013
People know 1 Cor. 14.34-35 as the passage where Paul tells women to shut up in worship assemblies. It’s a passage that’s caused much grief. But what if Paul didn’t write it after all? This section names, in a general way, the arguments against the authenticity of 1 Cor. 14.34-35.
Arguments against the Authenticity of 1 Cor. 14.34-35
Thiselton (1 Corinthians 250) provides for us a concise rehearsal of objections to Pauline authorship of our passage.
1. These verses depart from the main theme of chs. 12-14.
2. They intrude upon Paul’s argument about prophets.
3. They contradict 1 Cor 11.2-16.
4. Verse 34 makes an unqualified appeal to “the law.”
5. A few later manuscripts place vv 34-35 after v 40.
To this list we might also include a passing observation made by Holladay (188), namely that while the rest of ch. 14 deals with those possessing Spirit-gifts (tongues-speakers, prophets), these verses speak only of “women” in general, without regard to any charismata they might possess. All but one of these arguments is based upon internal literary or rhetorical, rather than textual, evidence and some are weightier than others.
H. Conzelmann (246) argues that the whole of 1 Cor. 14.33b-36 is a non-Pauline gloss, inserted to reflect the “bourgeois consolidation of the church” presupposed in the Pastoral Epistles (esp. 1 Tim 2.11ff), which he also supposes to be non-Pauline. His argumentation here is rooted in the havoc these verses seem to play with the surrounding context. For instance, he argues that vv 33a and 37 seem to link quite naturally as a self-contained unit of thought, upon which the objectionable verses seem to intrude:
[F]or God is a God not of disorder but of peace…Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.
Conzelmann would also seem to be correct in his assertion that this section fits very awkwardly into the surrounding context, which is concerned with charismatic manifestations in the worship assemblies. This is actually a rather astute observation. On the other hand, Conzelmann’s interpolation theory is dramatically hurt by his inclusion of vv 33 and 36 in the gloss, without, as Fee notes, any textual warrant (First Epistle 699). Murphy-O’Connor who, like Fee and most others who hold the interpolation view, finds vv 34-35 alone inauthentic explains that v 33b goes with what precedes (“God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints”), and further explains that v 36 is obviously not addressed to women, as the masculine form monous (“only ones,” RSV) is either speaking to the men, or the congregation generically, and thus goes with vv 26-33 (90).
Another argument often voiced by those who view our passage as spurious is that it is inconsistent with what Paul taught only three chapters previous in 11.2-16, namely, that women could pray and prophesy in the assembly as long as they had the proper head-covering (or, according to another theory, the proper hairstyle). So R. Scroggs (“Chauvinist or Liberationist?” 307):
Furthermore, both sides [feminists and traditionalists within Judeo-Christian religious traditions] should heed the scholars who discard as a post-Pauline gloss that infamous passage (I Cor. 33b-36) which prohibits women from speaking in Christian assemblies. Among the several reasons for regarding these verses as spurious, the most weighty is that they blatantly contradict I Corinthians 11.2-16, in which Paul clearly accepts without question the right of women to lead worship. (307)
R. B. Hays (246) also assumes that 1 Cor. 11.2-16 is referring to praying and prophesying “in church,” and adds that “all the other available evidence indicates that women played an active role in preaching, teaching, and prophesying in the early Pauline communities: for example, Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Prisca (Rom. 16:3-4; cf. Acts 18:18-28), Junia (Rom. 16:7), and Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3).
Another objection to Pauline authorship of 1 Cor 14.34-35 is the unqualified use of “the law” in v. 34 to justify the decree about women speaking: “they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.” “It is stunning to hear Paul arguing in this fashion from the law,” say Flanagan and Snyder, “Paul for whom ‘the power of sin is in the law’ in 15.56 […] Here […] he cites the law as the basis for action. And that is strange indeed” (10). Fee (First Epistle 707) sees another problem here, namely, the manner in which the appeal to the law is made:
First, when Paul elsewhere appeals to “the Law,” he always cites the text (e.g., 9.6-10; 14.21), usually to support a point he himself is making. Nowhere else does he appeal to the Law in this absolute way as binding on Christian behavior. More difficult yet is the fact that the Law does not say any such thing.
Fee goes on to note that there is a very similar remark in Josephus, indicating an oral Torah understanding such as that found in rabbinic Judaism, and therefore suggests that “the provenance of the glossator was Jewish Christianity” (First Epistle 707).[i] Murphy-O’Connor is even more emphatic about this point: “the principal reason for denying the Pauline authorship of 14:34-35 is the invocation of the authority of the Law to found a moral attitude. Paul never appeals to the Law in this manner” (91).
