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The Misuse of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are the two main passages that complementarians have misused to prohibit women from entering into ministry, but I will focus on the problems with using the former passage in this way in this series on 1 Corinthians. First, there is a minority view that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 might be a later scribal interpolation that disrupts the flow of the argument; check out Gordon D. Fee’s  The First Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 705-708 and Philip Payne’s “Vaticanus Distigme-Obelos Symbols Marking Added Text, Including 1 Corinthians 14.34-35New Testament Studies 63 (2017): 604-625 (HT Larry Hurtado’s blog post). Second, Paul already mentioned that women could speak out loud in the church when they prayed or prophesied in 1 Corinthians 11:5. Third, if the passage was original, Paul may have been addressing a specific situation that arose in the congregations in Corinth (e.g., did Paul see certain women asking disruptive question or contesting the prophesies uttered in the Corinthian Christ assemblies?) rather than issuing a timeless principle. Indeed, my reading of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is that the Pastor was also reacting against a local situation and trying to silence certain female Christ followers who were “deceived” by rival teachers with their ideas about mandatory celibacy, ideas that surface in the apocryphal Acts of Paul, but I will leave that discussion to a later post. Regardless of how one exegetes these two passages, I support the egalitarian position that affirms both men and women who have been called into ministry.


1 Corinthians 13 in Context

The digression on “love” in 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings. However, this discussion comes right in the middle of Paul’s argument in chapters 12-14 that each member of the Christ congregations has been given a gift from the Spirit in order to build up the larger “body of Christ,” against the Corinthians who exalted those who possessed certain charismatic abilities (e.g., ecstatic speech and prophesying). Thus, it is “love” that unites all of the Corinthian Christ followers with their diverse gifts together and should undergird every action that they took. See also Christopher W. Skinner’s article “1 Corinthians 13 and Weddings” for the website Bible Odyssey.

The Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

I suspect that Paul was familiar with more traditions about Jesus than are explicitly highlighted in his occasional letters dealing with specific issues arising in his Christ congregations. After all, he mentions the Lord’s words about divorce because the Corinthians asked him about marriage (1 Cor 7:1, 10) and the institution of the Lord’s Supper because the Corinthians were abusing the practice from Paul’s perspective (11:17-34). It is interesting to compare the tradition that Paul “received” and “delivered” in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 to the reports of Jesus’s last supper in the Synoptic Gospels:

  • Paul believes that he was referring to an event that occurred on the “night” that “he [Jesus] was handed over.” Some even translate the verb paradidomi in the sense of “betrayed,” implicitly alluding to the actions of Judas Iscariot, though Paul may just be referring to an agent (e.g., God or the Roman authorities) handing Jesus over to be executed.
  • Assuming that the longer text of Luke 22:19b-20 is original (see the text-critical debate here), there are some striking agreements between Paul and Luke over the addition of “new” before “covenant” and the language of eating this meal in remembrance of Jesus.
  • Although Paul interprets the Passover Lamb as a type pointing to the death of Christ (1 Cor 5:7; cf. John 1:36; 19:31, 33-36), he quotes the Lord’s words about the bread and the cup apart from the larger context of the Passover meal (cf. Mark 14:12-26). Instead, this memorial meal was to be regularly practiced by the Corinthians in order to proclaim the Lord’s death until the Lord’s eschatological return (1 Cor 11:26).

I have briefly argued for the independence of the Pauline and Markan traditions in my 2014 article “Does Mark Narrate the Pauline Kerygma of ‘Christ Crucified’? Challenging an Emerging Consensus on Mark as a Pauline Gospel.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 37 (2014): 139-60.

