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.
On the question of the identity of the “rulers of this age” — whether human, demonic, or both — see the posts addressing a range of scholarly interpretations in the archive for Rulers of this Age.
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.)
A popular book cited by lay readers and scholars alike as presenting “a case for the historical reliability of the synoptic Jesus tradition” is The Jesus Legend by Eddy and Boyd. Richard Bauckham calls it “one of the most important books on methodological issues in the study of Jesus and the Gospels to have appeared for a long time.” Craig A. Evans says it “is the best book in its class. Eddy and Boyd demonstrate mastery of the disciplines essential for critical assessment of the Gospels and competent investigation of the historical Jesus.” Paul Eddy is cited as a professor of biblical and theological studies at Bethel University and Gregory Boyd, PhD, is a senior pastor.
These praises of this book are, simply, staggering to someone who has actually taken the time to read it with a view to better understanding the conservative or establishment side of the discussions about the historicity of Jesus. The book is, in fact, a hodge podge of misrepresentations, obfuscation of contrary arguments, dishonest footnoting, misleading assertions, . . . Well. Let’s take just two pages that I was consulting recently to dig into the arguments surrounding a passage in Thessalonians. . . .
Take their discussion The Case for 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 as a Later Interpolation (pp.211-214).
I only read as far as the second page (212) and found:
one instance of plagiarism
a footnote reference turning out to be supporting a view inconsistent, even opposite, what E&B used it for
oversimplifications and misrepresentation of opposing arguments
a failure to even mention let alone address published arguments contradicting their assertions — even though they cited the relevant authors and works for other reasons
a tendency to simply cite other authors as having the arguments readers need without actually explaining to readers a summary of what those arguments are
Eddy and Boyd’s methodology
Before discussing these, one introductory note is appropriate. E&B are open about their methodological approach to their arguments. They argue that it is quite legitimate to accept a “low probability” (“super-natural”) argument in instances where “an event . . . defies plausible naturalistic explanation.” (p.90) That conjunction of “plausible” and “naturalistic” is interesting. One surely must wonder what ‘naturalistic’ explanation could possibly be ‘implausible’ compared with resorting to what is by definition the least probable of all explanations, a miracle. This assumption that miracles should be accepted as explanations for the claims of the New Testament literature has its impact throughout the remainder of their book. E&B explain:
This open approach to critical historiography will form a part of the methodological backdrop for the remainder of this book.
In stating this from the outset, E&B explain why they have been so inconsistent and less than fully intellectually honest in their arguments. They have made up their minds that the narratives of the Gospels and Acts, and the self-witness of the New Testament letters, are all basically “true”. One wonders then why they would really bother with gathering, therefore, “scholarly naturalistic” arguments to support their case. This must surely wear down their patience. From the outset they reject enlightenment methodologies of naturalistic reasoning and scientific approaches. So the rest becomes merely a matter of gathering any “naturalistic-reasoned” argument from any source, and even arguments that simply look good enough from a distance, and sticking them together in a book to appear to be a reasoned rebuttal of arguments against the historicity of Jesus. The alternative explanation for this shoddy and misleading book is less flattering.
On page 212 E&B write:
However, as I. Broer has effectively argued, the evidence from early Christian writings (e.g. 1 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp) suggests that the relatively widespread knowledge of the Pauline letters would naturally have served to hamper the easy acceptance and/or creation of interpolations.29
The even footnote this passage to:
29. I. Broer, “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in The Thessalonian Correspondence, ed. R. F. Collins (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990), 142-45.
A reader would naturally think E&B here are pointing to I. Broer’s argument as something they have themselves read and with which they agree. They are clearly conveying the impression that they know Broer’s argument well enough to be able to describe and reference it in this way.
But their pants drop to their ankles when one happens to read an article by Jon A. Weatherly, The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence, in the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 42 (1991) 79-98. There, on page 79, one reads:
I. Broer has argued persuasively that the evidence from 1 Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp indicates that knowledge of the Pauline Epistles in the post-apostolic church was sufficient to rule out the acceptance of large numbers of interpolations (‘ “Der ganze Zorn ist schon über sie gekommen’: Bemerkungen zur Interpolationshypothese und zur Interpretation von I Thess. 2. 14-16,” in R. F. Collins (ed.), The Thessalonian Correspondence, [BETL, 87; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990], pp. 142-45.
What’s the bet E&B have never read I. Broer at all and that all they know of Broer is Weatherly’s 1991 claim?
I wouldn’t really care if so many people weren’t relying on E&B as some sort of authority, but they clearly are.
