I’m in the middle of talking about whether Paul wrote the verses now found in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, or if they were later added to his letter by an editor/scribe.  To make sense of what I have to say next about the issue I need to provide just a bit more background, specifically about a legendary figure well known in the early church, but not widely known about today outside the realm of early Christianity scholarship.  This is a one-time-household-name: Thecla, supposedly a female disciple of Paul.

Here is what I say about her and her significance in my Introduction to  the New Testament:


Paul’s words (in his authentic letter) may have taken on a life of their own as they were used in new contexts, gaining a meaning that was independent of what they originally meant when he proclaimed them to his converts. Interestingly, the distortion of Paul’s message is explicitly recognized as a problem even within the pages of the New Testament (2 Pet 3:16).

This may be what happened in a series of stories that we know were in circulation at the beginning of the second century among other Christians who saw themselves as adherents of the teachings of Paul. Scholars have long known of a letter, written pseudonymously in the name of Paul’s companion Titus, that endorses a strict ascetic life involving, among other things, the total renunciation of the joys of sex. In his own letters even Paul urged celibacy for the sake of the gospel. If possible, Christians were to refrain from marriage and the fleeting pleasures of conjugal bliss; it was better for them to devote themselves completely to the Lord, since the time of the end was near (1 Corinthians 7). Never, however, does Paul make salvation contingent upon total abstinence.

The end that Paul anticipated never came, of course, but his teachings concerning celibacy survived, and indeed took on a life of their own. Some of the most interesting pieces of early Christian literature are…

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