I here present the third and final part in my short series, furnishing the reader with some evidence in support of the authenticity of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, from the writings of early Christian theologians.
This, and my previous posts (#1, #2) in the series, are following on from 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 is as follows:—
“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)
In view of the controversies around this passage in contemporary debate, it will not be amiss for me to repeat again the important disclaimer I made in the first post in this series:—
- 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.
Right, then. In this final post we are going to examine the evidence provided by a document known as the Apostolic Constitutions. We will examine two passages from this document.
Firstly, however, what are the Apostolic Constitutions?
“On the face of it [the Apostolic Constitutions] claims to be a setting-down of the precepts given by the Twelve Apostles themselves, for the good order of the Church…”
The Apostolic Constitutions are an ancient work in eight books, which on the face of it claims to be a setting-down of the precepts given by the Twelve Apostles themselves, for the good order of the Church in its worship, liturgy, hierarchy and practice.
There was a widespread view in antiquity that the Constitutions had been gathered and handed down by the 1st-century bishop Clement of Rome, who was actually a colleague of the Apostle Paul. The work was accorded a high level of respect in antiquity, parts of it sometimes being regarded as actually the work of the Apostles.
In fact, however, the Constitutions are a composite work dating from much later, formed by a re-working of earlier Christian material from various ages.
I repeat here the brief summary of its contents from The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII:—
We may accept as established the following positions:—
- The Apostolic Constitutions are a compilation, the material being derived from sources differing in age.
- The first six books are the oldest; the seventh, in its present form, somewhat later, but, from its connection with the Teaching, proven to contain matter of a very ancient date. The eighth book is of latest date.
- It now seems to be generally admitted that the entire work is not later than the fourth century, although the usual allowance must be made for later textual changes, whether by accident or design.
Wikipedia assigns to the whole work, in its final state, a date in the range 375—380 A.D (though has a similar breakdown of its contents).
Exhibit E: The Apostolic Constitutions, Book III
“That Women Ought Not to Teach, Because It is Unseemly; And What Women Followed Our Lord.
“VI. We do not permit our ‘women to teach in the Church,’ but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus himself, when he sent us the Twelve [Apostles] to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach, although he had no shortage of them [who might have].”
We seem to have in this paragraph both a quotation from 1 Corinthians 14:34, and also the tenor of the verse and those around it. (The phrase, “but only to pray,” may be alluding to 1 Corinthians 11:4-5.)
It is suggested that this section of the Constitutions is based on earlier material from the 3rd century. Wikipedia suggests that we have here a free re-wording of a document known as the Didascalia Apostolorum which may date to around 230 A.D., and whose provenance “is usually regarded as Northern Syria, possibly near Antioch.”
“We have here a passage which appears to demonstrate […] that 1 Corinthians 14:34 was known as holy Scripture in Syria in the first half of the 3rd century.”
Hence we have here a passage which appears to demonstrate — though hardly for certain — that 1 Corinthians 14:34 was known as holy Scripture in Syria in the first half of the 3rd century. This is important for our present concern, because the citations made in the preceding two posts have only shown the passage to be known in North Africa, in the region of Carthage, at that time — and at Rome, on the hypothesis that the heretic Marcion also accepted the text.
The presence of the text in an eastern province at this time thus appears to show that the verse wasn’t a ‘local’ reading in the West.
This is further evidence of the verse’s ‘widespreadness’ in the early third century — and hence is supporting evidence for its having been part of the First Letter to the Corinthians at an early date.
Exhibit F: The Apostolic Constitutions, Book VIII
“For it is not lawful for a deacon to offer the sacrifice [the Eucharist], or to baptize, or to give either the greater or the lesser blessing. Nor may a presbyter perform ordination; for it is not agreeable to holiness to have this order perverted. For ‘God is not the God of confusion,’ that subordinate persons should tyrannically assume to themselves the functions belonging to their superiors…”
Note: The footnote to this passage in the Ante-Nicene Fathers refers to another footnote on the following page which indicates that “this points to a discussion in the third century.”
In this passage we have a clear quotation of 1 Corinthians 14:33, the verse which (in most but not all manuscripts) immediately precedes the verse under examination.
