Editorial dilemma: the interpolation of 1 Cor 14:34-35 in the western manuscripts of D, G and 88

Editorial dilemma: the interpolation of 1 Cor 14:34-35 in the western manuscripts of D, G and 88

D.W. Odell-Scott

Abstract

I argue that the transposition of verses 34 and 35 after verse 40 in western manuscripts D, G and 88, does not strongly support the modern interpolation hypothesis which contends that since there are textual deviations, as well as significant inconsistencies if not contradictions between the content of verses 34 and 35 and the rest of First Corinthians, the verses were inserted into the epistle by post-Pauline editors. I review the “egalitarian interpretation” of 1 Cor 14:34-36, and my earlier arguments against the modern interpolation hypothesis. Assuming the egalitarian interpretation, I suggest the editors of manuscripts D, G and 88, removed verses 34 and 35 from their canonical location at 33/36, and inserted them after verse 40 in order to shelter the silencing and subordination of women from the critique of verse 36 and to positively associate the silencing and subordination of women with Paul’s admonition for decency and order. I further argue that the editors assessed that the verses in question were misplaced by an earlier editor for which they offered a corrected edition. I conclude that both the earlier and modern interpolation interpretations of the final verses of the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians assessed that the canonical text was incoherent. Yet both interpretative projects are unable to resolve the textual incoherence that results with the removal of verses 34 and 35 before the twofold negative rhetorical question of verse 36.

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In the last quarter of the 20th century, the assessment that verses 34 and 35 of 1 Corinthians 14 are a post-Pauline addition inserted between verses 33 and 36 is held by a majority of critical biblical scholars. The numerous reasons for the interpolation hypothesis need not be enumerated here. Clearly, the claim made in verses 34 and 35 that women should keep silent in the churches as a sign of their subordination to their husbands conflicts, and in some cases, contradicts what Paul has said elsewhere in First Corinthians (7:4, and 11:11) and other canonical Pauline epistles (Galatians 3:28) regarding the status of women. To further support the interpolation hypothesis, textual critics note the transposition of verses 34 and 35 after verse 40 in a number of western manuscripts (D, G and 88). It is asserted that since there are variations in the placement of verses 34 and 35, the critical reader should not assume that the verses “belong” in the common location at verses 33/36, let alone in First Corinthians at all.

Previously, I rejected the interpolation hypothesis that verses 34 and 35 were inserted in their present location in the canonical text between verses 33/36 by a post-Pauline editor (Odell-Scott 1983, 1987). Instead, I argued that the grammatical structure and the content of the text suggested that verses 34 and 35 were quotations from a Corinthian letter to Paul and that verse 36 was Paul’s critical “reply.” Now, as regards the placement of verses 34 and 35 after verse 40 in D, G and 88, I argue that the verses placed after verse 40 were moved there from their canonical locale by a later post-Pauline editor. In other words, I argue that a Western editor who influenced D, G and 88 moved the verses (34 and 35) located between verses 33/36, which originated from a letter from Corinth which Paul quoted in his critical reply, to the end of verse 40. I argue that this move of the verses by the editor changes the status of the verses from positions which are quoted in order to be critiqued and rejected by Paul to the status of Paul’s position.

An Egalitarian Interpretation

Re-Plying the Silencing of Women

Briefly, I read First Corinthians 14:34-36 to be a complicated textus. Verses 34 and 35 trace a ply from the Corinthian Letter to Paul and verse 36 is Paul’s reply (for a detailed analysis of the structure (textus) of a letter, see Odell-Scott 1991: vi). The first ply (verses 34 and 35) is a quote from a faction in the Corinthian church asserting that female silence in worship is expressive of women’s subordination to men as dictated by law. Paul traces from their letter to him in his reply to them for a very good reason. Paul wishes to make clear exactly what it is to which he is responding. Paul traces letter for letter, word for word their position.

(34) The women should keep silence in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the laws says. (35) If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

To this trace from the Corinthian letter addressed to Paul he replies:

(36) What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?