Fee also provides for us a most detailed and coherent apologetic for 1 Cor 14.34-35 as an interpolation on the basis of the apparent transposition of the verses to a place immediately following v 40 in the Western tradition. Fee’s first line of argument (699-700) is based on the notion of transcriptional probability. While most of the early manuscripts (P46 A B K Ψ 0243 33 81 1739 Maj) place the verses after v 33, others, described by Fee as “the entire Western tradition” (699; these include D F G 88* a b d f g Ambrosiaster Sedulius-Scotus) have them after v 40. What is to account for the displacement? Fee contends that this is not a matter of displacement at all, but an interpolation. These floating verses may be explained one of three ways:
- Paul wrote the verses as they stand in the majority of ancient witnesses, but someone later moved them to the position after v 40.
- Paul wrote the words after v 40, and someone deliberately transposed them to the position after v 33.
- These verses are not original to the text, but are a very early scribal gloss placed in the margin and later placed into the text at two distinct locations.
Fee opts for the third option, as it can easily explain both why these verses seem to intrude into the argument about prophets and the differing locations of these words in distinct textual traditions. This option could also be defended on historical grounds, i.e. increasing institutional conservatism in the early church, or a desire to reconcile 1 Cor with 1 Tim 2.9-15.
Whatever the case may be, we may be reasonably certain that the second option is right out; we know of no credible scholar who has argued that a scribe would intentionally move these words from a position after v 40 into the place after v 33, as this would make for a more difficult reading. However, in his Textual Commentary for the third edition of the UBS text, Metzger offers what seems like a reasonable explanation for the first option. An ancient scribe, noting the difficulty of reading vv 34-35 where they stand, attempted to “find a more appropriate location in the context for Paul’s directive concerning women” (565).
Fee, however, is unconvinced by this explanation. He argues that, in the first place, displacements of this sort do not generally occur in the NT (the notable exception being the adulterous woman pericope in John 8), and secondly, were these words originally in the text at v 33, there is no adequate reason for such a displacement, as no early Christian writers who commented on the passage (e.g. Chrysostom, Theodoret, John of Damascus) were troubled by the placement of the text. Thus, Fee concludes: “The Western text may not be shunted aside. All surviving evidence indicates that this was the only way 1 Corinthians appeared in the Latin church for at least three hundred years” (First Epistle 700). His words about not ignoring the Western reading here are given some further credibility if one pauses to consider the words of J. Howard Greenlee:
[The Western text] is generally longer than the preferred text. In a number of notable instances, however, it has a shorter reading in which the Western text alone may have preserved the original, while all the others have incorporated additions or “interpolations” (74).
Finally, it is worth noting at this point that some scholars object to the passage on rhetorical grounds—an extension of Conzelmann’s charge that the section “upsets the context […] and spoils the flow of thought […] Moreover, there are peculiarities of linguistic usage and of thought” (246). Says Philip Payne: “1 Cor 14.34-5 appropriates many words and phrases from the context but uses them in ways that are alien to its context. Extensive verbal correspondence suggests that 1 Tim 2.12 affected the wording of this interpolation” (“Fuldensis, Vaticanus, and 1 Cor 14.34-5” 260). Obviously, this sort of argument could not stand alone—it only works in concert with the others, since judgments based upon linguistic usage and verbal correspondence are notoriously open to subjective whim.
To sum it up: the primary arguments presented by those who are convinced that Paul did not write 1 Cor 14.34-35:
- It does not fit very well into the surrounding context.
- It contradicts Paul’s teaching about women elsewhere.
- It has Paul referring to “the law” as a basis for Christian behavior.
- The “displacement” of verses in the Western text indicates that they are a later addition to the text.
Taken together, these arguments certainly do seem to weigh against the authenticity of these verses. They have not, however, gone without challenge.
[i] R. F. Collins, seemingly independently of Fee, has reached a similar conclusion (520-521).
Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina. Daniel J. Harrington, ed. Collegeville: Michael Glazier, 1999.
Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians. Hermeneia. James W. Leitch, trans. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975.
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. F. F. Bruce, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.
Flanagan, Neal M. and Edwina Hunter Snyder. “Did Paul Put Down Women in 1 Cor 14:34-36?” Biblical Theology Bulletin 11 (1981): 10-12.
Greenlee, J. Howard. Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism. Rev. ed. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995.
Hays, Richard B. First Corinthians. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997.
Holladay, Carl. The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Living Word Commentary. Everett Ferguson, ed. Austin: Sweet, 1979.
Metzger, Bruce M. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, a Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, Third Edition. New York: American Bible Society, 1971.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “Interpolations in 1 Corinthians.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48.1 (1986): 81-94.
Payne, Philip B. “Fuldensis, Sigla for Variants in Vaticanus, and 1 Cor 14.34-35.” New Testament Studies 41 (1995): 240-262.
Scroggs, Robin. “Paul: Chauvinist or Liberationist?” Christian Century 89.11 (1972): 307-309.
Thiselton, Anthony. 1 Corinthians: A Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.