Every now and then I’ll do a post that raises some questions to do with a tricky passage in 1 Corinthians. There has already been a little discussion on “baptism of the dead” (1 Cor 15:29) here on the theologer forum – where I tried to contribute an interpretive suggestion. But today, it’s that old chestnut: Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an interpolation? My aim will not be to give a simple opinion on the answer to that question, but to suggest some important issues to consider in trying to arrive at an answer.
Firstly, there are textual issues to consider. These verses are not missing from any known manuscripts – but are differently situated in some manuscripts. I can’t improve on the summary given by D.C. Parker in his recent book An Introduction to the New Testament Manuscripts and Their Texts:
The most important observation is that a small group of witnesses place the verses after verse 40. These are the Greek manuscripts 06 010 012 88 915, the Syriac Peshitta and the Latin manuscripts 61 89 with Ambrosiaster and Sedulius Scotus. The Latin witnesses are largely the bilinguals, whose agreement takes us back either to the mid-fourth or the third century. The other Latin evidence, including Ambrosiaster’s writing between 366 and 378 in Rome, suggests that the reading was widespread in the Latin world. Indeed, as Fee points out, it is the reading of all witnesses except those which represent the Vulgate text, known from about 400 onwards. That is, the only text in the west before 400 placed the verses after verse 40. [p275; emphasis mine]
But, as Parker goes on to point out, there is early and wide attestation for the canonically-recognisable placement of these verses, particularly in the Greek tradition – including P46. Furthermore, J. Kloha has argued that dislocation of passages in the bilingual manuscripts of Paul is not uncommon, and is not a reliable sign of interpolation.
Secondly, there are issues to do with ancient letter writing and collation. E. Randolph Richards has demonstrated that ancient letter writers such as Paul wrote in the context of community, utilised the skills of professional secretaries, went through drafts and revisions, and made use of pre-formed materials. In particular, Paul’s letters often involve co-senders – such as Timothy or Silvanus. These co-senders are not simply the same as those who send their greetings in the letter endings, indicating that they had some involvement in the authoring of the letter. 1 Corinthians is from Paul “and Sosthenes the brother”. Richards reasons that if this Sosthenes is the one known to us in Acts, then he was the ruler of a synagogue, and thus familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as conceivably able to carry some weight in the (relatively lengthy) letter-writing process alongside Paul.
All of these sorts of issues urge a caution: Material that (from a literary point of view) doesn’t appear to fit smoothly should not automatically be considered a “post-Pauline interpolation”. A passage that is somewhat ill-fitting may be a piece of pre-formed material (such as from a previous letter by Paul, or from a sermon by Sosthenes) – or it may indicate the diversity of emphasis within the authorial team (undoubtedly under the leadership of Paul, but surely with the possibility of genuine contribution from Sosthenes). Alternatively, an ill-fitting passage may simply be an addition late in the editing process, but still by Paul/Sosthenes.
Thirdly, there are issues to do with literary consistency. The issues above don’t disqualify the questions of literary consistency – they qualify questions of literary consistency – cautioning us not to jump too quickly to one “inevitable” conclusion. In terms of literary consistency, Fee argues:
once one recognizes the improbability of authenticity on transcriptional grounds, then several questions of intrinsic probability are more easily answered: (1) One can make much better sense of the structure of Paul’s argument without these intruding sentences…. (2) …these verses stand in obvious contradiction to 11:2-16, where it is assumed without reproof that women pray and prophesy in the assembly…. (3) …some usages in these two verses seem quite foreign to Paul. [Fee, 1987, pp701-702]
Fee’s first and third items should be tempered by the recognition that the two verses do contain terminology and themes that fit exeedingly well with the context – as Witherington and Thiselton note:
The four key terms (as Witherington rightly asserts) are laleo (repeatedly from 14:14-32), sigao (14:28,30,34), en ekklesia (14:28,35; cf.34); and hupotasso (14:32,34). [Thiselton, 2000, p1152]
Fee’s second item, then, is perhaps the most important: How does 11:2-16 fit with 14:33-34? Hays has put the challenge well:
Those interpreters who do regard 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as belonging originally to Paul’s letter have to explain how these verses fit together with 11:2-16 and how they work within Paul’s argument. [Hays, p247]
Garland’s suggestion attempts to deal with both of these problems, by seeing the restraint placed on women as subordinate to the contextual evaluation of prophecies [p655]:
Overarching principle: Let all things be done for edification (26)
- Restraints concerning speaking in tongues (27-28 )
- Restraints concerning prophecy and discernment (29-36): Restraints on the number of prohets speaking and others discerning (29); Restraints on a prophet speaking (20-33a); Restraints on wives in discerning (33b-36)
- Injunction (37-38 )
Encouragement of prophecy and tongues (39)
Is this persuasive?…
Fourthly (finally), there are issues related to historical plausibility. In other words, is the model of church order/authority suggested by a cautious reading of these verses (with women/wives who remain silent in terms of discernment of prophecy) historically likely during the mid-fifties when Paul was writing this letter?
Okay, this post is getting uber-long, so I’ll just jump to my own opinion at this stage: I think there still needs to be more work done on this passage before I’ll be convinced that it’s certainly an interpolation. To be honest, I think that any suggested way of dealing with this passage (whether along the lines of Fee or Garland or whoever…) brings problems with it: I haven’t found anything to be completely neat… so I am open to be persuaded, but at the moment, I’ll take the verses as original.