Category Archives: Tough Questions

How I deal with the tough questions of life and faith.

On the Textual Reliability of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Explaining the Bible

Before I talk about the issues with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, I want to give a brief bit of information on the overall reliability of the text of the Bible.

One of the fundamental truths about the text of the Bible is that we don’t have a 100% complete copy of the original text.

However, a second fundamental truth about the text of the Bible is that we have so many partial copies that are so old that we can reconstruct the original with an extremely high level of confidence.

How do we do that? We use a process called textual criticism.

Let me illustrate:

Let’s say you play the game of telephone 100 times with 100 different groups of intelligent adults. Let’s say you play the game using an original statement that everyone in each group thinks is important. That is, the people really care about the accuracy of the original statement. In such a case, you are likely to get a high degree of accuracy when it comes to the transmission, but you will still find some errors.

Now, let’s say that the person who started the game has forgotten what the original statement was and all we have is the 100 final statements that were written down by the people at the end of each game.

Here’s what you have:

  • 60 groups ended up with, “When Abraham Lincoln died, the United States swore in Andrew Johnson as President.”
  • 20 groups ended up with, “When Abraham Lincoln died, the United States swore in Johnson as President.”
  • 10 groups ended up with, “After Abraham Lincoln died, the United States swore in Andrew Johnson as President.”
  • 5 groups had, “When Lincoln died, the United States swore in Andrew Johnson as President.”
  • 3 group had, “When Abraham Lincoln died, the US swore in Johnson as President.”
  • 2 groups had, “When Abraham Lincoln was shot, the United States made Johnson President.”

This accurately describes the kind of variations we have in the different texts of the New Testament, and if you apply a few simple rules, you can begin to put together what the original statement probably was.

The most fundamental rule is this: Which statement can most logically lead to the existence of all the others? In this case, even though the top statement has 60 groups that support it, the statement supported by 5 groups is likely the original, because people who care about this subject are far more likely to add the word Abraham before the word Lincoln than they are to remove it. Also, each of the other changes can be easily explained by starting with the statement of the 5 groups.

Scholars employ a few rules based on this one:

  • When transferring information, people who care are more likely to simplify something difficult than to make difficult something simple.
  • When copying information, people are more likely to accidentally leave something out than to accidentally put something in.
  • When copying important information, people are more likely to intentionally add something explanatory than to remove something undesirable.

There is one other rule that is a bit complicated, but if there is a section of text that stays intact but moves around in the various copies, that section of text is likely not original.

That’s the case with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

There is one strong textual tradition that puts those two verses after verse 33, but there is another strong textual tradition that puts those same two verses after our verse 40. Nearly all the ancient texts from the Eastern church tradition have the text after our verse 33, but nearly all the ancient Western texts have these verses after our verse 40.

The question for scholars is this: which placement explains the other one? If the verses were originally in one spot, what would make a scribe shift the verses intact to the other spot, and then what would make all the other scribes following that scribe in making the same mistake?

One possibility is that these two verses were originally in neither spot, that Paul didn’t actually write them in the original letter to the Corinthians. Does that explain anything?

Well, interestingly enough, Paul wrote something very similar in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. If you compare 1 Timothy 2:11-12 with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, you can see the similarities immediately. However, where 1 Timothy has Paul advocating for the women to be respectful students, the passage in 1 Corinthians seems to tell women simply to keep their mouths shut and to never say anything when the church is gathered. Given the ancient world’s distrust of women, it’s easy to see how someone familiar with 1 Timothy might interpret it to be saying the same thing as 1 Corinthians.

In other words, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 sounds a lot like the words of someone who didn’t really understand 1 Timothy 2:11-12.

Additionally, it is well established that ancient copyists weren’t just making copies for public consumption. Frequently, they were making their own personal notes in their copies just like we make personal notes in our Bibles today, and in a very few cases, those marginal notes actually ended up in the text of Scripture itself. (See 1 John 5:7-8 in the KJV and compare to any modern translation like the NIV, and read the footnotes)

Finally, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 simply doesn’t fit in with the rest of 1 Corinthians 14 (the whole chapter is talking about tongues and prophecy, not gender roles); it doesn’t fit in with chapter 11 where women are encouraged to pray or prophesy in the gathered assembly so long as they look like women; and it demonstrates some curious linguistics in the original language that don’t fit the grammar and syntax of the rest of the book.

