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Monday, 23 August 2010

Part VI, The Answers: The textual evidence (in the series: Is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 an interpolation?)

We first took a look at this verse in an earlier post, but only from the perspective of the TNIV reading. Here we'll look first at the NIV, and then back at the KJV. Backing up to include the previous verse, the NIV reads:
33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
As in all the congregations of the saints, 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 CBT followed the fashion of the time in joining the last clause of v. 33 to v. 34. A closer look at the manuscript evidence convinced them, a generation later, that they had no paratextual basis for doing so, and the convention was quietly dropped. UPDATE: Alas, it was not to stay dropped. The latest update of the NIV has put it back in as a marginal alternative.

Another noticeable change was dropping the capitalization of 'law' in v. 34. Someone must have taken a good look at the entire OT and failed to find any source for this quote, and decided to leave the citation a bit more ambiguous. And of course, as we noted earlier, the textual note was added for the TNIV. Now back to the KJV:
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
We note at once a textual difference: most of the oldest manuscripts, and many of the newer ones, don't have 'your' women in v. 34. Another textual difference doesn't come out here: Most manuscripts read 'they were not allowed to speak'. The WH text reads 'they are not allowed to speak'. For some reason all Bibles appear to follow the oldest manuscripts for this reading. I'm probably ignorant of the nuances of Greek translation here--this should be more closely looked into.

There are two more textual differences to note in v. 35. Westcott and Hort's text reads, "If any would be learning," while most mss read "If any would learn." WH has been overthrown at this juncture by the Byzantine reading in p46, the oldest manuscript we have of the Pauline epistles. The other variant is between "a woman" as seen in the NIV, and "women" as seen in the KJV.

I wish I could give more information on these textual differences, but I'm limited to what I can access online. Some who have studied this more deeply report, in addition to the four pairs of readings I have listed for these two verses, at least eight more. This, in support of the axiom that many variants an interpolation do make. Au contraire, say I--many variants a theologically difficult passage do disclose. For example, Codex Alexandrinus reads, "to their husbands" after "must be in subjection"--an apparent harmonization to the reading of A in Col 3:18.

Nothing so far would indicate an interpolation here. All we see is that this verse was problematic for the scribes who copied it, and some made changes to the text in order to make it easier to interpret or apply. There is, indeed, no question that this passage was being interpreted and applied farther back than the copying of any manuscript that contains it. This passage finds its way into the commentary of some of the earliest Christian writers. We'll get back to that fact a little later, but for now it's clear that this passage was being read in the book of 1 Corinthians by Latin Christians before the end of the second century--a very inconvenient fact for those who look to the Latin text-type for proof that it was ever not accepted as Scripture.

It seems to be time to run this mystery passage through our checklist. Has it, or has it not carried the stigma of interpolation intact through the mists of time to the present day? Here we go:

1. - Abrupt changes in the subject matter or interruptions in an otherwise continuous train of thought.
Yes. The context of ch. 14 is the need for prophets and preachers not to interrupt each other, or to hog the pulpit. Everything must be done in order. But now comes along something that must not be done at all--women speaking in church. It doesn't fit the flow of the chapter--a problem not solved any in moving it to the end.

2. - Seeming inconsistencies or contradictions that conflict with other material in the document.
Absolutely. Paul had just spent a good share of ch. 11 laying out rules for men and women prophesying, emphasizing the equal but different role of women. Now he comes along and tells them to just shut up--they can't even ask their husbands any questions about the sermon until after they get home.

3. - The presence of certain formulae in supposedly inappropriate or uncustomary contexts.
Yes. Paul refers to what the law says some 40 times. But this is the only place he uses the exact phrase, "as also the law says" (he only uses a variation of the phrase "as the law says" three times). And in every other case, such a statement always precedes, or two of them bracket, a specific quote from the OT. Not only is no quote from the OT given here, there is no such prohibition given anywhere in the law, except for Jewish rabbinical law--a law for which Paul never exhibits anything but disdain.

4. - Repetition of redundant elements or perceived changes in tone or style.
Maybe. Here's where the high level of textual changes could sway the answer one way or another, so we'll suspend judgment on this item for now.

5. - The supposed assumption by the writer of different circumstances on the part of the intended audience.
Yes. It can easily be imagined how a scribe may have felt the need to temper the liberties laid out in the chapter for virtually anyone to speak out in a church service with a line of fine print that cut the number of potential speakers in half.

6 - The perceived character of the manuscripts that don't contain the alleged interpolation.
No. Like the case of the young young man prophet, there simply aren't any extant manuscripts that lack the alleged interpolation in this context. Since the margin of Vaticanus could be seen as supporting the omission, more attention is being directed toward it than would otherwise be probable.

7 - The variety of readings in the manuscripts that do contain the alleged interpolation.
Yes; especially three manuscripts in particular--from the Byzantine, Alexandrian, and Western text-types--which bear evidence in the margin that scribes had purposely left it out of 1 Corinthians in earlier copies.

So, out of seven criteria for establishment of an interpolation, this passage only scores a single unequivocal "No." And it is that singular point, more than any other, that has been responsible for it remaining in the Greek texts--and translations--of the translators of today's English Bibles. As we wrote earlier, it looks like that is about to change. But for now, from the manuscript evidence we get

ANSWER #1: NO, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is NOT an interpolation, because it is not visibly absent from any Greek manuscript of the New Testament--not even from any of the Versions.

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