To the ply from the Corinthian correspondence, Paul replies with a twofoldfold negative rhetorical query. It is a twofold question which is introduced with the particle H (eta) which is located at the beginning of verse 36 and translated “What!” The particle H serves to provide a disjunctive or comparative conjunction between separate ideas or convictions. The particle is capable of conveying a spectrum of negative conjunctions ranging from the simple noting of a difference by comparison to the refutation of one thing by another (Arndt & Gingrich: 342-43; Liddell & Scott: 1761; Smyth: 2856; and Robertson: 1188). The intensity of the disjunctive which any particular H conveys is dependent upon its context.

Funk points out that the particle H displays its sharpest disjunctive characteristics in interrogative sentences (Funk: 446). In such instances, the particle declares that if one phrase is the case then the other is not. Smyth points out that “an H often introduces an argument ex contrario” (Smyth- 2861). Thayer made the same point when he asserted that an H may appear “before a sentence contrary to the one just preceding, to indicate that if one be denied or refuted the other must stand” (Thayer: 275). The particle which introduces the interrogative sentence of 14:36 indicates that the rhetorical questions to follow will serve to refute the sentences which preceded it.

It is my contention that the H which introduces 1 Cor 14:36 declares that verses 34 and 35 are to be emphatically refuted by the twofold rhetorical query of verse 36. The complete passage is not an internally unified, straightforward argument for, or condemnation of women who participate in the worship of the church. The silencing of women in the name of conformity to tradition and law is neither the last word nor the purpose of the text. The silencing of women in church is to be questioned and refuted by Paul’s twofold negative rhetorical query of verse 36 (For a more detained discussion of the egalitarian interpretation, see Odell-Scott: 1983, 1987, and 1991: viii, and Talbert: 92-93).

The Interpolation of Verses 34 and 35 in Manuscripts D, G, and 88

What motives could have led the editors to move the verses? What purposes were served by removing the verses from their common location? What purposes were served by attaching the verses at the end of verse 40? Which readings, interpretations and communal practices are assumed proper/improper by the interpolation of these verses from their common position at verses 33/36 to follow verse 40?

The Decency and Order of the Gender Hierarchy in D, G and 88

(40) but all things should be done decently and in order.

(34) The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. (35) If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Given the view of women that was becoming common among western Christians in the end of the second century, the interpolation of verses 34 and 35 from the location at 33/36 to the end of verse 40, would bring the text in line with emergent orthodox gender convictions. Traced after verse 40, the subordination and silence of women are associated with decency and order. So placed, the reader is led to assume that the subordination and silence of women are expressive of the decency and order which Paul asserts is proper in worship.

Sheltering the Subordination and Silencing of Women

Assuming the validity of the egalitarian interpretation, I contend that the removal of verses 34 and 35 from their common location at verses 33/36, served to withdraw the verses from their precarious location before verse 36. Assuming the egalitarian interpretation of verses 34-36, the removal of the Corinthian quotation subordinating and silencing women at verses 34 and 35 out of its context before verse 36, allows the quote to stand on its own, free of the contextual critique which verse 36 all too well provides. Placed before verse 36, the silencing of women (verses 34 and 35) is called into question and rejected by the negative twofold rhetorical questions. Assuming that the editors were in agreement with the gender hierarchical convictions that women are to be subordinate to men and silent in church, they sought to “shelter” the verse fragments (verses 34 and 35) which provide biblical support for female subordination from the negative particle H (eta) and the twofold negative rhetorical query of verse 36. Assuming that the editors read verse 36 as negatively related to verse 34 and 35, would provide a reason for why the editors moved the important verses (verses 34 and 35) to a safe locale. Free of the critical impact of verse 36, verses 34 and 35 could stand as positive pronouncements.

