Monday, August 10, 2009

Speech Marks in 1 Corinthians 6:12

If you have a Bible that has been printed in the last century and you turn it to 1 Cor 6:12 you will probably see some inverted commas around the first few words of text. The general assumption has been that these words are Paul quoting the Corinthians and so they are placed in speech marks in order that the reader does not mistake them for Paul's own words. The problem with this is that Paul does no such thing. In the Koine Greek in which Paul was writing there was no speech marks as such, but they were more than able to show when they were starting a quotation by the use of some other signifier. In fact in 1 Corinthians Paul clearly signals that he is making quotations 32 times for the Corinthians' words, OT citations, and even for hypothetical dialogue partners. So why when no such signal is given do we still get quotation marks in our Bibles? Good question. It seems like it is just one of things that has been repeated so often that now no one questions it, but if you trace it back to the first person to suggest it, Johannes Weiss, you realise that he based it on a minor grammatical point, that doesn't hold any water. Now that is enoguh for me, but Brian Dodd goes further in his excellent article "Paul's Paradigmatic 'I' in 1 Corinthians 6:1" in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, (no. 59, 1995, 39-58) and also makes an excellent and thorough positive argument why these words are not a quotation but Paul's own.


  1. Everything is permissible for me"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13"Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"—but God will destroy them both.

    I don't quite follow your post. Was it Paul or the Christian converts in Corinth who were saying that God will destroy both stomach and food?

    (I assume it was not Jesus,who ate fish after the resurrection, and talked about the feast in the Kingdom of God)

  2. "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"—but God will destroy them both.

    I think I get your point. Paul is saying he believes both halves of that sentence.

  3. Hi Stephen, welcome. sorry to be a while to respond. I am still trying to get my head round this but essentially there are two ways to read those verse, one as a rhetorical conversation between Paul and his rhetorical opponent, or as all Paul's own words and not two sides of an argument but only one argument. It has become difficult to read it as anything other than the first because we have gotten used to that interpretation, but I think that interpretatino is actually a novelty and that the speech marks shouldn't be there. I refer you to the article if you want to explore the issue more. However I dont know if it really makes much difference in the grand scheme of things, but it does go to show how little errors can eventually become the consensus, if scholars aren't careful to return to the first principles regularly.