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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Putting paid to the complementarian position on 1 Corinthians 14:33-34

The title of a post at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, International SBL Meetings in Auckland, New Zealand, gave me little clue to the great significance of its content, the second paragraph. I would of course like to see the paper of which this is a summary. But it seems to have overthrown one of the main bases within the New Testament text for the complementarian position, and demonstrated why many translations of the passage in question, 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, are in error.

The standard Greek texts, Nestle-Aland 27th edition and UBS 4th edition, put a paragraph break in the middle of verse 33 and no punctuation at all to separate it from verse 34. That is, they associate the phrase translated "as in all the churches of the saints" with the following main clause rather than the preceding one. As such they depart from the tradition established by KJV and before that by whoever divided the text into verses, and strengthened by the English Revised Version (1881) which indicates a paragraph break at the start of verse 34. But by the time of the RSV (1946/1971) the interpretation had changed, and this translation has the same breaks as the Greek texts, as do NIV (1978/1984) and NRSV (1989). But TNIV (2001/2005), has reverted almost to the ERV punctuation, with a new paragraph at the start of verse 34; as such it reflects the preference of Gordon Fee, one of its translation team, as expressed in his 1987 commentary on 1 Corinthians. Indeed Fee writes (p.697 footnote 49):
The idea that v. 33b goes with v. 34 seems to be a modern phenomenon altogether.
What was the reason for the change between ERV and RSV? Was there some technicality in the Greek text, not recognised by earlier scholars or only found in more recent manuscripts, which suggested the paragraph division in the scholarly texts? Or might it just be that editors preferred a reading which strengthened Paul's supposed instruction in verse 34 that women should be silent? After all, in Romans 16:7 the same Greek text editors, with no manuscript evidence at all, supplied the accents for the unattested male name Junias rather than for the well known female name Junia, for which the only possible explanation is a theological preference. If they preferred a "complementarian" reading in Romans, it seems quite plausible that they made a similar decision in 1 Corinthians.

And that suspicion seems to me to be confirmed by the paper presented at SBL in New Zealand. For the paper concludes that
the overwhelming consensus among the manuscripts [is] that the major punctuation or segmentation break should be at the end of v. 33, not in the middle of the verse. This would result in "as in all the churches of the saints" being applied to the principle of God being one of order, not disorder, and would negate applying this WS [i.e. "as" in Greek] clause to verses 34-35.
Of course this conclusion does not in itself invalidate the statement that (literally) "the women should be silent in the churches". But it does reduce the emphasis on it and the grounds for taking this as a rule for all time rather than a situational and temporary one. It also opens the way for two alternative interpretations of verses 34-35, one that these are words of the Corinthians which Paul rejects in verse 36; and the other, preferred by Fee with some slight manuscript support, that these verses are not an original part of the letter but a marginal gloss incorporated by mistake into the text. Both of these alternatives work only if the "as" phrase (not a clause!) at the end of verse 33 is taken with what comes before it.

Once again TNIV has made the right decision here, anticipating the results presented in the SBL paper and returning to the paragraph division of ERV, which was abandoned for no good reason.

22 Comments:

At Thu Jul 10, 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Of course this conclusion does not in itself invalidate the statement that (literally) "the women should be silent in the churches".

I once heard the suggestion that "ekklesias" here refers to the civic assemblies of the Corinthian citizens. The main justification for this idea is the fact that v.34 ends with "as the law says." IOW, what other law could Paul be talking about here, if not the local Corinthian law?

 
At Thu Jul 10, 10:25:00 PM, OpenID newleaven.com said...

This is good stuff, Peter. I've a lecture where Fee deals with the verses in question. I sort of like the TNIV's return to the ERV on this one. Good decision, I say.

Regarding scribal interpolation, well, that is a whole new animal. I still have been convinced on that one. Thanks, Peter.

TC

 
At Thu Jul 10, 11:26:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I think the NET Bible notes are pretty interesting here.

1. They attach "As in all the churches" to verse 34,

2. Claim that women should not speak during the evaluating of the prophets

3. Conclude "The very location of the verses in the Western tradition argues strongly that Paul both authored vv. 34-35 and that they were originally part of the margin of the text."

I think there is a scholarly consensus that these verses were added to the margin. In the light of this, I find #1 and #2 rather odd.

 
At Thu Jul 10, 11:33:00 PM, OpenID newleaven.com said...

