Pastoral interpolation in 1 Corinthians 10-11

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by Neil Godfrey

The question of the authenticity of the Last Supper passage (1 Cor. 11:23-26) in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians came up in a discussion recently, and having not long ago read Winsome Munro’s Authority in Paul and Peter (1983) I found myself presenting a case that not only that passage, but a good slice of its surrounding material, is also a later (“nonpauline”) addition to the original letter.

So here is my take on Munro’s argument for this section of 1 Corinthians:

Winsome Munro argues that the entirety of 10:23-11:29 is a later pastoral stratum with more in common with Colossians, Ephesians and 1 Peter than the generally undisputed Pauline thought.

First look at the the passage preceding 10:23. In 10:14-22 we read:

1. Exhortation (10:14-15)
Wherefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.

2. Questions (10:16)
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?

3. Explanation (10:17)
seeing that we, who are many, are one bread, one body: for we are all partake of the one bread.

1. Exhortation (10:18)
Behold Israel after the flesh:

2. Questions (10:18-19)
have not they that eat the sacrifices communion with the altar? What say I then? that a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything?

3. Explanation (10:20)
But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have communion with demons.

1. Exhortation (10:21)
Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons.

2. Questions (10:22)
Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?

3. Explanation

Munro will argue that the expected explanation that originally followed here has been shifted back to 11:30 as a result of a large slice of inserted material. (Many commentators of I Corinthians suggest that this letter is a composite of several letters or parts of letters. Munro sees, rather, the hand of a later redactor at work to bring the original into conformity with later “pastoral” ideals.) Hence the original would read:

1. Exhortation (10:21)
Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons: ye cannot partake of the table of the Lord, and of the table of demons.

2. Questions (10:22)
Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he?

3. Explanation (11:30)
For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep.

Note how each explanation ties in linguistically with the question:

  • The question about bread is explained with a reference to bread.
  • The question about sacrifice is explained with reference to sacrifice.
  • The final question (missing an answer as the letter has come down to us) is asking how their strength compared against God’s, in particular a God they were provoking to jealousy. The answer is in 11:30: For this reason many are weak and sick among you . . . .

From 10:14 to 10:22 (cited above) Paul has forbidden touching anything that might be contaminated with idol sacrifice. If food has been sacrificed to idols it is “demonized” and the author forbids it totally. God is a jealous God! Are you stronger than he?


But from 10:23 there is not just a change in tone, there is a reversal of argument. Suddenly the writer says, despite the reference to the jealous God but a line above, that all things are indeed lawful for him, and that eating food sacrificed to idols is excusable after all! Just don’t go asking questions! What you don’t know won’t hurt you! But keep it secret from the weaker brethren!

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. . . . Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? . . . .

How many students new to the Bible have not been initially befuddled by this switch in thought in 1 Corinthians?

In the above extract I have omitted the rationale for this flip-flopped argument to make clear the stark contrast of what the author suddenly appears to be saying compared to what he had written just previously. A later “redactor” wanting to make a fairly widely known text say something more compatible with his own view could not afford to delete passages that would doubtless be well known. But he was free to add passages and accuse his rivals of selective quoting, of failing to read the whole letter.

Below I have quoted 10:23-33 in full. Note how the rationales (bold type) conform to what we know of the later pastoral values in the “Church” literature: a complete break from Judaism and a sense of Stoic duty and ethics for the good of the social order.

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. Let no man seek his own, but each his neighbor’s good. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If one of them that believe not biddeth you to a feast, and ye are disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if any man say unto you, This hath been offered in sacrifice, eat not, for his sake that showed it, and for conscience sake: conscience, I say, not thine own, but the other’s; for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.

Can one imagine this Paul, the “Paul” who told the Corinthians that he sought to please all men in all things, was the same Paul who wrote to the Galatians:

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal.1:10)?

Or that he is the same Paul who argued openly with Peter rather and gave not a damn about avoiding offence to those weaker and less mature in their understanding of food laws, the Jews:

But when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men had come from James, he would eat with the Gentiles: but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him . . . (Gal.2:11-13)?

