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Paul and His Letters

Serious Hypothetical (And Realistically Possible) Problems With Copies of Paul’s Letters

In trying to figure out what it even means to talk about the “original” text of Philippians (was it what Paul meant to dictate?  Was it what he did dictate, if it was different from what he intended? Was it what the scribe wrote even if it was different from what Paul dictated?  Was it what Paul corrected after he saw what the scribe incorrectly wrote?  Was it the fresh copy that the scribe made even if it was different from the corrected version Paul gave him?  What happens if in fact Philippians is two letters that have been spliced together by a later editor, as many scholars believe, rather than just one letter – is the “original” the two different letters originally sent or the spliced together version that Paul did not create but someone else did?  Etc. etc.), in trying to figure all this out, several readers have suggested that the easiest way to look at it is that the “original” of Philippians is the letter Paul sent to Philippi, whatever [...]

2024-06-04T10:35:27-04:00June 9th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

Even More Snarly Problems If Paul Dictated His Letters

I have been talking about the problems in knowing what the “original” text of Philippians is.  Even with the following brief review, the comments I will be making in this post will, frankly, probably not make much sense if you do not refresh your memory from my previous two posts.   Here I will be picking up where I left off there. We have seen that knowing what the original of Philippians is complicated by the facts that: 1) The letter appears originally to have been two letters, so that it’s hard to know whether the original of each separate letter is to be the original or if the final edited version, which Paul himself did not produce, is the original; 2) Paul dictated his letters, and the scribe who wrote down his dictation would typically have made a fresh copy of the letter after Paul had made a few corrections – so which is the original: what the scribe originally wrote or the fresh copy he made after the corrections?  3) And [...]

2024-06-04T10:30:04-04:00June 8th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

If Paul Dictated His Letters, How Can We Know What He Said?

I have been asked to comment on whether we can get back to the “original” text of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, and I have begun to discuss the problems not just of getting *back* to the original, but also of knowing even what the original *was*.   In my previous post I pointed out the problems posed by the fact that Philippians appears to be two letters later spliced together into one.  And so the first problem is this: is the “original” copy the spliced together copy that Paul himself did not create?  Or is the “original” the product that Paul himself produced – the two letters that are not transmitted to us in manuscript form any longer, to which, therefore, we have no access (except through the version edited by someone else)? But there are more problems.   Here I’ll detail them, in sequence as they occur to me. In what I am going to be saying now, I will simplify things by assuming that – contrary to what I’ve been arguing [...]

2024-06-04T10:25:06-04:00June 6th, 2024|New Testament Manuscripts, Paul and His Letters|

Is There Even Such a Thing as the “Original” Text of Philippians?

  What would it even *mean* to say that we have an "original" letter of Paul to the Philippians? In my previous two posts I began answering a series of questions asked by a reader about how we got Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In my previous post I explained why some critical scholars maintain that the letter was originally two separate letters that have been spliced together.  That obviously makes the next question the reader asked a bit more complicated than one might otherwise imagine.  And it’s not the only complication.   Here is the reader’s next question: QUESTION:  Do you agree that the first copy of the letter written by Paul to the Philippians was also an original?  RESPONSE:  First off, my initial reaction that I gave a couple of posts ago still holds.  I’m not exactly sure what the reader is asking.  If he’s asking whether a copy of the original letter to Philippians is itself an original of Philippians, then the answer is no.  It is not the original.  It is a [...]

Is Paul’s Letter to the Philippians Actually Two Letters Cut and Spliced Together?

Could Paul's moving and powerful letter to the Philippians actually be *two* letters that were later cut and spliced together? In my previous post I answered, in short order, a series of questions that a reader had about the “original” text of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  I will now take several posts in order to address some of the questions at greater length.  Here was the first one:   QUESTION:  Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing of Paul? The short answer is Yes – it is one of the undisputed Pauline letters.  The longer answer is, well, complicated.  Scholars have long adduced reasons for thinking that this letter of Paul was originally *two* letters (or parts of two letters) that were later spliced together into the one letter we have today.  I explain the reasons for thinking so in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.  Here is what I say there.  (If you want to follow the argument particularly [...]

