Thursday, April 19, 2007

A choice of witnesses

In studying the Bible we come to sources, to the manuscripts with all their flaws, changes, alterations, differences and alternatives. Where in another genre they might be called versions or iterations, in some biblical studies they are called "witnesses."

In the writings of Paul there are accurate versions, known as authentic or true witnesses -- what we have good reason to believe are his words without alteration (or far fewer alterations). There also later in time, altered, so called inauthentic or perjured witnesses of Paul. Those versions tell different stories, and what is interesting, is the choice some people make between the true and the false.

As Pistas3 has noted, the discovery of older and clearer documents and sources gives the true witness of Paul -- a Paul who gives guidance on how to accommodate women preaching, praying, and prophesying in meetings without giving offense. Much like Paul writing about his abstaining from meats allowed by God, he encouraged a path for women that enabled, but did not offend.

The changes added to Paul by the perjured witnesses suddenly shift Paul to someone who forbids women to talk at all in Church. In that, such witnesses are not only false (being added at a later date) but inconsistent as well.

After all, is Paul's God one before whom we are all equal, neither male or female, black or white, bond or free, Greek or barbarian? Or is Paul's God one before whom (in some inauthentic witnesses) women have no souls and are failed vessels of wrath?

Julie is right that the original Paul, in what we now know to be his own words before alteration, spoke for women, commanding respect, care and equality. Those who could not abide that truth twisted his words and added to them. Those who would tamper with the true scripture and would quote a perjured witness are either too ignorant of the truth to have much credibility or they know, but they still choose to say something else, of which one may wonder.

There is an unwarranted pain for some in the scriptures, but it most often comes of false witnesses, and lies always bring pain. The study of Paul deserves better, as does the true doctrine of how God encourages woman to be equal partners, equally yoked, before Him.

In case there is any question about this essay, it is well established that the lines in Paul's writings about women being silent were added by later scribes -- and only exist in some versions. Any professional who deals with scripture is aware that Paul said no such thing -- that it was added in later by people who felt that Paul needed revising and should not be allowed to talk in his own voice without editing.

Alterations in scripture seem to be of the following kinds:

  1. A well accepted saying or story is added to the written record (e.g. the story of the woman taken in adultery. That appears to be a well established story about Jesus that was just added to the gospel of John in order to find it a home in the record).
  2. Easily made typographical errors (the equivalent of changing "fare" to "fair").
  3. Doctrinal additions that make a doctrine clearer (e.g. supports for the doctrine of the trinity were added into the scriptures) or grind an ax (passages attacking the participation of women).
  4. Misattribution. An accepted text picks up a new author over time. The common example is the Book of Hebrews, though that book is a classic midrash and is exactly what one would expect from Paul given his background and training. Hebrews may well be the natural voice of Paul vs. the Paul of his Greek scribes and aides.
  5. The attrition of time and chance. The loss of the Book of Enoch from many canon seems to fit into that category, with various versions all including changes from 1-4 above and 6 below.
  6. Embellishments, filling out the text. A number of "lost" texts have versions that are heavily embellished.
The essay is the one I had hoped to have Pistas3 write, albeit my version is much, much less scholarly and incomplete compared to her insights. I thought that I might as well share it, since I think the issue of which witnesses we choose is an important one in many areas.


Damashi said...

Very insightful Steve. As someone who is interested in the veracity of the bible, I really enjoyed this reading.

Stephen said...

Thanks for the comment, I'd wondered if anyone had read this.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful...can you state what the source is for the additions to Paul's writings...most interesting. Thanx!

Kim said...

I'm commenting way too late in the game, but I can't figure out what point you're trying to make about misattribution. How did Hebrews "pick up another author?" More importantly, claiming that you would expect a classical midrash from Paul is entirely too facile. Why do none of his other writings even remotely resemble Hebrews. For an extended discussion of why I don't believe (and wish other Mormons didn't believe) that Paul wrote Hebrews, see my article on the subject.

Stephen said...


Hebrews is widely accepted as not having been written by Paul, but by someone else. Thus, it "picked up a new author" when it was attributed to Paul. Sorry that wasn't clear.

I admit that my exposition of the counterargument is facile, as I make it just in passing, but no more than the argument that Hebrews was really written by a husband and wife team with the wife dominant and probably a female favorite of Paul's, such as Junea the apostle or some other.

Hebrews is a dense midrash, classic in execution and depth. If Paul sat at the feet of one of the greatest midrashic scholars of all time, and was trained there, Hebrews is what you would expect his native writing style to be.

Of course that would mean that his other works were stretches, an effort to reach the Greeks, to be all things to all people ....

Is my brief argument in passing correct? Who knows, I don't. Did find your Sunstone presentation interesting, hope your new job search goes well, and appreciate the comments.