I have suggested that those who transcribed the text into Byzantine characters and punctuation, marked the H in the archaic script which introduced verse 36 to be a particle [eta] and not an adverb [eta]. Had the editors read the archaic H (capitalized and free of breath and accent markings) to be the adverb [eta], which means “truly,” innumerable grammatical and content problems would be posed from the start. The difficulty would have been how to reconcile the adverb [eta] which asserts the truth of verses 34 and 35 with the negative rhetorical questions of verse 36 which call for a negative answer (Odell-Scott 1987, 1989). It is my judgement that the editors of the western manuscripts D, G and 88 read verse 36 as a negative critique of the subordination and silencing of women, and understood the negative, critical power of the panicle H at the beginning of a negative interrogative sentence.

Restoration Hypothesis

If the editors of the western manuscripts read verses 34 and 35 as I have proposed in the egalitarian interpretation, then it is possible that they may have concluded that surely Paul would not have intended to criticize the silencing of women. So, they simply moved the verses which expressed their convictions regarding the status of women and placed them at the end of the chapter to safeguard their “integrity” and “authority.” In other words, having fragmented the text, the editors pulled out the verse fragments which imitate orthodox western convictions with respect to the status of women, and relocate the verses after verse 40. Thus, the editors simultaneously protected a verse fragment that provided scriptural support for the silencing and subordination of women from the critique of verse 36, and associated the silencing of women in church and the subordination of women to men with Paul’s call for decency and order in worship. This arranging of the verses by the editors thus serves to restore the assumed intent and content of the text which the editors expected the text to express.

A stronger hypothesis is that the editors of the western manuscripts read verses 34-36 as expressing Paul’s direct critique and rejection of the silencing and subordination of women. Yet, the editors’ interpolate verses 34 and 35, withdrawing them from the critical force of verse 36 and associating them with decency and order at verse 40, in order to insure that the page would not counter the “true” faith expressed in their own Christian institutional convictions and practices. Moving a few verses around, while it might be assessed to be an act of forgery, may have been unavoidable for the editors driven by the desire to make the texts of Christendom coherent with their own Christian convictions and practices.

The editors could have concluded that verses 34 and 35, standing before the critique of verse 36 misrepresented the “orthodox” Paul. If the text of 14:34-36 counters the “assumed” convictions of our hypothetical editors, then the editors, reading verses 34-36 as a critique of the subordination and silencing of women, might conclude that something is wrong. If the hypothetical editors read First Corinthians as a faith inspiring Christian text, then they may assume that the text will confirm their own convictions, values and practices. They read the text with an eye for those verses which will confirm their own beliefs and practices. Interpretations of the text which do not inspire or confirm the convictions, values and practices of the Christian faith as they understand it, might be assessed to be inconsequential. However, interpretations which conflict or directly contradict their Christian convictions, values and practices might be assessed to be unfaithful. If the editors were motivated to move verses 34 and 35 away from verse 36 and after verse 40 in order to shelter and enhance the subordination and silence of women, then it was their intent to produce editions which facilitated their own convictions. If they assumed that the scriptures could not, if properly read, counter their own faith, then any reading which might inspire or confirm convictions, values and practices contrary to their own, would be not simply improper, but given the status of First Corinthians and their concern for proper Christian belief, illegitimate.

It might be argued that the moving of the verse fragments by the editors of D, G and 88, were interpretative/editorial acts which served to clarify the author’s intent. However, if we assume the egalitarian interpretation of verses 34-36, then the editorial activity of moving verses 34 and 35 to the end of verse 40 sought not to clarify the intention of the author of First Corinthians, but to manipulate the text so that the text presented the convictions which the editors’ assumed were the intention of the author Paul. For the editors, Paul could not have intended to support women speaking in church. The assumed “intention” of the author is the readers’/editors’ preconception of the proper reading of the text. In other words, the editors’ conception of the “author’s proper intention” would itself be a hypothetical act of speculation by a reader who seeks to make sense of the text or to make the text conform to expected or assumed cultural orthodox norms. The “author’s intent” is the editors’ conception of the proper reading of the text. Thus, the “clarification” of the proper intent of the text may itself be a manipulation whereby the text is brought into proper alignment with what is expected.

