This post questions the authenticity of the section in Paul’s writings where we read that “rulers of this age” crucified “the Lord of glory” followed by a passage said to be a citation of Scripture but that appears only elsewhere in the Ascension of Isaiah. The arguments for interpolation are derived from William O. Walker Jr’s chapter 6 of Interpolations in the Pauline Letters.
6 We speak wisdom among those who are perfect, although it is not a wisdom belonging to this world, nor to the governing powers [rulers] of this world [age], which are being brought to nothing,
7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God purposed before the worlds (or: ages), with a view to our glory.
8 This wisdom none of the governing powers [rulers] of this world (-age) has known. For if they had recognized it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
9 But as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen and no ear has heard and that never entered into any man’s heart, all the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”
10 For to us God has revealed them through the Spirit. For the Spirit explores all things, including even the depths of God.
11 For who among men knows what a man is but the man’s own spirit within him? In the same way no one has recognized what God is but the Spirit of God.
12 We, however, have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that comes from God, so that we may know what has been bestowed upon us by God.
13 And it is also of this that we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught us by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things in spiritual terms.
14 The unspiritual (“psychical”) man, however, does not receive the things of God’s Spirit. For they are foolishness in his eyes and he cannot recognize them, because they are (or: must be) spiritually interpreted.
15 The spiritual man, however, judges all things, but is not himself subject to anyone’s judgment.
16 For “who has discerned the mind of the Lord, so as to instruct him?” We, however, have the Spirit of Christ.
(Based on Conzelmann’s translation)
For readers impatient to get the main overview, here is a crude list of reasons some scholars have suggested the passage was not originally composed by Paul:
- numerous linguistic peculiarities seriously call into question Pauline authorship;
- the passage contradicts what Paul says elsewhere;
- the consistent use of ‘we’ and other features distinguish 2.6-16 form-critically from its immediate context;
- the presence of the passage in 1 Corinthians can plausibly be explained as an attempt by Corinthian ‘pneumatics’ to correct what they saw as Paul’s distortion of their position.
(Walker’s summary of Widman’s discussion: Widmann, Martin, “I Kor 2 6-16: Ein Einspruch gegen Paulus”, ZNW 70 (1979), pp. 44-53.)
Conzelmann writes in his commentary (p. 57),
The section 2:6-16 stands out from its context both in style and in content. It presents a self-contained idea, a commonplace of “wisdom.” It is a contradiction of his previous statements when Paul now announces after all a positive, undialectical possibility of cultivating a wisdom of the “perfect.”
Walker summarizes (p. 128) E. Earle Ellis’s view of the evidence for a non-Pauline origin:
- the shift from the singular … to the plural with the “we”, i.e. the pneumatics as the subject …
- the unity of the section independent of its context, and
- the considerable number of phrases not found elsewhere in the Pauline literature’.
On the basis of such evidence, Ellis concludes that “on balance, 1 Cor. 2.6-16 is probably a pre-formed piece that Paul has employed and adapted to its present context”.
Walker thus points out three possibilities:
- it was composed by Paul, using ideas and terminology taken from his opponents,
- it was composed by someone other than Paul but was included in the Corinthian letter by Paul, or
- it was both written and added to the Corinthian letter by someone other than Paul (not necessarily the same person, however).
Walker argues for #3. In doing so he addresses the counter-claims of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor who concludes that the passage is indeed by Paul (Interpolations in 1 Corinthians – link is to JSTOR article).
No Manuscript Evidence for Interpolation?
Some biblical scholars insist that we cannot make a serious case for interpolations unless we have anomalous manuscript evidence that physically demonstrates variations in editing lines. This is essentially an ostrich argument. The earliest manuscripts we have are those produced by the winners of the theological wars. We know editors fought their battles by modifying source texts. This state of affairs is not unique to the biblical texts since it is well-known that in other ancient literature interpolations were very common, and a problem that even ancient custodians (as in the Alexandrian Library) confronted. (See the Interpolations posts for additional discussion.)
Contextual Evidence for Interpretation
There is an abrupt shift at verse 6
- from the singular “I” to the plural “we”;
- from aorist to the present tense;
- from autobiographical reminiscence to timeless propositions (similar to a “pneumatic eulogy” as found in 1 John)
The passage (6-16) is a completely self-contained unit, of a quite different genre from the surrounding text.
