r m p




William O. Walker, Jr., Interpolations in the Pauline Letters. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 213. Sheffield Academic Press 2001.

Reviewed by Robert M. Price.


The presupposition (though hardly taken for granted) of this book is that our Pauline Corpus represents, not the various epistles as first written and delivered, but rather in the form of an edited collection meant for wider circulation. Perhaps that provides an apt allegory of reading for the volume under review here. For what we have (and I am very grateful to have it) is an edited collection of several earlier essays and articles by Professor Walker on the title theme. It is always a nuisance to chase down and file such pieces, and their collection not only makes them a handier reference tool but gains them a wider audience. And the arguments and conclusions of Interpolations in the Pauline Letters merit the widest audience possible. For far too often one reads an out-of-hand dismissal for interpolation theories, all in the name of the dictum that the early manuscripts contain the passage being nominated for interpolation status, and that the status quo estimate of the integrity of the text must prevail until proven wrong. These are apologetics, not maxims of true scholarship. Walker clearly and concisely demonstrates the fallacy of both. He shows how the uniformity of textual witnesses amounts to exactly nothing in view of the fact that we possess no copies dating from the relevant time frame (as well as raising the possibility that we lack such materials precisely because, as Caliph Uthman was said to have done with the Koran, earlier texts were destroyed so as not to undermine the authority of the official textus receptus). And since all literary-historical arguments, including apologetical ones, are equally probabilistic, none can claim higher ground. One can only hoist a wet finger and see which way the evidence seems to be blowing. Thus new theories and old ones alike must be held with appropriate tentativeness until something better comes along. It can only be residual (or disguised) theological dogmatism that requires certainty when in the nature of the case all we can ever have is a dune of shifting sand beneath us. Foolish to build edifices, better to wander like the nomads.

In my view, Walker does not dismiss with enough disdain the old chestnut that a passage containing obvious vocabulary and conceptuality smacking of Gnosticism or legalism, etc., are attempts by Paul to turn the weapons of his opponents against them, tongue-in-cheek. This I consider the most flagrant apologist's sleight-of-hand trick to nullify powerful evidence. It amounts to saying "Paul said it, all right, but he was just kidding." Whenever I read, as I constantly do, an author saying Jesus or Paul is speaking "ironically," I know I am reading the exegesis of desperation. Again, just kidding.

Walker, then, has collected several previous studies, updating and revising them in view of criticisms and kindred work by others, and his method here is to show the proof of the pudding is in the eating. After showing the a priori likelihood of interpolations having crept into Pauline texts, as into many other ancient texts, he goes on to delineate various possibilities for understanding foreign materials discerned in the epistles. They might be pre-Pauline fragments assimilated by the apostle, or by someone else; afterthoughts added by Paul himself; Pauline bits and pieces pasted in the wrong place by early editors; or Deutero-Pauline material added to "correct" and domesticate the texts. He classifies eight criteria for identifying extraneous materials, observing that one must heed the cumulative weight of their evidence and not merely dismiss such arguments on the supposed basis that none by itself is convincing. (After all, the task is not proving an accused murderer guilty beyond doubt, though some seem to think so). He also distinguishes four types of lexical material: distinctively Pauline vocabulary, vocabulary common to Paul and early Christian writers generally, non-Pauline vocabulary, and post-Pauline vocabulary. It is fascinating to see the emerging continuities of thought and vocabulary, etc., between epistles commonly accepted as Deutero- or Trito-Pauline and the proposed interpolations. One immediately recognizes the same sort of evidence patterning that led scholars to recognize the great source documents underlying the Pentateuch.

Professor Walker devotes a chapter apiece to discussing the debates over and the case for seeing as interpolations 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (silencing women);11:3-16 (the veiling of prophetesses); 2:6-16 (secret wisdom about the archons of this age and the deep things of God); 12:31b-14:1a (the "love chapter"); and Romans 1:18-2:29 (the sins of idolaters; the parity of righteous Jews and Gentiles). Then, more briefly, he presents the basics of the case for seeing another groups of texts as interpolations, skipping the refutations and counter-refutations: Romans 16:25-27 (the doxology); 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 (unequal yoking with unbelievers and Beliar); 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 (God's judgment on persecuting Jews); Romans 13:1-7 (obey the authorities); 1 Corinthians 10:1-22 (idols are devils in disguise). And he says, in effect, that interpolations are like cockroaches: if you can spot some, there must be a lot more lurking somewhere. And he lists passages that have attracted scholarly stares of suspicion: 1 Corinthians 1:2; 4:17; 6:14; 7:29-31; 11:23-26; 15:3-11; 15:21-22; 15:31c; 15:44b-48; 15:56; Galatians 2:7-8; Philippians 1:1c; 2:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 4:10b-12; 4:18; 5:1-11; 5:27. And of course J.C. O'Neill (whose views of Romans 1:18-2:29 he accepts) posited a number of other interpolations in Romans and Galatians. 

We may hope that Walker's lucid and convincing work will hasten the day when most scholars will see that the Pauline Corpus presents a challenge exactly analogous to that of the historical Jesus: to understand the relevant texts, we have to perform diachronic analysis, deconstructing the Pauline tradition as we have learned to do with the Gospel tradition. We need to learn to chart the flow of the history of the Pauline tradition as Bultmann traced that of the Synoptic tradition. Only then will Pauline scholars escape their current entrapment in the mire of debates over "the center of Pauline theology" and drop the futile scholastic quest to harmonize the disparate texts of the Pauline epistles.



Copyrightę2007 by Robert M Price
Spirit of Carolina Web Design