The Theological Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3

1 Corinthians 11:3 is a difficult verse. For Christian theologians, it is difficult to reconcile God’s headship (from the Greek kephalē translated as “head”) over Christ with the belief in the ontological equality of the Father and the Son within the Triune Godhead. Some theologians, however, would reject the view that Christ is eternally subordinate to the Father, arguing that he only became temporarily subordinate to the Father in becoming incarnate as a human (e.g. John 14:28; Phil 2:6-7) or until the completion of salvation history (e.g., 1 Cor 15:28; cf. R. B. Jamieson’s recent article). Additionally, for some complementarians, the verse has been problematically used to insist that women should be subordinate to men in the same way that the Son is allegedly eternally subordinate to the Father. On the other hand, others translate the Greek term as “source” and take the verse in support of either Nicene orthodoxy (i.e. the eternal procession of the Son from the Father) or Arianism (i.e. the Son as the first creation); Paul might also be thinking about the creation narrative in Genesis 2 where the woman is taken out of the man’s side, but then reaffirming the equality of men and women as women give birth to every human in 1 Corinthians 11:12. Of course, it is important to recognize the historical gap between the text and the interpreter: Paul may not have shared the later philosophical and dogmatic language/categories of the ecumenical creeds and may presuppose ancient cultural conventions about gender as seen in his larger discussion about head coverings. Yet it is also important for theological interpreters located in contemporary faith communities to ethically interpret Scripture in a way that does no harm and I would endorse egalitarian readings of the passage. Here is an article from Richard S. Cervin and some blog posts from Marg Mowczko on the Greek term and some books noted by Michael Bird that deal with a range of subordinationist verses from a Trinitarian framework.

Harold W. Attridge and David L. Bartlett on Idol Meat

Check out the youtube video “Corinthians 1, 8:1-11:1: Idol Meat: To eat or not to eat?” where Yale Divinity School Dean Harold W. Attridge and Professor Emeritus David L. Bartlett discuss the interpretation of Paul’s advice about eating meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1.

Paul, the Shema, and Christology

In the last post, I mentioned that Paul could accept the ontological existence of spiritual powers who were worshipped as divine beings, even as he affirmed the unrivaled sovereignty and power of Yahweh as the supreme deity. While I am fine with describing Paul as a Second Temple Jewish “monotheist,” Paula Fredriksen has issued some helpful reminders about not importing anachronistic modern understandings about “monotheism” back into a first-century context in her articles “Gods and the One GodBible Review (2003): 12, 49 and “Mandatory Retirement: Ideas in the Study of Christian Origins whose Time has Come to Go” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 35 (2006): 231-246. Thus, Paul means what he says about the so-called “gods” in heaven and on earth and those who are called gods or lords in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6.

However, in Paul’s worldview, none of those lesser divine beings are even close to being on par with the one God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Many scholars detect an allusion to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4, the famous prayer where the Israelites declare their exclusive covenantal obedience to Yahweh (with the term “Lord” substituted in place of the sacred divine name) alone, and the influence of Wisdom Christology (cf. Proverbs 2; 8; Sirach 24; Wisdom 6:12-25, 7:7-11:1; Baruch 3:9-4:4; 1 Enoch 42:1-2; Matthew 11:19, 28-30; 23:34; John 1:1-18; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:2-3) in describing how creation came into existence through Jesus. This passage seems to offer strong support for Jesus’s literal pre-existence before creation, though some scholars opt to read the wisdom language applied to Jesus more metaphorically.

The majority view is that Paul has “split the Shema”, so the divine identity includes the one God (i.e. the Father) and the one Lord (i.e. Jesus) as the source of all creation. Crispin Fletcher Louis is one of the most recent proponents on this position and, in his book Jesus Monotheism: Volume 1, Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), offers an addition argument from the practice of gematria in support of this view on pages 37-49 (available on google preview) and in his blog posts here and here. The alternative position is advocated by James McGrath on pages 38-44 in his book The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in its Jewish Context (University of Illinois, 2009). McGrath argues that the reference to the Shema is restricted to the “one God” and that Jesus is not included within the divine identity but alongside the one God; the one God is contrasted with the gods in heaven and the one Lord with the lords on earth.

What do you think? Does 1 Corinthians 8:6 include Jesus within the divine identity and attribute the divine act of creation to him? Does it support a high or fully divine Christology?