While the manipulation by the editors of D, G, and 88 from the common manuscripts is evident given the tracing of the lines in a different order from the common editions, the manipulation is not conspicuous given the common habits of reading the texts and the established assumptions regarding gender hierarchical valuation. It is not conspicuous because “the reading” which the realigned or restored text facilitated is the same as the established cultural reading of the verses under consideration. The established habit of reading the end of the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians assumes the authority of verses 34 and 35, and either misreads the negative rhetorical questions of verse 36, or simply passes over the verse without comment. Christian institutional practices have established a manner of reading the text which withdraws the verse fragments (verses 34 and 35) from their textus in relation to verse 36, and employs the verses to substantiate established hermeneutical/institutional practice. Thus, traditional interpretations reads verses 34 and 35 as if they were a unit, unconnected to verse 36, and yet expressive of what is decent and in order (v 40). While the placement of verses 34 and 35 at the end of verse 40 in the western manuscripts D, G, and 88 is the exception to the rule with respect to the manuscript of the texts, the traditional reading of the final verses of chapter 14 assumes the disconnections, withdrawals and associations explicitly expressed in the manuscripts of D, G and 88.

The Shrewd Interpolator

In an earlier exchange, Murphy-O’Connor conceded that my reading of verse 36 was grammatically correct (Murphy-O’Connor, 91). However, he re-asserted that a post-Pauline editor inserted his own verses (verses 34 and 35) in the common text between 33/36. I judged Murphy-O’Connor’s hypothetical post-Pauline interpolator of 14:34 and 35–who inserted his own verses regarding the silencing and subordination of women precisely before a twofold negative rhetorical question introduced with a negative particle which served to emphatically negate the inserted verses–to be inept (Odell-Scott 1987). Thus, Murphy-O’Connor’s inept interpolator could not have chosen a worse location to place the verses which asserted that women were to be silent in the church and subordinate to their husbands. I argued then that Murphy-O’Connor’s defense of the interpolation interpretation of 14:34 and 35 was unconvincing.

Unlike Murphy-O’Connor’s inept interpolator, I propose that the editors of manuscripts D, G, and 88 were capable, if not shrewd, translators and interpreters who understood all too clearly the grammatical significance of verse 36 relative to verses 34 and 35, and the power of associating verse 40 with the subordination and silencing of women in verses 34 and 35. So skillful was the slicing and splicing of the lines that the manipulation is only visible when manuscripts D, G, and 88 are compared to other manuscripts. And yet, the traditional interpretation of verses 34 and 35 so dominates ecclesiastical and academic readings of the text, that I judge that the editorial changes of manuscripts D, G, and 88 have been inconsequential with respect to the interpretation of the final verses of the chapter. In other words, the skillful reconstruction in D, G, and 88 mimics the standard readings of 14:34-40 so closely, that readers see no difference in the content or intent of the divergent manuscripts. Nothing is amiss, afoot, at hand.

We might judge the editions of these western manuscripts to be forgeries. To do so would imply that originals were intentionally falsified and that the forgeries were then passed off as the original. Perhaps we might judge the editors to be crooked “bookkeepers” who in producing a second set of “books,” hoped to manipulate the value of their forgeries to their own benefit.

The difficulties we encounter in such assessments are far too many to account for in this brief study. For while the order of the lines of the editions of D, G, and 88 are not in keeping with the common, as we have seen, the interpretation their manipulations produces does not differ from the common or traditional readings of the text. The common, uncritical reading of the final verses in chapter 14, and the reconstruction of the final verses in the western manuscripts, are the same.

If the vast collection of other manuscripts of the text had not survived, this act of textual manipulation would have successfully rewritten the final verses of chapter 14 almost without a trace of the erasure. Of course, contemporary critical biblical scholars might question the dysfunction between verses 33 and 36 (see Odell-Scott 1987:100; Talbert: 93).

