Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Church Ladies - A Probable Pauline Interpolation

- I posted this back in April, and I thought I would put it up on the new blog after some topical conversation in the comments section here.

Many people are familiar with the following verses of Scripture:

“As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also 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.” 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35

There are other verses in the New Testament that also speak of limiting women’s roles in the church and in the home. These verses are in the so-called “pastoral epistles” which include 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Though these letters claim Pauline authorship, many scholars do not consider them to be written by Paul. One reason is that they reflect a church structure that did not exist when Paul was writing. So someone wrote the letters “pseudonymously” , which is kind of a polite way of saying that someone forged them.

However few scholars doubt that the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. But here is the kicker. There is very good reason to think that Paul did not write the verses quoted above. Many scholars consider them a later edition by a scribe copying the letter. In fact, a likely scenario is that a scribe wrote these “verses” as a note in the margin of the letter while copying it. The scribe’s note reflected a later, post-Pauline view of women’s role in the church. Eventually, after much distribution and subsequent copying (by hand, of course), the scribe’s note in the margin found its way into the letter itself.

There are three reasons for thinking these verses are not original to 1 Corinthinans.

The first is that these verses “move around” a bit when reading ancient manuscripts of 1 Corinthians. Sometimes they are verses 34-35. Others times they are located after verse 40. This would support the idea of verses 34-35 being a later interpolation.

Secondly, if one leaves out those verses all together, the flow of the letter makes more sense in its discussion of the role of prophets in the “gathering” (or “church”).

The third reason is that if we read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul gives instructions that women should wear veils on their heads when they pray and prophesy. This is in reference to the gathering (or church), as it makes little sense for Paul to mention this regarding a woman at home alone, praying and prophesying.

Consider Paul’s view of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:3-5:

“On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church. Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

So the nature of “prophecy” was that it was something done for the church. Prophecy was “speak(ing) to other people”. It was public. Remember that “church” to Paul was simply the gathering of believers. It was not a building, or anything as “official” as it is today. It was the believers gathering together, sharing a meal in remembrance of Jesus, and then in turn offering up hymns, prophecies, lessons, etc. It was not very hierarchal in structure. Yet!

So why,when giving instructions for worship, would Paul say that women should be silent in church after stating that women should have their heads covered when praying and prophesying?

He probably didn’t. As Christianity became more established, it seems to have reverted back to something closer to the societal norms of the day, including the secondary status of women. But what did Paul write of gender roles within the early church in another book?

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28


  1. That is really really interesting. Thanks for sharing that with us. It certainly creates a whole new topic of discussion regarding how the Bible was put together. it seems to me that almost no conversation on the meaning of Biblical messages can move forward before first discussing how the Bible was put together. How much influence did man have? how much influence did God have? Is there any in between regarding these two opinions: 1. The Bible is God's perfect word . . . or 2. The Bible is man's written attempt at explaining God as they know Him, meaning it is subject to mans' opinions, which are not necessarily always the same as God's wishes, etc.

  2. I think there is an "in between" of a sort, but it's not specific to the Bible. It can be in great novels, honest conversation, music, and more.

    It's moment of genuine connection between people.

    I'm not sure if I really think "God" and "man" are completely separate, but I think I know what you mean.

    The Bible's greatest strength is what an inerrant, fundamentalist viewpoint tries to rob it of - it's humanity. It contains true beauty, sadness, brutal thoughts, kind thoughts. Despair, triumph, constant rationalization. It's a great work of human hands - it would not have survived this long if it wasn't!

    As far as how it was put together, much of it is educated guesswork. Many of the earliest manuscripts are far removed from the time the books were written. Scholars reconstruct to the earliest copies with great precision, but I think if "changes" were made, they were probably done within the first several decades of a book's circulation. But who knows?

    thanks, John!