Can one imagine this Paul changing his religious practices in order to avoid offending others? No, this is the Pastoralist who elsewhere commands the brethren to obey and conform to all human laws and ethical norms so that society at large can see their good works and hopefully itself be saved, to live as free men but using their freedom to do good and not selfishly. See 1 Peter 2:11 ff. It is not the “extremist” of the original letter who threatened people with death from a jealous God if thy ate anything related to a sacrifice to an idol.

So far we have, beginning with 10:23, an unexpected interruption in the flow of both rhetorical style and direction of argument.


But what of the next passage, especially 11:2-16, that seems to allow women to speak in church gatherings? Does not that passage sound so very “pauline” and contrary to that later passage that so many argue on several grounds is a definite later interpolation:

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak: but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. (1 Cor.14:34-35)?

But this passage (and consider it in its larger context of 14:32-38) that is generally recognized as a later redaction (forgery), has more points in common with 11:2-16 than are readily recognized. In both 11:14 and 14:37 f we find the ultimate appeal to apostolic authority; we also find the appeal to what is standard practice in all churches (11:16; 14:33); and in both passages we find appeals to what is generally recognized as decent and proper in society at large.

The passage also appeals to “nature” and ethics derived from reasoning from what is “natural”:

Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a dishonour to him? (11:14)

That is pure Stoicism. It is not the Paul who knows only Christ and the mind of Christ. (Besides, it was not a shame in Jewish culture for a man to have long hair. Recall the Nazirites, of which Acts says Paul was one.)

Other ways in which 11:2-16 reflect later post-pauline developments is in its appeal to the classic inferior status of the origin and place of women in relation to men. This passage sets out as clear as day that the woman is inferior to and derivative from man as man is inferior to and derivative from Christ. This is not the pen of the Paul who wrote:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3: 28)

There are many indications in 11:2-16 of a church many years subsequent to the times of the earliest beginnings. 11:2 appeals to the authority of the apostle as if that were something universally acknowledged as beyond dispute, and it also appeals to “the traditions” that had by that time built up over years and been passed on. It is clear that the original author in the opening chapters did not consider himself as an undisputed authority who only had to utter a wish and all would obey. The original letter was addressed to factions, many of whom openly disputed the author’s authority. It was a later generation, the generation of the later “editor”, who could look back confident that the mere mention of the name of Paul was sufficient to incite instant reverential obedience.

But what of that passage that appears to allow women to speak in church?

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head, for that is one and the same thing as if her head were shaved (11:5)

Munro argues, with others, that if the covering is a reference to the veil worn by women, then we must recall that the veil was worn as a sign of submission to the man, (and as a protection in relation to the angels). If so, then Paul is saying that it is a shame for a woman to speak without her veil, yet if she wears a veil she is acknowledging her submission to the man and has no need to speak.

So we have here a sexist passage antithetical to the thought of equality of sexes and races found elsewhere in Paul. And where else does Paul express such retentive worries about how people have their hair done or what they place or don’t place on their skulls? This is a continuation of a pastoralist strain of thought inconsistent with what is generally acknowledged as anything genuinely “Pauline”.


Then the next passage begins (11:17-19) with a thought that makes no sense if we try to reconcile it with the same pen that went ballistic in attacking factionalism in chapters 1-3. We go from “I beg you please, since it has been declared to me how contentious you lot are, how carnally divided you all are. . .” to “I have heard a rumour and I think I partly believe it . . . ”

It is incomprehensible to try to think how this half believing a rumour on the basis of some prophecy that factions had to happen could be from the pen of the original author who declared specifically the nature of the factions and poured outrage on them all. The interloper is gently introducing a change to a happy communal fellowship to make it more sombrely ritualistic and controlled.

What we are reading here is a continuation of pastoral rules, begun with how to conduct one’s shopping in the market and avoiding offence and followed with instructions on how and why to arrange the appearance of one’s head in church. The mere thought of such legalistic instructions, let alone their ritualistic imposition on the recipients of this letter, would have been alien to the thought of the original author.