(33) For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

(36) What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?

Against the interpolation interpretation of 14:34 and 35 put forward by Murphy-O’Connor, I argued that verse 36 does not work as a reply to verse 33, because verse 33 is itself Paul’s concluding comment to the unbridled individualist at Corinth who disrupts the worship. And if it should be suggested that verse 36 is Paul’s reply to some other verse or phrase which proceeds the negative rhetorical questions of verse 36, then I am perplexed because I can not find a verse to which verse 36 would make sense as a negative reply (Odell-Scott 1987:101). Only verses 34 and 35 serve as the target of Paul negative rhetorical query at verse 36. However, except for these critical considerations concerned about the coherence of the text, the grammatical dysfunction between verses 33 and 36 might pass unnoticed.

Were the manuscripts D, G, and 88 directly responsible for the common practice of interpreting 14:34-35 as Paul’s position that women are to be silent in church, subordinate to their husbands, in fulfillment of the law, and in order to maintain decency and order? I do not think so. I suspect that the manuscripts were expressive of the social convictions of some Christian communities. And the editors sought to render the text in such a way that it would be consistent with what the editors expected to find in scripture.

Interpolation Assessment of 14:34-36 by the Editors of the Western Manuscripts D, G, and 88

Given that the editors of D, G and 88 assessed that the location of verses 34 and 35 were “misplaced” at 33/36, and that the verses “belonged” at the end of verse 40, I argue that the editors assessed the placement of verses 34 and 35 at 33/36 to be an interpolation for which the editors’ sought a “correction”. Their restoration of the text “corrected” the misplacement of verses 34 and 35 at 33/36 which, presumably may have been the work of an earlier editor of the epistle.

Both the earlier and modern versions of the interpolation hypothesis are preoccupied with the status of verses 34 and 35. The modern interpolation hypothesis argues that the content of 34 and 35 is not only inconsistent, but contradicts what Paul has elsewhere written about the status of women, their participation in public worship and the status of tradition and law. Therefore, verses 34 and 35 are not moved to an alternate location in the epistle, but are removed from the text. On my argument, the earlier interpolation interpretation by the editors of D, G and 88 assessed that it was the placement of verses 34 and 35 before verse 36, which was the problem. Unlike the modern interpolation hypothesis, the earlier hypothesis did not question whether verses 34 and 35 belonged in the epistle.

It is my contention that neither the implied earlier interpolation interpretation by the editors of D, G, and 88, nor the proponents and defenders of the modern interpolation hypothesis, address the significance of verse 36. For the editors of D, G and 88, once verses 34 and 35 were sheltered from verse 36 and associated with verse 40, their interpolation interpretative project was complete. And for those who propose and defend the modern interpolation hypothesis, once verses 34 and 35 were effectively “removed” there was nothing more to do with the text. For those who employed interpolation methods, it would seem that once the status of verses 34 and 35 was resolved to their specifications or for their purposes, there was nothing else to do with the text. And yet, despite the preoccupations by both parties for coherence, textual and conceptual, the subsequent incoherence of the local text after their “removal” of verses 34 and 35 between verses 33/36 is not addressed.

Conclusion

It is my conclusion that in seeking to shelter the convictions expressed in verses 34 and 35, the editors of the Western manuscripts D, G, and 88 deleted the verses from their common location at 33/36, and “copied” these few verses elsewhere. The editors shrewdly manipulated the text to serve their purposes which they no doubt took to be proper. In this case, the movement of verses 34 and 35 from their location at verses 33/36 and placing them after verse 40, served to reconstruct the textus to cohere with cultural orthodox convictions regarding women, and to erase the possibility of an improper reading of the text. I proposed that the editors of the western manuscripts D, G, and 88 assessed that Paul’s apparent critique of the silence and subordination of women was not a viable possibility. I argued that in removing verses 34 and 35 from 33/36, the editors sought to (I) overcome the incoherence between proper Christian belief and practice regarding the status of women in church and a significant scriptural text which directly critiqued established practice, and (II) sought to restore the text by moving verses 34 and 35 to follow verse 40.

