James McGrath has ridiculed any reference to an argument for interpolation if there is no manuscript evidence for it. But this simply avoids addressing the actual arguments that are sometimes advanced for an interpolation. By avoiding the arguments he sophistically reasons that if there is a claim for interpolation then he is equally free to say that an editor has removed the evidence that will support his case. One would expect evidence of more learning from an associate professor.
This post looks at arguments by scholars who give us strong reasons to accept the possibility, even likelihood, of interpolations in Paul’s letters despite absence of manuscript evidence.
Richard Carrier has an excellent blog post discussing two clear interpolations in Paul’s letters: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. His conclusion should be seen in the context of what William O. Walker has described as a “culture of interpolations” in that era.
Firstly, Carrier’s conclusion to his blog post:
There can be no doubt that these passages are interpolations (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). This proves Christians had no problem doctoring the letters of Paul to make him say things he didn’t say. And if they did this in these two cases, how many other passages in Paul are inauthentic? Remember, we caught these cases because we got lucky (the interpolators were sloppy, they just happened to pick things to say that contradicted Paul, and we just happen to have some telltale evidence in the manuscripts). Most interpolations won’t have left such evidence (most will not so blatantly contradict Paul, and most of the ones, like these, that were inserted before 200 A.D. won’t have just by chance left any evidence in the manuscripts). It is therefore necessarily the case that there are three or more interpolations in the letters of Paul that we don’t know about (statistically, if most won’t be evident, and two are evident, then there must be at least three not evident). Would you ever bet your life on which passage isn’t one of them?
I’ve posted several times on interpolations in Paul’s letters, sometimes with reference to different discussions by Walker and Munro, and more recently reasons to suspect Galatians 1:18-19 and Romans 1:2-6 as being interpolations. To repeat something I said recently, given what we know of what Walker described as the literary culture of interpolations of that era:
William O. Walker in Interpolations in Paul refers to what he calls a literary culture of interpolations in which he shows why the lack of manuscript evidence is a virtual non-starter. Walker lists many classical and Christian texts that scholars can see, without any need for manuscript evidence, do contain interpolations.
Here are interpolated texts Walker uses to justify his term “a culture of interpolations”:
- Homer’s Iliad
- Homer’s Odyssey
- Letters of Plato
- Letters of Aristotle
- Letters of Epicurus
- Letters of Seneca
- The Testimonium Flavianum or at least part thereof;
- The Sibylline Oracles,
- The Synagogal Prayers and such literature
- The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,
- The Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
- 4 Ezra.
- The LXX
- Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, claimed “heretics” had both added to and deleted from his letters.
- Irenaeus feared his writings would be interpolated.
- “Many Greek patristic writings” according to Rufinius
- Letters of Paul and gospel of Luke according to Marcion
- Pentateuch and gospels were likely built up layer by layer
- Epistles of Ignatius
- The adulterous woman episode in gospel of John
- The longer ending of Mark
- Perhaps final chapter of John
- The Western text of the Gospels and Acts
- And even the Western “non-interpolations”
We know from the above cases that the manuscript evidence is clearly often not critical at all!
An argument against interpolation must meet the arguments for interpolation head-on; we cannot begin an argument against interpolation simply by noting lack of textual evidence, . . . (Simpson p.43, as quoted in an earlier post)
Simpson sums up the methodological argument in relation to 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 best when he writes:
The virtue of the interpolation view, as it has been developed by Pearson and Schmidt, is, as we shall see, that it seeks to solve the broadest range of problems, that is, that it draws out in a valuable way the evidence which any view of 1 Thess 2:15f. must take into account.
I suggest that he addresses here a principle that extends beyond this one particular biblical passage.
Now, back to those old scholarly suggestions that even Galatians 1:18-19 and Romans 1:2-6 just may, reasonably, be suspected of being interpolation . . . .
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