An Email Exchange with Dr. Robert M. Price on a Purported Pauline Interpolation
In a post I wrote back in September, I discussed my reasons for rejecting the argument that 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is an interpolation. Therein, I referred to some of the arguments of Dr. Robert M. Price. A full presentation of his argument can be found here.
To my surprise, I received an email from Dr. Price regarding that post. The exchange, in my opinion, was productive (to me and I hope the readers) and cordial. I will italicize Dr. Price’s emails for ease of reading.
Beginning of Exchange.
I am sorry to say that the recent treatment of my article on the interpolation 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 provides a grossly inadequate, strawman account of the piece, making it much too easy for the apologist to disregard what he or she thinks I am saying. Most of my argument is not even summarized. The point about the clash between Galatians and 1 Cor. 15 over Paul's independence vis a vis his gospel is hardly addressed. The author merely describes (though well enough) the different motives leading to these contradictory and unharmonizable assertions. I, at least, am not calling Paul an opportunistic liar, as this rebuttal implicitly does. Finally, though I do not shun the badge of shame of being on the "fringe," considering it, given the state of NT scholarship today, rather a badge of honor, it remains true that several other scholars have seen 1 Cor. 15:3-11 as an interpolation, not least William O. Walker, Jr., G.A. Wells, Winsome Munro, Arthur Drews, and J.C. O'Neill. But a nose-count never determines the truth of anything, as Francis A. Scheffer in his better moments used to remind us.
Robert M. Price
I have received your email regarding a post on the Cadre blog regarding whether 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation. I authored that post. It was not meant to be a direct confrontation with your article on the subject. Rather, as is the nature of a blog, it was intended to be a summary of arguments for and against. To shed some light on the background, this issue comes up time and again at the Secular Web's discussion forum. Some posters there had raised arguments that went beyond even your own on the matter. This blog was my summary of how I thought the arguments played out. Shortly after posting the blog, I alerted my former debate opponents on the secular web to the post and invited comment. I also indicated that I hoped to provide a fuller article in the future. Such an article would be posted either at Christianorigins.com or the Cadre's own website – not the blog. Here is the thread at infidels:
I disagree that the "clash" between the Galatians and 1 Corinthians accounts was hardly addressed. The post spent more time on that pro-interpolation argument than any other. But as I said on Infidels, bear in mind this is a blog.
I also disagree that there is any suggestion that Paul is a liar present in the post, implicit or otherwise. As I indicated, the audience in Galatians would not take the meaning that you and others attribute to Paul:
"And if we look closer, we realize that even in Galatians Paul admits that he learned about the gospel from other men. At the very least Paul was familiar with the faith while he was persecuting it. Paul stresses that his gospel is the "same" faith as he used to persecute. (1:22-23). He also emphasizes that he lived with Peter for more than two weeks and "submitted" his gospel to the Jerusalem leaders – who approved it."
I am grateful for the reference to additional commentators who agree with your viewpoint. But I must say that I'm surprised to see you refer to "G.A. Wells" as a New Testament scholar. He is, in fact, a professor of German. And his incursions into matters related to ancient history seem limited to his determined attempts to prove the "Jesus Myth." I would also note that Drews is a "Jesus Myther" and hardly a contemporary scholar. But I would appreciate references to where Walker, J.C. O'Neill, and Munro articulate their arguments for the interpolation position.
No insult was meant by referring to you as a "fringe" scholar. As you note, the phrase is accurate. And it is merely intended to alert readers to the overwhelming consensus against most of your views. Although consensus does not establish truth, to those not in the academic community reliance on a consensus of experts is not necessarily unreasonable.
I must note that you do not address any of the affirmative arguments against interpolation. Obviously, the complete lack of any manuscript support for your position is critical. I also think that given Ignatius' reliance on 1 Cor. 15:8-9, we are talking about a very narrow window for an interpolation to arise, contaminate all the manuscript traditions, and leave no trace among the apostolic fathers.