Sue, I'll like to know where I can find this scholarly consensus. Here's my question: Before Fee, Did anyone contest the validity of the verses in question?

PS:

In my first comment, I meant to say, "I still haven't been convinced on that one."

Thank you,
TC

 
At Fri Jul 11, 12:45:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Have you read all the NET Bible notes? They do mention other authors. It is mainly a question of access to multiple manuscripts, I think. My guess is that among text critiques, you might find a consensus. I could be wrong but that is how I read it.

Maybe Jeremy Pierce (Parableman) might be able to comment on the basis of the commentaries he is reading. Have you seen his blog? It is in our sidebar.

 
At Fri Jul 11, 12:46:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Bill,

The "law" poses a question that is always hard to answer.

 
At Fri Jul 11, 02:34:00 AM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Sue, I'll look into the notes and get back. I'm off to bed.

 
At Fri Jul 11, 12:20:00 PM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Here's something I found interesting from the NET textual note:

"There are apparently no mss that have an asterisk or obelisk in the margin. Yet in other places in the NT where scribes doubted the authenticity of the clauses before them, they often noted their protest with an asterisk or obelisk. We are thus compelled to regard the words as original, and as belonging where they are in the text above."

A good counter-argument, I say.

 
At Fri Jul 11, 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Trierr said...

Suzanne,

Having just finished my Corinthians class, I found almost no agreement amongst the commentators that I read. (Thiselton, Fee, Witherington, Hays, Linzky and Talbert). It seemed that the six commentaries had seven opinions. And that doesn't count the reception history!

I realize this gets into issues of cannonicity, but even if the words were not Paul's (contra NET notes), does it matter? The interesting textual thing about these verses is that while they change location, all of our manuscripts have them or a significant portion of them somewhere.

So, the punctuation is far more exegetically signifcant than the tc issues.

 
At Fri Jul 11, 02:07:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

It seemed that the six commentaries had seven opinions. And that doesn't count the reception history!

I had the impression that there was a consensus that they change location, and that most people thought that this was because they were in the margin. Then the reasons for this split off from there.

What do we know for sure? Simply that they change location?

 
At Fri Jul 11, 06:12:00 PM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Sue,

Here's something again from the NET textual notes about why some scholars have problems with the veracity of these verses:

"This is because the Western witnesses (D F G ar b vgms Ambst) have these verses after v. 40, while the rest of the tradition retains them here."

If the issue is one of transposition as few in a few Western witnesses, How did we get to their excision? It doesn't follow logically.

 
At Fri Jul 11, 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Here is another part of the discussion in the NET Bible.

"The very location of the verses in the Western tradition argues strongly that Paul both authored vv. 34-35 and that they were originally part of the margin of the text. Otherwise, one has a difficulty explaining why no scribe seemed to have hinted that these verses might be inauthentic."

I may have spoken out of turn in saying that there was a "consensus" about them being in the margin. That was simply how I understood this passage in the NET Bible. However, I did not mean that there was a consensus that they were not written by Paul. And, of course, I took my Corinthians course from Gordon Fee last year, so I freely admit my bias. :-) I am listening to other comments here and hope that there will be more. Thanks.

I also find the attempt to ascertain what the "law" was to be a very speculative task. In any case, I really don't know any more about this than anyone else, TC.

 
At Sat Jul 12, 09:40:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

"The very location of the verses in the Western tradition argues strongly that Paul both authored vv. 34-35 and that they were originally part of the margin of the text. Otherwise, one has a difficulty explaining why no scribe seemed to have hinted that these verses might be inauthentic."

These words from the NET notes confuse me. I can see the strong argument that the words were originally in the margin. But I can't see the argument that Paul also wrote them. If he wrote them, why did he write them in the margin and not in the text? It doesn't make sense. At the very least it implies that they were added to the letter at a later stage and so are not an original part of the letter.

The argument about what later scribes thought only carries weight if there is any reason to think that the scribes knew any better than we do what was authentic, and there is no reason to think that they did.

It seems to me that some early copyist incorporated these words into the text without any special marking, and subsequent generations of copyists, especially those who agreed with the teaching of these verses, were left with no reason to question their authenticity.

 
At Sat Jul 12, 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Peter,

I was hoping you would point out what I see as a basic inconsistency in the NET notes.

My take is that both Fee and the NET Bible agree that these verses were like in the margin. Fee regards them as very possibly non-authentic, but the NET Bible does not.

 
At Sat Jul 12, 12:16:00 PM, Blogger tc robinson said...