1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 and Idol Meat

Paul turns to a new issue about eating food sacrificed to idols (εἰδωλόθυτος) in 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1. Feasts and social functions occurred at temples and the left-over meat could be sold at the market, so it would be pretty hard to avoid it altogether unless one became a vegetarian (see Romans 14:2; Hegessipus, in Ecclesiastical History 2.23.5; Epiphanius, Panarion 30.15.3-4). The dilemma for the Christ believers in Corinth was how they ought to live out their exclusive allegiance to the God of Israel, whom they regarded as the supreme deity and sovereign ruler over all of creation, in a social context where people venerated many divine beings and depicted them in their icons. Paul’s denigration of what he perceived to be “idolatry” was conventional in Second Temple Jewish literature, though he also seems to have allowed for the ontological existence of the spiritual powers that were represented in the material images, and he had an interesting solution to the Corinthians’ dilemma. On the one hand, he seems to reason that it would be harmless for the Christ believers to eat this meat since they did not acknowledge the authority of “idols”, but he warned them to not test God as the Israelites sometimes did in the Hebrew Bible and to not to misuse their “knowledge” and “liberty” by offending a fellow believer who refused to eat meat offered to idols as a matter of conscience. Thus, it was probably best to only eat meat that has not been explicitly identified as having been offered in a cultic sacrifice. This was evidently a major social and religious concern for the early Christ communities and here is a sample of texts that address this issue:

“Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20; cf. 15:29; 21:25)

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication… you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:14, 20)

“At this point, Trypho interrupted me by saying, ‘I know that there are many who profess their faith in Jesus and are considered to be Christians, yet they claim there is no harm in their eating meats sacrificed to idols.’ ‘The fact that there are such men [and women],’ I replied, ‘who pretend to be Christians and admit the crucified Jesus as their Lord and Christ, yet profess not His doctrines, but those of the spirits of error, only tends to make us adherents of the true and pure Christian doctrine more ardent in our faith and more firm in the hope He announced to us. As we look about us, we see events actually taking place which He predicted would happen in His name.’” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 35.1-2)

“Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the ‘most perfect’ among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure that ‘they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’ For instance, they make no scruple about eating meat offered in sacrifice to idols, imagining that they can in this way contact no defilement… Others, again, following upon Basilides and Carpocrates, have introduced promiscuous intercourse and a plurality of wives, and are indifferent about eating meats sacrificed to idols, maintaining that God does not greatly regard such matters. But why continue? For it is an impracticable attempt to mention all those who, in one way or another, have fallen away from the truth.” (Ireneaus, Against Heresies 1.6.3; 1.28.2)

“For that which is offered to idols is sacrificed to demons, and a man [or woman] of God must not join the table of demons.” (Origen, Contra Celsus 8.30)

Paul on Singleness and Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7

Although Paul related the Lord’s commands about marriage and divorce (7:10-11) in response to the queries of the Corinthians (7:1), he also acknowledged that he wished the Corinthian Christ followers would remain celibate as he was (7:6-8). Here are some of Paul’s justifications for his own example in chapter 7:

  • A single person can serve the Lord with single-minded devotion rather than worrying about other worldly affairs (7:28, 32-35).
  • Paul believed that the socio-political order in his day was passing away as he expected that God’s eschatological intervention at the end of time may be imminent (7:26, 29-31).
  • In light of Paul’s eschatological expectations, he encouraged the Corinthians to remain in their current social station (7:17-27). A few more reflections need to be added to clarify this point:
    • The ethical principle in Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 12:13 has rightly been used to defend human equality and abolish slavery.
    • However, while Paul removed social barriers dividing believers “in Christ,” he never erased what he perceived to be the differences between men and women or demanded that Jews and Greeks reject their own ethnic identities or cultural practices. Ironically, the larger literary context of Galatians 3:28 subsumes all of these individual identifies under a larger group category, namely the children of Abraham, which problematizes simplistic dichotomies between “Judaism” and “Pauline universalism.”
    • There may be times when Paul’s fundamental ethical principles should be pitted against his culturally-conditioned advice (e.g., on the institution of slavery).
  • Paul understood his new life in Christ to be characterized by self-mastery, a virtue that many Greek philosophers valued, but he advised other Christ followers to marry rather than to be consumed with sexual desire (7:2-5, 7, 9, 36-37). Again, Paul was clear that he was expressing his personal opinion and it may be theologically problematic to reduce the sacrament of marriage to satisfying sexual desire.

