Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Paul’s legacy: reading Paul

Posted by cherylem on September 25, 2007

I thought I would break this entire subject into subheads, beginning with this one. This subject may not be as fun and compelling as some that might follow, but I think it’s important for us to think about how we read Paul, and how we read scripture generally.

I know for some of you this will be old stuff, so feel free to add to or correct. I have not been doing a good job of keeping up with the blog, so if this has been written about before here, maybe someone could post a link.

In this post I make four points:
1) All Pauline letters were not written by Paul
2) Interpolations occur within the authentic letters
3) Context is important as we read Paul
4) Even the authentic letters can be read in new (nontraditional) ways

The Pauline letters are our earliest documents (earlier than the Gospels) regarding the new movement we have come to call Christianity. They are historical in that they occur at a moment in history. Thus they are exciting reads for secular historians as well as people of faith.

The dating of the letters varies from scholar to scholar, but for purposes of discussion, I’ll suggest (from Brown) that the dating looks something like this (showing both traditional and “revisionist” dates, revisionist meaning dates supported by a smaller but very articulate group of adherents):

1 Thessalonians, traditional 50-51, revisionist 41-43.
Galatians, Philemon, Phillipians, 1 Corinthians, traditional 54-57, revisionist 48-55
2 Corinthians, traditional 57-58, revisionist 55-56
Romans, traditional 57-58, revisionist after 54

Please note that some of Paul’s letters as included in the NT are not included in this list. That is because not all the “Pauline” letters are considered to be authentically from Paul, or even from the same time period, as follows (using Brown as sole source here, and there are of course other opinions):

1 Thessalonians, authenticity not disputed
Galatians, authenticity not disputed
Philippians, authenticity not seriously disputed
Philemon, authenticity, unity and integrity: not seriously disputed
1 Corinthians, not seriously disputed
2 Corinthians, not seriously disputed
Romans, not seriously disputed

These are the letters not included:
2 Thessalonians, Scholars are almost evenly divided on whether Paul wrote it, although the view that he did not seems to be gaining ground even among moderates. Date: if pseudonymous, there is no way to know.

Colossians: A modest probability favors composition by a disciple of Paul close to certain aspects of his thought (perhaps part of a “school” at Ephesus) who drew on Philemon. Date: if pseudonymous, in the 80s.

Ephesians: probably by a disciple of Paul (perhaps part of a “school” at Ephesus), who drew on Colossians and some of the undisputed Pauline letters. Date: in the 90s.

Titus: probably written by a disciple of Paul or a sympathetic commentator on the Pauline heritage several decades after the apostle’s life. Date: toward the end of the 1st century or less probably early 2nd century.

1 Timothy: probably written by a disciple of Paul or a sympathetic commentator on the Pauline heritage several decades after the apostle’s life. Date: toward the end of the 1st century or less probably early 2nd century. Date: toward the end of the 1st century or less probably early 2nd century.

2 Timothy: Probably written by a disciple of Paul or a sympathetic commentator on the Pauline heritage soon after Paul’s death with historical memories, or decades later with largely fictional biographical content). Yet, Brown writes, it has a better chance of being authentically Pauline than do the other Pastorals (Pastorals: Titus, 1st and 2nd Timothy).

Hebrews: Author not identified; later church attribution to Paul now abandoned. Date: 60s or more likely 80s.

So you can see why 1) it is exciting to read these letters and 2) that it may be critically important to understand that Paul almost certainly did not write all of them.

Why is this important? Mainly it is important because the letters not written by Paul were accepted as if he had written them for centuries. Yet sometimes the instruction in them contradicts certain sections of the letters we believe to be truly authentic. Often the unauthentic was taken more literally than the authentic.

Second, We also need to understand something called interpolation. Wikipedia explains interpolation this way:
“In relation to literature and especially ancient manuscripts, an interpolation is an entry or passage in a text that was not written by the original author. As there are often several generations of copies between an extant copy of an ancient text and the original, each handwritten by different scribes, there is a natural tendency for extraneous material to be inserted into such documents over time.”

There are sections of the Pauline letters, even the authentic ones, that contain what are believed to be interpolations.

Why is this important? Neil Elliott (see the first post: Paul’s legacy) argues that the original apostle Paul is “betrayed” by interpolations and by the centuries-old belief that he wrote certain letters that he had no hand in writing at all (“Chapter 2: The Canonical Betrayal of the Apostle,” Liberating Paul).

The third thing we need to try to understand is context, especially context in terms of the life and culture in which Paul wrote. (This has already been demonstrated in comments about headcoverings, here , comment 1)

The fourth thing we need to do is read in new ways. For instance, 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 can be read, even easily read, as one of those wrong things Corinthians believe/are teaching, with verse 36 then Paul’s sarcastic rejoinder: What? Did the word of God originate with you? [that you think you can tell the women to be silent in church]. (Though many, including Elliott believe that 14:34-35 is actually an interpolation.)

With this background, I’ll do some posts (but not tonight) that look at certain Pauline verses that have been used to dominate and suppress, and see if we can have a conversation about them.

3 Responses to “Paul’s legacy: reading Paul”

  1. robf said

    Thanks, keep ’em coming.

  2. “The fourth thing we need to do is read in new ways. For instance, 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 can be read, even easily read, as one of those wrong things Corinthians believe/are teaching, with verse 36 then Paul’s sarcastic rejoinder: What? Did the word of God originate with you? [that you think you can tell the women to be silent in church]. (Though many, including Elliott believe that 14:34-35 is actually an interpolation.)”

    Interesting way of framing the entire set of issues.

    I look forward to your next essay.

  3. […] Paul’s legacy: reading Paul […]

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