Is There a Mistake in Mark 2:26?

by Julie M. Smith

And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?”

             Many manuscripts omit the phrase “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” presumably because in 1 Samuel 21, the priest in question was Ahimelech and not Abiathar. (Some variant readings state that it was during the lifetime of, not during the high priesthood of, Abiathar.[1]) There are many theories to explain the reference to “Abiathar” in this text:

  1. It did not refer to the time of the high priest but rather to the section of the scroll where the story about the bread could be found.[2] (Most are not convinced by this theory.)
  2. The phrase meant “in the lifetime of Abiathar.”
  3. It originally read “the father of Abiathar” but “the father of” dropped out because the beginning of the words “father” and “Abiathar” were similar.[3] (But why would Jesus refer to “the father of Abiathar”?)
  4. The whole phrase is a later addition. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the text is that it is difficult to understand why Jesus would have made reference to any high priest, as it is not relevant to the story. So perhaps this phrase was an early (and incorrect) gloss. This would explain why the line is missing from Matthew and Luke: it was not included in their copies of the Gospel of Mark.
  5. The earlier reading, referring to Abiathar, is a textbook example of “the mistakes of men”[4] that can occur in a record: either Mark (or his source) erred in naming Abiathar here.[5] Because Abiathar was associated with David as the high priest during his reign,[6] it is an understandable mistake.

Most scholars agree that the text is in error; the other theories come mostly from those committed to the inerrancy of scripture. While the error is not terribly significant, it does raise an interesting question:  does the mistaken referent stem from Jesus or from Mark (or his source)? If it was Mark’s or his source’s error, then we have an instance where Mark did not correctly record Jesus’ words. If it was Jesus’ error—an option most LDS would not find acceptable, although perhaps some readings of Luke 2:52 (“and Jesus increased in wisdom”) would permit such a position—then that would speak to the nature of his mortal limitations.

[1] See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart:  United Bible Societies, 2001), page 68.

[2] See William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 116.

[3] See Robert H. Stein, Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 2008), 146.

[4] Title Page, The Book of Mormon.

[5] Note that both Matthew and Luke omit any reference to the high priest.

[6] See C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St Mark (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1959), 116.

Public presentation on Tabernacle and Temple

We announce a lecture of interest to fans of New Testament studies. Dr. Joshua Berman, Senior Lecturer in the Bible Department at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel, will present a lecture on Wednesday, October 7, at 7:00 pm in the Varsity Theater at BYU, Provo, Utah. His presentation is “The Differences between the Tabernacle and the Temple: Architecture and Ideology.”

It is open to the general public, and admission is free. No registration is necessary. The Varsity Theater is in the northeast section of the Wilkinson Center. We suggest parking in the lots east of the Wilkinson Center, which are open to the public in the evening. Take 900 East to get to these lots: Campus Drive no longer connects to the Wilkinson Center. You may also park in the Museum of Art parking lot, which is accessible from Campus Drive.

Dr. Berman is the author of The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now (Jason Aronson Publishers, 1995, 2010). His book is widely known for its rigorous scholarship and spiritual enrichment, animating the meaning of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem, its rites, and the biblical passages that describe it. Watch for an article from this book that will soon be posted on Interpreter at

Dr. Berman received a B.A. in Religion from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in Bible from Bar-Ilan University. An orthodox rabbi, he and his wife have four children and reside in Bet Shemesh, Israel. Berman’s brief visit to Utah is co-sponsored by BYU Studies, the Academy for Temple Studies, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, the Interpreter Foundation, and the J. Reuben Clark Law School.

The presentation on Wednesday will be recorded and made available a few weeks afterward via the BYU Studies Youtube channel.

Questions? Please contact via this website.

Exploring Mark 2:17

by Julie M. Smith

 “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them. Note that Jesus is answering a question that was directed not to him but to his disciples.

There may be a contrast between the scribes who see and Jesus who hears:  the scribes are reacting to Jesus’ actions but Jesus is reacting to their words. Later in Mark, the distinction between words and deeds will become more pronounced.