The Lord’s Supper, according to the original letter (10:16-17), was a meal to commemorate the unity of all as one body in Christ. The partaking of it symbolized their unity in Christ, as one body, one bread. A unity uncorrupted by association with idols. But this eucharist was not to the “pastoralist’s” liking. It was too much like an uncontrolled feast. Not without some exaggeration and causing some indignation, I am sure, he wrote:

When therefore ye assemble yourselves together, it is not possible to eat the Lord’s supper: for in your eating each one taketh before other his own supper; and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What, have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you? In this I praise you not. (1 Cor. 11:20-22)

So he imposed his more familiar and “controlled” cultic order on the rest of the church. More than mere unity, the Last Supper now represented the more sombre memorial of the dead, and the making of the covenant:

For I received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me. In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as often as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)

The author treats the meal ritualistically. He is addressing his readers as if they do not. And in the earlier reference to this meal there was no such detailed ritual. See again 10:14-17. He has already addressed the idols issue, and has used this as an opportunity to introduce other “pastoral” like authoritarian instructions. In verses 23-26 he puts his final stamp on the whole way of handling the eucharist meal, bringing it into the realm of controlled ritual. He has presumably taken this ritualistic wording (wording that he has his implied author declare is from another source, the Lord) from the Gospel of Luke. The pastoral phase of the church was a second century development, long after the original Paul and gospels are presumed to have been composed.

Further, as Robert Price has also pointed out, the ritual introduced (from Luke) speaks of “the cup”, not some historical “a cup”. It is speaking from the perspective of “the cup” of the ritual, and historicizing this ritual.

Stylistic support

A technical note (Munro’s, not mine):

“Stylistic confirmation for the above analysis of 1 Cor 10 and 11 is to be found in the regular occurrences of antithetic parallels throughout the material ascribed to the later stratum.” (p.78)

10:1-13 contains 1 antithetic parallel in 23 lines (23 lines per occurrence)

10:14-22; 11:3-32 contains 2 antithetic parallels in 17.6 lines (8.8 lines per occurrence)

10:23-11:1 contains 4 antithetic parallels in 17 lines (4.25 lines per occurrence)

11:2-16 contains 6 antithetic parallels in 25 lines (4.2 lines per occurrence)

11:17-22 contains 3 antithetic parallels in 11 lines (3.7 lines per occurrence)

11:23-25 contains 0 antithetic parallels in 9 lines

11:27-29; 33f contains 2 antithetic parallels in 8 lines (4.0 lines per occurrence)

In all parts of the material assigned to the later stratum there is much the same frequency of antithetic parallels — except of course for that famous Lucan passage (11:23-25), which even the text says comes from another source.

Similar results are found for the other chapters as well, but time forbids me from listing these here. Perhaps another post. (Suffice to say that I Cor 7 which comes closest to these stats is the most “anti-pastoral” of all passages and the one which the “pastoralist” was aiming to neutralize the most — this contains a similar number of antithetic parallels — so it appears our ‘pastoralist’ has adopted its style as a model for his “Pauline” fabrication.)

More glue to join the broken text

Look again at the “original text” and how it reads without the 10:23-11:29 interruptions:

I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say . . . . You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

Munro points to the use of “we” that I’ve highlighted here. The first person plural that is used in 10:14-22 is picked up again in 11:30, whereas it is nowhere found in 10:23-11:29. This would appear to add a little strength to the argument on other grounds that 10:23-11:29 has broken up and squeezed in to the middle of an original passage.

There is also much talk of judgment in section following from 10:26:

Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. For he that eateth and drinketh, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, if he discern not the body. For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep. But if we discerned ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, wait one for another. If any man is hungry, let him eat at home; that your coming together be not unto judgment. And the rest will I set in order whensoever I come.

The nonitalicized portion are the words Munro argues belong directly following from 10:22. 11:30-32 does tie in well with 10:14-22. They do carry the theme of judgment, of judging ourselves before God judges us, and when we are punished by God it is so that we won’t be punished with the rest of the world. All this follows neatly from an admonition by Paul to judge carefully what he is about to say (10:15) and his warning that we run the risk of provoking God’s jealousy and suffering the same fate as ancient Israel.

