I thought I would share here a snippet from my BYU NT Commentary Conference presentation this past summer. My paper was on the JST of 1 Corinthians. We have a tendency to want to see the JST as almost entirely involving textual restorations, but I frankly didn’t see any of that in 1 Corinthians. The largest category of changes I saw were what I called “Alternate Translations (without Positing any Change in Underlying Text.” I present below the first change I discussed under that category. [Note that by “alternate translations” I intended to take an agnostic stance as to whether these translations were interlingual (presumably by inspiration, since Joseph didn’t actually know Greek) or intralingual (i.e., a paraphrase or English rewording of Joseph’s exemplar, the KJV).
Alternate Translations (without Positing any Change in Underlying Text)
1 Corinthians 7:1-2
1. Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me, saying: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.2. Nevertheless, I say to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
1 Corinthians 7 begins with a crux interpretum: does the second half of v. 1 (“It is good for a man not to touch a woman”) represent Paul’s own statement or a quotation of a statement from Corinth? The Greek text itself gives no indication either way. While there are scholars on both sides of the question, something of a modern scholarly consensus has developed in favor of the Corinthian quotation view. Reasons for this position include the structural similarity of 7:1 with other secure Corinthian quotations (such as 8:1), that 7:1b as a Pauline statement would contradict what Paul would have regarded as a divine ordinance: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and that the Corinthian quotation reading goes all the way back to Origen.7
|7||For discussion, see Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2000), 498-500.|
In translation the clearest way to mark this as a Corinthian statement would have been to use quotation marks, but the KJV does not use quotation marks at all. Quotations are sometimes marked in the KJV by capitalization (usually preceded by a comma), and while this method results in ambiguity (because it does not mark the end of a quotation) it does often successfully mark the beginning of a quotation. Since the italicized “It” is capitalized, in KJV usage this would appear to mark the beginning of a quotation, thus making v. 7:1b a statement from Corinth.
There is another clue as to quotations that often appears in the Greek text itself. Some form of the verb lego (or some other verb of speech) is commonly used in the New Testament to introduce direct discourse, in imitation of the Hebrew le’mor. If this were a textual restoration, presumably the form would be legontes, the nominative plural (note the “ye”), present, active participle of lego. The verb “I say” in verse 2 would then simply be the lexical form of this same verb, lego, which is first person singular, present, active, indicative: the very form Paul uses to begin verse 8 of this chapter (“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows. . . .”).8
|8||It is possible that the addition of “I say” in v. 2 is an assimilation to the words “I say” in v. 8.|
Because we historically have stressed so strongly the value of textual restoration in the JST, it is tempting to suggest that these forms of the verb lego were originally in the text and then dropped out for some reason over time, only to be restored by the JST. That is a difficult case to make, however, as (i) there is no textual evidence whatsoever for the presence of these forms of lego in the text, and (ii) there are not obvious transcriptional probabilities suggesting that those words once existed explicitly in the text but were lost accidentally.
From my perspective, there is simply no need to press a case for textual restoration here, as the JST emendation makes excellent sense at the English translational level, and successfully communicates that 7:1b is a quotation from Corinth.
It is the responsibility of the translator to present Paul’s meaning in a correct way in English. There are 17 older translations that, like the KJV, use capitalization to suggest a quotation here. The modern English equivalent to introducing the passage with legontes would be to put the second part of verse 1 within quotation marks, showing that those words should be ascribed to the letter Paul had received and not to Paul himself. And of the 51 English translations available at biblegateway.com,9 19 do indeed use quotation marks here. Another three reach the same result a different way. The DLNT creates the same effect by using a dash, and the MSG creates the same effect by turning the sentence into a question. The ERV actually paraphrases as follows: “You asked if it is better for a man not to have sexual relations at all.” So 39 of 51 translations (over 76%) are functionally in accord with the JST (and many of the remaining translations are simply ambiguous on the question).
|9||Abbreviations of various English translations used in this article refer to the English translations available at the Bible Gateway (biblegateway.com) as listed on Exhibit A.|
Some translations explicitly take the passage as having precisely the meaning the JST rejects. The TLB has “Now about those questions you asked in your last letter: my answer is that if you do not marry, it is good.” The NLT has Paul’s answer as “Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations.” But this is a minority view; the increasing consensus of modern scholarship takes verse 1 as a quotation from Corinth, just as the JST does.
As Thiselton notes:
The spread of English versions offers an interesting commentary by way of summary. NRSV rightly uses quotation marks where RSV previously had none; REB uses quotation marks where NEB had none, although it added a marginal alternative without quotation marks; NJB follows JB in identifying a quotation, but one which Paul endorses: Yes, it is a good thing for a man. . . . The AV/KJV had no quotation marks. Surprisingly, the NIV also lacks quotation marks, and Fee addresses this.10
|10||Thiselton, First Epistle, 500.|
The key quotation from the Fee article Thiselton mentions reads as follows:
All of this leads us to argue therefore, that v. 1 not only means that “a man is better off having no relations with a woman” (NAB) but also, as many have suggested, that this is the position being argued by the Corinthians themselves in their letter. The basic reason for seeing it as their position is the fact that Paul so sharply contradicts it in vv. 2-5.11
|11||Gordon D. Fee, “1 Cor. 7:1 in the NIV,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23 (1980): 307-14 at 312. Following the publication of the Fee article, the NIV added quotation marks to 1 Corinthians 7:1b.|
So the JST clarifies that 7:1b is indeed a quotation, a position that is now considered the scholarly standard. And the addition of “I say” in verse 2 is then essentially the equivalent of closing that quotation by giving the adversative de in that verse an appropriately strong force (as if to render it “on the contrary”).12 This has nothing to do with textual variants in ancient manuscripts; it is rather a matter of translation and correct presentation in English.
|12||Thiselton, First Epistle, 501.|