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.
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.
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