It seems that E&B realize that lots of footnotes make a book look impressively well researched and authoritative. It also seems that they expect few readers to actually bother to check those footnotes to see that they are indeed really doing the job claimed for them. Again on page 212 E&B write:
. . . these verses seem stylistically uncharacteristic of Paul, but it is not clear that they are so to an extent that would warrant the conclusion that they are not Paul’s own words.30
Then the supporting footnote:
30. Schmidt’s linguistic arguments have been convincingly answered by J. Weatherly, “The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence”, JSNT, 42 (1991): 79-98; and J. W. Simpson, “The Problems Posed by 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and a Solution.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12 (1990): 52-54.
Now I read E&B here as affirming that the linguistic arguments for 1 Thess. 2:13-16 being an interpolation are not strong, and that all one has to do to confirm this is to turn to the cited articles by Weatherly and Simpson. So that’s what I did. I read Weatherly’s article first, and then Simpson’s. It turns out that while both authors do attempt to find reasons to think that the passage is not an interpolation, the two scholars directly contradict each other.
Simpson even summarizes many of arguments also advanced by Weatherly and shows them, often on linguistic grounds, to be either false or without substance. Specifically, Simpson trounces the following arguments found in Weatherly:
the linguistic arguments that the passage is not necessarily expressing hostility against the Jews;
that the passage can be reconciled conceptually with Romans 11;
that the words in the passage do not really say judgment has come with finality upon the Jews;
that the Greek does not really say that the Jews have completed all the sins required for an inevitable final judgment;
that the lack of textual witness for an interpolation carries much weight.
Yet somehow E&B have managed to claim that BOTH scholars have refuted the linguistic arguments!
This reminds me of Groucho Marx: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
As for E&B’s claim that these two authors have “convincingly answered” the stylistic argument, here is what Simpson himself writes (p.43) in his article:
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,nor can we make the common assumption that the burden of proof faces the argument for interpolation. 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.
Again Simpson writes (p.50):
Many form-critical solutions are plausible, both with and without 2:13-16, and all are to some degree problematic.
Simpson concludes (p. 62):
This is not to say that any of these arguments do not point to real problems in regard to 1 Thess 2:13-16, only that the interpolation view is not their best solution.
Simpson fully acknowledges the strength of many of the arguments for interpolation. He does not claim to have nailed the coffin on them. He does attempt to argue, against Pearson, for a plausible explanation for Paul expressing, over time, sharply contradictory words about Jews and their ultimate fate. His arguments against Schmidt are often technical and subtle. They are hardly mark a finality to the discussion as E&B suggest, and as unwary readers would too easily assume from E&B’s statements.
Ditto for Weatherly. Weatherly concluded his article (p.98) thus:
1 Thess. 2.13-16 remains a difficult passage for interpreters of Paul. That the apostle who wrote with such compassion and hope of his Jewish compatriots in Romans 9-11 could write so bitterly of some of them in 1 Thessalonians 2 is problematic, though hardly unprecedented. But another look at the data shows that the evidence for its inauthenticity is, at best, equivocal.
So these authors contradict each other in some key linguistic arguments. Each admits that any explanation, even their own, is not without difficulties. Yet E&B cite them both as having “convincingly answered” — as if they have put to rest — the linguistic arguments against inauthenticity of the Thessalonians passage.
Suppressing the contrary arguments
I opened in my “Plagiarism” section with E&B discussing the significance of a lack of textual evidence for an interpolation. E&B clearly consider the lack of manuscript evidence a major argument. They begin their argument with:
It is no minor problem for a textual theory when there is no textual evidence to support it. Yet this is the case here. Every ancient copy of 1 Thessalonians we have contains verses 13-16. The claim that this passage is an interpolation often rides on the coattails of a wider claim regarding a variety of Pauline interpolations, again generally without manuscript evidence. 28
Again one looks down to check the footnote:
28. See, e.g., Walker, Interpolations . . .
It happens that I have seen Walker, Interpolations, and some time ago wrote a summary of Walker’s discussion of 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.
I summarize here the evidence for the “culture of interpolations” that Walker argues must surely outweigh the paucity of manuscript evidence. They are more fully set out in post linked above.
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
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”
E&B cite Walker as a support for their own claim that there is indeed a lack of manuscript evidence, but their integrity is open to question when they fail to address the fact that Walker himself argues that the manuscript evidence is clearly often not critical at all!
It is also slightly amusing to see E&B failing to address this argument over manuscript evidence and interpolations when one of their cited authors even argues against them:
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)
— which is exactly how E&B do begin their argument against interpolations!