Why would 1 Cor 14:34-35 be an interpolation? by Philip Barton Payne

ZA Blog on October 15th, 2009. Tagged under .

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This question came up as a comment to a previous post, and I’m happy to address it. 1 Cor 14:34-35 would be an interpolation if it was not originally in the text of 1 Corinthians but was added later in the margin. Scribes copying the manuscript later would naturally assume that the text in the margin was inadvertently omitted and so insert those verses into the text. All manuscripts of the Western Text-Type put these two verses after 1 Cor 14:40. Virtually all other manuscripts put these two verses after 1 Cor 14:33. Such divergent positioning is one of the hallmarks of interpolations.

There is no comparable instance of any other manuscript of any of Paul's letters of a scribe rearranging Paul's argument with a significant block of text in this way. Consequently, we know that it was contrary to scribal convention for a scribe to take the liberty to change the order of Paul's argument simply because he thought a different ordering of the text would make better sense. This is the primary basis that Gordon Fee and many others have argued it is highly unlikely that if the text were originally in Paul's letter after v. 33, that any later scribe would move that text to follow v. 40.

Similarly, it is highly unlikely that if the text were originally in Paul's letter afterv. 40, that any later scribe would move that text to follow v. 33. We know it is highly unlikely since no scribe of any surviving manuscript (and there are thousands) of any of Paul's letters ever did anything like this in any other passage of Paul's letters.

Other manuscripts give evidence of an original text that omitted 1 Cor 14:34-35. These include Bishop Victor of Capua in A.D. 546 ordering the rewriting of the text after 1 Cor 14:33 through 1 Cor 14:40 to omit verses 34-35 in the bottom margin of Codex Fuldensis as argued in Philip B. Payne, "Fuldensis, Sigla for Variants in Vaticanus, and 1 Cor 14.34-5," NTS 41 (1995) 240-50 with a photograph of that entire page of Codex Fuldensis on p. 261. In every other instance where Bishop Victor corrected the text of Codex Fuldensis, surviving manuscripts support his rewriting of the text, and he is known for preserving the readings of ancient manuscripts.

Similarly, MS 88 was copied from a manuscript that did not have 1 Cor 14:34-35 following v. 33. Philip B. Payne, "MS. 88 as Evidence for a Text Without 1 Cor 14.34-5," NTS 44 (1998) 152-58, includes a full page photograph of this passage in MS 88 and a close-up photograph showing its details.

Codex Vaticanus's evidence that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation is especially important for several reasons. Its distigme (mark of a textual variant) at the end of v. 33 with no corresponding distigme at the end of v. 40 is evidence of a textual variant that was not the Western displacement was written prior to Codex Vaticanus. The only other manuscript of 1 Corinthians earlier than Codex Vaticanus containing 1 Cor 14:34-35 is P46. By far the most likely candidate is a text that omitted verses 34-35. Furthermore, the unusually long obelus adjacent to the distigme at the end of 1 Cor 14:33 normally occurs in Codex Vaticanus at exactly the location of an extended interpolation. This further supports that the variant being noted here is the interpolation of 1 Cor 14:34-35. Since there are only one manuscript of 1 Cor 14:34-35 older than Codex Vaticanus, the manuscript whose variant reading is noted by the distigme at the end of 1 Cor 14:33 is one of, if not the earliest manuscript of this text of which we have any record.

The paper I will read at the ETS Annual Meeting at 8:30 AM, Thursday Nov. 19 in the Waterbury Ballroom on the 2nd floor of the Sheraton will establish with conclusive statistical evidence that the distigmai in Codex Vaticanus are marks of textual variants. It will show that 1 Cor 14:34-35 has all the standard hallmarks of an interpolation.

Since surviving manuscripts preserve textual variants in the vast majority of the original ink color distigme locations in Codex Vaticanus, these distigmai provide a statistical basis for concluding that the majority of the significant variants available to the scribe of Vaticanus have survived in extant manuscripts. This reinforces confidence in the reliability of the transmission of the NT text from the ancient manuscripts available to the scribe of Vaticanus until today. Thus, even though the distigmai in Codex Vaticanus may either add credibility to the originality of a passage, as in the case of John 7:53-8:11, or cast doubt on the originality of a passage, as in the case of 1 Cor 14:34-35, their overall impact is to affirm the reliability of the transmission of the NT text.

For free downloads of the articles cited above and a description of my new book, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters, that argues in detail on pages 217-67 from both external and internal, that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation, see www.linguistsoftware.com/payneessays.htm.

Philip Barton Payne, philip.b.payne@gmail.com


  • Rick Wadholm Jr. 9 years ago

    Great article! Wish I could make the paper reading at ETS. I’ve often wondered about the specifics of these two verses (ever since I read Fees arguments for their interpolation in the NICNT).

  • Luke 9 years ago

    Hi Philip,

    Thanks for providing an answer. Fee’s argument starts from the dubious premise that verses 34-35 “interrupt” the flow of argument. However on that criteria, several other passages would be candidates for interpolation, and choppy argumentation is no excuse for an interpolation. Furthermore the more difficult or uncomfortable reading is generally preferable.

    However your purely manuscript-based argument is very interesting but also a little confusing. I was left wondering which early manuscripts don’t include verses 34-35? My trusty UBS Greek Bible shows most of the major manuscripts with these verses in their correct location albeit with a few exceptions such as Ambrosiaster which place the verses at verse 40. Carson (‘Silent’, 142) points out that if there was an interpolation it would have had to have occurred very early in the manuscript history because it appears in so many early manuscripts. As you point out later scribal notations introduce the possibility of an interpolation but this doesn’t explain the presence of the verses in so many early manuscripts.

    Thanks again, though for your explanation, it’s good to discuss these things.


    D. A. Carson, ‘Silent in the Churches: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36’ in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

  • Wieland Willker 9 years ago

    1. The date of the umlauts/distigmai is not fully established yet. They still can be late. Ink analysis is needed.

    2. you wrote: “We know it is highly unlikely since no scribe of any surviving manuscript (and there are thousands) of any of Paul’s letters ever did anything like this in any other passage of Paul’s letters.”

    This is weak evidence, since it is an argument from silence. Many things happened only once in textual criticism.

  • Richard Fellows 9 years ago

    Thanks, Philip,

    I cite your piece on my new blog, where I mention that these verses should not be assessed in isolation, but should be weighed along with the other evidence that early Christians altered Paul’s writings to reduce the authority of women.

  • Peter Kirk 9 years ago

    Philip, I understand that your understanding of these distigmai has challenged by Peter Head at SBL, as summarised by Tommy Wassermann at http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2009/11/sbl-new-orleans-2009-i-peter-head.html and http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/2009/11/sbl-new-orleans-2009-i-peter-head_22.html. See in particular Curt Niccum’s comment on the latter, which mentions this 1 Corinthians passage and Codex Fuldensis. According to Peter the distigmai were probably added as late as the 16th century.

    Would you care to comment on how a different dating of the distigmai might affect your conclusions on this passage?

  • What does the prohibition against women speaking in church in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 mean? | CL-UAT 4 years ago

    […] Some scholars consider 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to be an interpolation (a passage that was not in the original text but was inserted at a later date). Philip B. Payne wrote an exhaustive book on the issue of gender roles in Paul’s writings and has also written several scholarly articles on the subject matter, as well as summarizing his findings on his blog. […]