A few weeks ago, in Blaming Paul for Things He Never Said, I mentioned that I was aware of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 which has special issues and should be considered separately. My thought had to do with the church at Corinth being particularly disorderly and that perhaps Paul gave instruction to this church that was inconsistent with his usual regard for female leadership in the church.
However, one of my regular readers shared with me information of which I was unaware but that has a strong bearing here (thanks, Anca!). I would never question a passage in Paul’s authentic letters just because it is inconvenient, but the source was convincing and spurred me to investigate further which confirmed it—1 Corinthians 14:34-35 seems to be an interpolation.
Interpolation in the New Testament
An interpolation is material inserted into a book after the book is already in circulation and then shows up in later copies. The most well-known biblical interpolation is the story of the adulteress in John 8. You know the story: men bring an adulteress to Jesus to trap him but he releases her instead.
It is a lovely story, and likely an actual event, but it was not originally part of the gospel of John. It was inserted—interpolated. Our biggest clues are that the earliest manuscripts do not include the story and that some manuscripts place the passage in other places. You will also notice that many English translations make some indication that it is separate from the surrounding material.
Why Would We Think This Passages in 1 Corinthians 14 is an Interpolation?
The proposed interpolation actually begins at verse 33:
33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
The link shared with me is for The Evidence of Interpolation in Paul by William O. Walker, Jr. of Trinity University. In five pages, Walker describes ten types of evidence that indicate an interpolation and applies nine of them to this passage. I will list them briefly here. Most are edited or adapted from his words rather than being direct quotes, but see his link for the full text.
Lack of Citation in an Early Writer. 1 Cor 14:34-35 is cited by no Apostolic Father and by no early ecclesiastical writer prior to Tertullian (160-240 AD).
Interruption. The passage seems to interrupt its context, which becomes continuous when the passage is removed. 14:34-35 is a self-contained unit that interrupts the context in which it appears, and its removal leaves a complete and coherent discussion of spiritual gifts.
Repetition From Context. Another phenomenon is the repetition near the end of the passage, or directly following, of a significant word or phrase from the verse preceding. Here, Paul encourages his readers to be ‘zealous for the greater gifts.’ which is repeated in 14:1b-c.
Linguistic Evidence. At several points, the vocabulary of the passage appears not to be characteristically Pauline. The verb ‘be subject’ appears often in the authentic Pauline letters, but in all except three cases it refers to submission either to God, Christ, God’s law, God’s righteousness, or to ‘futility’. Apart from 14:34, it refers to submission to humans at only three places, (governing authorities, prophets, and Christian leaders). In the pseudo-Pauline Colossians, Ephesians, and Titus it almost always has in mind submission to other human beings. The adjective ‘shameful’ is found only at 1 Cor 11:16, which is part of another suspected non-Pauline interpolation, and in the pseudo-Pauline Eph 5:12 and Tit 1:11.
Content Evidence. The content of 14:34-35 contradicts its immediate context where women are among those who speak in church and its wider context in 11:3-16, where it is assumed without reproof that women pray and prophesy in the assembly. The phrase “just as the law says” appears not to be characteristically Pauline. Paul generally expresses a somewhat negative view of the law.
Situational Evidence. 14:34-35 resembles the pseudo-Pauline 1 Tim 2:11-12. Both use the same verb to enjoin silence on the part of women; both require that women be ‘submissive’ using the same root here and in 1 Tim 2:11, an idea that also occurs elsewhere in the pseudo-Pauline writings. There is nothing in the undisputed letters to suggest that the activity of women in the church was a problem for Paul. Clearly, however, such activity was later seen as problematic. This makes 14:34-35 anachronistic.
Motivational Evidence After the time of Paul, when the status and role of women in the Church apparently came to be regarded as problematic, it may have appeared desirable to have the Apostle say something to address the problem.
Location. The position of 14:34-35 is appropriate in several ways. 1 Cor 14 deals with ‘speaking’ in church, ‘keeping silent’ in church, ‘being subject,’ and includes the phrase ‘in all of the churches,’ which reappears almost verbatim. It may simply have been the common themes of speech, silence, and submission, together with the setting of public worship in the churches, that led to the insertion at its present location.
William Walker Does not Stand Alone
William O. Walker, Jr. is not alone in identifying the 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 passage as an interpolation. Other scholars include:
- Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 1987
- J. Paul Sampley, The New Interpreter’s Bible : Acts – First Corinthians (Volume 10), 2002
- Philip Barton Payne. See his comments here and here–especially the last paragraph.
A Surprising New Insight
I think this is a very interesting development, and it is an insight I had not encountered before. What are your thoughts?
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.
Articles in this series:
Bart Ehrman – Forged: A Book Review
How Should We Regard New Testament Books of Uncertain Authorship?
Blaming Paul for Things He Never Said
The Special Case of Women Keeping Silent in the Church in 1 Corinthians
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