But don’t these same nonitalicized words also appear to follow naturally from the previous sentence where they currently are since they also speak of judgment? Munro explains that interpolations frequently appear to repeat words from the surrounding original text apparently to construct a more plausible sounding way of having them flow or fit together. The introduction of the judgement terminology that you discuss here are seen by Munro as possible links to the adjacent original fragment.

11:30-32 belong after 10:22 and 11:33-34 (the italicized portion following the nonitalicized sentences) follow on directly from the thought of 11:29.

The original letter argued for celibacy in preference to marriage (1 Cor. 7:32-33) although only a few had this gift (7:7). It called on believers to avoid at all costs any food that had been contaminated with idol sacrifice (10:20-21 — c.f. 10:7). It spoke threateningly of the cautionary tale of ancient Israel. Many of them met the ultimate punishment because they dared to tempt God with their idolatrous practices (10:1-12).

A later cleric reading this original came to the part that declared many of the believers were ill, and many had even died, just like the ancient Israelites who had tempted God, for eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. This cleric was from a more Stoical “tradition” that emphasized accommodation to the world, to ‘save’ the world of course, and that strove to preserve unity at all costs in the church. When he read this original condemnation he said “No! That’s going too far and is just not practical in the real world. People are not sick because they have acted ‘reasonably’. If anything, they are sick because they make gluttons of themselves and are not soberly recalling the death of their Lord when they eat the eucharist.”

So he carefully spoke of his socially oriented ethic, an ethic far removed from the original Paul. “Don’t make life complicated or embarrassing by asking any questions about where your food comes from”. (Pastoral epistles are big on making a good impression on outsiders. Paul couldn’t give a damn about ‘pleasing men’.) This is certainly not the thought of the Paul of Galatians who will not budge an inch on his theological principles merely for the sake of avoiding offence to anyone. Nor is it the thought of 1 Cor. 10:14-22 which demands complete avoidance of food tainted with idolatrous associations.

(Okay, nor is the compromise position found here also a full-fledged Pastoralist position; Munro suggests that this compromise position, also found in Romans, belongs to a catholicizing period that proved a failure. Why else would the interpolator even have been bothered with these epistles unless it was to sanitize them and bring Paul ‘into the fold’? But the failure of the attempt led to the later Pastorals to give up on the idea.)

Our cleric has taken a mile now he has gained an inch, and cannot resist bringing the women under control. How he must have felt threatened by churches nourished on the original teaching of all being equal, without difference, in Christ! A Church full of Pauls and Theclas, living celibate but like brothers and sisters, equals!

But our cleric has further found a more proto-pastoralist-friendly guilt issue over which to blame people for their illnesses. It is because they do not respect the formal eucharistic ritual that he is pushing. Not because they simply ate food they could not easily avoid or because they did not go along with some original so-called “pauline” instruction. No, they were now threatened with the final judgment of God if they stepped outside the controls and order he was seeking to impose.


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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “Pastoral interpolation in 1 Corinthians 10-11”

  1. You wrote:

    Winsome Munro argues that the entirety of 10:23-11:29 is a later pastoral stratum with more in common with Colossians, Ephesians and 1 Peter than the generally undisputed Pauline thought.

    Alfred Loisy and Joseph Turmel were two other scholars who argued that the components of 1 Corinthians do not all belong to the same time period. This later dating of some sections can jibe too with my own amateur view of Christian origins, namely, that gMark is an allegory about Simon of Samaria, and that the provenance of the Pauline letters was Simonian; some parts going back to Simon of Samaria himself, and others to his successor Menander (leaving out of consideration the final reworking around 130 CE by a proto-orthodox Christian.) Such a scenario would place many passages in a different light, especially perhaps the most interesting of them: the one that concerns the Last Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26). This passage is the only one where the author of the letters shows any interest in an incident from the Son’s life other than the crucifixion and resurrection. But what if in reality the words are Menander’s?