I also find believe that the best explanation for the use of technical rabbinical language in the passage is that it was written by a former Pharisee rather than a -- more likely than not -- gentile convert writing for gentile converts decades later. Finally, the variances I pointed to between the gospel resurrection narratives and 1 Cor. 15:3-11 seem to preclude a later Christian interpolator.
All in all, I see no reason to change my mind on this issue.
I had started writing a lengthier treatment of the issues, but other projects have kept me busy. I note that your essay will be published in a forthcoming book by Prometheus (Due in April). Perhaps would be an opportune time for me to respond. Would you mind telling me whether the article is going to be revised or appear "as is"?
Thanks for the response. I don't think it being a Blog entry atones for it leaving an incomplete impression. The nature of the medium, like TV interviews, may be to distort.
I will have an appendix replying to W.L. Craig's criticisms of my article in the version of my article that appears in the Prometheus Books volume The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.
G.A. Wells is certainly a NT scholar, just as Clark H. Pinnock is surely a theologian even though his doctorate is in NT, not Theology. If he does truly scholarly work in a field, he is a scholar in that field.
With 19th century critics, John Calvin, and some today, I regard Ignatius's epistles as transparent forgeries.
The use of "receive and transmit" language hardly makes its user necessarily a rabbinic scholar. As Hyam Maccoby demonstrates against the vacuous arguments of W.D. Davies and others, the writer(s) of the Pauline Epistles do not appear to have been familiar with more Jewish lore than what any Hellenistic Jew (or Gentile informed about Judaism) would know.
You might want to look at J.C. O'Neill's Penguin commentary on Romans, W. Munroe's SNTS Monograph Authority in Peter and Paul and W. Walker's Interpolations in the Pauline Letters.
When I do a fuller response, I will strive to represent your opinion as fully as possible. Also, would you mind if I posted our exchange of letters on my blog? I would also insert a reference to your argument as it exists online (at the Secular Web). I'd rather not leave you with the impression that I intended to distort your argument.
Thank you for responding regarding the Prometheus book. Is the Appendix responding to Dr. Craig the same as is available on at Infidels.org's library?
We will have to agree to disagree on whether Ignatius' letters were all forgeries and whether Maccoby has proven Paul a liar about his own origins. I would note that Paul elsewhere uses the terms for "deliver" and "receive" (1 Cor. 11:2 and Phil. 4:9) and the rabbinical terms for "learn" and "teaching" (Rom 16:17, 2 Thess. 2:15). Again, I think these terms are more likely to come from a Jew than a Gentile.
Thank you for the references. I was aware of Dr. Walker's work on the probability that there are interpolations in Paul's letters, but I was not aware that he had put his finger on 1 Cor. 15:3-11.
On a side note, you disappointed some readers of the Secular Web who are otherwise receptive to your ideas by your comments on the Iraq War. I for one thought they were some of the most insightful comments you have made!
All the best,
Please do include our exchange on the blog. That's fine with me.
The reply to Craig I am referring to is specifically addressing comments he made on my article during a debate. Is that what I posted on line? I have also written more general critiques of him that are posted. The book version is the one zeroing in on his comments on my 1 Cor. 15 theory.
I reject Maccoby's theory that Paul is lying about being a Pharisee in Acts and Philippians. I do not think either utterance goes back to a historical Paul.
As for Iraq and such matters, it pains me that the Infidels are all such a bunch of naive Lefties!
End of Exchange.
I think the exchange speaks for itself, though I want to add one point that I forgot to mention to Dr. Price. Though he dismisses the early first century reference of Ignatius to the disputed passage as inauthentic, I did not ask Dr. Price about the fact that it is in Marcion’s version of 1 Corinthians. As I noted in the earlier post:
Furthermore, Marcion's version of 1 Cor., circa. 130 AD, also has the passage. Not only is this attestation early, it is hostile. If Marcion had any reason to doubt a passage that so strongly affirms the humanity and death of Christ, as well as Paul's reliance on a tradition from Jewish Christians, he would have chopped it out as he did so many other Pauline verses.
*Note: I corrected some obvious typos. Otherwise, the email exchange is verbatim.
**Note: Dr. Price's views on the Iraq War were expressed here.