The comments regarding the subordination of women in First Corinthians, Ephesians and Timothy were points which easily drew my fire. My assessments of these notorious declarations ranged from the judgement that the authors of the later non-Pauline epistles, Ephesians and Timothy, had corrupted First Corinthians by seeding the text with tares which any good student of the Bible could identify and remove, to the view that Paul was a simple product of his culture and times (what ever those were) and that his views on gender and the subordination of women were dated, archaic, and worthy of rejection by any critical modern reader.

But something “other” occurred to me that I did not expect and for which I certainly was not prepared. I heard something different in the public reading of the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Maybe it was because the reader spoke softly when he came to the offensive verses before a congregation of faculty and students at Benton Chapel at Vanderbilt University, half of whom were women. Then he hesitated before proceeding to read verse 36 and the remainder of the chapter. These few verses had been quoted far too many times as a weapon in the arsenal against the participation of women as leaders in worship. Thus, the reader may have been seeking for some way to distance himself lest we identify the reader with the text. Between the soft voicing of these offensive verses, the pause and then the return of the reader’s full voice at the beginning of verse 36, the brief silence followed by “What! Did the word of God …,” sounded like, suggested to me (and apparently to no one else that morning, not even the reader) that verse 36 was a critique of the material which proceeded it. And so began my close reading of First Corinthians 14:34-36.

Unlike the editors of the western manuscripts D, G and 88, I did not assume that the text would substantiate my own commitments. I had no use for any weapon which could be used to question my wife’s ministry. I was prepared to employ a variety of strategies to disarm anyone intent on using the Bible to justify the disfranchisement, subordination, silencing, and disciplining of women in the church, from arguing for the interpolation hypothesis with respect to verses 34 and 35, to the general devaluation of the Pauline epistles on the grounds that they were outdated and representative of a pre-modern culture. However, what I preferred to do and was in the habit of doing, was to simply ignore those verses with which I so strongly disagreed.

But I learned that the interpretation of a rich and complex text like First Corinthians is not a settled matter. The assumption that writers more or less uncritically mirror their historic culture and social circumstances is far too simple and uncritical. How do we know which cultures and social circumstances influenced a writer? What is the force of such influence? Can one’s own culture(s) and society become negative influences against which one comes to be a critic?

In my years of work with the Corinthian epistles, I have come to appreciate and sometimes to be surprised by the extent to which Paul’s epistles were occasional letters which critically engaged competing leaders, factions, practices, and commitments within emergent Christian communities. The texts trace out the debates. So, I have come to be suspicious of those who too highly value conformity, or seem driven by theocratic institutional fantasies which seek to suppress passionate engagement and spirited disagreement in Christian thought and practice.

1 Corinthians 14:34-40

(34) The women should keep silence in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should he subordinate, as even the laws says. (35) If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

(36) What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?

(37) If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. (38) If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (39) So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; (40) but all things should be done decently and in order.

1 Corinthians 14:/36-40/34 & 35 Manuscripts D, G & 88

(36) What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?

(37) If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. (38) If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (39) So, my brethren, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; (40) but all things should be done decently and in order.

The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.

If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Works Cited

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1983. Let the Women Speak in Church: An Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor 14:33b-36, BIBLICAL THEOLOGY BULLETIN 13, 90-93.

Robertson, A.T. 1914. A GRAMMAR OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT IN THE LIGHT OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH. New York, NY: Hodder & Stoughton.

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D. W. Odell-Scott, Ph.D. (Philosophy, Vanderbilt University), M.Div. (Vanderbilt University Divinity School), is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Coordinator of the Religion Studies Program, and Co-Director of the Ohio Pluralism Project at Kent State University, Kent Ohio 44242-0001 (e-mail dodellsc@kent.edu).

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