Saturday Series: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

For the next few weeks these Saturday Series studies will explore 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, a most interesting (and much-debated) passage among Paul’s letters. New Testament scholars and commentators have long been aware of the difficulties surrounding this passage, which may be summarized by the following two points:

    • It appears out of place—in terms of style, tone, emphasis, and subject matter—with the surrounding portions of the letter. It seems to break the flow and thought abruptly at 6:13, which otherwise follows relatively smoothly with 7:2ff. There would appear to be no clear explanation of how the rest of the letter (specifically 2:14-6:13 + 7:2-4) relates to this section.
    • There are a considerable number of words and expressions which differ considerably from Paul’s language and vocabulary in the other letters. This has led an increasing number of commentators to question both the source and authorship of the section.

Consideration of both points has led many scholars to view 6:14-7:1 as an interpolation—that is to say, a (secondary) insertion into the text from another source. Actually, the question is parsed more finely; theories regarding the passage may be summarized as follows:

    • It is Pauline (i.e. authored by Paul) and in its proper place as part of single unified letter—whether defined as 2:14-7:4, all of 2 Corinthians, or something in between  [View #1]
    • It is non-Pauline, but used by Paul and in its proper location [View #2]
    • It is Pauline, but from a separate letter or writing, and has been inserted into its current location secondarily (i.e. an interpolation) [View #3]
    • It is non-Pauline, and an interpolation [View #4]
    • It is anti-Pauline (i.e. contrary to Paul’s own thought, in certain respects) and an interpolation [View #5]

This represents a remarkably wide range of opinions, and there is little consensus among commentators, other than general agreement that the current location of the passage creates significant difficulties for interpretation. In this regard, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 serves as a valuable test case for the application of the principles and methods of critical study. Such analysis is actually most valuable in situations where there is considerable uncertainty and disagreement surrounding a particular passage. In terms of the various areas and aspects of Biblical criticism, we must consider the following, in relation to 2 Cor 6:14-7:1:

    • Textual Criticism—(1) External evidence for the text, along with any variant reading; and (2) Internal evidence regarding the vocabulary and style of the passage
    • Source Criticism—Is there evidence that the text comes from a distinct source, compared with other portions of the book? If so, what are characteristics and features of this source? To this may be included Form- or Genre-criticism, especially in terms of the poetic and parenetic character of this particular passage.
    • Literary Criticism—Study of the features of the text, as a written (literary) work, and how it came to be written; here, we may specifically refer to a pair of related sub-categories:
      • Composition Criticism—How the text, within the work as a whole, came to be composed, i.e. by a particular author (or authors)
      • Redaction Criticism—Whether, or to what extent, the text was part of a process of editing or compiling (“redaction”), to form the final written work as we have it
    • Canonical Criticism—This relates primarily to the narrower question of, if 2 Corinthians represents a compilation from different sources (possibly including non-Pauline material), what effect (if any) does this have on the canonical status (inspiration, etc) of the letter?

Let us begin with a translation of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1:

14You must not come to be yoked with (those who are different), (to one)s without trust!

For what holding (is there) with [i.e. between] justice and lawlessness,
or what common (bond is there) with [i.e. between] light and darkness?
15And what voice (sounding) together (is there) of (the) Anointed (One) toward Belîal,
or what portion for (the one) trusting with (the one) without trust?
16And what setting down together (is there) for the shrine of God with images?—
for you are the shrine of (the) living God, even as God said that
‘I will make (my) house among them and will walk about among (them),
and I will be their God and they will be my people.’

17‘Therefore you must come out of the middle of them and mark (yourselves) off from (them),’ says the Lord,
‘and you must not attach (yourself) to an unclean (thing)’
‘and then I will take you in—
18and I will be a Father unto you, and you will be sons and daughters unto me’,
says the Lord Almighty.

7:1So (then), holding these messages about (what He will do), (my) beloved (one)s, we should cleanse ourselves from all soiling of flesh and spirit, completing holiness (fully) in (the) fear of God.”

I have tried to indicate the structure of the passage above, which may be outlined as follows:

    • Initial statement (injunction)—V. 14a
    • Poetic exposition, concluding in a Scripture citation—Vv. 14b-16
    • Catena (chain) of Scripture citations—Vv. 17-18
    • Concluding exhortation—Ch. 7:1

This has all the appearance of a mini-sermon or homily, a point which will be discussed, along with the poetic character of the passage, in the next study (dealing with Source- and Form-criticism). The first critical area to examine relates to the Greek text itself.

Textual Criticism

As discussed in prior studies, textual criticism primarily involves efforts to establish the most likely original form of the text, as far as this is possible. In the case of 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 as a textual unit, this involves the two-fold question outlined above: (a) whether the passage may be an interpolation (and thus not part of the original text), and (b) whether or not it is genuinely Pauline. Two kinds of evidence are used to address such questions: (1) External evidence (i.e. the actual Greek manuscripts and ancient versions, etc), and (2) Internal evidence (comparative examination of vocabulary, style, etc). For more on the terminology of Textual Criticism, see my 3-part article “Learning the Language”.

(1) External Evidence

Here it must be pointed out that there is not a single known Greek manuscript, nor ancient version, nor citation in the Church Fathers, which would indicate that 2 Corinthians was ever without 6:14-7:1. Further, there is not any indication that the passage was ever present in a different location in 2 Corinthians (or anywhere else in the Pauline corpus). Nor is there much evidence for any substantive textual variants (variant readings) in this passage. Thus, the external evidence is overwhelmingly against the idea that 6:14-7:1 is an interpolation. For this reason, theories of interpolation or non-Pauline authorship rest solely on internal evidence.