They that are whole have no need of the physician but they that are sick. Because a similar sentiment can be found in other ancient writings, it is likely that Jesus is quoting a proverb here.[1]

Note that Jesus’ statement not only permits eating with sinners, but casts it as a requirement of his ministry:  “it is ridiculous to imagine a doctor who refuses to meet his patients; so any effective ‘healer’ must expect to get his hands dirty.”[2]

Allusion:  Exodus 15:26. In that passage, the Lord announces “I am the Lord that healeth thee.” If that text is alluded to here, then it is an important piece of self-revelation as Jesus identifies with the God of the Hebrew Bible.

I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. “To repentance” is missing from the oldest manuscripts. It may have been added to harmonize with Luke 5:32; Luke may have added it to explain why Jesus did not call the righteous.

  “I came” probably does not refer to Jesus’ presence near the Sea of Galilee but rather to his mortal mission; even some non-LDS scholars think that it points to Jesus’ awareness of and teaching about the pre-existence.[3]

There are at least two ways to understand Jesus’ statement that he did not come to call the righteous:

  1. Jesus is doing the ancient equivalent of putting air quotes around “the righteous,” meaning that he is not claiming that there is a group of people who can be called righteous, but rather gently mocking the scribes’ (incorrect) use of the word. Jesus’ statement “satirizes the Pharisees’ claim to have achieved righteousness by separation from sin.”[4] It is even possible to translate this word as “self-righteous.”[5] So this would not imply that there were people to whom Jesus offered nothing, but rather that there were people who did not respond to his call because they considered themselves to be righteous. This statement is a subtle but provocative way for Jesus to get his audience to consider whether they are completely righteous.
  2. The statement can be read as dialectical negation, a form of speech meant to emphasize the positive half of the statement.[6] Thus no great emphasis should be placed on whether Jesus was calling the righteous; the point is that his ministry gives more emphasis to sinners.

While the previous verse has multiple references to publicans and sinners, publican drops out of Jesus’ statement here. This breach of the pattern may be Jesus’ subtle commentary that the tax collectors were not sinners of a special class, but no different from any other sinner.

Several important truths can be gleaned from Jesus’ answer:

  1. Jesus is teaching that sin in another person is not a reason to separate from that person. Because everyone sins, a separatist mindset would either require withdrawing from all human society or ignoring some sins.
  2. The Pharisees’ focus is on what effect the sinners will have on Jesus; Jesus’ focus is on what effect he will have on the sinners.
  3. Jesus presents an analogy between sin and sickness; this is part of a theology of the atonement that develops gradually throughout the Gospel. The analogy subtly teaches that forgiveness for sins is outside the reach of any human; it points to the need for a mediator (a doctor, one who can atone).
  4. Jesus’ statement puts an entirely different spin on the calling of the disciples: they were called not because they were (already) perfect or (already) excellent leaders, but because Jesus called the sick who needed him to heal them so that they could become perfected.

The Hebrew Bible develops the idea of the messianic banquet–a future time of harmony and celebration between God and humans that is symbolized by a feast.  It is possible to see this meal as a foreshadowing of the messianic banquet, which makes the presence of “sinners” all the more meaningful because it teaches that they also have a seat at God’s table.

[1]See N. T. France, The Gospel of Mark:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 135.

[2]See N. T. France, The Gospel of Mark:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 135.

[3]See C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St Mark (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1959), 106.

[4]Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York:  Doubleday, 2002), 231.

[5]See William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 228.

[6]See Robert A. Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary:  Mark 1-8:26 (Dallas, TX:  Word Books, 1989), 104.

Understanding What Paul Is Really Teaching about Grace

By Brent J. Schmidt

This post is excerpted from the new book Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis (BYU Studies, 2015), available here.

For the ancient Greeks and Romans, the word charis, grace, described gifts or favors offered, accepted, and returned or repaid (although full repayment was not expected). The receiver was expected to give thanks and be dutiful to the giver. To accept a charis gift was to enter a socially binding agreement.