This provides us with further corroboration of the authenticity of verse 34, although clearly we should not attach much weight to this final exhibit. Besides only quoting a verse co-located with verse 34, Book VIII of the Constitutions is generally regarded to be of much later date than Books I—VI (see description of contents, above) — even if, as suggested in the note, the paragraph is based on an underlying substrate dating from the third century.
Question: Why are there no citations of 1 Corinthians 14:34 before the third century?
The evidence of Tertullian in our first post demonstrated very clearly that this verse was known to him as Scripture at the beginning of the third century. But we also concluded, on the basis that the verse appeared to be accepted by his opponent Marcion (died c. 160 A.D.), that the verse must have been part of 1 Corinthians by the mid-second century.
That does, however, beg the question: Why do we not have any citations of 1 Corinthians 14:34 prior to Tertullian (c. 210 A.D.)?
“Why do we not have any citations of 1 Corinthians 14:34 prior to Tertullian (c. 210 A.D.)?”
After all, the entire New Testament had been written by around 95 A.D.; 1 Corinthians is usually reckoned to have been written around 54 A.D. So why do we have no citations of 1 Corinthians 14:34 during the hundred years from the end of the New Testament until Tertullian?
This is a valid question. But I think it has a very logical and natural answer.
“Tertullian was one of only the first two writers after the New Testament whose writings have come down to us, to write extensively on Christian liturgy and ethics.”
Tertullian was one of only the first two writers after the New Testament whose writings have come down to us, to write extensively on Christian liturgy and ethics. The subjects Tertullian deals with, which cause him to invoke 1 Corinthians 14:34, simply don’t come up in Christian writings before the end of the second century.
In an age when Christianity was still finding its feet — often under intense persecution — the earlier writers were far more concerned with apologetics — that is, defending the Christian faith against paganism (and in some cases Judaism) — with heresy, and with church unity.
A survey of the main writers/writings which have come down to us from that period will demonstrate this.
|Writer / Text||Date||Main concern
|Clement of Rome||died c. 100 A.D.||To avert a schism in the church of Corinth
|Ignatius of Antioch||died c. 107 A.D.||To insist that Christ is both God and man
|Polycarp of Smyrna||died c. 155 A.D.||To urge Christians to live holy lives
|Letter of Barnabas||probably 100—130 A.D.||To show that Judaism is in error
|'Mathetes'||c. 130 A.D.||Apologetic — to show that the gospel is true, against paganism
|The Didache||1st / 2nd century A.D.||To give rules for fasting, worship, church organization
|The Shepherd of Hermas||c. 160 A.D.||To urge Christians to live holy lives
|Justin Martyr||died c. 165 A.D.||Apologetic works against paganism and Judaism
|Theophilus||c. 168 A.D. (died c. 181 A.D.)||Apologetic work against paganism
|Athenagoras||c. 177 A.D.||Apologetic — defence of Christianity
|Irenaeus of Lyons||died 202 A.D.||To counter various heresies
You can see from the above table that the predominant themes of second-century Christian writers are: (i.) Apologetics; (ii.) Church unity; (iii.) Opposing heresy. The only work which approaches the kind of subject-matter likely to refer to 1 Corinthians 14:34 is the ‘Didache’, and that is only a short work.
“We shouldn’t be surprised not to read any reference to 1 Corinthians 14:34 in the Christian writers of the second century. Quite simply, their writings were taken up with other, more pressing matters.”
The only writer before Tertullian, then, to write extensively on subjects as wide-ranging as Christian ethics, worship and daily life is Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 — c. 215 A.D.). And much of his writing is philosophical rather than scriptural in tone.
Taking all of this into view, it becomes clear that we shouldn’t be surprised not to read any reference to 1 Corinthians 14:34 in the Christian writers of the second century. Quite simply, their writings were taken up with other, more pressing matters.
In this short series of posts we have laid before the reader a number of passages from Christian writers of the third century which cite 1 Corinthians 14:34.
Particularly important amongst these was Tertullian, who wrote around 200—220 A.D., three excerpts from whose writings we studied in the first post in this series. Not only did he himself cite 1 Corinthians 14:34 as Scripture, but — in ‘Exhibit A’ — he did so in such a way as showed that his opponent Marcion, who died c. 160 A.D., must have accepted it as Scripture also.
“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 means that the verse under examination must have widely accepted as part of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians at least by the middle of the second century A.D.
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.
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