On the authenticity (or not) of 1 Corinthians 14.34-35: responses to claims of inauthenticity


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 offers responses to those who claim 1 Cor. 14.34-35 are a post-Pauline interpolation.

Responses to claims of inauthenticity

E. Earle Ellis, while arguing that 1 Cor. 14.34-35 do not constitute a non-Pauline interpolation, admits that there are “rough seams between this passage and its context” (“Silenced Wives” 219). Likewise, the tension between this section and 11.2-16 is quite palpable.  However, according to Thiselton, “[m]ost, if not all, of these arguments become clarified in the light of patient exegesis” (First Epistle 1150).

First, it may be suggested that the claim that 1 Cor. 14.34-35 contradicts 1 Cor. 11.2-16 needs closer scrutiny. Ferguson points out that it is not at all certain that the praying and prophesying mentioned in 1 Cor. 11.2ff actually took place in the assembly of the church, for it is not until v 17 that Paul actually says, “when you come together,” making it plain that he is speaking of a church assembly (Church of Christ 342). This does not mean that the prophesying mentioned in 1 Cor. 11.2ff was not done in public (cf. Acts 21.8-12), just that prophetic activity should not be manifested in women in the assembly of the churches.

What we can say is that the very fact that Paul enjoins the wearing of veils upon women as they pray and prophesy in 1 Cor. 11.2ff assumes that the prophetic activity was done in public; otherwise, it would seem quite odd for him to have brought it up at all. Although Paul does connect the covering of women’s heads with the order of creation (11.3, 7-12), as a sign of respect for their husbands (11.5), we may note that the actual custom of covering the head was a culturally-appropriate symbol of that relationship in that context (11.13-15).

Further, while the NRSV does call Phoebe a “deacon” of the church in Cenchreae (Rom 16.1-2), Ferguson (Church of Christ 338) argues that diakonos is often used in a non-technical sense in the NT to simply mean “servant,” and that what is more important in the discussion is her role as prostasis (“benefactor,” NRSV)—a wealthy person of some social standing, who probably owned a home in which a local body of believers met. Prisca is mentioned in Rom 16.3-4 as a fellow-laborer of Paul’s, but here, as in the Acts account, she is mentioned in connection with her husband Aquila, so all we have evidence for is a husband and wife missionary team. Finally, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4.2-3) probably belong in a very similar category to that of Phoebe: benefactors of the church. It does not necessarily follow that these women were preachers.

Against those who raise the issue of Paul’s unqualified use of “the law” in v 34 to justify the submission of women, it may be suggested that they are operating under an inadequate understanding of Paul’s relation to the law. Paul did not have a problem with the law; for instance, in Rom 7.12, he affirms that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” The law also had a definite function in disclosing God’s righteousness and human guilt. “The law has a role in defining sin, bringing it to consciousness as transgression, and condemning that transgression” (Dunn 159). Thus, Paul never has any qualms about appealing to the law when it comes to moral principles (i.e. Rom 13.8, 10; 1 Cor 5.6-8; 9.9; 2 Cor 6.17; Gal 5.14). What Paul does not do is press those cultic, dietary, or purity laws which served to keep Israel separate from other nations as binding upon those “in Christ” (thus Gal 6.15; Eph 2.14-16). This account of Paul’s thinking in regard to the law best explains why Pauline ethics de-emphasizes the “ritual” laws of the OT while stressing the more general “moral” ones (Bockmuehl 149). We find this a much more satisfactory understanding of Paul’s thoughts about the law than the typical “law vs. gospel” dialectic so prevalent in post-Reformation thought. At any rate, it may counter O’Connor’s objection to 1 Cor 14.34’s “invocation of the authority of the Law to found a moral attitude,” and his bold statement that “Paul never appeals to the Law in this manner” (91).

On the other hand, the fact that Paul simply makes an unqualified appeal to “the law” still disturbs those who regard the passage as a gloss. To what in the law is Paul specifically referring? Some scholars suggest it is Gen 3.16 (“your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”; cf. Godet 311; apparently Grosheide 343). Kistemaker offers a slightly less certain suggestion that Paul has in mind Gen 2.18, 21-23 (513). Holladay posits the interesting suggestion that Paul has in mind the incident of Aaron and Miriam in Num 12, with the undertone being that the disruptive Corinthian women are behaving like the insubordinate prophetess there (190). This has the advantage of relating reference to “the law” in 1 Cor 14.34-35 to its surrounding context about prophecy.