The New Testament’s many passages about charis stress the obligations Christians have. These have often been overlooked as later theologians placed emphasis on the “free” aspects of grace. It is important to try to understand Paul’s teaching as his gentile audience in first century AD would have understood it. I believe Paul’s message has been misinterpreted and distorted by Augustine, Martin Luther, and others.

The oft-cited Romans 3:24 might be used to contradict my thesis that grace is not “free” but obligatory. The King James Version reads, “Being justified freely [dorean] by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” However, dorean means “as a gift,” not freely. Gifts were not given “freely” in the ancient Mediterranean world because every gift had nuances of reciprocity. In his translation, Joseph Smith rightly changes the word freely to only (“Therefore being justified only by his grace . . .”), reflecting the absolute power of the Atonement.[1] In addition to Romans 3:24, the KJV translators rendered the word charis in Romans 5:15–16, 18, as “the free gift.” In his epistle to the Romans, Paul needed to argue for a reciprocal gift of physical and spiritual salvation from the Savior because both Greeks and Romans did not generally understand or accept life after death, resurrection, and eternal life. The first-century philosophies of the day—cynicism, Epicureanism, stoicism, and neo- Platonism—taught divergent and very abstract views on death and the afterlife (or lack of one). Gentiles did not usually accept the doctrine of a physical resurrection or spiritual salvation, necessitating Paul’s frequent treatment of this subject in his epistles, especially to the Romans.[2]

In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul sometimes discusses salvation ambiguously but at times refers specifically to salvation from physical and spiritual death. Romans chapter 6 is an example of Paul’s teaching regarding the doctrine of being saved from both physical and spiritual death through the Atonement. Paul alternates his teaching in this passage by switching back and forth between two related but distinct concepts of salvation: overcoming physical death and overcoming spiritual death. Romans 6:1–4 discusses not continuing in sin (overcoming spiritual death through obedience). Verse 5 explains that all will be resurrected (overcoming physical death). In verses 6–8 Paul teaches that disciples are freed from sin through Christ (with Christ, a person can overcome spiritual death). Verse 9 deals with the permanence of Christ’s resurrection (overcoming physical death). Verses 10–23 explain the theme of avoiding sin through being empowered by Christ’s grace (overcoming spiritual death). All will eventually be physically resurrected, but Paul further discusses the doctrines of the gospel which become the means by which his converts may avoid spiritual death.

Because some Christians today do not make the theological distinction between physical and spiritual death, some assume that all will be saved.[3] Many Christians consider a literal, physical resurrection problematic because of anti-materialistic, philosophical notions first taught by Greek philosophers and then adopted by Church fathers who argued for a mystical and only spiritual resurrection.[4] Many traditions follow the fourth-century theologian Athanasius, who argued for some kind of mysterious, nonphysical but spiritual unification with God.[5] Therefore, this form of grace is now associated with deliverance from spiritual death without a literal, physical resurrection. Finally, the ancient convention of reciprocal charis and its obligations is compatible with a material, object-oriented universe.[6]

Perhaps one might argue that Paul overturned reciprocal ideals of grace in his writings. If one looks at the ideas of grace in Romans specifically, which was almost certainly written by Paul, one might find it therefore necessary to reinterpret how he uses grace in writings that were only attributed to him. This theory that Paul taught a new meaning for the word charis is problematic for many reasons. Some Protestant theologians have commonly employed a few select Pauline passages to interpret others. After interpreting Paul’s meaning of charis as a free, permanent, no-obligation gift from God, they reinterpret the entire Bible to argue that Paul, in fact, invented a new version of Christianity that his Gentile converts understood and accepted.

Through the Atonement of the Savior, all people are able to make covenants that imply reciprocity, coupled with love for Heavenly Father and others. Like the ancient convention of asymmetrical reciprocity, the covenants that people make today through ordinances are contracted with God alone.