(2) Internal Evidence

Here we must consider two factors: (i) the disruption apparently caused by 6:14-7:1 in context, and (ii) instances of vocabulary, style, and thought which may be seen as foreign to Paul’s letters. The first factor is better addressed separately, as an aspect of literary (composition) criticism, in an upcoming study. Here I will consider only matters of vocabulary, style, etc, in relation to the question of Pauline authorship. Normally, such analysis based on vocabulary and style is rather precarious (due to the measure of subjectivity involved), but where there is a high incidence of unusual terms or expressions in a rather short space, the arguments become stronger and more reliable. This is the case, for example, with the Pastoral Letters (especially 1 Timothy), and also here with 2 Cor 6:14-7:1.

Rare and unusual vocabulary

For example, there are eight (8) words which do not occur elsewhere in Paul’s letters (including 7 which are not found anywhere else in the NT), as a well as several other words where occurrence is rare. Here are the unique words, in order:

    • heterozygéœ (e(terozuge/w) [v. 14]—a compound verb meaning “joined/yoked” (i.e. zygós, “yoke”) together with “(something/someone) different” (héteros); most likely this is taken from the Greek version of Leviticus 19:19, where the related adjective (heterózygos) is used. Paul does make use of the word sýzygos (“[one] joined together [with]”), possibly as a proper name (?), in Philippians 4:3.
    • metoch¢¡ (metoxh/) [v. 14]—a similar sort of (compound) noun, referring to someone who “holds” (vb. échœ) something in common “with” (metá) another. This occurs only here in the New Testament (and just twice in the Greek OT), but related the adjective métochos and verb metéchœ are more common. Paul uses the verb five times, in 1 Cor 9:10, 12; 10:17, 21, 30.
    • symphœ¡n¢sis (sumfw/nhsi$) [v. 15]—again, a compound noun meaning literarly a “voice [fœn¢¡] (sounding) together with [sun]” another; this noun occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (nor the Greek OT), but related words (symphœnéœ [vb], symphœnía [noun], sýmphonos [adj]) do occur. Paul uses the adjective sýmphonos in 1 Cor 7:5.
    • Belíar (Beli/ar) [v. 15]—this is a transliteration in Greek of the Hebrew term b®liyya±al (lu^Y~l!B=), with the variant spelling Belíar instead of Belíal. The meaning of this word, used here as a proper name (generally equivalent to “[the] Satan”, “Devil”), will be discussed when we explore the overall thought of the passage in an upcoming study. The Hebrew is always translated (rather than transliterated) in the Greek OT, except for the A-text of Judges 20:13 LXX.
    • sungkatáthesis (sugkata/qesi$) [v. 16]—a compound noun similar in form to symphœ¡n¢sis (above), meaning literally “(something) set down together with”, in the sense of an “agreement”, etc. The noun also occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (or Greek OT), though the related verb sungkatatíthemai is used once at Lk 23:51 (also Exod 23:1, 32 LXX).
    • emperipatéœ (e)mperipate/w) [v. 16]—a prefixed compound form of the verb peripatéœ (“walk about”) with the preposition en (“in, among”); here it is derived (and can be explained) from its use in the Greek version of Leviticus 26:12.
    • Pantokrátœr (Pantokra/twr) [v. 18]—a compound noun essentially meaning “might(iest) of all, mighty over all, all-mighty), commonly used in Greek as a divine title, and frequently so in the Septuagint (181 times). It occurs nine other times in the New Testament (all in the book of Revelation), but nowhere else in Paul.
    • molysmós (molusmo/$) [7:1]—this noun, derived from the verb molýnœ (“smear [i.e. with paint or dirt], stain, soil”), occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and is also extremely rare in the Greek OT (cf. Jer 23:15 LXX); used in a ritual context, it connotes “pollution, defilement”.

It is to be noted how many of these are rare compound noun (or verb) forms, which seem uniquely suited to the poetic style of vv. 14b-18, allowing the author to express complex associations in the compact space of a poetic line. In addition to these eight words above, there are several others which seem rather unusual or rare for Paul:

    • merís (meri/$) [v. 15]—this noun, which fundamentally means “part, portion” is quite rare in the New Testament (occurring just 5 times); it is used just once in the Pauline corpus (Col 1:12).
    • katharízœ (kaqari/zw) [7:1]—this verb (“make clean, cleanse”) is relatively common in the New Testament (31 times), but occurs nowhere else in the undisputed Pauline letters (esp. nowhere in Romans, Corinthians, Galatians), only in Eph 5:26 and Titus 2:14. Moreover, the usage here, with the idea of believers cleansing themselves, does seem somewhat unusual for Paul.
    • hagiosýn¢ (a(giosu/nh) [7:1]—this noun (“holiness”, from hágios, “sacred, holy, pure”), is rare in the entire New Testament, occurring just three times; admittedly the other two instances are from the undisputed Pauline letters (Rom 1:4; 1 Thess 3:13), still the word is rare for Paul, and its occurrence in Rom 1:4 is often thought to come from an early creedal formula which Paul is adopting.

There are other aspects of style and wording/expression are perhaps unusual for Paul, many of which can be (and are) debated, and we will explore these as we proceed. However, those listed above are the most noteworthy as examples of rare vocabulary. The high number of these in such a short passage is striking, and makes an argument against Pauline authorship that must be taken seriously. At the same time, there are other areas of vocabulary and style in 6:14-7:1 which may be viewed as genuinely Pauline features. I would ask that you keep these 11 words (listed above) in mind as you continue to study the passage. How would you explain the incidence of these, and why so many are rare, both to Paul and even to the New Testament as a whole? How much does the poetic framework of this section, along with the use of so many quotations and allusions to the Old Testament, affect this data?

Next week, we will be exploring these (and other) questions as we examine the passage from the standpoint of source– and form-criticism.