    From the pen of Menander the words “For I received from the Lord…” would mean that Menander received from “Paul”/Simon (either before or after the Great One’s death) the information about what had transpired the night before the “handing over.” Simon was called “Lord”, at least by his later followers (see Hippolytus, the Refutation of All Heresies 6, 20). Their use of this title for him is understandable, for he claimed to be a new incarnation of the Son who had suffered in Judaea.

    And in this scenario the “handing over” would refer to “Paul”/Simon’s being handed over to the Gentiles by the Jerusalem Jews who had bound him and started to beat him to death:

    “Thus says the Holy Spirit: this is the way the Jews will bind the owner of this belt in Jerusalem, and they will hand him over (paradosousin) to the Gentiles.” (Acts 21:11)

    In the 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 passage, then, Menander would be providing the basis for a rite he claimed to have learned about from Simon/Paul. The Lord (i.e., Simon/Paul) initiated it when he went to Jerusalem for the last time and tried to convince the Twelve of his great “Body of Christ” mystery: “This is my body that is for you” (i.e., soma body, in the stoical sense, not sarka flesh, in the sense of his material body. See Michelle Lee’s Paul, the Stoics, and the Body of Christ. And for the Stoic influence on what I view as the earlier form of the doctrine in Simon’s Great Announcement, see Recherches sur Simon le Mage, pp. 78-82, by J.M.A. Salles-Dabadie).

    The proto-orthodox anti-heretical writings about Simon of Samaria never connect him with any teaching about baptism or the eucharist. They describe him as requiring for salvation that one have the gnosis he imparted by believing and hoping in him. But nowhere is it said that he required any kind of baptismal or eucharistic rite. The first mention of baptism in a Simonian context is in the admittedly scant information the proto-orthodox give us about Simon’s successor Menander:

    His (Menander’s) disciples received resurrection through baptism into him… (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1,23,5).

    My suspicion then is that it was Menander who introduced mystery type rites into Simonianism sometime toward the end of the first century CE. The 1 Cor. 11:23-26 passage may be from him.

    1. Just one question for now: Is there any overlap between Michelle Lee’s “Paul, the Stoics, and the Body of Christ” and Engberg-Pedersen’s “Paul and the Stoics”? What is the relationship between stoicism and the body of Christ. (Okay, 2 questions.)

      1. I haven’t read Engberg-Pedersen’s book. But in the introduction to Lee’s book she says that she first became aware of it as she was completing her own. Comparing the two she says

        The following argument about the body of Christ corresponds well to Engberg-Pedersen’s abstract model… the present work will provide an example of a more concrete understanding of Engberg-Pedersen’s basic structure. However, I will argue that it is not only the basic structure but the type of content of this model which helps us understand Paul, specifically the significance of bodily unity in understanding the moral agent’s identification with the “We.” (p. 18)

        And at the conclusion of her book she writes:

        In the introduction I discussed Engberg-Pedersen’s model of Stoic and Pauline ethics in which one moves from the individual, or I-level, to the group, or S-level, after having been “struck” by something from outside oneself at the X-level. He concludes that there was “a single, basic thought structure that is formulated in both Stoic ethics and in Paul.” In this work I have similarly sketched a movement from individual to group identity. However, whereas Engberg-Pedersen identifies reason as the factor in the Stoics’ X-level in comparison with Christ in Paul’s X-level, I have more specifically identified the “mind of Christ” as the factor behind the movement. Thus, I propose that reason is also the key to the movement for Paul, but with reason corresponding to the nous Christou. (pp. 199-200)

        Lee shows that the connection between Stoic physics and ethics looks very much like the connection Paul establishes between his own ethics and the “body of Christ.” The Stoics “applied the concept of a bodily unity of humanity and the gods and used this as the basis for their ethical systems” (p. 101). Paul does a Christian version of the same thing. For the Stoics the universe “becomes a unified body through pneuma and is governed by nous” (p. 57), while for Paul those roles in the body of Christ belong to the Spirit and the “mind of Christ.”

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