Telegraph prints balanced article on new textual criticism of 1 Corinthians 14:34

I would like to commend the Telegraph for printing a balanced article, on 22 September, on some new textual criticism to appear in the journal New Testament Studies.

I was recently highly critical of an article by the Telegraph’s Religious Affairs Correspondent Olivia Rudgard on the publication, for the first time in English, of a recently-discovered work of the fourth-century bishop Fortunatianus.

“On this occasion I commend Ms. Rudgard’s balance in writing this piece.”

Notwithstanding my criticism of that article, on this occasion I commend Ms. Rudgard’s balance in writing this piece.

The article in question highlighted some research published in New Testament Studies, claiming that a mark, known as the ‘distigme-obelos’, found in the margin of Codex Vaticanus, an important New Testament manuscript, indicates that an early scribe considered the text by which it was placed, 1 Corinthians 14:34, to be a later addition. (You can find pictures of this symbol here and here.)

The article in the Telegraph began as follows:—

Bible passage used to stop women become [sic] ordained ‘added later’, academic claims

“A key Biblical passage which has been used to prevent women from being ordained is not original and was added later, an academic has claimed.

“The section of Corinthians which says women must remain silent in church has been used to justify restricting the priesthood to men.

“But recent research has suggested that the passage was not written by the Apostle Paul, as is widely believed, but was instead added later.

“Now an academic claims to have discovered a key symbol which proves the passage was not original.

“Research published in the journal New Testament Studies casts doubt on the section, 1 Corinthians 14:34, which says: ‘Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.’

“In the article, published by the Cambridge University Press last week, US academic Dr Philip Barton Payne claims that a symbol next to the passage shows that the writer, known as ‘scribe B’, believed it was not part of  the original but had been added later.”

I commend the article, however, for its balance in laying before the reader also the other side of the argument. This was in the concluding five paragraphs of the article which read as follow:—

“Some scholars claim that because in some texts it appears after verse 40, which is the end of the chapter, it was not written by Paul but added in the margin instead, suggesting it was put in by someone else after the original letter was written.

“However, other scholars have criticised Dr Payne’s interpretation.

“Opponents point out that while the passages appear in different places in different versions of the text, they are not absent completely from any version.

“Dr Pieter Lalleman, tutor in Biblical studies at Spurgeon’s College, told website Christian Today: ‘The fact that some manuscripts have the passage in a different location (at the end of chapter 14) can be explained by the fact that at one stage a copyist forgot the verses and added them at the end of the chapter.

“‘The fact is that no single surviving manuscript omits the two verses altogether.’”

In an age in which it is fashionable for the UK media to ‘bash’ Christianity — and especially evangelical Christianity — at every opportunity, it is refreshing to see a balanced piece printed.

One cannot help wondering, of course, whether, had some evidence emerged which supported the authenticity of this verse, it would have been deemed so newsworthy. But it would be unfair to draw any such conclusions on a statistical sample of one.

I did actually do some research of my own, back in 2005, on the authenticity of this very verse of 1 Corinthians, which supports its being from the pen of the apostle Paul. I will publish this research under a short series of posts in the ‘History’ section, beginning with this one.


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