2024-06-05T15:54:36-04:00June 4th, 2024|Paul and His Letters, Reader’s Questions|

Did Paul Have a Brain Disorder?  (And did it help him?!)  Platinum post by Douglas Wadeson MD

Have you been waiting for a controversial Platinum post?  Wait no longer.  Here is another intriguing contribution by Doug Wadeson, who applies his medical expertise to a historical question about the Apostle Paul.  What do you think? REMEMBER: If you are a Platinum member you too can send in a guest post on a topic of interest -- whatever you like connected with the Blog?  Wanna put an idea out there?  Go for it!! *********************           The apostle Paul is the most influential figure in Christianity after Jesus, and some would even argue that because Paul was so effective in fleshing out Christian doctrine about Jesus and then spreading it into the pagan world that he was even more influential than Jesus himself.  But is it possible that Paul had a brain disorder which actually facilitated his singular position in the history of Christianity?  Let’s look at certain aspects of Paul’s life. Paul did a lot of writing, particularly to friends and churches, so that we have a number of his letters preserved for us.  [...]

2024-05-29T11:10:04-04:00June 3rd, 2024|Paul and His Letters|

Do We Have the Original Text of Philippians?

  I have been discussing whether we have the "original" text of Paul's letters, and have argued that 2 Corinthians in fact is probably two and maybe (my view) as many as five letters spliced together.  It's not the only letter of Paul's that we may not have an "original" version of (assuming that the earlier letters that were cut and then spliced together are more original).  We have a similar problem with Philippians, long my favorite Pauline letter -- so much my favorite as a young person that I memorized it at age 18!  But since then I have seen there are some problems that it presents.  I addressed these long ago on the blog in response to a question. The question, as you'll see, is simply about whether Philippians was original to Paul.  But it got me off on to a range of issues all closely related, over a series of posts.  Here's the first, with the question. QUESTION(S):  Would you agree that the letter written to the Philippians was an original writing [...]

Is Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians Actually FIVE Letters?

In my previous post I tried to show why most critical scholars think that the letter of 2 Corinthians is actually two different letters that have been spliced together.   When I was back in graduate school, I learned – to my surprise – that there were scholars who thought that in fact 2 Corinthians was made up of five different letters, all spliced together.  At first that struck me as a bit crazy, but as I looked at the evidence I began to see that it made a good bit of sense. I’m not completely committed to that idea, but I’m inclined toward it.  My sense is that this is the view of a sizeable minority of critical scholars, but I have no data, only anecdotal evidence, to back that up. In any case, what matters more is what you yourself might think of it.  I won’t be giving the evidence in full, but here is how I lay it out for students to consider in my textbook on the New Testament for undergraduates.  To [...]

2024-05-16T11:41:41-04:00May 26th, 2024|Paul and His Letters|

Is Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians Actually TWO Letters?

How many of the early Christian writings consist of scissors-and-paste jobs, where later editors cut up earlier writings and stitched them together into one continuous work, so that what we have now are not the originals but only the final edited version?  Are there books like that, for example, in the New Testament?  In my last two posts I discussed how the early Christian writing called the Didache is that kind of thing, with three documents artificially combined into the 16-chapter book we now have. And what about in the New Testament? The first thing to stress is that the cut-and-paste approach to “editing” a book is not quite the same as what we find more commonly, for example among the Gospels.  When Matthew “used” the Gospel of Mark, he took over many of its stories; in some instances he rearranged their order, changed their wording, added material to what he found, took away material, and so on.  That’s not what we’re talking about now.  Now we’re talking about an author literally cutting up a [...]

2024-05-16T10:18:30-04:00May 25th, 2024|Paul and His Letters|

The Silencing of Women: 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as an Interpolation

In my previous post I began to address the question of whether we have the original text of 1 Cor. 14:34-35, where Paul tells women that they must be silent in the churches. I first had to show that the similar passage of 1 Tim. 10-15 is not by Paul, because 1 Timothy itself was not written by Paul. This is a standard view among scholars, that Paul did not write 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; I won't get into the reasons here, but if you look up Timothy or Titus as a word search on the blog you'll find posts that address the matter.  Apart from that, doesn't Paul say something similar in his undisputed letters, in the harsh words of 1 Cor 14:34-35? Indeed, this passage is *so* similar to that of 1 Tim 2:11-15, and so unlike what Paul says elsewhere, that many scholars are convinced that these too are words that Paul himself never wrote, words that were later inserted into the letter of 1 Corinthians by a scribe who [...]

