Is 1 Cor. 14.34-35 an Interpolation or a Pauline Dictum?

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Here’s another helpful post by Larry Hurtado. My personal view is that 1 Cor. 14.34-35 is probably not an interpolation, though that is possible. I suggest Paul is just correcting a problem of some married women asking questions in worship during the time of prophecies. Certainly, he’s not banning women from all speaking in church. ‘Abusus non tolit usum’.

Paul and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
by larryhurtado

A couple of readers have asked for my comments on the news story on Philip Payne’s recently-published article in which he discusses scribal features of Codex Vaticanus as these pertain to the question of the originality of 1 Corinthians 14:34-25. (The news story, e.g., here. Payne’s article: “Vaticanus Distigme-Obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34-35,” New Testament Studies 63 (2017), available online here.

The newspaper story focuses on the view espoused in Payne’s article that vv. 34-35 are an interpolation inserted into some copies of 1 Corinthians, probably originating as some reader’s marginal note, and then incorporated into the copy-stream at some early point. But, actually, for a number of years now an increasing number of scholars have reached this basic conclusion. Indeed, in his article Payne points to the numerous scholars who agree that vv. 34-35 are not an original part of Paul’s letter. For example, note Gordon D. Fee’s judgment in his commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 705-8.

There are several reasons for this judgment. The verses seem to go against practically everything else in Paul’s uncontested letters pertaining to women’s involvement in the churches. E.g., in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul refers to women praying and/or prophesying in church, requiring only that they have their heads suitably covered (likely with hair). As well (and a rather telling matter in text-critical terms), in some witnesses these verses appear, not where we have them in most Bibles, but instead following v. 40. Such a multiple location for a body of text usually means that it has been inserted by various copyists, who made different choices about where to do so.

Over the last couple of decades Payne has been involved in adding to this acute observations about certain scribal features of Codex Vaticanus in particular, which he argues (cogently to my mind) are evidence that the copyist/scribe of this manuscript knew of some significant textual variants, and marked these places in the margins. The mark he/she used resembles the German umlaut, two dots horizontally placed in the margins. Payne’s new article is really about these scribal marks, backing up his earlier publications on the subject with an impressively thorough analysis of the data.

So, the article isn’t announcing that vv. 34-35 are likely an interpolation, for Payne has contended this, and many scholars have agreed, over a number of years now. (Another instance of the news media not quite getting it!) Actually, the new findings and contentions in the new article have to do more with the quality of the text of Codex Vaticanus, and the likely early date of the “archetype” copy from which it comes.

I was intrigued at Payne’s observation that Vaticanus has scant punctuation in the Gospels, but abundant punctuation in the Epistles. Payne infers that this likely results from the copyist of Vaticanus using a Gospels codex for the Gospels and a separate Epistles codex for the Epistles (Vaticanus is one of the earliest “pandects,” i.e., an entire Christian Bible in one book/codex). The Gospels archetype likely didn’t have punctuation (for whatever reason), whereas the Epistles archetype did. And so the copyist of Vaticanus simply copied each into his manuscript. He didn’t edit or add punctuation to the Gospels, but just copied. That suggests a copyist/scribe committed simply to copying, producing as accurate a copy as he could.

And that agrees with some other recent studies about other copyists as well. Copyists copied. They didn’t tend to make editorial changes. Readers might do so, but not copyists. For another study tending in the same direction: Zachary J. Cole, Numerals in Early Greek New Testament Manuscripts: Text-Critical, Scribal, and Theological Studies, NTTSD 53 (Brill: Leiden/Boston, 2017).

Payne also proposes that the lack of punctuation in the Gospels means that the Gospels archetype had a very early text and may have been produced prior to the introduction of punctuation (which may have come along sometime in the 3rd century or a bit earlier).

In sum, Payne’s article is full of fascinating data and observations that NT textual critics will want to pore over with care. But the news that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is likely not original to the epistle, but is an interpolation isn’t news!


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