[1] JST Romans 3:24.

[2] Another example of typical gentile unbelief in the resurrection may be found in Acts 17. Other references are scattered throughout the writings of epicurean Roman poets from the first century BC such as Lucretius, Catullus, and Horace.

[3] See the discussions in Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge, Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004); and Wayne Morris, Salvation as Praxis: A Practical Theology of Salvation for a Multi-Faith World (New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014), 96–98.

[4] See a detailed treatment of this subject in Stephen H. Webb, Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[5] See a good discussion in Keith E. Norman, Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000). Also see an interpretation of Iamblichus in Hugh Nibley, Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present, ed. Don E. Norton, vol. 12 of The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt

Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient research and Mormon Studies, 1992), 270.

[6] I would extend the point to include that reciprocal charis is incompatible with the classical theism in traditional Christendom of an immaterial God without parts or passions, but that is a subject for another time. Webb, Mormon Christianity, brilliantly points out many metaphysical advantages of Mormon theology. Adam S. Miller, Speculative Grace (Bronx, N.Y.: Fordham University Press, 2013), demonstrates how grace operates in an object oriented universe.

Comparing Mark 2:13-17 and Mark 1:16-20

By Julie M. Smith

There are many similarities between Levi’s call in Mark 2 and the two call stories (of Peter and Andrew and James and John) in Mark 1 (see full text below):  the seaside setting, the description of the future disciple going about his daily tasks, Jesus’ abrupt command to follow, and the disciples’ instant obedience. There are no similar call stories after this one; we can either assume that all disciples received similar calls but Mark saw no need to record them after the pattern was established, or that they were not called as Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi were.

Levi has a very different occupation and social role than the four fishermen. While Jesus was able to make symbolic allusions to the Hebrew Bible by calling fishermen, calling a tax collector was a shocking thing to do: it made him look sympathetic to the Romans and would have offended Jewish sensibilities. In fact, this story isn’t so much about the call of Levi per se as it is about who Jesus thinks is fit to be a disciple—and his answer would likely have stunned just about everyone.

It is possible that Levi knew the four fishermen and had collected taxes on their catch (and kept some as his own payment). If so, one can only imagine the dynamics among the disciples as Levi is welcomed into the circle of brotherhood.

In a sense, the call of Levi represents a heightening of the previous call stories: while it would have been possible for the fishermen to return to their fishing, either occasionally or full time, it would not have been possible for Levi to resume his post after abandoning it.[1]

[1]See C. S. Mann, Mark:  A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY:  Doubleday, 1986), 129.

christ-calling-fishermenMark 1:16-20 

16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.

18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.

19 And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.

20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

Mark 2:13-17

13 And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.

14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.

15 And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.

16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat withpublicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that arewhole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.


Who is “Levi the son of Alphaeus” in Mark 2:14?

By Julie M. Smith 

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.”

When a relationship is mentioned (“son of Alphaeus”), it is normally either because:

  1. The relative (in this case, Alphaeus) was known to Mark’s audience.
  2. Mark wants to distinguish the person from others with the same name. (While there is no other Levi in Mark’s Gospel, there could have been another Levi known to Mark’s audience.)

We do not know which is the case here. Either way, this phrase presents a bit of a puzzle since Levi is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT[1] and since there is no “Levi” on the lists of the Twelve.[2] There are several possibilities for what has happened here:

