On the authenticity (or not) of 1 Corinthians 14.34-35: Arguments against authenticity

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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:

  1. Paul wrote the verses as they stand in the majority of ancient witnesses, but someone later moved them to the position after v 40.
  2. Paul wrote the words after v 40, and someone deliberately transposed them to the position after v 33.
  3. 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).

Works Cited

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.

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16 thoughts on “On the authenticity (or not) of 1 Corinthians 14.34-35: Arguments against authenticity

  1. Jack Hairston says:

    If I understand your objections, they rest on style and content, rather than any specific manuscript evidence. Do the three oldest texts have these verses? When do you think that these verses crept into the text, and by whom?

    • jmar198013 says:

      Well, they’re not my objections, per se. I will cover the manuscript evidence more fully in a later post. If these vv are an interpolation, it would have been very early. The earliest MSS have them where we know them. The Western and Byzantine text types have them floating elsewhere.

  2. Xyhelm says:

    Of the five objections you list, none of them hold a sufficient amount of water except #4. I have searched high and low for any OT law that forbids a woman to speak. Actually, I found one law about when a woman was commanded to speak: Num 5:22. Therefore, Paul cannot be talking about the Mosaic Law. Could Paul be speaking of Roman law? I have not heavily investigated this.

    The problem I have with objection #3 is that the context of 1Cor 14 applies to public worship, and likely to those who lead in worship. There is certainly no implication in 1Cor 11 that this context is about leading worship.

  3. Thomas Hamlet says:

    “More difficult yet is the fact that the Law does not say any such thing.”
    This is probably my favorite quote of this section.

  4. […] boys who would get mighty testy about attempts to excise the longer ending of Mark. They found any suggestion that 1 Cor. 14.34-35 was an interpolation downright heretical. But some of those same preacher boys were quick to throw John 7.53-8.11 right […]

  5. οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει. It is not permitted to them to speak, but they should be in submission, as the law also says (or ‘as even the law says’). I think one quite naturally places καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει in the ἀλλά clause, so that it relates to submission in particular, rather than to speaking: Gen 3.16 is the most likely scripture being referred to, as is assumed without comment by Ellicott and Meyer, for example. So Chrysostom: Καὶ ποῦ τοῦτο ὁ νόμος λέγει; Πρὸς τὸν ἄνδρα σου ἡ ἀποστροφή σου, καὶ αὐτός σου κυριεύσει. ‘And where does the law say this? Your turning shall be to your husband, and he will rule over you.’

    Andrew

    • jmar198013 says:

      Genesis 3.16 is being misused. It is a consequence of the Fall, not something built into the nature of creation.

      Furthermore, the idea of God being a God of peace, not disorder, in all the churches, more readily connects to the rowdiness of tongues-speakers and eager prophets than women speaking in the assembly. In other words, at issue is that Paul wants them to behave themselves in an orderly manner, as is done in other assemblies.

      • The fact that men have to toil with their hands might be seen as part of the Fall too; and wear clothes. In Christ, we are redeemed from the curse of the law, but are we yet redeemed from the curse of the Fall?

        I agree that the fact that God is a God of peace provides a fitting close to the previous section about order with respect to the men prophesying and giving messages and tongues and interpretation.

      • jmar198013 says:

        One other thought on Chrysostom’s take on women “must be silent, even as the law says,” with Gen. 3.16 as the reference. The problem there is Gen. 3.16 doesn’t say the wife “must be silent.” Second, and this forms the core of my protest, God was not so much saying there, “It has to be this way,” but rather, “This is how it will be.” He’s talking about the damaged relationship between man and woman; describing rather than prescribing. There’s a major difference.

        Now, on to your thoughts about the consequences of the Fall. Your points are well-taken, but consider this. Adam’s toil was specifically linked to the curse upon the land: “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Gen 3.17). But THAT curse was lifted after the Flood. So Gen. 8.21: “I will never again curse the ground because of man.” As far as clothes, one thing we can’t get back is the climate-controlled lusciousness of Eden.

        That being said, I would suggest that there is a strong inclination in the New Testament to take some power back from the Fall, even in this life. The Fall is not supposed to determine how men and women relate to one another in Christ. That’s not just pulled from the famous Galatians 3.28. It can be extrapolated from Ephesians as well: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Humanity in Christ is being nurtured away from the fall, back to our divine vocation of bearing the image of God. Being recreated. We daren’t let the Fall trump that in how we relate to one another.

        Finally, “the men prophesying.” Wow! You just won’t let that go. And yet from 1 Cor. 11 we know that women also prophesied, and were free to do so as long as they had the appropriate head dress (or hairstyle). I know the old trick of trying to say, “But the text does not specifically say they were doing it in the assembly.” That’s sophomoric. If the women were not prophesying in some sort of mixed context, the issue of head dress (or hairstyles) wouldn’t have been an issue, now, would it?

  6. Thanks for the full reply. I am surprised that you think that it is stupid to draw a distinction between the formal assembly and the home or other occasions. This was the entire thrust of Origen’s exegesis, for example, and you see it too in Gregory of Nazianzen’s eulogy to his father (Oration 18), in which he describes his mother as his father’s teacher and even leader (ἀρχηγὸς) in spiritual matters (while still submitting to him with respect to the law of marriage – τοῦ ἀνδρὸς κρατεῖσθαι νόμῳ συζυγίας), and then says that her voice was never heard in the assemblies, and that she reverenced the sanctuary by her silence.

    My wife covers her head when we pray together, and there is potential for other occasions such as meetings for prayer and prophecy which would give women the opportunity to fulfill their vitally important ministry in this regard. Personally, I don’t think the need for a head covering is restricted only to mixed meetings, but I can see why it might think it is.

