In this, the first of a short series of posts, I furnish the reader with some evidence in support of the authenticity of a passage in the apostle Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
This is based on some personal research I did in 2005. It seemed pertinent to publish it here, following an article recently published in the Telegraph which highlighted new research published in the journal New Testament Studies suggesting the passage may not be an original part of Paul’s letter, but was added later.
The text in question has been the source of considerable controversy in recent decades, as it is a key passage which has traditionally been used to support a male-only clergy:
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
(1 Corinthians 14:33b-35)
Before we go any farther, I ought to say a few important things by way of a disclaimer:—
- It is not within the remit of etimasthe.com to adopt a particular stance on the issue of women in the presbyterate or in the episcopate (in other words, women vicars and bishops respectively).
- This post, therefore, will only concern itself with the authenticity of the above text. What one then does theologically with the text, assuming its authenticity or otherwise, will not be our concern here.
- I am no expert in ancient biblical manuscripts. I will therefore make no comment on the validity or otherwise of the evidence of the ‘distigme-obelos’ symbol found in the margin of several passages of the Codex Vaticanus as discussed here (you can find pictures of this symbol here and here).
- If you’ve stumbled across this page wondering, “What do Christians believe?”, this is not the place to find out. In this post we are concerned only with one tiny, very particular question about one tiny, very particular passage in one particular letter out of the 27 books of the New Testament. So if you’ve come here wanting to know what Christians believe, may I humbly point you in the direction either of my explanation of the gospel here, or indeed of Glen Scrivener’s much better one here.
Having cleared away those important caveats, I’d like to place before the reader three passages from the writings of the Christian theologian Tertullian (c. 155 — c. 240 A.D.) in which he quotes, or alludes to, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
“If we do see a writer such as Tertullian […] quoting the 1 Corinthians text, then it is at least a very strong indication of an early date for the passage, and supports its having been written by Paul.”
These passages are important because:
- If the apostle Paul did write 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, then we would expect to see it quoted or mentioned by very early Christian writers (such as Tertullian); whereas
- If 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was added significantly later, we would expect not to see it quoted or mentioned by Christian writers until a much later period.
Hence, if we do see a writer such as Tertullian, around 200—220 A.D., quoting the 1 Corinthians text, then it is at least a very strong indication of an early date for the passage, and supports its having been written by Paul.
Exhibit A: Tertullian, ‘Against Marcion’, Book V
“In precisely the same manner, when enjoining on women silence in the church, that they speak not for the mere sake of learning — although that even they have the right of prophesying, [Paul] has already shown when he covers the woman with a veil — he goes to the law for his sanction that woman should be under obedience.”,
Tertullian’s work ‘Against Marcion’ was written to counter the heresy of Marcion (c. 85 — c. 160 A.D.) which arose around the middle of the 2nd century A.D.
Orthodox Christians have always believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, born on earth as a human in order to save the human race.
‘Son of God’ — of what God? Namely, of the God who made himself known to Israel in the Old Testament.
Marcion, however, taught that actually Jesus had come to rescue us from the God of the Old Testament, by revealing a hitherto unknown ‘God of love’ who was diametrically opposed to the ‘vengeful’ God of the Old Testament.
“Since Marcion died around A.D. 160, the implication […] is that the text of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was already an accepted part of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians by the middle of the 2nd century.”
Marcion therefore despised and rejected the Old Testament text, as being the production of an inferior God who was not to be worshipped.
Marcion even developed his own ‘canon’ of New Testament writings, rejecting all but the Gospel According to Luke and the writings of Paul — and even in these writings, taking the scissors to any passage he considered taught that Jesus was actually born a real human being.
This observation is important, because when Tertullian refutes Marcion’s ideas, he does so on the basis of Marcion’s canon — not, of course, because Marcion’s version of the New Testament was the ‘correct’ one; but in order to show his followers their fallacy from the text accepted as authoritative by both sides.
Observe, then, the following in the above passage:—
- Tertullian clearly alludes to the text of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I have marked these allusions by footnotes in the citation above.
- Tertullian is notably not trying to defend the authenticity of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Rather, he is demonstrating from the text (particularly in saying that Paul “goes to the law [of Moses] for his sanction”) that Paul proclaimed the God revealed in the Old Testament.
- This implies that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was a text accepted both by the orthodox, and by Tertullian’s opponents the Marcionites.
Since Marcion died around A.D. 160, the implication of this is that the text of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was already an accepted part of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians by the middle of the 2nd century.
Exhibit B: Tertullian, ‘On Baptism’
“For how credible would it seem, that he [i.e., Paul] who has not permitted a woman even to learn with over-boldness, should give a female the power of teaching and of baptizing! ‘Let them be silent,’ he [i.e., Paul] says, ‘and at home consult their own husbands.’”
Using an a fortiori argument, Tertullian states that since Paul forbids women to learn with presumption, is it likely that he would allow them to baptize others? To finish his case, he then quotes (paraphrastically) 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
Notice again that he is quoting this passage as an accepted text.
Exhibit C: Tertullian, ‘On the Veiling of Virgins’
“It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church; but neither is it permitted for her to teach, or to baptize, or to offer [the eucharist], nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say in any priestly office. Let us enquire whether any of these be allowed for a virgin.”
Once again it is not my purpose here to state a particular position on women’s ministry in the church, merely to furnish the reader with evidence in support of the genuineness of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
Tertullian argues here that, if it is not permissible for a (married) woman to perform any of these duties in the church, then how is it so for a virgin?
He seems in the opening clause to be quoting (again paraphrastically) 1 Corinthians 14:34,35.
Since he here argues from this position to his position respecting virgins, it seems clear that he is arguing from an agreed text — i.e., 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as an accepted part of Paul’s letter.
I have here set before the reader three passages from the early Christian writer Tertullian (c. 155 — c. 240 A.D.) in which he seems very clearly to quote, or to allude to, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
What these passages show us is that these two verses were already a well-known and accepted part of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians by 200—220 A.D., when Tertullian was writing.
“None of this […] proves that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But it does show that the text was around, and was accepted as a text of Paul, at an early date.”
Indeed, as I have shown above in my comments on ‘Exhibit A’, the text must have been an accepted part of Paul’s letter as early as the middle of the 2nd century — and not only by the orthodox, but also by the heretic Marcion.
None of this, of course, proves that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But it does show that the text was around, and was accepted as a text of Paul, at an early date. This is, at least, very strong evidence in favour of Paul’s being the author of these two verses — and it certainly precludes a date for them any time in the third or fourth centuries.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.