  1. Mark 3:18 refers to James as the “son of Alphaeus.” So:
    • Levi might be the brother of James (which is a helpful data point, but doesn’t solve the problem).
    • “Levi” might be another name for “James.” (Some manuscripts read “James” instead of “Levi” here, but that is almost certainly a later reading.) It was not uncommon for people to be known by more than one name; we know that Jesus himself renamed a disciple on at least one occasion although, unlike with Simon Peter, there is no story in the text describing a renaming of Levi.
    • It is possible that this might not even be the same “Alphaeus;” there could be no relationship whatsoever between Levi and James.
  2. The reason that Levi is not mentioned on any of the lists of the Twelve is because Levi was not one of the Twelve. This story states that Jesus called Levi to follow him but does not mention a specific calling; it is certainly possible that Jesus called Levi to a different role.[3]
  3. Matthew 9:9-13, which is parallel to this story, has a toll collector named Matthew (although he is not called the son of Alphaeus). Because the name Matthew appears on the apostolic lists and he was also a publican, perhaps Levi was another name for Matthew. (This seems to be how the Gospel of Matthew understands this story, but this does not necessarily mean that Mark understood the situation in the same way.)
  4. The word “Levi” could be a tribal marker (“the Levite”) and not a proper name. The idea of a Levite tax collector would be most ironic, since tax collectors were regarded as particularly unclean while Levites needed to be clean to perform the temple rituals. But most scholars do not accept reading “Levite” here since it would be odd for Jesus to call someone without his name being included in the story.

Regardless, the emphasis here is not on Levi’s identity, but the fact that he was a tax collector.[4]

[1]Save the parallel account in Luke 5:27.

[2]See Mark 3:16-18.

[3]Compare Luke 10:1.

[4]See Ben W. Witherington, The Gospel of Mark:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 120.

1 Corinthians 11:1-3

This post is an excerpt from the ebook Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes. It will be available at this website on August 14, 2015.

Each verse is given first in the King James Version, and then in the BYU New Testament Commentary Rendition.

11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ  / Follow my example as I myself follow Christ’s example.

This verse should probably go with the previous chapter because it makes a very strong conclusion of the point Paul made there. In that section he noted his desire to be all things to all people in order to bring them to Christ (10:32–33). This sentence marks his request for his readers to do the same. He sincerely wanted them to be μίμηται (mimētai), which is very literally, “imitators” of him, the word denoting one who follows another as a model or example of proper behavior.[1]

11:2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things / Now I commend you because you remember me in everything.

The word “brethren,” ἀδελφοί (adelphoi), found in the KJV, is a later addition. The earliest manuscripts do not have it and, therefore, it is left out of our Rendition.

The verb ἐπαίνω (epainō), “praise, commend,” expresses admiration for something done
well. Paul commends his readers for doing two things: First, they remembered him “in all
things.” The plural passive verb μέμνησθε (memnēsthe), “remember,” denotes not only calling someone to mind but also responding to that memory in an appropriate manner. In this context, it likely refers to prayers the Saints offered in the Apostle’s behalf.[2]

11:2b and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you / and hold fast to the traditions just as I have passed them on to you:

The second item Paul praises them for is holding fast to Church traditions. Since Paul has been castigating many of his readers, it seems a bit odd that he would here commend them. Paul could be reaching out to his audience by softening his approach in an attempt to win them to his position. Though he had reached out to them before, it seems unlikely, however, that he is doing so here. Some early and medieval commentators felt that his words were ironic, if not sarcastic.[3] Again, that is unlikely. What is more likely comes from understanding Paul’s intent here. The noun παράδοσις (paradosis), translated as “ordinance” in the KJV, denotes both content and instructions that were passed down over time through authority. Hence, though the Church was still young, the best translation of the word, in this context, would be “traditions” to give it the necessary weight of authority.[4] The verb κατέχω (katechō) denotes “adhering firmly to convictions and traditions.” In their letter to Paul, it would seem that the Corinthian Saints expressed a willingness to follow what had become a tradition in many of the branches of the Church, and this was what Paul was commending them for. The particular tradition in focus was allowing women to participate in worship services. In their letter to him, however, they raised concerns about a new development and wanted his direction.[5]

11:3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of
the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God / But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of every woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God.

