Saturday Series: 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (part 3)

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, continued

Literary Criticism

This is the third of five planned Saturday Series studies on 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, a passage thought by many commentators to be a (non-Pauline) interpolation. The evidence and arguments for this are significant, and worth pursuing as a way of demonstrating the importance (and value) of a thorough critical treatment of Scripture. The first study introduced the passage and looked at it from the standpoint of textual criticism; the second study examined it in terms of source criticism and form/genre criticism. Today, we will approach the passage through the eyes of literary criticism—that is, examining how it was authored and/or included in the letter of 2 Corinthians as a whole. This approach touches upon the style, circumstances, and purpose of the passage, as a section in the larger literary work. However, because of the serious questions regarding authorship and integrity of the passage—especially the thought that it may be a secondary addition (interpolation)—questions justified, at least in part, by the evidence we have considered so far, it is necessary to focus our study here in two ways. These reflect two other aspects of Biblical criticism:

    • Redaction Criticism—Here we will specifically consider the hypothesis that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is an interpolation, added to, or included in, the letter by an editor or compiler (i.e. redactor).
    • Composition Criticism—The focus shifts to explanations of the passage as the work of the author (i.e. Paul) of the letter.

Redaction Criticism

As mentioned previously, there are three different theories regarding 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 as an interpolation (i.e., a passage added secondarily to the letter): (a) Pauline, (b) non-Pauline, and (c) anti-Pauline. I will deal with these in reverse order:

Anti-Pauline theory

Some commentators feel that the unusual vocabulary, style and points of religious/theological emphasis, some of which we have already examined, are not only unusual to Paul, but actually run contrary to his way of thinking as expressed elsewhere in his letters. One prominent scholar who takes this position is Hans Dieter Betz, who discussed the matter in an article (“2 Cor 6:14-7:1: An Anti-Pauline Fragment?” Journal of Biblical Literature 92:88-108 [1973]), and again (as an appendix) in his outstanding critical commentary on Galatians (Hermeneia series [Fortress Press: 1979], pp. 329-30). He holds that the emphasis on the Torah, ritual purity, separation (from the ungodly/non-believer) in the passage, along with the strong dualistic manner of expression, better reflects the viewpoint of Paul’s Jewish Christian opponents (in Galatians, etc) than that of Paul himself. This seems rather to overstate the case, and on the whole I do not agree with such analysis; however, there is at least one supposition that needs to be examined seriously: whether the strong emphasis on separation from non-believers, so central to the passage, is foreign to Paul, or is in accord with his thought. In particular, this separationist teaching appears to run contrary to Paul’s specific instruction elsewhere to the Corinthian believers at three points: (1) the statement in 1 Cor 5:10, (2) the teaching regarding mixed marriage (1 Cor 7:12-16), and (3) relating to the issue of eating food that had been offered in a pagan religious setting (1 Cor 8-10, esp. 8:4-10; 10:23-30). It is worth considering each of these briefly.

In 1 Cor 5:1-12, Paul addresses the issue of a believer known to be engaged in improper sexual relations, and stresses that others in the congregation(s) should not associate with those involved in such behavior. The main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here the injunction to separate from immoral/ungodly people relates to believers, not the non-believer. Indeed, Paul seems to suggest the opposite of 2 Cor 6:14ff when he remarks, regarding this separation, that he is referring

“not (at) all (to) the ‘prostitutes’ [i.e. sexually immoral] of this world, or th(ose) looking to hold more [i.e. the greedy] and (who are) seizing (from others), or (to) the (one)s serving images [i.e. idols], (for) then you ought to go out of the world (completely)” (v. 10)

In other words, Paul is not telling them to separate (physically) from all the non-believers in the society at large, but, rather, to keep their distance from (lit. not to “mix together with”, vb sunanamígnymi) anyone claiming to be a believer (lit. “being named [a] brother”) who behaves in an openly immoral way (v. 11). In my view, the assumption that this instruction contradicts 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, while perhaps understandable, is misplaced. The same can be said of the other two instances mentioned above, even though, in many ways, those passages relate more directly to the teaching in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

In 1 Cor 7:12-16, as a part of wider teaching regarding marriage among believers in chap. 7, Paul specifically advises a man or woman, married to an unbeliever (lit. one “without trust”, ápistos), to remain together and not to separate, in the hopes that the unbelieving spouse might be converted. Following this, in chapters 8-10, Paul gives a most thorough and complex treatment on the question of whether believers should eat food that had been offered beforehand in a pagan religious setting (lit. food [meat] “slaughtered to [an] image”, eidwlóqyton, 8:1). This lengthy, nuanced instruction appears at odds with the stark contrast (and prohibition) given in 2 Cor 6:14ff. Paul, it seems, would permit believers to eat any such food as long as the act (and example) of doing so was not detrimental to others (those ‘weaker’ in faith). These two instances are notable, in relation to 2 Cor 6:14ff, in that they appear to be directly on point in several respects:

    • The same contrast between believer and non-believer (lit one “without trust”, ápistos) is made in both 1 Cor 7:12ff and 2 Cor 6:14ff. If, in the latter, the author (assuming it to be Paul) instructs a believer not to be “joined together” with a non-believer, how can he, in the former instance, tell them to remain ‘joined together’ in the marriage bond? Indeed, the very Scripture (Lev 19:19) upon which the homiletic in 2 Cor 6:14ff is based implies the sexual joining (i.e. breeding) of two different kinds of animals.
    • In 2 Cor 6:16 it is certainly implied that believers (as the “shrine of God”) should have nothing at all to do with the “images” (shorthand for the idolatrous deities) associated with Greco-Roman (polytheistic) religion. How, then, could Paul, if he is the author of the former passage, permit believers, under any circumstances, to eat food that had been offered beforehand to such ‘idols’ (cf. 8:4-10; 10:23-30)?

Does Paul’s teaching in these passages truly run counter to the exhortation in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (and vice versa)? In answer to this question, I would make several points related to each passage:

1 Corinthians 7:12-16—In 1 Cor 7:12-16, Paul is dealing with a very specific situation: instances where one spouse came to faith in Christ while the other did not, or has not yet, remaining a ‘pagan’ non-believer. In other words, the two were already married when the one spouse became a believer. This must have been a relatively common occurrence in the early years when the Gospel took root in a particular region of the Greco-Roman world (i.e., in a city like Corinth). Paul’s hope (and expectation) in his instruction to the believing spouse within a ‘mixed’ marriage clearly is evangelistic—that the non-believing spouse will be converted. This situational advice should not be mistaken for a general teaching regarding marriages between believers and non-believers. If a believer, upon coming to faith, were then to consider marrying a (pagan) non-believer, I am quite certain that Paul’s exhortation (and warning) would be very much akin to that of 2 Cor 6:14: “You must not come to be joined with (one who is) different, (one) without trust!”

1 Corinthians 8-10—The teaching in 1 Cor 8-10, regarding the issue of food (meat) that had been offered to “images”, also deals with a very specific situation, and ought not to be taken as a general principle, as some in Corinth may have done—e.g., if an idol is “not anything (real)” (8:4), then why should we be concerned about food that has been offered to it? I suspect that Paul, if left to his own opinion on the matter, would have been inclined to give a blunt prohibition along the lines of 2 Cor 6:16 (cf. also Acts 15:20, 29, and the context of Rev 2:14, 20). However, he seeks to balance two equally important concerns—(1) the freedom believers have in Christ, and (2) the need to avoid immorality and evil (associated with idolatry), etc. As such, 1 Cor 8-10 is a masterpiece of Christian homiletic, though admittedly different in scope and style from 2 Cor 6:14ff. Ultimately, Paul’s exhortation (10:14-22) comes very close to 2 Cor 6:16ff, though with the caveat of the sort of special instruction in 10:23-30 that is absent from the latter passage. This instruction is important to keep in mind, because it marks the distinction, and particular situation, Paul is addressing. Meat purchased in the marketplace, and thus presented at meals, often would have come from a sacrificial setting, as the byproduct of offerings made to deities. If such an association is clearly evident, then believers ought not to partake of such food (in accordance with 2 Cor 6:16); only when there is no public or known association with pagan religion, are believers free to eat, without worrying about the food’s origins.

1 Corinthians 5:10—The notice in 1 Cor 5:10 should also be viewed in terms of the specific circumstances of Paul’s instruction, and not as a principle to follow on its own. Paul is telling believers not to associate with another believer (or one calling himself/herself such) who is known to be involved in immoral behavior. This involved a real distancing, or separation, since living and meeting in close proximity was a sign of religious identity and (spiritual) union. This does not apply to other non-believers in society at large (“the world”), since there is no such union involved, and physical proximity per se had no intrinsic meaning. As such, there was no need for believers to avoid passing contact with non-believers; indeed, as Paul makes clear, to do so would require that they virtually “go out of the world”. Some might say that this is just the idea suggested by the citation of Isa 52:11 in 2 Cor 6:17—of a strict separation from the world. However, the language in 2 Cor 6:14-16 indicates a close joining rather than casual contact. If a believer were tempted to join together closely or intimately with pagan non-believers, Paul might well use similar language as in 2 Cor 6:14ff.

It is hard to see how the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is anti-Pauline can be maintained. Even more decisive is that it is virtually impossible to explain how such an anti-Pauline fragment was ever included as part of a Pauline letter (on this, see below).

Non-Pauline theory

Even if it is not anti-Pauline, that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 may not have been authored by Paul himself (i.e. non-Pauline) still remains a possibility, given the evidence that we considered in the previous studies. The passage is to be characterized as a Jewish-Christian homiletic treatment of Leviticus 19:19, comprised of a poetic exposition (in Semitic style, parallelistic couplets) with a chain (catena) of Scripture citations. The poetic style, and reliance upon Scriptural passages, may explain the apparent non-Pauline features, at least in part. A fairer judge concerning authorship, I think, would be any unusual or atypical details in the concluding exhortation (7:1). I discuss these in a separate, supplemental note.