2024-05-24T14:20:57-04:00May 21st, 2024|Paul and His Letters, Women in Early Christianity|

Knowing Paul’s Views of Women…

I recently received this important question from a reader that is closely related to the current thread about whether we have the "original" text of the books of the New Testament. QUESTION: The question was specifically about about women's roles in the church based on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is something they want to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” The questioner said:  I was raised in a strict fundamentalist sect where this was actually practiced. The women were allowed to sing but that was it. According to the Harper-Collins Study Bible some think that this was a later, non-Pauline addition to the letter, more in keeping with the Pastoral letters. Is this the common view among scholars? RESPONSE: I've dealt with this issue before on the blog, and think it's good to deal with it again. Two preliminary [...]

2024-05-15T12:46:21-04:00May 19th, 2024|Paul and His Letters, Women in Early Christianity|

Did Paul Favor Gender Equality?

In this thread I have been talking about the role of women in the early church, starting with the ministry of Jesus, then in the churches of Paul (the first churches we have any real record of). In this post I continue by reflecting on Paul’s actual *views* of women; this strikes me as a particularly important topic since Paul is frequently condemned as the first Christian misogynist (or at least one of the first bad ones). Is that justified? The following represents some of my reflections as found in my discussion in my textbook on the NT for university students. The apostle Paul did not know the man Jesus nor, probably, any of his women followers. Moreover, many of the things that Paul proclaimed in light of Jesus' death and resurrection varied from the original message heard by the disciples in Galilee. For one thing, Paul believed that the end had already commenced with the victory over the forces of evil that had been won at Jesus' cross and sealed at [...]

Was Paul a Misogynist?

I have recently had some discussions with other scholars about the role of women in the early church.  I've dealt with that issue on the blog before, of course, but now that I look I see that my fullest discussion was a thread from over ten years ago.  Time to do it again!  These posts deal with a variety of issues, starting with Paul, notorious in some circles for his views.  But ... justifiably? In my NT course I have every student participate, as part of their grade, in a formal debate on this or that topic. The topics are meant to be controversial, and one of them, years ago, was “Resolved: The Apostle Paul was a Misogynist.” Students had to choose a side to argue (I would often assign them to argue the opposite side of the side they said they preferred arguing!), they spent weeks doing research on the topic, and then they would present their debate before their small group recitation class. It was a great topic, made even more interesting by [...]

Is the Paul of Acts at Odds with the Paul of His Own Letters?

Here I continue my few remarks on the differences between Paul’s proclamation as recorded in the speeches he gives in the book of Acts and the views he sets forth in his own letters.  Again, this is taken from my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene (Oxford, 2006).   ****************************** Further contrasts between what Paul says about his proclamation and what Acts says about it can be seen in the first major speech Paul delivers in Acts, on the first of his three missionary journeys in the book, in the town of Antioch, Pisidia (central Asia Minor).  Paul and his companion Barnabas arrive in town, and on the Sabbath they go to the synagogue for worship with their fellow Jews.  As outside guests, they are asked if they have anything to say to the congregation.  Paul stands up and delivers a long sermon (Acts 13:16-42).  He addresses his hearers as “Israelites,” and gives them a brief summary of the history of the Jewish people, down to the time of King David.  He then [...]

2024-04-04T10:39:39-04:00April 10th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters|

Is the Message of Paul in Acts the Same as the Message of Paul According to Paul?

In September I'm going to be hosting an online conference of Bible scholars discussing their work for laypeople at a level that most anyone will be able to follow easily.  This will be the second of our conferences, "New Insights into the New Testament" (if you don't know about the first one from this past year, focused on the Gospels, you can learn about it here: New Insights into the New Testament Conference).  The topic will be The Life, Letters, and Legends of Paul, and we'll have 8 or 10 scholars making presentations with Q&A for each. We'll be announcing the course later (date, etc.), but just now as I've started thinking about it, I've been reflecting on some of the issues involved with trying to figure out what Paul actually preached.  In addition to his hints and statements in his surviving letters, we have actual speeches allegedly delivered by him in the book of Acts in the NT.  But do these accurately reflect what he really said? I've addressed the question on and off [...]

2024-04-04T10:54:51-04:00April 9th, 2024|Acts of the Apostles, Paul and His Letters|

What Did Paul’s Christian Enemies Write About Him?