When considering the textual grounds for a dismissal of these verses as a non-Pauline gloss, we are basically confronted with the issue of displacement. Witherington argues that displacement does not of itself demand interpolation:

[D]isplacement is no argument for interpolation. Probably these verses were displaced by scribes who assumed that they were about household order, not order in worship, scribes working at a time when there were church buildings separate from private homes. (288)[i]

A. C. Wire (149-151)  follows the history of certain textual traditions and  claims that the text types showing displacement of vv 34-35 all stem from a common archetype. She notes that all but one of the manuscripts which displace this section are either Greek-Latin bilinguals or Latin texts, except for the twelfth-century miniscule numbered 88—a later and relatively unimportant Byzantine text.[ii] Wire observes that four bilingual texts of 1 Corinthians have survived: D E F G. E is a direct replica of D, thus, if we look at the text-critical apparatus of the Nestle-Aland 27th ed., we find that three bilingual witnesses are listed to the displaced reading of our passage: D F G (466). The two remaining manuscripts apart from D and E—F and G—are so closely related that many critics consider them to originate from a common Greek original. Thus, there are really only two witnesses preserved in these four manuscripts, and these witnesses agree together against the Alexandrian text type so consistently that scholars often identify them as having come from a common archetype (known as Z). Therefore, according to Wire’s research, we are only dealing with one tradition behind these four manuscripts. As for the Latin manuscripts, they agree with one another against the Greek in so many areas that a common source is frequently posited for them all—there is, at the very least, a family relationship. This having been noted, the Greek of the bilinguals (Z) is “near” (that is, either an heir to or a sibling of) the Greek text behind the Latin readings. All of this points strongly to a single archetype for all of the Western readings which place vv 34-35 after v 40. Wire argues that this evidence substantially weakens Fee’s appeal the “entire Western tradition.”[iii]

Finally, it is worth noting that rhetorical critic Margaret Mitchell finds this passage fully consonant with the nature of Paul’s rhetoric throughout 1 Corinthians, saying: “[I]t fits well with the argument for concord throughout 1 Corinthians […] It also contains the very same advice for order and peace in the assembly as is found in its context: silence (14:28, 30, 34), and it assumes the same purpose for the worship assembly, learning (14:31, 35)” (281-282 n. 536).  Ben Witherington, also trained extensively in the rhetorical-critical method, addresses the theory that our supposed interpolation was inserted to harmonize 1 Corinthians with 1 Timothy 2. He concludes that “the text is not sufficiently close to 1 Tim 2.11f to warrant the argument that they were based on a scribe’s editing of that text. In 1 Timothy the issue is teaching and authority, not asking questions and learning as here” (288).

To sum up, those who argue that 1 Cor. 14.34-35 do not constitute a non-Pauline interpolation counter the arguments for these verses as a later scribal gloss as follows:

  • While some may admit that there are “rough seams between this passage and its context,” some rhetorical critics have pointed out that it does, in fact, “fit” the flow of 1 Corinthians’ overarching appeal to concord.
  • Others, like Ferguson, have argued that these verses do not contradict 1 Cor. 11.2-9, because the prophesying envisioned there does not take place in a worship assembly.
  • Paul’s appeal to “the law” is not as problematic as some claim.
  • The manuscript evidence is, in itself, inconclusive; the most that can be proven is that the verses float to various spots in different manuscript families.

[i] This suggestion for how the verses in question came to be displaced seems all the more reasonable when we consider that the earliest Western witness is from the late fourth century (Thiselton 1149).

[ii] Philip Payne, who seems to have made a career out of trying to use text-critical markings to argue for the inauthenticity of 1 Cor 14.34-35, notes that 88 may have been working off a text without those verses because it seems that the scribe did not realize that vv 34-35 were absent until he had already begun to write v 36—perhaps a sign that he had been using a text without the verses and then later realizing, upon comparison with other manuscripts, that they were in the other manuscripts. “MSS. 88 and 1 Cor 14.34-5.” New Testament Studies 44 (1998): 152-158.

[iii] J. M. Ross has argued that it is much more probable that a substantial portion of floating text—such as evidenced by 1 Cor 14.34-35, or more famously John 7.53-8.12—is authentic and simply displaced. According to Ross, floating blocks of text cannot be deemed glosses by the same criteria one might for single words. See “Floating Words” New Testament Studies 38 (1992): 153-156.

Works Cited

Bockmuehl, Markus. Jewish Law in Gentile Churches. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Ellis, E. Earle. “The Silenced Wives of Corinth (1 Cor 14:34-35)” New Testament Textual Criticism: Essays in Honour of Bruce M. Metzger. Eldon J. Epp and Gordon D. Fee, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. 213-220.

Ferguson, Everett. The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Godet, F. L. Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Vol. 2. Classic Commentary Library. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957.

Grosheide, F. W. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953.

Holladay, Carl. The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Living Word Commentary. Everett Ferguson, ed. Austin: Sweet, 1979.

Mitchell, Margaret M. Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1993.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “Interpolations in 1 Corinthians.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48.1 (1986): 81-94.

