2021-05-10

Did Paul Quote Jesus on Divorce? — Getting History for Atheists Wrong (Again) — #5

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Getting History for Atheists Wrong (Again) — #4

An examination of the claim that “Paul refers to his teachings that Jesus made during in his earthly ministry, on divorce . . .”

Source-Data Interpretation External facts / context related to interpretation
1 Corinthians 7:10-11

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 1 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

Paul is recollecting the teaching of Jesus found in Mark 10:9-12 and Luke 16:18 that others had passed on to him. (“Paul cites Apostolic, Jewish-Christian tradition as his source of authority.” (Tomson, 117))

Mark 10:9-12

… Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. … Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.

Luke 16:18

Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

 

Paul insisted he learned nothing from others about the gospel of Jesus

Galatians 1:11-12; 2:6

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 

. . . As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.

One wonders if it was possible that this rudimentary principle, which is alien to ancient society but was recognized by the whole of primitive Christianity, should have remained unknown in Corinth. At all events it is expressed in such a way that it sounds as if Paul was making it known for the first time. (Conzelmann, 120)

Baur has objected that if Paul had meant to cite a positive command of the Lord, he must have used the past παρήγγειλεν (He commanded), and not the present. . . . No doubt it might also be that the apostle meant to say he had received this command by revelation (Godet, 332f)

Paul omits the limitation put by the Lord on the command not to separate: “unless it be for adultery.” (Godet, 333)

Thus Paul not only corrects himself, but knowingly cites Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and passes it on in indirect discourse to married believers in an absolute, unqualified form, as coming from the risen Christ. Cf. 14:37, “a commandment of the Lord. (Fitzmyer, 292)

What can be said as to which of the Gospel traditions is closest to the Pauline formulation? There is hardly any agreement between the various discussions of this question. . . . the question as to which of the various Synoptic formulations seems presupposed by Paul’s formulation must be left open. (Dungan, 133-134)

Paul makes no attempt to cite the words of the historical Jesus  (Collins, 269)

[Elsewhere when delivering moral teachings] Paul … characteristically gives no indication that he is aware that he is using the language of Jesus, or acting in obedience to his precepts (Barrett, 112)

The context of I Cor 7:10 (vv 1-9) suggest Paul is addressing couples who are challenged by one party wishing to become an ascetic (an issue found frequently in second-century sources) so the situation is different from the divorce sayings in the gospels:

Paul’s specific references to the teaching of Jesus are notoriously few. . . Paul is dealing (perhaps not exclusively) with marriages that are threatened by an ascetic view of sexual relations. (Barrett, 162f)

Others think that the question of a possible divorce has arisen in Roman Corinth because some Christian spouses there were already abstaining from intercourse for ascetic reasons (Fitzmyer, 291)

It is undeniable that Paul felt sympathetic to the ideal proposed by the ascetics, but he could not permit it to be imposed as a general rule. (Murphy-O’Connor, 605)

Doubts against the historicity of the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:9-12 —

The arguments against authenticity are: the Markan version reflects the situation of the early community; the variations in the tradition suggest that the community struggled to adapt some teaching to its own context; the appeal to scripture in vv. 6-7 is not characteristic of Jesus but reflects the Christian use of the Greek Bible; familiarity with Roman rather than Israelite marriage law in vv. 11-12 indicates a later, gentile context. Further, the roles of Jesus and the Pharisees seem reversed: here the Pharisees view the Mosaic law as permitting divorce, whereas Jesus cites the scripture in support of a more stringent view. (Funk, 88f)

and in Luke 16:18 —

Matthew adds infidelity as the one exception to the absolute rule on divorce. A different version is found in Mark 10:2-12//Matt 19:3-9, in which divorce is made contrary to God’s order in creation (‘What God has coupled together, no one should separate’). The confusion in the transmission of the tradition led many Fellows to designate this saying in Luke as gray [=”Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his own”] or black [=”Jesus did not say this. The saying comes from a later time”]. The confusion in the jesus tradition is matched by confusion in the lore of the period. (Funk, 360)

–o–

The above are not intended to suggest they are the only factors to be considered. Some of the sources quoted above attempt to answer the negative considerations I have cited. Example, in response to Baur’s point about the past tense, Godet writes,

But the command of Jesus is regarded as abiding for the Church throughout all time. (Godet, 332)

Opposed to the arguments against authenticity, Funk et al first lists those “for”:

The arguments in favor of authenticity are: remarks on the subject by Jesus are preserved in two or more independent sources and in two or more different contexts; an injunction difficult for the early community to practice is evidence of a more original version; Jesus’ response is in the form of an aphorism that undercuts social and religious convention. Further, the Markan version implies a more elevated view of the status of women than was generally accorded them in the patriarchal society of the time, which coheres with other evidence that Jesus took a more liberal view of women. (Funk, 88)

It’s an interesting question, the source of Paul’s appeal to “the command of the Lord” here. As one commentator remarks with some puzzlement, Paul only cites the command to offer a contradiction to it — accepting the possibility of divorce anyway. (The word “separation” is said to be used often enough for “divorce”.) The rationale of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark for forbidding divorce is an appeal to Genesis and creation — the same rationale we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some commentators say that Paul is appealing to Jesus’ command this time because he knows he is contradicting the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is also pointed out that the Scriptures themselves are contradictory: God hates divorce, he says through his prophets, but through Moses he permits it. Should we see here in this section of 1 Corinthians another allusion to the author presenting himself as a prophet of God, as another Moses, even — declaring the law of God but at the same time acknowledging some flexibility, as per the Old Covenant?

Re: “teachings that Jesus made during his earthly ministry, . . .  on preachers and on the coming apocalypse

Continuing in the next post.


Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.. Black’s New Testament Commentaries. London: Black, 1971.

Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, Minn: Michael Glazier, 1999.

Conzelmann, Hans. 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, 1975.

Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul; Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life. Fortress Press, 1971. http://archive.org/details/sayingsofjesusin00dung.

Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. First Corinthians. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 2008.

Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary. New York: Polebridge Press, 1993.

Godet, Frédéric. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Translated by A. Cusin. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonstpa01godeuoft.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “The Divorced Woman in 1 Cor 7:10-11.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, no. 4 (1981): 601–6. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266121.

Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000.

Tomson, Peter. Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Netherlands: Brill, 1991.


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7 thoughts on “Did Paul Quote Jesus on Divorce? — Getting History for Atheists Wrong (Again) — #5”

  1. What’s more likely: the author of gMark borrowed from Paul or Paul borrowed from gMark? (The essence of comedy and NT studies is . . . timing.)

    Does Paul quote “Jesus’s teachings” anywhere? Does Paul consider Jesus to be God, i.e. was Paul a trinitarian?

  2. If we want to understand Paul’s appeal to divine authority for his teaching on divorce in 1 Cor 7, it makes most sense to look at similar wording in other passages of the Pauline writings. Most relevant is 1 Thessalonians 4:15, where he relates the “word of the Lord” (Τοῦτο γὰρ ὑμῖν λέγομεν ἐν λόγῳ κυρίου…) that the recently deceased will be resurrected first when the Lord Jesus comes in glory. Here it is obvious that Paul is not appealing to some historical Jesus of Nazareth, but to the heavenly Christ Jesus with whom he claims again and again to be in direct spiritual communication. I don’t see why 1 Cor 7 should be treated any differently. And there is an obvious similarity to the Hebrew prophets who are constantly saying “thus says the Lord…” when they make some definitive proclamation or exhort or shame the people of Judah/Israel on some point or other.
    Appealing to the 4-Gospel book of the NT is neither necessary nor warranted for explaining Paul’s exercise of his apostolic authority.

  3. When I first read 1 Cor 7:10-11 I, too, assumed that “Lord” referred to Jesus. But “Lord” in Paul’s letters is an ambiguous term. Sometimes it clearly means “God,” sometimes it clearly means “Jesus,” and sometime the reader can’t readily tell which he means. I have come to believe that every time Paul attributes a moralistic command to “the Lord” he means “God.” I don’t think Paul’s Christ Jesus ever gives any command to humans on earth. He does tell those with him at the Last Supper (whoever they are) to eat, drink, and remember.

    BTW “I command, not I, but the Lord” in v. 7:10 is clearly original to Paul and not an interpolation as I show in my forth coming book “Reexamining the Pauline Letters: Interpolation and Forgery Exposed” because it forms an inclusio with 1 Cor 7:17 “Lord … I prescribe in all the churches,” with “Lord” in v. 17 meaning “God.” The literary unit of 1 Cor 7:10-17 is in the format A, B, B’, C, C’, D, D’, D”, E, E’, F, F’, A’.

        1. A pity. Logion 12 of GThomas could suggest an early Christian tradition elevating James relative to YHWH, in which context “James the brother of the Lord” could mean YHWH. But best of luck with your work.

          1. It’d be interesting to know when such a tradition (ie. elevating James after Jesus was said to be leaving) might have been elevated (or even might have begun); and in relation to Paul being elevated.

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