Years ago, when I first started reading the Bible seriously
(at maybe 15 years of age), the first thing I noticed about the Pauline letters
was that they were exceedingly hard to follow at times. Like most people,
I attributed this to some sort of lost understanding about the age in which,
and the people to which, the letters were written. As a result, I made diligent
efforts to recover that context and tease out an outline of the knowledge
that Paul seemed to be assuming his readers/listeners would already know.
Although I was raised an Episcopalian (the American version of the UK's
Anglican Church), this process started while I was enthralled by the American
version of evangelicalism (mainly Baptist or Reformed in orientation). At the
time, I honestly believed the "scriptures" were inspired and should be taken
literally. Obviously, this presented problems for interpretation. Being naturally
inquisitive, I started looking "outside the box" and soon discovered the church
fathers, the apocrypha, and the pseudepigrapha. It was then that I realized that
more had apparently been going on in those formative years than I was learning
about in Sunday school or Bible studies.
One of my frustrations with the Pauline letters was the way they seemed to
digress from the point the author seemed to be making, and it was difficult to
discern exactly when, or if, the point was ever returned to and concluded.
Luckily, I had taken a year of NT Greek, and then an additional year of Classical
Greek, to satisfy my foreign language requirement in college. As part of an
attempt to sew up these disconnected parts of arguments, and with the help of a
Greek-English NT, I started identifying themes and bracketing out material that I
felt fell outside of the point being made.
In this process, I started noticing that the lion's share of these bracketed
sections were Christ oriented. Not long into the process I also noticed that the
bracketed and unbracketed material tended to have traits unique to one another
but not common to both.
Essentially, bracketed material never used the definite article with QEOS
(as in "the" God, i.e., of the Jews) while the unbracketed text almost always
did, and bracketed material always used the definite article with KURIOS (where
it was always used in reference to Christ, as in "the" Lord/Master) while the
unbracketed part almost never did (using KURIOS as a circumlocution for the
Tetragrammaton). Imagining that these might represent characteristics peculiar
to different authors, I began to apply them as general rules.
Where the above words or phrases were not present, I used topical words to
identify other sections of text that were related by subject or these with the
already bracketed text. Gradually, I came up with the sets of bracketed
materials you will see.
They seem to fall into three classes:
1) self-contained discourse units of sentences and even paragraphs, forming
the "digressions" I had previously noted;
2) intrusive phrases that generally formed subordinate clauses in the Greek
sentences that could be safely snipped out without causing much if any harm to
the grammatical structure of the sentences, apparently intended to "explain"
what the original text "really" meant; and
3) a whole lot of one to three word phrases liberally strewn about, such as
"in Christ" or "of Christ," etc, apparently intended to redirect the subjects
or objects of many sentences away from those that they originally referred
These characteristics were present in all 13 letters, but not in the general
Since the overarching theme in the unbracketed material was justification of
gentiles by faith, and since it was coherent and constituted over 2/3 of the
text, I considered it primary. As hard as I tried, I could not find any way to
keep any text referring to Jesus, or Jesus qualified either as "Lord" or "Christ"
in the primary group, due to clear cut keyword connections to subject themes
that were common in the bracketed material. It was clear to me that the bracketed
material was secondary, and the most natural explanation for the mixture was
The "primary" material was quite Jewish in nature and thought. The secondary
(bracketed) material was familiar with Jewish apocalyptic thought and Jewish
scripture, but displayed a significant hostility toward Jews in general, and a
tendency to gloat that God had chosen them instead of the Jews, which suggests
to me that the interpolator's group was not closely related to the group from
which sprang the primary texts. This also pretty much ruled out Marcion as the
writer of the primary material. He may have had something to do with the
interpolator, but the secondary material is never coherent enough to have formed
the basis of the original letters.
Then there are the issues of just what kinds of historical events and
sociological processes might have contributed to produce the Pauline letters
as we have them today.
The interpolator(s), for instance, is/are of the opinion that the Jews justly
deserved the misfortunes they were getting, slavery, etc., suggesting the
interpolations post-dated the war of 66-70.
The interest of the primary author ("Paul") in women dishonoring her "head"
and being shorn may have something to do with the Nazirite vow discharged by
Queen Helena of Adiabene sometime in the late 40's to mid 50's CE. I can't shake
the feeling that the "man of lawlessness" of 2 Thess. 2:3-7 is the Emperor Gaius,
and the restraining entity is the Governor of Syria, Petronius, dating the events
of that letter to around 40 CE. If these are really indicators of date, then the
order of Paul's activities in Acts must certainly be wrong.
There is still much to do, and this process has been on hiatus since 2003
due to job changes. In some places the bracketing could be done different ways.
I would like to formulate a set of formal criteria and then re-do the whole
process in an open forum to see if interested parties can help identify
methodological flaws or logical fallacies and lapses. Then I'd like to do
something similar to the other NT letters and those of some of the apostolic
fathers, then engage in some statistical analysis to see if the apparent
stylistic differences are just an apparent phenomenon or a real difference
Newton Falls, Ohio, USA