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“‘As In All the Churches of the Saints’: A Text-Critical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35” by David W. Bryce in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“‘As In All the Churches of the Saints’: A Text-Critical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35” by David W. Bryce

The first thing to note in this chapter is that it directly contradicts the previous chapter. In the previous chapter, Kriewaldt and North made the claim that the textual integrity of this passage, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is “certain.” That word is a very strong claim. Yet at the very beginning of this chapter by David W. Bryce, we find that there are textual critical issues that indicate it does not have “certainty” when it comes to textual integrity. Indeed, the entire chapter is dedicated to just that issue. Of course, Bryce ultimately concludes that the text is not an interpolation, which could hardly be anything but a foregone conclusion given his theological commitments, but the very fact that there is enough material to even question whether the text is an interpolation must surely indicate it is not “certain.”

Bryce begins by noting an argument for the text here being an interpolation. Though no ancient manuscripts omit the verses, the placement is unclear because some manuscripts have it placed after verse 40, while others have it where it generally appears in modern English translations after verse 33. Bryce surveys the manuscripts and argues that the placement of the verses after verse 40 stems from a single, no longer extant Western manuscript (61).

Interestingly, Bryce then turns to a section in which he tries to discern who the alleged scribe is who may have tried to take 1 Cor. 14:34-35 out of the text. One of the aspects of the profile of this alleged single scribe is that “He opposed the exclusion of women from the ordained ministry and sought to reverse the traditional ecclesiastical practice of his day” (63). But what is this based upon? Nothing more than a conclusion that a non-extant single manuscript led to the verses being seen as a possible interpolation in the Western text type. Of course, those who have read a lot of textual criticism know conclusions based on extrapolated manuscripts aren’t uncommon; but to go from that extrapolation to theological conclusions about the alleged single (and male) scribe who may have taken the verses out of their context seems to be an exercise in mythmaking.

Yet Bryce is not content to merely leave it at some unnamed scribe of allegedly questionable theological motivations. Instead, he goes on to argue that the scribe is none other than the heretic Marcion! Just in case readers are confused by this jump, I want to outline the argument here. Bryce argues first that the evidence for 14:34-35 coming after verse 40 (and therefore possibly being an interpolation due to it being a “floating text” is only found in the Western tradition. Because it is only in a few manuscripts, he posits that the evidence comes originally from a single, earlier manuscript that no longer exists. Because it being an interpolation would aid those who believe women may be pastors [never mind any other possible motivations], he argues that it must be from a scribe who stood against his own tradition’s practice of not ordaining women. Now, he argues that this scribe was Marcion because Paul was “Marcion’s hero” and Marcion practiced exegesis by cutting out verses he didn’t like wholesale (64). Marcion used the Western text type, Bryce argues, and he would have had the motivation to take out these verses from the original text. From there, Bryce concludes that “Marcion had motive, opportunity, and an established modus operandi to excise this offensive passage and reclaim, what was for him, the pure text of St. Paul” (65).

Simply reading through this maze of reasoning ought to be enough to lead readers to question it, but there are any number of problems with his hypotheses. First, he has presented no actual reason to even think that the omission or movement of the text was intentional other than that it is a convenient text for his own position (and therefore someone would want to remove it). Second, Marcion’s creation of his own texts seems to have been rather notorious even in his own time, as Bryce notes in his own argument. If that’s the case, then why would a man who went from basically cutting out the Old Testament from the Bible go to such effort to try to remove a single verse? Why not simply publish an entirely new New Testament with all of his excisions therein instead of trying to plant a single manuscript somewhere to deceive later generations? Third, Bryce’s argument assumes quite a bit about how manuscripts can be transmitted intentionally by reading intention behind such a transmission of an alleged non-interpolation. After all, to read intent rather than error into the “mistake” is an evaluation of purpose of the scribe, one clearly not warranted when by Bryce’s own admission we don’t even have the alleged single original source manuscript. Fourth, Bryce’s own analysis of the text does not warrant his conclusion that the verses in question must have been original to the text (see next paragraph). Fifth, Bryce’s attempt to place a notorious heretic as the one to blame for evidence for an interpolation looks unfortunately like an attempt to poison the well against his opponents. Sixth, Bryce’s analysis of the textual critical data is mistaken (see below).

Philip B. Payne has argued forcefully for the text being an interpolation. In his work, Man and Woman: One in Christ he lays out the case, and while Bryce downplays or doesn’t include elements such as scribal distigme notating potential interpolations in the text. Moreover, directly in contradiction to Bryce’s conclusion, Payne notes that:

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.

So Bryce’s conclusion that the textual evidence can or should be traced back to a single Western manuscript is incorrect. Codex Vaticanus’s textual evidence reveals that the textual variant goes beyond the Western text type. This single piece of counter-evidence guts much of Bryce’s theorizing both regarding how pervasive the variant is and, certainly, all of his hypotheses about Marcion being responsible. Payne’s article also notes several issues with Bryce’s analysis of MS. 88, as interested readers can peruse.

Bryce’s essay, then, is mistaken on several counts. First, his theorizing about the source of the textual variant (again, which simple existence contradicts the previous chapter in this very book) is based upon tenuous evidence at best. Second, his analysis of the textual critical evidence misses key points regarding the Western tradition and beyond. It seems that those who argue that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 indeed an interpolation may be on to something, and that Bryce’s argument, though requiring an answer, doesn’t overcome the evidence of the text being just such an interpolation. Surely Bryce, with his commitment to ensuring we only follow those texts that are original to the Bible, would therefore agree that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 must not be followed in “all the churches of the saints.”

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Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.

SDG.

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