I also find the attempt to ascertain what the "law" was to be a very speculative task. In any case, I really don't know any more about this than anyone else, TC.

Sue, we find these kind of echoes and allusions all the time in the NT writers. I do not see this as engaging in a "speculative task." I really don't see this as key to the text in question.

It seems to me that some early copyist incorporated these words into the text without any special marking, and subsequent generations of copyists, especially those who agreed with the teaching of these verses, were left with no reason to question their authenticity.

Peter, even this too is engaging in a "speculative task." It seems to me that the best line of argument against the text being Pauline is whether or not we see Paul contradicting himself because of 11:5.

 
At Sat Jul 12, 01:38:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Peter, even this too is engaging in a "speculative task."

Indeed, TC. The problem is that everything here is speculative. There is simply nothing which "argues strongly that Paul ... authored vv. 34-35", so the NET Bible's conclusion is at best speculative, if not, as you suggest, actually disproved by 11:5. But perhaps it would be better said that the interpretation of the verses as Paul's general instruction to all women is disproved by 11:5. There are of course other interpretations of these verses even if Paul wrote them, e.g. as instructions for a specific group of women, or as the Corinthians' words quoted by Paul. But again everything is speculative.

 
At Sat Jul 12, 03:07:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

What we do know is that these verses have been moved. Usually when the text is altered, it has been to the disadvantage of women. For example, a female may be refered to as a male, as was the case with Nympha. What we don't know is whether the verses were moved from after verse 40 to higher up, or the other way around. Clearly this points to the fact that no one really knows what Paul was trying to say.

There are people who argue

a) the verses are in their original location and Paul agrees with them

b) the verses are in their original location and Paul disagrees with them

c) the verses belong after verse 40 and Paul agrees with them

d) the verses belong after verse 40 or in the margin and therefore Paul did not write them.

But the NET Bible notes imply that the verses occurred in the margin and Paul did write them.

That's why there are generally twice as many opinions on these verses as people expressing an opinion.

 
At Sat Jul 12, 08:49:00 PM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Indeed, TC. The problem is that everything here is speculative. There is simply nothing which "argues strongly that Paul ... authored vv. 34-35", so the NET Bible's conclusion is at best speculative, if not, as you suggest, actually disproved by 11:5. But perhaps it would be better said that the interpretation of the verses as Paul's general instruction to all women is disproved by 11:5. There are of course other interpretations of these verses even if Paul wrote them, e.g. as instructions for a specific group of women, or as the Corinthians' words quoted by Paul. But again everything is speculative.

Peter, because of what Paul says in 11:5, we might have to consider these verses as local and temporary. Just something to consider.

But the NET Bible notes imply that the verses occurred in the margin and Paul did write them.

Sue, all of our best extant MSS contain these disputed verses. Why they are so solidly represented but yet disputed as Pauline, I don't know?

 
At Sun Jul 13, 12:16:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

TC,

I have no idea, but I do accept that bias against women crept into the text at certain points. It is not usually considered a translation issue but a text crit. issue. Anyway, I don't have an answer but if you google around there are some good articles on the internet.

I grew up in a community that practiced the silence of women. No clergy either, so 18 year old boys spoke in the assembly but the women were silent. Since I come from several generations of women who studied Greek, I would have to say that the dining room table conversation was more theologically enlightening than the regular services.

There are many things about that community that I value, but the silence of women was not one of them.

 
At Mon Jul 14, 12:54:00 PM, Blogger tc robinson said...

Sue, you'll be welcomed at my assembly, for women speak all the time. In fact, the women out-number the men.

 
At Mon Jul 14, 06:27:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thanks, TC! :-)

 
At Fri Jul 18, 06:45:00 PM, Blogger yuckabuck said...

tc robinson said "If the issue is one of transposition as few in a few Western witnesses, How did we get to their excision? It doesn't follow logically."

I highly recommend that you read Gordon Fee's second crack at the textual history, found in an excursus in his book "God's Empowering Presence." I'm not saying that the argument there is irrefutable, but I've found that most people (including myself!) tend to miss the significance of the evidence when it is simply called a "transposition."

As Fee says, whole passages are not usually transposed like this, the way words in a sentence may be, without reason. The force of the argument is that, if the passage were original to the letter, it would not have been so displaced; hence it was most likely a marginal gloss that was inserted into the text and therefore does not belong with the original text.

I'm obviously oversimplifying the argument here, but that is the gist of it.

 

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