If the passage was, indeed, not composed at all by Paul himself, what are its origins and how did it come to be included as part of 2 Corinthians? One critical theory is that it represents early Jewish Christian (homiletic) material that was, presumably, mistakenly identified (by an editor/compiler of the letter) as coming from Paul. There are three notable details or points of emphasis that, in large measure, appear to be foreign to Paul, and, at the same time, may have more in common with other Jewish (and Jewish Christian) writings of the period. I highlight these as:

    1. The emphasis on ritual purity, and, with it, the idea of believers separating from the non-believers.
    2. A strong dualism in thought and expression, as a way of contrasting believer vs. non-believer.
    3. Use of the name Belíal.

In particular, on these three points, many commentators point out the parallels in certain of the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls); I address these in some detail in a supplemental article which you may want to consult as part of this study. I will be discussing these ‘non-Pauline’ features, and whether, or to what extent, they may be compatible with Paul’s actual style, thought, and mode of expression, in the section on “Composition Criticism” (see below).

One problem faced by proponents of the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is a non-Pauline interpolation, is the question of just how it ever came to be included as part of 2 Corinthians. It would seem to require two basic suppositions: (1) it was mistakenly attributed to Paul by an editor or compiler, and (2) 2 Corinthians is a composite work, made up of more than one letter by Paul. On the second point, I mentioned this possibility in a prior study, pointing out the variety of theories advanced by scholars, perhaps the most common being: 2-document (chaps. 1-9 + 10-13), 3 document (chaps. 1-8 + 9 + 10-13); and 5-document (1:1-2:13 + 2:14-6:13, 7:2-16 + chap. 8 + 9 + 10-13). In general, these theories would apply just as well if 6:14-7:1 was authored by Paul, or was itself part of a genuine letter; this will be discussed briefly below. However, both of these suppositions (1 & 2 above) remain highly questionable, and to require both makes the theory, my view, rather implausible.

A Pauline interpolation?

Finally, we must consider the theory that 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 is Pauline, at least in the sense that it comes from an authentic letter by Paul, perhaps as part of his Corinthian correspondence. From the New Testament evidence itself, we know that Paul wrote at least four letters to Corinth—1 & 2 Corinthians, and the two letters referenced in 1 Cor 5:9 and 2 Cor 2:3-4. Indeed, it is quite natural that Paul would have written to believers there any number of times. Internal considerations regarding shifts of style, tone, and subject matter, have prompted many commentators to consider 2 Corinthians, as we have it, as representing several different letters (or parts of letters) that Paul wrote. In terms of 6:14-7:1 itself, the tone and theme of separation (between believer and non-believer) has led a fair number of scholars to identify it with the letter mentioned in 1 Cor 5:9, since it seems to relate to the sort of thing Paul is addressing there in 5:1-12 (see above). Indeed, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 appears to have much more in common with the language and subject matter of 1 Corinthians (see esp. 5:6-8; 6:19; and 10:6-13, and my discussion in the supplemental article [on 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls]) than anything we find throughout 2 Corinthians.

However, any interpolation theory, based on the idea of 2 Corinthians as a compilation, founders for lack of any explanation as to why 6:14-7:1 was included where it is now, since virtually all commentators agree that 2:14-6:13 + 7:2-4, at the very least, belong to the same letter. It would have made considerably more sense to place the passage (as a fragment from another letter) after 7:4 rather than 6:13, or even at a different location altogether. It would have been an extremely clumsy and/or inattentive editor (or copyist), indeed, who left 6:14-7:1 in its current location. No one has yet provided anything like a satisfactory explanation for the passage being included where it is located today.

If we were to summarize the evidence and analysis provided thus far (and above), I believe it would be fair to make two basic points:

    • There is strong evidence characterizing 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 as Jewish Christian homiletic material with features that are, in part at least, unusual or atypical of Paul.
    • At the same time, any theory treating the passage as an interpolation, even one based on a theory of 2 Corinthians as a composite compilation, rests on rather slim and questionable evidence, and is difficult to maintain.

Do you agree with either or both of these conclusions? Why or why not? Think over and examine carefully what I have presented in the studies thus far. How would you explain some of the curious or apparently ‘non-Pauline’ details in the passage, and way it seems to interrupt the flow between 6:13 and 7:2? In the next study, we will turn our attention to the supposition that Paul is the author of 6:14-7:1, in the sense that it is a genuine part of 2 Corinthians (or at least 2:14-7:16) as it has come down to us. This discussion will take place under the heading of Composition Criticism (see above), looking at 6:14-7:1, within the context of the letter as a whole, in terms of Paul’s style, mode of expression, rhetorical thrust, and ultimate purpose. I hope to see you here for this exciting study…next Saturday.