Paul’s introduction, θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς εἰδέναι (thelō de hymas eidenai), “But I want you to
understand,” ties what he is about to say to what he has already said. Though he commends them for what they have accepted, they need to clearly understand a point that they have missed. Therefore, the coordinating conjunction δέ (de) is translated adversatively as “but.”[6] In sum, they have accepted the tradition found in other branches of the Church that women have the right to prophetic speech, “but” (de) they have missed an important principle that has contributed to the present problem.[7]
With this sentence, Paul lays down the foundation on which he will build his argument.
In doing so, he uses a word play on the noun κεφαλή (kephalē), “head,” taking it in both its literal and metaphorical senses. Literally, it denotes that part of the body in which the brain is encased and that houses the organs of sight, sound, smell, and taste. As a metaphor, however, it has a whole range of meanings. For instance, it can stand for the whole person or for someone of higher or superior rank, such as a ruler or leader. Kephalē can denote one who has preeminence. In addition, it can refer to a source, such as the “head” of a river or the progenitor of a family. Because of the semantic range of the word, precisely translating Paul’s intent presents some difficulties. To keep the ambiguity, our Rendition follows the KJV and translates kephalē simply as “head.” Nonetheless, we have chosen to explore its possible meanings.
Paul’s initial use of the word kephalē is metaphorical. From the context he most likely
used the word to indicate the preeminent or foremost nature of the subject in each case.[8] The word “preeminence” denotes that which has the highest eminence or rank due to superlativeness and uniqueness. The word does not connote, as does the word “supremacy,” the idea of unequalled superiority such that there are no equals, nor does it connote domination or autocratic power, as does the word “ascendancy.” Rather, it points to that which is distinctive above all others and, thereby, commands respect and difference, like a citizen of the Roman Empire which Paul was. It does not necessarily refer to a leader or ruler, but designates anyone holding the position of prominence or superiority in a particular situation. One who is preeminent in one instance, therefore, may not be in another.
God has preeminence over Christ who has preeminence over all men. Men, in turn, have
preeminence over women in Paul’s metaphor.[9] There is an order in the Church, that is, a
hierarchy, that determines how some practices are done and by whom.[10]
In Christ’s Church, women, especially Jewish women, enjoyed freedom and place in
Church worship as never before. Though Jewish women attended worship services in the
synagogue, they were forbidden to pray, read scripture aloud, and preach.[11] It would appear that some of the more progressive Christian women, on the other hand, began pushing the boundaries of decorum and respect. Paul pushed back, insisting that tradition dictated that certain Jewish religious norms were yet to be observed during Christian worship services.

Analysis and Summary

By way of background, in the Greco-Roman world, due to a woman’s potential of bringing great shame to her family through improper behavior and especially sexual misconduct, “women were controlled, enclosed, and guarded.”[12] That dictated not only how they were to act in public but also what they wore. Further, in this society few, either man or woman, would have raised the question of equality. “No ancient Mediterranean man,” noted one scholar, “would have ever have thought that a woman could be his equal; only a man of similar education and social status could be. Only a man could be equal to a man, a woman to a woman.”[13] The social boundaries were not to be crossed without censure. Therefore, many in society were sensitive to the breaking of social strictures in attitude, decorum, or dress. To step outside of these was considered shameful, a condition no family or social group wanted its members to be in.

Within the Christian circle, from the time of the Savior’s ministry, women had a remarkable participatory role. That Christian women could participate directly in worship service shows how far Christianity had moved from Judaism. For example, during the formal worship at the synagogue, though wives likely sat with their husbands, other than saying “amen” to prayers, blessings, and invocations, they played no direct role.[14] They did not pray aloud, read or comment on scripture, give talks, or teach. Thus, Christianity, having women do all of these, gave them not only a greater participatory role unknown within Jewish culture but also more responsibility with its accompanying recognition of their importance. It also brought with it the possibility to push religious opportunities beyond their bounds. This epistle suggests some women did so by discarding their head coverings during worship service. In Roman and Hellenistic culture, the veil or hood was important because it gave a clear indication that the wearer was a person of status and respectability. There was a direct correlation between proper dress and personal success, enjoyment of public honor, and esteem by women within the general society. Most importantly, their apparel acted as a defense, showing that the woman was neither potentially nor actually available for sexual advances. According to the poet Ovid (43 BC–AD 18), who was viewed as scandalous by many contemporaries because he advocated sexual license, men should hunt women. In his poem Ars Amatoria, or the Art of Love, women who were “available” went out to places like the theater for the express purpose to see and be seen.