One of the points that I think may be helpful for those searching for a theological application is to remember that, while Paul was single, Peter and the other apostles and siblings of the Lord were married (1 Corinthians 9:5; cf. Mark 1:29-31). Therefore, people should not be put down for following their own convictions about getting married or staying single and both single and married persons can lead meaningful, fulfilling lives.

A Bibliography on Jesus’s Teachings about Divorce

To accompany the previous posts about marriage, divorce, and sexuality, here is a further bibliography of the scholarship on Jesus’s teaching about divorce (not including commentaries on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 1 Corinthians):

Adams, Jay E. Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

Blomberg, Crajg. L. “Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage, and Celibacy: An Exegesis of Matthew 19:3-12.” Trinity Journal 11, no. 2 (1990): 161-96.

Cornes, Andrew. Divorce and Remarriage: Biblical Principles and Pastoral Practice. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Countryman, Louis William. Dirt, Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today. London: SCM, 1989.

D’Angelo, Mary Rose. “Remarriage and the Divorce Sayings Attributed to Jesus.” Pages 78-106 in Divorce and Remarriage: Religious and Psychological Perspectives. Edited by W. P. Roberts. Kansas: Sheed & Ward, 1990.

DeConick, April. Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter. New York and London: Continuum, 2011.

Garland, David E. “A Biblical View of Divorce.” Review & Expositor 84.3 (1987): 419-432.

Hamer, Colin. Marital Imagery in the Bible: An Exploration of Genesis 2:24 and Its Significance for the Understanding of New Testament Divorce and Remarriage Teaching. Apostolos Old Testament Studies. London: Apostolos, 2015.

Harvey, Anthony E. “Genesis versus Deuteronomy? Jesus on Marriage and Divorce.” Pages 55-65 in The Gospels and the Scriptures of Israel. Edited by C. A. Evans and W. R. Stegner. JSNTSup 104. Sheffield: JSOT, 1994.

Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996.

House, H. Wayne. Editor. Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views. Downers Grove: IVP, 1990.

Instone-Brewer, David. Techniques and Assumptions in Jewish Exegesis before 70 C.E. Texte Und Studien Zum Antiken Judentum. Tubingen: Mohr, 1992.

Instone-Brewer, David. “1 Corinthians 7 in the Light of the Graeco-Roman Marriage and Divorce Papyri.” Tyndale Bulletin 52.1 (2001): 101-15.

Instone-Brewer, David. “1 Corinthians 7 in the Light of the Jewish Greek & Aramaic Marriage & Divorce Papyri.” Tyndale Bulletin 52.2 (2001): 225-253.

Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the 1st and 21st Century. Cambridge: Downers Grove, 2001.

Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Instone-Brewer, D. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003.

Jackson, Bernard S. “‘Holier than thou’? Marriage and Divorce in the Scrolls, the New Testament and Early Rabbinic Sources.” Pages 167-225 in Essays on Halakhah in the New Testament. JCPS 16. Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Janzen, David. “The Meaning of Porneia in Matthew 5.32 and 19.9: An Approach from the Study of Ancient near Eastern Culture.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 80 (2000): 66-80.

Keener, Craig S. And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the Teaching of the New Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991.

Knust, Jennifer Wright. Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire. New York: HarperOne, 2011.

Köstenberger, Andreas. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. Second Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Loader, William. Sexuality and the Jesus Tradition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005.

Loader, William. Sexuality in the New Testament: Understanding the Key Texts. Louisville: WJK, 2010.

Loader, William. Making Sense of Sex: Attitudes Towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.

Loader, William. “Did Adultery Mandate Divorce? A Reassessment of Jesus’ Divorce Logia.” New Testament Studies 61.1 (2015): 67-78.

Martin, Dale. Sex and the Single Saviour: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation. Louisville and London: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Law and Love. Volume 4. New Haven: Yale, 2009.

Pao, David W. “Adultery, Divorce, and the Hard-Hearted People of God: The Function of the Matthean Exception Clause (Matt 19:9) in Its Literary Context.” Paradosis: A Journal of Bible and Theology 1 (2014): 64-82.