In my upcoming course I'll be talking about whether Peter and Paul were at odds.  That might seem like a strange and implausible idea to some people.  But from a historical perspective, there is nothing at all unlikely about it.  We know that Paul had enemies (among the Christians!) all over the place.  Some of these anti-Pauline Christians were surely authors.  It would be absolutely fantastic if we were to discover some of the letters of Paul’s opponents. Let me put this into a wider historical context.  In BROAD terms Paul appears to have agreed in major ways with those who were followers of Jesus before him. I get asked all the time if I think that Paul is the true founder of Christianity and whether we should call it Paulinanity instead of Christianity (and related questions).  My answer is decidedly NO.   One reason that seems obvious to me, but not apparently to everyone, is that Paul did not himself invent Christianity.  He inherited it. It is difficult to establish a firm chronology of Paul’s [...]

2024-03-25T12:09:16-04:00March 26th, 2024|Paul and His Letters|

Did Paul Exchange Letters with the Greatest Roman Philosopher of His Day??

I've mentioned several non-canonical letters forged in Paul's name connected with the views of the second-century heretic Marcion.   There are other letters out there that also (falsely) claim to be written by Paul but that were not forged in order to support or attack a particular heretical view in Paul's name.  That is almost certainly the case with a set of letters that were accepted as authentically Paul's (though never accepted as canonical) for many centuries, down until relatively modern times: Paul's correspondence with the great philosopher (and personal tutor and advisor to the emperor Nero).  Here's what I say about these letters in my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011). (If you want a more thorough analysis of these, and all the Pauline forgeries I'm mentioning in these posts, I get gratifyingly down in the weeds at good length in my academic book, Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics) ****************************** The Letters of Paul and Seneca A completely different agenda is found in a much later forgery of Pauline letters [...]

Paul’s Letter to the … Laodiceans? Long Thought to be Part of the New Testament!

One of the most intriguing letters forged in the name of Paul is his alleged letter to the Laodiceans.  As you’ll see, it’s intriguing both because some Christian churches accepted it as part of the New Testament for centuries and because scholars have never been able to figure out why a forger bothered to write it.  I have a theory about that though, which I laid out in my book Forgery and Counterforgery (Oxford University Press, 2013),  from which I have taken this discussion. (I’ve edited it a bit to get rid of the weeds; here I explain the issues and my argument in accessible terms). ****************************** The Letter to the Laodiceans The Letter of “Paul” to the Laodiceans is a pastiche of Pauline phrases with no obvious theme or purpose.  Apart from the opening line, drawn from Gal. 1:1, the borrowings are almost exclusively from Philippians.  About a tenth of the letter represents “filler” provided by the author, which is also without character or color. Scholars have long vied with one another to see [...]

Paul’s *THIRD* Letter to the Corinthians? A Very Interesting Forgery

Even though we don’t have the forgeries of Pauline letters connected with Marcion (they’ve all been lost or destroyed by orthodox Christians), we have other letters forged in Paul’s name that appear to be opposing Marcion (you don't need to read the previous posts to make sense of this one; but if you want to learn more about Marcion -- see the two posts preceding).  These surviving letters are forgeries written to oppose forgeries, an orthodox attempt to fight fire with fire.   One of the most interesting is Paul’s alleged Third Letter to the Corinthians! Here’s what I say about it in my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011). ****************************** Third Corinthians It was quite common for “orthodox” Christians (that is, Christians who accepted the theological views that eventually became widely accepted throughout Christianity) to charge “heretics” (those who taught “false teachings”) with forging documents in the names of the apostles in order to support their views.  We will see much more of this phenomenon in chapter five.  The Gospel of Peter, for example, was charged with [...]

The Two Gods of Marcion and the Forgeries in the Name of Paul

Here I continue my discussion of Marcion, the arch-heretic of the second century, whose followers forged writings in the name of Paul to support their view that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of Jesus and Paul.  Recall:  Marcion argued that the God of the Old Testament was the Jewish God who created this world, chose Israel to be his people, and then gave them his law.  He was a just, wrathful God:  not evil, just ruthlessly judicial.  The God of Jesus, on the other hand, was a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  This good God, superior to the God of the Jews, sent Jesus into the world in order to die for the sins of others, to save people from the wrathful God of the Old Testament.  Salvation comes, then, by believing in Jesus’ death. To prove his point, Marcion pointed out the contradictions between the Old Testament God and the God of Jesus. The God of the Old Testament sent his prophets, one of whom was Elisha.  One [...]

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