Therefore, I have very little confidence that it is something Paul wrote. If Paul did write it, I would have to interpret it in light of 1 Corinthians 11 and the softer tone of 1 Timothy 2 to mean effectively the same thing as 1 Timothy 2, but based on the textual evidence and the internal evidence, I conclude that it wasn’t original.

What’s my theory for how it made it into our text? Well, I think that some early copyist of the letter to Corinth was familiar with 1 Timothy but didn’t have a copy at hand. In the margins of his copy of 1 Corinthians, he wrote down his paraphrase of what 1 Timothy 2 said, and early on, some copyists put it in the spot after verse 33 while others thought it fit better after our verse 40.

What difference does it make?

Understanding all this is important for the following reasons:

  1. You need to know that you can trust the text of the Bible. Yes, I just spent a bunch of words writing about how these two verses probably shouldn’t be in the Bible, but the only reason I can say such a thing is that a giant amount of archaeological and scientific study has shown the incredible accuracy of the rest of 1 Corinthians! These two verses are questionable because the rest of 1 Corinthians is not! Every now and then, some research shows up that helps us refine our understanding of the Bible text, and every time that research shows up, we should thank God that he is using modern science to help us get closer to the original content of his Holy Word!
  2. You need to know that God doesn’t want to prevent women from ministering and using their gifts in the context of Christian worship. They are not singled out as people who must keep their mouths shut. Yes, there are passages about women being submissive to men and being respectfully quiet during times of instruction, and those are important to understand, but God is not laying down a blanket prohibition against any woman ever speaking in the context of worship.
  3. You need to know that I care about Biblical accuracy. The question I ask people all the time is this: What does the Bible actually say? I’m convinced that if something is taught in the Bible it should be followed wholeheartedly, and I’m convinced of that so much that I desperately want to know what actually is in the Bible as opposed to what people think the Bible says or what some historically accepted version of the Bible once said!

If you want to interact on this topic or to ask me any questions about it, I warmly welcome them!

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My Statement to the Lafayette City Council on Gender Identity

Last night, the Lafayette City Council met to consider putting an amendment into the Lafayette Human Relations Ordinance. Some time ago, the city codified a “Human Relations Ordinance” to fight against discrimination in our town. It created a Human Relations Commission tasked with the job of investigating cases of discrimination in our city and offering suggestions and education to individuals and businesses found to be discriminatory.

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A Different Question about Gender Differences

This past week, I tried an experiment.

I posted a couple images to my Facebook timeline that I thought had the potential to become somewhat viral. That is, I thought these images would be shared around Facebook, and I wanted to see how widely they would go.

Well, my little experiment took me in a different direction than I thought it would.

So here’s the back-story. Continue reading

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To Tithe or Not to Tithe

Church Planting Front Page Tough Questions

In a recent conversation I had with a church planting friend of mine, the topic of the tithe came up, and I thought it might be interesting for me to put down in this forum what I am teaching my church regarding giving.

Having been heavily influenced by the likes of Andy Stanley, Randy Alcorn, and my own Dad, I have become convinced that teaching percentage-based giving is not only the number one kind of giving to encourage in our people, but I have also become convinced that the church organization should structure its budget based on the tithes of the people without regard to special offerings, designated funds, or anything above and beyond the tithe.

However, I know there are two major problems with my approach: Continue reading

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How should Christians live out God’s ideal of justice?

Front Page Tough Questions

Occasionally, I get really deep questions turned in on our Sunday Connect Cards, and this past Sunday, I received this one:

I noticed that two of the songs played in service this morning mentioned justice as something God has and uses to demonstrate his goodness. If one of the classic arguments against belief in a personal God is perceived injustice in the Bible – God plays favorites, the wholesale slaughter of thousands of men, women, children by the Hebrews, the concept of Hell, etc. – how should we answer that charge? On a less philosophical level, how should Christians demonstrate the ideal of God’s justice in our daily lives? How do we commit to something so ephemeral and confusing?

This is such a big question that I responded to the author by email but thought it might be worthwhile to post it here as well. What follows is my response. Continue reading

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Why do we say “Amen” at the end of prayers?

