Saturday, June 4, 2011

Response to Richard Carrier, Part 2

This is a continuation of the “interpolation” claims made by Richard Carrier. One must understand that when dealing with Carrier he not infrequently makes assertions that are a bit hyperbolic. He says things like “everyone agrees that…” or something is “obvious to anyone of sense,” or “universally recognized,” or something “makes no sense.” These are all just a sampling from the same article. That Carrier is writing to claim that no one disagrees with much, if any, of his premises, should instantly be a warning sign (incidentally, each of these specific examples are false as they relate to their claims). It is also condescending to suggest that conservative scholars have no sense (or are alternatively dishonest) in disagreeing with Carrier. In any case, his next passage, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, should be examined.

Carrier’s wooden hermeneutics show almost immediately. First, he claims we can “know” this was not written by Paul, since in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul discusses women in what is recognized to be public prayer.[1] Hence, since there is a contradiction, and it is uncharitable to attribute to someone a contradiction without good reason, we may conclude this is an interpolation.

The problem with this is that it does not account for context. Context is vitally important when it comes to understanding textual meaning. If I were to say, “Jim, do not go to the market,” and four pages of written material later I say, “Jim, go to the market,” is there a contradiction? Well, it simply depends. Suppose in the first case it is a Monday and in the second it is a Tuesday. Obviously, there is no contradiction. In the same way, the context of chapter 14 is the spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy.

A few words and verses are in order to establish the context. First, we have the word for “silence,” used initially in verse 28. It is σιγατω. In verse 28, this is in reference to a man who desires to speak in tongues where there is no interpreter. The next word comes in verse 29, which says, “Let the prophets speak two or three…” The word for “speak” is λαλειτωσαν. It is important to understand these contrasting thoughts in accordance with the context. We now know that the idea of the passage is instructions on prophesying and speaking in tongues. While this next part can be controversial, tongues related to languages other people actually spoke, while prophesying referred both to revealed future events and teaching what God wanted them to know. Speaking and being silent thus refers, in context, to the ideas contained within speaking in tongues and prophesying in the churches.

Now note the words used in verses 34 and 35: σιγατωσαν for “keep silence” and λαλειν for “to speak.” Verse 35 even extends to commenting on prophesying (hence the phrase, ει δε τι μαθειν θελουσιν, “and if they will [desire] to learn any thing.” The phrase is connecting to the prior verse as a compare/contrast. The point is that women are asked to model a submissive mindset (consider also Paul commanded men and women to submit to each other, so this idea simpliciter should not be offensive) in relation to prophesying (and its attendant teaching) and speaking in tongues. It is telling that the word for submission is in the middle voice; it is just as though Paul is asking women themselves to do this, rather than telling men to “hide your wives” or whatnot. Certainly, any indication that Paul thinks women are incapable of learning, teaching, or having either the gift of prophecy or tongues is read into the text.[2]

Now that we understand the context, let us turn to Carrier’s other arguments. Most of his entire argument is spent trying to defeat the defense that Paul was quoting an objector, which our interpretation does not depend upon. Carrier briefly objects that verse 36 makes 34-35 not even fit. However, verse 36 can be seen as the beginning of the conclusion of the immediate argument. Paul’s point is that the Corinthians do not have a monopoly on the gifts of God; they don’t know it all. So if they do not know it all, they had better understand what has come from Paul is a commandment of God (v. 37).

Then, Carrier proffers a preferred version of how the passage should read, minus the interpolation, and proclaims that some manuscripts have this rendering. Therefore, apparently, Carrier’s rendering is to be preferred. This is a logical fallacy that is a bit like confirmation bias. “If I find something that accords with my theory and it disagrees with what disagrees with my theory, what I found is right and what it disagrees with is wrong.” Well why should we think that? It is in fact a small minority of manuscripts that do not contain the supposed interpolation.

Carrier also relies on the idea if there is a manuscript not containing passage A, and another manuscript contains A, then obviously A is not original. This is not always a good way of showing what is and is not original. As early as the end of the first century (and definitely by the mid-second century) there were people giving heretical meanings to Scriptures, writing alternate Scriptures, etc. Why think this is not what happened here? This would also explain why there are so few compared to the reading with the supposed interpolation.

In any case, it hardly follows that because there was some question of the verses' authenticity in the sixth century that this “proves” the verses to be an interpolation. Carrier is approaching this through the prism of the “prove me wrong” mentality. Essentially, the burden lies strongly against the text being genuine from the outset, and thus unfairly, Carrier may make sweeping generalizations and weak arguments to bear; if there remains any possibility of being correct, he may conclude the verses are fraudulent.  

Richard Carrier is a brilliant mind, but he will go to any lengths to attempt to discredit the Bible. Further, he holds a faulty philosophy whereby he thinks that calling into question any text or passage automatically provides a defeater for the authenticity of any other passage. Finally, he falsely assumes that without knowing everything about a text, it is impossible to say with any degree of confidence what it actually said. Despite this, he claims there is “no doubt” these texts were not in the manuscript, thus providing at least some knowledge of what the texts actually said (else how can there be no doubt?). The claims of Carrier should be viewed with a grain of salt, and should be thoroughly investigated. He has done a poor job in this case of understanding the text before him.

                [1] One may question even this claim, but let us grant it unequivocally for now.

                [2] In fact, one may argue that since Paul had to issue this injunction, that women were indeed capable after all (since, if women were not capable, surely men would know it, and there would be only a need to tell men to restrain their ignorant women [which obviously did not happen])!

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