Powers, B. Ward and Wade, John. Divorce: The Bible and the Law. Sydney: AFES, 1978.

Rosner, Brian S. Paul, Scripture and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5-7. New York: Brill, 1994.

Strauss, Mark L.  Remarriage after Divorce in Today’s Church: 3 Views. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Wenham, Gordon J. and Heth, William. Jesus and Divorce. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010.

Wenham, Gordon J. Jesus, Marriage, and Divorce: In their Historical Setting. Bellingham: Lexham, 2020.

Wojciechowski, Michał. “Marriage as a (Mutual) Ownership: An Overlooked Background of Biblical Sayings on Marriage and against Divorce.” Folia Orientalia 47 (2010): 207-14


1 Corinthians 7:10 and the Saying of the Lord about Divorce

1 Corinthians 7:10 is a famous example of how Paul differentiated the traditions that he inherited about the historical Jesus from his own personal opinions. In this post, I will offer a source-critical analysis of Jesus’s well-known saying on divorce.

In the Synoptic Gospels, we find Jesus’s teaching on divorce in Mark 10:1-12/Matthew 19:1-12 and Matthew 5:31-32/Luke 16:18. Depending on what solution to the Synoptic Problem that you advocate, you might accept one of the following reconstructions:

  • The Two Source Theory: Matthew 19:1-12 copied the narrative in Mark 10:1-13 and the saying in Matthew 5:31-32/Luke 16:18 was derived from the hypothetical Q source. Note that Luke removed the doublet by not reproducing Mark 10:1-13 and that Matthew added an exception clause to both the Markan and the Q passage. (unless Matthew found the exception in his copy of Q and transferred it over to the Markan saying too).
  • The Griesbach Theory: Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-12 is the original account, while Luke 16:18 took over the former (yet deleted the Matthean exception clause) and Mark 10:1-13 took over the latter (yet deleted the Matthean exception clause).
  • The Farrer Theory: Matthew 19:1-12 copied Mark 10:1-13, but added the exception clause and duplicated the saying by putting it in the Sermon on the Mount in 5:31-32 (unless the evangelist had another oral or written tradition with the saying). Luke 16:18, then, copied Matthew 5:31-32 yet removed the exception clause. Alternatively, the few scholars who hold to Matthean posterity might argue that Mark 10:1-13 was first, Luke deleted Mark’s surrounding narrative and put Jesus’s command about divorce as an independent saying in Luke 16:18, and Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-12 copied both Mark and Luke while adding the exception clause and relocating Luke 16:18 into the Sermon on the Mount.

As noted above, Matthew’s Gospel is unique when compared to its Synoptic parallels in allowing that divorce may be permitted in cases of porneia (sexual immorality that may include adultery or other serious legal offenses). The standard view is that Matthew tempered the radicalness of Jesus’s command that humans should not sever what God has joined together (cf. Genesis 2:24) by leaving room for an exception to it and is more in line with Rabbi Shammai than with Rabbi Hillel in the debates over whether to interpret ervat davar (“indecency of a matter”) liberally as indecency in any matter or strictly as unchastity (cf. Mishnah Gittin 9.10). However, there has been some recent scholarship that argues that Jesus was more narrowly opposing Hillel’s view that divorce was permissible for any cause at all and that Matthew only made explicit what Jesus would have regarded as an acceptable justification for divorce. It is also possible that the teaching of the Matthean Jesus should not be read in relation to this rabbinic debate at all.

As mentioned, Paul received this saying from earlier tradents as a word “from the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7:10. When Paul re-contextualized this command in the context of this advice about marriage in the letter, he noted that a person who comes to faith in Christ should stay married to his or her non-believing spouse, but he or she cannot stop the spouse that may want to divorce him or her (7:12-16). Since Matthew and Paul may be adapting Jesus’s teaching to new situations, perhaps this sets a precedent for how Christians pastorally apply these passages today. That is, Christian theologians may emphasize that lifelong marriage vows ought to be taken with absolute seriousness, but that there may be further compassionate grounds for divorce in addition to adultery (e.g., in cases of physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse, or abandonment) and divorced and/or remarried individuals should not be excluded from any forms of ministry within the churches.