But there was more going on that likely concerned Paul far more than such social mores.

In the Christian circle, as with the man’s attire, the woman’s dress could give a very distracting signal in public worship. It was especially important that it not have any sexual overtones. For a woman to go with head uncovered made a bold statement that pushed beyond Jewish protocols and, at its core, was self-advertising. The act was dishonoring, at least in part, because it took the attention of the worshipper away from where it belonged, that is, on the Lord. Because the issues Paul addresses here, unlike those in most of this letter, are based so heavily on customs and attitudes of his day rather than on more universal norms, this portion of his epistle has little application for today. This point becomes especially evident when one understands precisely the matter Paul is addressing in this pericope. Otherwise, as the breadth of scholarship shows, one can easily get side tracked or read into it issues that are not there. Paul’s concern is with “any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered.” This point is clearly made in 11:5–6, 10, 13, 15.

[1] Greek word identifications are from Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Ed. F. W. Danker. 3d English ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

[2] Louw-Nida §29.16.

[3] Thomas Aquinas, Super Ep. Pauli, 344, §584; Peter Lumbard in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina, 221 vols. (Paris: Garnier, 1844–64), 91:1629; Abrosiaster in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiastorum Latinorum, 81:252. Compare Moffatt, First Epistle, 149.

[4] Among the Greek-speaking Jews, the word referred to the teachings of the rabbis. It therefore carried the idea of authority and, with Paul, it was a tacit reminder that his instructions originated with the Divine. Friedrich Büchsel, “παράδοσις,” in TDNT, 2:172–73.

[5] Hays, First Corinthians, 181–84, makes a very good case for this position.

[6] See Fee, First Epistle, 493, who follows the NRSV, NJB, and REB.

[7] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980): 483.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle, 821.

[9] Some translations translate the noun anēr, “man” or “husband,” in the second clause as “husband” (for example, see NRSV), but the issue here seems to be with gender relations that transcend the narrow confines of the family circle and, therefore, the Rendition translates the word as “man,” following the majority of translations (see REB, NIV, NJB).

[10] This is true in the LDS Church today. See D&C 20:68; 28:13; 58:55; 107:84.

[11] Here Paul is definitely following Jewish tradition. In certain Hellenistic cult rites, women participated freely, and this may have influenced the attitude of some of the Christian women. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 133–34.

[12] Osiek and Blach, Families in the New Testament Times, 40–41.

[13] Osiek and Blach, Families in the New Testament Times, 40–41.

[14] Monique Susskind Goldberg, The Meḥitzah in the Synagogue, trans. Diana Villa (Jerusalem: Schechter Institution of Jewish Studies, 2004), 14–16. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law, 134, notes that women at this time may have been seated separately in some cases but such seating became standardized only the middle ages. Further, inscriptions exit that mention women as “leaders,” “elders,” and “mothers of the synagogue,” but it is very unlikely, especially in light of the Tannaim (t. Meg. 3:11), that women actually served in liturgical capacities.

Annual Conference on July 31, 2015: Love Never Fails: The Latter-day Saint Affinity towards 1 Corinthians

We are pleased to announce the Third Annual BYU New Testament Commentary Conference will be held on Friday, July 31, 2015, 9 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., in the Hinckley Alumni Center at BYU. This conference is free and open to the public. Videos of every presentation will be made available on this website within a couple of months.

We are celebrating the upcoming publication of the newest e-book in the New Testament Commentary Series, which is Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes. Everyone who attends the conference may register for a free copy of this e-book.  

First Corinthians has long held a prominent place in LDS thought, culture, and practice. It is the source of the Relief Society motto, Charity Never Faileth; and Paul’s discourse on the gifts of the spirit stands behind Article of Faith 7.