The surrounding autobiographical text (2:1-5 and 3:1-4) “is interrupted by [the anonymous] 2:6-16 with its panegyric to Wisdom and its possessors.” (p. 132) Without the verses 6-16 we have a “smoothly connected passage” addressing Paul’s first visit to Corinth in which he emphasizes his own weakness and the carnal nature of his hearers. The surrounding passages do refer to wisdom but they do so in a quite different sense from sentences in 2:6-16.
The passage is interrupted, however, by ‘an exposition of the exalted status and role of the Christian pneumatic as one who is privy to divine mysteries, a theme that does not appear to have its genesis in the critique of the Corinthian practices’.
(Walker quoting Ellis, 134)
Murphy-O’Connor has countered with the notion that Paul has taken over the language of his opponents. However, the passage in itself is in no way polemical (despite many translators unnecessarily opening up the section with the word ‘but’ or ‘however’) and no opponents are being addressed in the surrounding passages at all. Paul is merely addressing his converts who are behaving with rivalry.
Walker concludes this section with a six-point set of considerations that point towards interpolation (p.137):
- The shift from singular to plural number.
- The shift from aorist to present tense.
- The interruption of the autobiographical material with a timeless panegyric to Wisdom.
- The lack of evidence for the view that 2.6-16 represents Paul’s polemical use of the terminology and ideas of his opponents.
- The possibility that the repetition in 3.1 of the κἀγὼ and ἀδελφοί in 2.1 suggests the presence of intrusive material and an attempt in 3.1 to pick up again the threads of 2.1-5.
- The possibility that 3.1 in its entirety may represent a secondary link between 2.1-5 and 3.2-4.
Linguistic Evidence for Interpolation
Ellis points to the following phrases as not being found anywhere else in Paul’s letters:
- rulers of this age (2:6, 8)
- the Lord of Glory (2:8)
- the spirit of man (2:11)
- the spirit of the world (2:12)
- the spirit who is from God (2:12)
- the natural (psychic) man (2:14)
- the mind of the Christ (2:16)
(Also, the word “taught” v.13 and “spiritually” v. 14 are not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters.)
Walker then offers us another list, one from Widmann noting “linguistic, terminological peculiarities in the passage” that suggest interpolation (I translate the Greek terms into English):
- Use of ‘solemn mystery-language’ to characterize Christian proclamation rather than Paul’s usual kerygmatic, eschatological terminology.
- Portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion not in kerygmatic terms but rather as a crime perpetrated by “the rulers of this age” (v. 8).
- Reference to political or demonic authorities as “rulers of this age” (v. 8).
- Use of “Lord of Glory” as a title for Christ (v. 8).
- Presence of an Apocryphal citation (v. 9).
- ‘Completely unique development of the word-group “spirit”, “spiritual”, in which “spirit” serves not, as for Paul, ‘as a designation for the “salvation-history” presence of Christ in the community’ but rather ‘as organ of knowledge and … as divine self-consciousness’ (vv. 10-15).
- Non-Pauline use of ‘the dualistic anthropological conceptual pair Psychic-Pneumatic, originating from Gnostic speech‘, to differentiate humankind into two classes of people (vv. 14-15).
- ‘Further development of the pneumatic-language’ along nonPauline lines with ‘the proud, self-confident statement: “We, however, have the mind of Christ” (v. 16), in which “mind of Christ” is used as a synonym for ‘Spirit’. [Contrast Romans 11:34 where Paul writes that no-one has known the mind of the Lord!]
Walker surveys Murphy-O’Connor’s assertions that the arguments for interpolation are unpersuasive (his main objection is that M-O fails to address all of the points for interpolation and is content to rely upon the weakness of just a few of them in isolation) and makes his own view clear (139-40):
My own judgment is that the linguistic data are more nearly compatible with the interpolation hypothesis than with the opposing view (for example, the presence within the scope of only 11 verses — a total of barely over 200 words — of two words and at least nine phrases not found elsewhere in the authentic Pauline letters surely cannot be disregarded. . . .
[A]rguments for interpolation are inevitably cumulative in nature. No single argument can be taken as conclusive.
. . . Murphy-O’Connor does not deal with most of these data at all.
