Currently I am studying 2 Corinthians and particularly Paul’s temple language in 6.14-7.1. Scholars have struggled over this ‘fragment’. It contains an unusual number of hapax, it seems to use language about separation from (Gentile) unbelievers in a way we wouldn’t expect of Paul. It does not seem to fit neatly into its literary context and further Paul’s argument about reconciliation and the nature of apostolic ministry. So, many, if not most, scholars feel the need to do something with it.
For some, they see the hand of a Qumranist and somehow this Essenic fragment found its way into Paul’s letter (Fitzmyer; similar to Gnilka). For others, it belongs to another of Paul’s letters. Betz suggests that it is actually written by Paul’s opponents and some later redactor stitched it into the text for no clear reason; he labels this an ‘anti-Pauline’ fragment!
What does this say about how biblical scholars analyze ancient texts? Well, first consider that we have found NO mss of 2 Corinthians that displace or omit 6.14-7.1. So, decisions to excise this portion are purely ‘internal’. Consider Bornkamm’s hypothesis that in the canonical 2 Corinthians we have parts of 5 different letters:
(1) Letter of defense – 2.14-6.13; 7.2-4
(2) Letter of tears – 10-13.10
(3) Letter of reconciliation – 1-2.13; 7.5-16
(4) Letter of commendation for Titus et al – 8.1-24
(5) Letter concerning the collection – 9.1-15
(6) Redactor added 6.14-7.1 to letter # 1
(7) Redactor added 13.11-13 to letter # 3
Such fanciful divisions, hypotheses, and reconstructions are quite popular now, though few tend to go as far as Bornkamm (though some still do). In an essay I am working on I came across a very important statement made by F.W. Wisse
“redactional theory that steps outside the bounds of textual evidence and minimizes the burden of proof is counter-productive and a hindrance to Pauline studies” ( ‘Textual Limits to Redactional Activity in the Pauline Corpus’ in Gospel Origins [ed. Goehring]: 178).
So, when we teach exegesis to our students, what is driving partition theories – textual proof, or what we think Paul was capable of saying and doing?
Think about it this way. Is Paul capable of writing in a very complex and unique way that we must take for granted that we may not understand why he wrote in the style or with the particular vocabulary that he did? When we force partitionary theories, we seem to be precluding this possibility. Is it not strange that those who want to smooth out ‘letters’ in Paul by separating them into logical bits are actually looking for a rational and completely coherent Paul that always writes in a very intuitive fashion. Isn’t this a bit lazy?
Is not the best practice to try and come up with a reasonable understanding of the flow of Paul’s thought as the text (based on external evidence) bears no clear signs of later redaction?
Is there the possibility that a redactor stitched together between 2 and 5 bits of different letters (and maybe added a bit in from someone or something else)? Yes, it is a possibility. But theories regarding alien insertion when no textual evidence supports them are tentative at best. It seems to best way to approach this concern is as follows:
(1) Analyze the text as is and try to come up with a rhetorical scenario that can account for the flow of the text
(2) If this seems impossible (as in the transition to chapter 10 of 2 COrinthians), consider historical scenarios that can account for this without assuming redaction: So, Paul may have heard some distressing news between finishing chapter 9 and beginning chapter 10).
(3) Consider, but only tentatively, other options that involve later and non-Pauline redaction.
This seems, to me, like the best way of analyzing ancient texts. There is a certain arrogance, I think, involved in the promotion of endless partition theories, because we assume that if (as modern westerners) cannot comprehend what Paul is saying and how he is saying it, then something is wrong with the text. The assumption that we are smarter now than generations before or is called ‘chronological snobbery’ by C.S. Lewis. I think that applies here.
I hope that future discussions of passages like 6.14-7.1 will take place and what it is doing in 2 Corinthians. But, I also hope that theories regarding where it was ‘originally’ or who ‘originally’ wrote it will remain tentative and the primary goal will be trying to understand how it could be true to its context. I hope that goal will not be seen as an ‘evangelical agenda’, but as good historical inquiry.