Front Page Tough Questions

Recently, a note came to me from someone in our church with an interesting question. It said this:

Why is it that sometimes your prayers do not end with “Amen”? Is there a biblical reason why we do or do not say amen after prayers?

I responded personally, but I also felt my answer might benefit others, so here it is in blog form.

The Meaning of “Amen”

First, the word Amen is a Hebrew word that comes from the Hebrew root AMN which means faith/faithfulness. Strangely enough, this same root word shows up in a variety of other Hebrew words including words for the firm columns supporting a roof. Continue reading

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What if God chooses not to “elect” my children?

Front Page Tough Questions VIP

During the Summer, I worked through the book of Romans in my Sunday messages at Lafayette Community Church. To hear the messages, visit the Great News II page.

One of the topics that Romans raises is the notion of election vs. free will. I took a rather strong position from Romans 9-11 that God chooses who will be saved. I taught that everyone has the freedom to choose God, but because of sin’s deceitfulness no one does unless God makes the first move to choose them and draw them to himself.

This has raised some very interesting questions in our church’s “CONNECT” cards over the past couple of months, and one that came in this past week really got me thinking. Tonight, I wrote a long response to the couple that asked the question, and I thought it would make sense to post the answer here as well. Continue reading

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Is Modern Worship too Simplistic?

Front Page Leadership Tough Questions

Earlier this week, a discussion among the worship band members at my church pointed to this article where Bill Blankschaen describes his frustration with worship songs sung in churches on Sunday mornings and tells us “Why I’ve stopped singing in your church.”

As of this writing right now, he has 241 comments, and he only wrote it three days ago (July 15). Clearly, he has struck a nerve—a nerve deep enough to get my worship band talking about it, and a nerve deep enough to make me blog about it.

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Reflections on Sin

Front Page Leadership My Spiritual Life Tough Questions

Some Context

This past week, a number of stories came out in my local newspaper reporting on and analyzing the arrest of a local pastor. He has been accused of placing and monitoring video equipment in the female bathrooms at the church. If you haven’t read the articles, don’t worry about not knowing the details. I’m not going to address the specifics of that story, but it has burdened my heart so much that I feel a need to reflect here in my semi-public space what these moral failures reveal about God, humanity, and the state of the church. Continue reading

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Harmony Not Unison

Front Page Tough Questions

I have just finished my sermon series on gender issues in the Bible and how to understand the biblical teaching on the topic. If you want to hear the entire series, you can click here:

http://lafayettecc.org/news/gatherings/080-born-this-way/

Now, I promised you that I would write some articles here regarding some of the most controversial passages in the Bible regarding gender, and as a matter of fact, I have addressed a good number of them in my four sermons on the topic, but in the process, I have not had the time to write up the articles I wanted to write. Continue reading

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Boys and Girls Part 1

Front Page Tough Questions

This past Sunday, I started a series of messages at Lafayette Community Church entitled “Born this Way” in which I intend to investigate the number of different Bible passages on gender issues.

The biggest problem for me was that for most of the week, I was wrestling with how to tackle the message. You see, there are a lot of controversial passages in the Bible when it comes to gender issues, and I always want to teach the Bible in a compelling, motivational way, and I am always cautious to teach in such a way that the contentious emotions can be defused. So I struggled with the message.

I actually had two different angles I could have gone with the message. One angle was to tackle the emotions by sharing personal stories in light of Genesis 1-3 and illustrating the beauty of our gender differences. The other angle was to survey the major passages in the Bible to get a comprehensive overview of its teaching. Continue reading

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The Church: Can you be a Christian without going to church?

Front Page Tough Questions

This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.

This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation, but I wasn’t able to address all the questions live. Therefore I’m tackling some of them through this blog.

Does this mean that you cannot be a Christian unless you go to church?

The simple answer is that you can be a Christian without going to church if you define “Christian” Continue reading

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The Church: Why Sundays?

Front Page Tough Questions

This post is part of a series investigating the most important items of Christian doctrine. View all posts by clicking here or the DOGMA tag above.

This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation, but I wasn’t able to address all the questions live. Therefore I’m tackling some of them through this blog.

If the church is the community of believers who are to be continually gathering and working to build the kingdom, why do we meet on Sunday mornings the way we do? How does this fit and/or conflict with the picture of the church in Acts?

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