Ideational Evidence for Interpolation
Many scholars have commented on the significant differences of thought expressed in 2:6-16 from Paul’s thought elsewhere. We have outright contradictions, in fact. The passage expresses a Gnostic idea of wisdom and is opposed to the discussion of wisdom in the surrounding verses. Walker cites Widmann’s eight ideational differences between the passage and its immediate context (141-42):
- Christian speech is viewed as the mysterious hidden divine Wisdom or ‘the deep things of God’ rather than as the openly proclaimed word of the cross.
- Crucifixion is seen as an act committed in ignorance by ‘archons of this aeon’ rather than as the ‘ground of salvation established by God in Christ’.
- A positive evaluation of wisdom is made rather than rejecting wisdom and, paradoxically, identifying the preaching of the cross as wisdom.
- A maturity of pneumatics is exalted rather than such ‘maturity’ being depicted as arrogance and the inferior position and earthly weakness of both preachers and members of the community being emphasized.
- A distinction between psychics and pneumatics is made, both with predetermined destinies, rather than between Jews and Greeks, both with equal need of and access to salvation in Christ.
- An elaborate understanding is shown of the Spirit as the means of access to ‘the depths of God’ and supernatural wisdom rather than more primitively as the ‘strange miraculous power’ and eschatological gift work in the ‘difficult, weak, all-too-human task of mission’ and the ‘daily practice of faith’.
- Preaching is understood as ‘esoteric mystery-speech’ rather than as the community’s intelligible human ‘missionary and catechetical work’.
- An attitude of ‘superiority over all criticism’ is displayed rather than the realization of being weak, fearful, earthly beings, far from self-honor, far from the goal, and ‘therefore ready to submit to every criticism’.
(Italics original, underlining mine)
The 1 Cor.2:6-16 is not an ironical twist with the author throwing back at his opponents their terminology to refute their arguments:
1 Corinthians 2.6-16, in its entirety, appears to contradict Paul’s views as expressed immediately preceding and following in the same letter.
Revelation schema: long-hidden wisdom is now revealed. Also found in . . .
Col. 1:26-27 – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory
Eph. 3:5, 9-10 – the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets . . . to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms
2 Tim. 1:9-10 – This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
Titus 1:2-3 – eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me
1 Peter 1:20 – He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Rom. 16:25-27 – the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for eternal ages, but now has been revealed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known according to the command of the eternal God
Interestingly, all of the above references are found in disputed Pauline passages.
See also Just., Apol. 1.13.4; Iren., Haer. 3.13.1; Hipp., Ref. 5.8.5, 26; 6.35.1; 7.25-27; Cl. Al., Strom. 1.55.1,179.1; 5.60f, 64.6, 65.5, 87.1; 6.166.3. – Conzelmann, 58
We have here what has been technically termed the “revelation schema”:
the “mystery” had been decreed by God from eternal ages, but remained hidden, and now is revealed.
Walker notes that this schema
appears only in the pseudo-Pauline, never in the Pauline, writings.
The only two exceptions: Romans 16:25-27 (“widely regarded as an interpolation”) and 1 Cor. 2:6-16.
(I find it interesting that this particular “revelation schema” is a major point in some mythicist arguments, including those of Earl Doherty. It leads one to speculate about the historical trajectories of various early “Christianities”.)
Comparative Evidence for Interpolation
Walker singles out the following aspects of the thought-world of 1 Cor. 2:6-16 that belong more typically to post-Pauline and pseudo-Pauline writings than to the supposedly authentic of Paul’s letters:
- The contrast between ‘a secret and hidden wisdom of God’ and ‘a wisdom of this age [and] of the rulers of this age’;
- the implied distinction between ‘the mature’ or ‘the perfect’ … and ordinary Christians; and
- the presence of … ‘the revelation schema’: ‘the “mystery” had been decreed by God from eternal ages, but remained hidden and now is revealed.
#1 and #2 are typical of later Gnostic ideas but not of the accepted Pauline works.
Recall the danger of the “if it fits” form of argument. Walker is aware that he cannot “prove” a case for interpolation. It is also a mistake, he reminds us, to take each point of the argument in isolation and reject it without considering the cumulative effect “of converging lines of evidence”.
The crucial question must always be in which direction does the cumulative preponderance of the evidence point?
This has been another post I have decided to set down for future reference when I return to a more detailed discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah.
Conzelmann, Hans. 1975. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Edited by George W. MacRae. Translated by James W. Leitch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Walker, William Jr. 2002. Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.
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