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Paul and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

September 23, 2017

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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  1. Aaron permalink

    Dr. Hurtado,

    Sorry to comment about a different matter here, but the post I just read is closed for comments. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the possibility of 1st Corinthians 8:6-8, John 1, Colossians 1 etc. being written with the New Creation in view instead of Genesis creation. At first it seemed far fetched but the more I tie it into what the NT writers say about the new creation and new world order where Christ has been exalted far above everyone and everything, visible and invisible, it makes more and more sense. Also considering 1st John 1:1 the “beginning” in that passage seems to clearly mean the beginning of the Gospel message and the initiation of the new order which is ruled by Christ as Lord. Is there weight to this overall interpretation and this view in particular of the 3 passages I’ve listed above? Thanks for your time, I subscribed to you blog and am enjoying. God bless.

    • Aaron, I don’t think that your proposal has legs. John 1:1-4 rather clearly has the original creation in view with its reference to “everything” having come into existence through the Logos, and likewise 1 Cor 8:4-6 rather emphatically refers to “all things” in a sentence that must be creation. And then there’s also Hebrews 1:1-4, which refers to “the Son” as the agency “through whom he [God] made the worlds/ages”.

  2. fellowsrichard permalink

    I measured the 28 bars without knowing which texts they belonged to (to avoid bias). It turns out that Philip has made systematic errors in his measurements of the bars, and his statistical case evaporates when these are corrected. See the discussion on my blog, with plots that compare Philip’s measurements with mine.

  3. Dr Hurtado,
    That post is why I like to vist your blog. You explain esoteric academic matters to a non-academic reader and put the latest academic research in context.

    Best wishes

    Michael Gould

  4. Tommy Wasserman permalink

    Larry, I think that Payne’s conclusion (p. 622) that the lack of punctuation in Vaticanus’ Gospels means that its text must therefore be older than the text of 𝔓75 is misleading. (By the way, is he really saying that the archetype of Vaticanus may have been produced prior to the introduction of punctuation?)

    In my opinion, the presence of punctuation cannot be used to construct a relative chronology between the witnesses in this way. Punctuation is present in Greek MSS from the fourth century BCE and, as Alan Mugridge observes, “[t]here is some punctuation in a large number of the Christian papyri from the early centuries . . .” Alan Mugridge, Copying Early Christian Texts (WUNT 362; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck), 81. In this connection, I should point out that punctuation (cola in high position and dicola) is present in 𝔓4, 𝔓64+67 dated to 175-200CE by Orsini and Claryssee.

    On the other hand, I think Payne is definitely right that the scribe of Vaticanus used two distinct exemplars in the Gospels and the Epistles, and was concerned to copy them faithfully.

    • Yes, I agree with your Tommy. The lack of punctuation doesn’t really = an archetype-text earlier than the papyri with some punctuation. But observing the Vaticanus copyist’s practice, he/she seems to have followed the punctuation practices of the respective exemplars, which is interesting.

  5. Sean du Toit permalink

    Hi Larry. Have you seen Peter Gurry’s response?

    And if so, do you have any further thoughts? Textual criticism is not my area of specialty but I am interested in the discussion.

    • Gurry queries/challenges Payne’s specific claims about the marginal marks, not the larger/earlier/more widely held view that 14:34-35 is likely an interpolation. And Gurry assumes that these marks were to be understood by a “reader”. But these marks may more have been intended for study purposes, not to guide readers. So, they could have alerted the studious user of Vaticanus that there were textual uncertainties. But it is interesting that the other locations where the “umlaut” mark appears the variant material isn’t incorporated, contra the practice at 14:34-35.

      • pgurry permalink

        Larry, I agree that the dots were not intended to guide later readers. This is one reason why I find Curt Niccum and Pete head’s explanation of them more convincing. If Sepulva made them in the 16th century in comparison with Erasmus’s edition, then this would explain not only their location and meaning, but also their non-usefulness to later uses of the manuscript.

        As to the larger issue of 1 Cor 14.34-35, readers may want to read the summary of Jeff Kloha’s argument about their movement in the Latin and Latin diglot manuscripts in which they are found after v. 40. The argument that they are original should not be assumed too easily in my view.

  6. I would have to disagree with this claim. For one, I’m not a scholar, but to my knowledge, there aren’t any actual manuscripts where 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 isn’t actually present, which would be extraordinary since it would require all of our manuscript traditions without 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to become completely lost.

    Furthermore, the only variants seem to be where the text is found either starting at verse 34 or verse 40 (only a few verses later). But this can be easily explained without interpolation — it can be considered that scribe, reading these verses and being offended, tried to tamper with them in some way and maybe the verses got a bit shuffled up in the chapter (perhaps at an “early” time, but there isn’t enough evidence to justify this variant being terribly early). And this isn’t like the adulteress passage in John where we found the verses absolutely everywhere, sometimes even in Luke.

    In conclusion, I find the position of 1 Corinthians 11:34-35 being an interpolation to be unjustified. What Paul says here does not necessarily contradict other things he says. The manuscript case for interpolation is completely lacking in comparison to what we have in the ending of Mark or the adulteress passage is John, another very good explanation (if not better) is that some scribes tried to play with it for ideological purposes.

    • You nicely summarize the reasons that some others (along with you) reject the conclusions of most textual critics. You’re free to have an opinion. Just know that it isn’t held by most scholars who have considered the matter.

      • Peter1 permalink

        Hi Larry, How do you define ‘most scholars’ in this particular case? I hear this phrase or ‘the consensus scholarly opinion is…’ on a regular basis concerning biblical questions. But in reality, what do they actually mean?


      • The word “consensus” is used too loosely. It means total consent/agreement, and there’s practically nothing in biblical studies that enjoys that.
        When I say “most scholars” in a given topic/subject, it’s my own impression from what you find in scholarly publications. We don’t do sociological surveys.

  7. Hugh Scott permalink

    Professor Hurtado,
    Payne’s article suggests that if 1 Cor 14.34-5 are cut out from the epistle, a review of Christian (especially Roman Catholic) practice)for two thousand years, with regard to the ordination of women as priests,may need to be revised. How strong and clear is the evidence in the writings of the theologians and church councils of the first four centuries, that this is the general teaching of the early church?, .

    I would welcome your comment on this aspect of the issue. It is not merely a textual question.

  8. Very nicely put, Larry. And, as I dimly recall, F. F. Bruce also wasn’t sure about the authenticity of those verses in I Corinthians 14…or am I misremembering? (I think they’re authentic, and argue on theological/exegetical grounds that they are in my two books on gender. But I do so with fear and trembling, since taking on the likes of critics such as Bruce and Fee is daunting indeed–so daunting, in fact, that you’ll notice I shifted the grounds of engagement!)

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