Featured speakers this year include Craig Blomberg, Kevin Barney, and Julie M. Smith. Craig Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at the Denver Seminary and co-author of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation. Kevin Barney practices public finance law in Chicago and is a scholar of Mormon history and scripture. Julie Smith holds a master’s degree in biblical studies from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and is the author of several published works.

Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes will lead a panel discussion about their commentary on 1 Corinthians as well as respond to questions from the audience.

Morning Session

9:00        John W. Welch, Brigham Young University, editor in chief of BYU Studies and Professor of Law, Welcome and Introductions, and “Visiting the Ruins of Corinth Today”

9:35        Kevin L. Barney, Chicago, lawyer in public finance law and a scholar of Mormon history and scripture, “The Joseph Smith Translation of 1 Corinthians: Towards an Eclectic Approach”

10:25     Break

10:40     Craig L. Blomberg, “A Celestial Commentary on 1 Corinthians”

11:30     Avram R. Shannon, Ohio State University, “The Term ‘Apostle’: Issues in Using Jewish Sources in New Testament Studies”

11:50     Lunch Break: We recommend the buffet at the Cannon Center at Helaman Halls or the food court at the Wilkinson Center, or you may bring a brown bag lunch to eat on the west patio at the Hinckley Center.

Afternoon Session

1:00        Julie M. Smith, Texas,  “Portraits of Jesus: Christology in the Gospel of Mark and 1 Corinthians”

1:45        Brock L. Mason and David L. Paulsen, BYU, Professor of Philosophy, “Theological Underpinnings of Baptism for the Dead”

2:25        Break

2:40        T. Benjamin Spackman, California, “Christian Accommodation at Corinth”

3:00        Michael D. Rhodes, Translator, Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU, “Remarks and Responses: Behind the Scenes of this New Commentary”

3:30        Richard D. Draper, Commentator, Professor of Ancient Scripture, BYU, “‘The Cup of Blessing’: Paul’s Teachings on the Sacrament in 1 Corinthians 10”

4:00        Conclude

Parking: No one attending the conference may park in the few reserved spots available directly across from (east of) the Hinckley Center. Please park at the Museum of Art visitor lot (open during construction), or in Lot 48, which is just under the south scoreboard of the stadium, and a short walk from the Hinckley Center. If you have a handicap hangtag, you may park in the “A” lot across from the Hinckley Center, but not in the reserved spots.


Questions? Contact us here.

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Corinth, Greece.

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Corinth, Greece.




“The Testimony of Luke” by S. Kent Brown now available in print!

testimony-of-lukeWe are happy to announce that the first printed volume of the New Testament Commentary is now available. The Testimony of Luke, by S. Kent Brown, hard cover, is available for $29.95 plus shipping by ordering on the BYU Studies website. It will soon be available through LDS bookstores and Amazon. For more on this book, including sample pages, see this page. The book appeared as an ebook in 2014 and is available here. Several posts on this website by Dr. Brown are excerpted from this book; find them by searching “S. Kent Brown.” Dr. Brown’s love for and knowledge of the scriptures shines through every one of the 1,200 pages.

Giving praise about The Testimony of Luke, Camille Fronk Olson of BYU writes, “S. Kent Brown combines a lifetime of dedicated study of the ancient world with his reverence for the Bible and insights from restoration scripture to create a readable, relevant, and thought-provoking commentary of the Gospel according to Luke. Beautifully written with a unique sensitivity toward Jesus’ focus on family relationships, the sanctity of the home, and the dangers of materialism, this book invites a fresh view of the Savior’s ministry for a modern world.” Richard Neitzel Holzapfel writes, “S. Kent Brown has produced the most important LDS commentary on Luke’s Gospel to date. This is his magnum opus, and a reader will be transported to the world of the New Testament to hear Jesus Christ’s voice as he ministered among the people.” 

Other volumes of the NTC series are in progress.