Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. By Philip B. Payne. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009, 511 pp, $29.99 paper. Published in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 54.1 (2011), 177–79.
Israel never had female priests. Jesus did not name any females as apostles. Peter instructed wives to submit to their husbands, as did Paul (repeatedly), and Paul expressly forbade women teaching or exercising authority over men. The history of the people of God has largely reflected the Bible’s clear teaching on this point. Male leadership is a given in the OT, and with few exceptions, the Christian church of all denominations has been led by males. Has the church been wrong about this for the whole of its history? Both Israel and the church have failed spectacularly at points—is this one of them? Put simply: no. Male leadership in the home and the church is taught in the Bible. Even a brilliant use of the evidence and an airtight logical argument would fail to stop the rising of the sun, but unfortunately Philip Payne mishandles the evidence and multiplies logical and rhetorical fallacies.
Payne begins with chapters on the backgrounds of Paul’s teaching, the women Paul names (begging questions by calling these women “ministry leaders”), and theological axioms Payne takes to imply his definition of equality. Payne then breaks Paul’s statements on women into two parts: “earlier” and “later” letters. Beginning with a chapter on Gal 3:28, Payne follows with a chapter on 1 Cor 7, then eight chapters on 1 Cor 11:2–16, a chapter on 1 Cor 14:34–35, another on Eph 5:21–33 and Col 3:18–19, eight on 1 Tim 2:8–15, another on 1 Tim 3:1–13 and Titus 1:5–9, and then concludes with “Paul Consistently Champions the Equality of Man and Woman in Christ.” Several reviews of this book have already appeared [see Blomberg’s and Schreiner’s]; therefore, because of space limitations, I will focus on Payne’s campaign against 1 Cor 14:34–35. Perhaps this focus will suffice as an example of the type of argumentation found in Payne’s book.
Payne makes a desperate attempt to show that 1 Cor 14:34–35 should be relegated to the theological dustbin as a non-canonical interpolation. He claims that “its suppression of a weak social group” counts as “evidence that 14:34–35 is an interpolation” (p. 262), and he explains that “Male chauvinist editorial patterns evident in the Western text demonstrate that these attitudes pervaded the church as well as society in general” (p. 264). Countering these injustices, Payne goes to war to prove that the text deserves no standing in Scripture. He writes, “If 1 Cor 14:34–35 is a non-Pauline interpolation, it does not carry apostolic authority and should not be used as such to restrict the speaking ministries of women, nor should it influence the exegesis of other NT passages” (p. 267). What, however, if it is not a “non-Pauline interpolation” and thus does “carry apostolic authority”? Should Payne continue to regard it as “restrictive”? Is there a way to view 1 Cor 14:34–35 as something other than an expression of male chauvinist suppression of a weak social group? Obviously complementarians are convinced that there is. Payne needs an unassailable case if he is going to evict 1 Cor 14:34–35 from its scriptural stronghold. He needs real evidence and convincing argumentation, and he has neither.
We have no manuscript that lacks this passage—not one. Payne so badly needs a text that lacks 1 Cor 14:34–35 that he invents several and then uses these imaginary witnesses to testify on his behalf. Payne has a long discussion (pp. 232–46) of the “distigmai” in Codex Vaticanus. These distigmai are “two horizontally aligned dots in the margin at mid-character height, by the last line of 1 Cor 14:33” (pp. 232–33). Payne’s view is that “the distigme by the last line of 14:33 is positioned appropriately to mark the absence of verses 34–35” (p. 233). Payne’s interpretation of this evidence has been analyzed and rejected by both Curt Niccum and Peter Head [see summaries of Head’s work by Tommy Wasserman, Part 1 and Part 2]. I simply observe here that this interpretation of unexplained features of a manuscript is very tenuous evidence, and if it is to help Payne’s case he needs everything to go his way. If the scribe did not put the distigmai there to mark an interpolation, as Payne believes, these distigmai do not support his edifice. What if the scribe put the distigmai there not because the text was lacking from a manuscript in his possession but because he was aware of several variants of the existing text? In addition, if it was not “the original scribe of the Vaticanus NT” who put them there, as Payne holds (p. 245) but someone after ad 1400 who added them, as Niccum and Head think, Payne’s claims collapse. So in order for the distigmai of Vaticanus to support Payne’s view, we must add the hypothesis of the date of the distigmai to the hypothetical reason the scribe put them there, and thus we arrive at the sum total of a hypothetical conclusion that these verses originated as an interpolation. This gives us one manuscript that hypothetically attests to the omission of these verses. Meanwhile, 1 Cor 14:34–35 remain clearly inked on the leaf of the manuscript in question. The verses are comfortably in the text of Codex Vaticanus, not as a hypothetical explanation of mysterious little dots but as a clearly written, universally attested reality.