    I am not absolutely certain that this is the right way to reconcile 1 Cor 14.34-5 and 11.5, but it is certainly a possible one. Formerly, I felt that a woman should be silent of her own accord, and not speak unless especially moved by the Holy Spirit to do so. Thus, Matthew Henry: ‘some think that these general prohibitions are only to be understood in common cases; but that upon extraordinary occasions, when women were under a divine afflatus, and known to be so, they might have liberty of speech.’ I tremble at His word. Since there is a very clear and repeated injunction for the women to be silent in the assemblies, we surely have to start there. If you think these solutions are simplistic, they are surely less so than just taking scissors to the offending passage.

    With regard to the Fall, I do appreciate your points, but would like to add that Paul apparently sees the woman’s role in the Fall as a reason for the instructions of 1 Timothy 2.11-12, so it must still have ongoing consequences, even in the kingdom of God.

    Blessings, Andrew

    • jmar198013 says:

      Andrew, your point about 1 Corinthians 11 is well-taken. But the reason I said I find that line of reasoning sophomoric is that I find it to be a purely semantic solution to a substantial issue. This is especially true because I would suggest that it misses the real issue at stake in 1 Corinthians 14, turning an appeal to an orderly assembly that embodies the peace of God into fodder for a gender-based power play. And I certainly won’t judge the practice of you and your wife re: head coverings during private prayer times. But I will give two reasons why I would say it’s unnecessary. First, regardless of translations, Paul did not say women were to have “a sign” or “a symbol” of authority on their heads when they prayed and prophesied. He said they were to have “authority over” their heads when they prayed. I don’t want to get into technical discourse about the difference—I have a day job *smile*—but that does change things. Second, I am not at all certain that even if Paul had a specific sort of head covering in mind, that it would have any specific meaning in our culture.

      Now, in terms of 1 Tim. 2.11ff. I think you might want to back up on that one and think about the point of Paul’s rhetoric. For one thing, he also mentions creation: “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” But is Paul using that as a rationale for womanly submission? I don’t think so, for if Paul’s logic is simply order of creation = authority, then we humans would have to submit to the earth and the animals and the stars and whatnot. That might work for ancient pagans; it doesn’t work for Israel or the church. So obviously he must be going another direction. Then Paul says, “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” This is hardly a straight put-down of Eve, or women in general; and it certainly isn’t a warrant for male authority. Why not? Because, look at Gen. 3.6. After Eve ate the fruit, she “also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Some translations obscure the fact that Adam had been there with her the whole time. But that puts a different spin on it, doesn’t it? Because that means, yes, Eve was deceived, but Adam knew better and did it anyway. How does that speak to male headship? So I’d argue contextually that Paul is pointing out the mutuality of man and woman, both in creation, and in bringing sin into the world. Not hierarchy. The logic of hierarchy from creation and fall breaks down completely upon investigation.

      Grace and peace,
      Jeremy

      • Xyhelm says:

        Great discussion, gents. I wanted to share a few thoughts and questions.

        I have also heard that Paul’s “as it says in the Law” refers to Gen 3:18. If not that, what thing about the Law is Paul talking about?

        You are saying that men and women are completely equal in Christ. That is true. But Paul is making a clear separation of women and men in regard to the things they can do in the assembly, right?

        Paul did give instructions for the head covering, be it long hair or an object that covers. Regardless of the meaning in our culture, it was the practice of the most ancient churches as seen in 1Cor 11. The head coverings that the early Christians had didn’t have a cultural significance in the Roman culture either.

      • jmar198013 says:

        If Paul didn’t write 1 Cor 14.34-35, then your questions are somewhat moot, brother Swango. 😉 Funny story, though. In his commentary of 1 Corinthians, Carl Holladay suggests (assuming that these verses are from Paul) that what Paul had in mind was the incident from Numbers where Miriam is struck with leprosy after challenging Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman. Because the complaint that Miriam stirs up is essentially, “Hey, we’re prophets, too” (cf. Num. 12.2). What I like about that is it has the merit of connecting the questioned verses to the context (prophecy, and has the word of God come to you only). On the other hand, God never tells Miriam to be silent as a prophetess; God is enraged because she has incited grumbling at Moses. Indeed, Numbers 12 works better as a passage to use against people who still stupidly want to use the Bible to inveigh against interracial marriage than as a passage to silence women.

      • Xyhelm says:

        Absolutely, Num 12 does fit the context of prophecy, and it doesn’t fit the context of silence. To me, Num 12 seems like a strange passage for 1Cor 4 to refer to. It is found in the Law (the books of Moses), but it’s not part of the actual laws of the Law. On the other hand, neither is Gen 3. I guess when it comes to interpreting 1Cor 14:34-35, there will always be an “on the other hand.” Of all the passages in the New Testament, this is one of the passages I have studied the most without any true answers jumping out. 😦

  7. Jeremy, if the verses were added, when do you think that would have been? If it was late (eg 200 AD), I don’t see how they could have got into all the manuscripts. If early, eg in the lifetime of the Corinthians who received the letter, I don’t see how they could have accepted a big change in church practice and scripture.

    With regard to 1 Timothy 2.11-15, you seem to be going back to front. There are some very clear instructions, and then Paul provides reasons for those instructions, which some find difficult to understand. But if one reads with faith, starting with the assumption that they are inspired by the Spirit of God, then it is really not so hard to make sense of them.

    Andrew

    • jmar198013 says:

      The verses in question are in two entirely different locations depending on text type. And if you read closely my research on the manuscripts, even scribes up until the twelfth century questioned them.

      Re: 1 Tim 2.11-15: You are accusing me of not reading with faith. That’s not true. I am reading, to cop Anselm, with faith seeking understanding.

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