Payne, Philip B. “MS. 88 as Evidence for a Text Without 1 Cor. 34-5.” New Testament Studies 44 (1998): 152-158.

Ross, J. M. “Floating Words: Their Significance for Textual Criticism.” New Testament Studies 38 (1992): 153-156.

Thiselton, Anthony. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000.

Wire, Antoinette Clark. The Corinthian Women Prophets: A Reconstruction Through Paul’s Rhetoric. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.

Witherington, Ben III. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.


8 thoughts on “On the authenticity (or not) of 1 Corinthians 14.34-35: responses to claims of inauthenticity

  1. Jack Hairston says:

    The more I reread your posts about these verses, the more confused I become about what you are saying that the Bible says. When I check a Critical Apparatus, these verses appear in Codices Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Siniaticus. How could anyone say that these verses were inserted later? By whom?
    I believe that there is a simple way to understand what Paul was saying that is consistent with what Paul said elsewhere. It is long, so I will send it to you separately.

  2. Kai says:

    That was an awesome posting. I have not seen many people who understand these matters as well…. Just a few thoughts: Mind you, that in 1Cor 9:9-11 Paul directly uses a a quote from the Law of Moses to establish New Testament customs. It boggles the mind how any professor for NT could seriously say, that Paul never used the Law of Moses as a basis for NT commands, when that is what he does even in the same letter! Referring to the Law is not unusual for Paul at all. Moreover, Paul says, that the law tells women to submit and that is why he thinks they should be silent. He does not, however, say, that the law requires women to be quiet. Quietness is his inference from submission, submission is what the law teaches – and of course there is ample evidence for that both in Genesis and in other parts of the Pentateuch.

  3. Kai says:

    May I also add that I am delighted by your correct observance that 1Cor 11 does not make mention of the praying and prophesying taking place in the context of the church assembly. Paul uses the words “customs” and “churches”, but of course a church can have customs for activities outside of the actual service, e. g. meetings where believers can pray for one another. I do not see a single contradiction between 1Cor 14:34-36 and Paul´s other statements, not one. It´s perfectly harmoneous with what Paul teaches elsewhere. And again I want to applaude your assessment of Phoebe, Priscilla, etc, who do not in any way contradict 1Tim 2 and 1Cor 14 – they can easily be harmonized with Paul´s other teachings.

  4. Mike says:

    Great article. I am currently reading Phillip Payne’s book and looking for some scholarly review of it. specifically Payne’s claims regarding 1 Corinthians 14:34,35 interpolation. So this article is really a blessing. Thank you!!!!

  5. It seems to me that an interpolation theory faces extra difficulties because the text concerns church practice. One not only has to reconstruct a plausible scenario for text transmission, but one also has to consider what would have happened in the churches if the new text was suddenly introduced. Surely if the churches had been allowing women to speak in the assemblies for decades, there would have been uproar when the new scripture and practice was introduced. It’s not like a small variant which one might hardly notice.


    • jmar198013 says:

      Historically, you first see the suspected interpolation right around the time that Marcionism appears on the scene and gains traction. Many prominent Marcionite preachers were women. Before that time, you will encounter early patristic authors writing about proper behavior for women, and they do not cite this passage. Furthermore, those same authors are familiar with the verses immediately before and after the suspected interpolation. So why did the earlier authors not cite it when it was pertinent to their topic?

      • Probably because it wasn’t an issue, I would have thought, if the women were silent in the assemblies. If the heretics had a different practice then this would be brought into the attacks against them. Origen did this in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14, with regard to the Montanists. The way he writes, it sounds like it was a novelty they had introduced.

        Let’s say, for sake of argument, that it wasn’t in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and that there were women praying and prophesying in their assemblies at that time. That letter would no doubt be well known and copied, and distributed to other churches – I don’t know much about this – I am asking a beginner’s kind of question. Then somebody produces a copy with two extra sentences, with immediate impact on church practice. Surely there would be total resistance to it, both by those in favour of women praying and prophesying in the assemblies, but even more by those who knew that these were fake non-apostolic instructions. Did the early church not hold the holy scriptures in high regard. One can see how small errors could creep in and not be noticed, but something so big could hardly not be noticed. And if it was noticed surely it would be rejected by the saints of God. And we are to suppose that the change was accepted to such an extent that there no longer exist any copies without the fake sentences. This I find hard to believe.


      • jmar198013 says:

        I was actually referring to Tertullian’s arguments with the Marcionites, not Origen contra the Montanists. Tertullian is the first of the patristic authors to quote 1 Cor 14.34-35; and his specific beef is women administering baptism and the sacraments. It is interesting that this particular argument arises just around the time our earliest extant copy of these verses is found (ca. AD 200). Furthermore, you seem to assume that the primitive church was monolithic in belief, practice, and even text types, which is certainly not the case.

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