Undaunted, Payne layers on more theoretical possibilities in his discussion of Codex Fuldensis. This manuscript is a sixth-century copy of the Vulgate that, like every other surviving manuscript, contains the text in question, 1 Cor 14:34–35. In Fuldensis verses 34–35 follow verse 33, neither dislocated nor in the margin but in the body of the actual text. In the lower margin, however, verses 36–40 have been re-copied. On this basis, Payne posits that “St. Victor, Bishop of Capua, ordered the text of 1 Cor 14:34–40 rewritten and corrected in the bottom margin of Codex Fuldensis with verses 34–35 omitted” (p. 246). Payne’s explanation is possible, but verses 34–35 are still in the body of the text of Codex Fuldensis, and the recopied portion begins with verse 36 and goes through verse 40 rather than beginning with verse 33, skipping to verse 36 and continuing to verse 40. Payne thinks that “the most natural explanation” is that Victor saw “a manuscript that did not contain 14:34–35,” then ordered the scribe to rewrite verses 36–40 in the lower margin. If Victor had checked any other manuscripts, however, the evidence indicates that he might not have concluded that verses 34–35 are an interpolation, since all the manuscripts in our possession have the verses—as did, evidently, the exemplar from which the body of Fuldensis was copied. Payne nevertheless makes an astonishing claim: “FuldensisVictor mg. thus fulfills the criterion C. K. Barrett posed, ‘If any significant MS omitted the verses altogether it would probably be right to follow [the view that] . . . verses 34f . . . were added later as a marginal note’” (p. 248, bracketed note and ellipses Payne’s). Yet Barrett’s criterion has not been fulfilled: Fuldensis is a sixth-century Latin manuscript that hardly registers as a “significant manuscript,” and in its case verses 34–35 are not “a marginal note” but are in the body of the text. The only manuscript that omits the verses altogether is the one that exists in Payne’s mind, which he thinks Victor saw. Payne also thinks that the twelfth-century manuscript 88 was copied from a text that did not have verses 34–35. The fact that we do not posses that manuscript does not diminish Payne’s confidence in his hypothetical reconstruction (pp. 249–50).
In light of the manuscript evidence, Payne’s argument against 1 Cor 14:34–35 fails. It simply will not do to excise evidence that goes against our conclusions. The removal of this passage is not even an acceptable “working hypothesis” for those who would regulate their conduct by Paul’s teaching. Those who desire to understand and embrace everything Paul taught will need to look elsewhere for an explanation of all he wrote. I do not have space to discuss Payne’s interpretations of the other Pauline texts, but in my view they are no more successful than his attempt to show that 1 Cor 14:34–35 is an interpolation. Payne lacks evidence for his conclusions and marshals arguments riddled with fallacies to advance them.
Payne holds that “the biblical evidence” for his position “is as strong as an avalanche” and that “the totality of the avalanche is inescapable” (p. 462). It is fitting that Payne chose the metaphor of an avalanche, which is a destructive disaster. Indeed, the adoption of Payne’s conclusions would cause a moving away from safe paths and solid ground toward calamitous consequences.