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Paul's Allusive Reasoning in 1 Corinthians 11.7–12

  • Julie Newberry (a1)


This article examines Paul's use of scriptural allusion in 1 Cor 11.7–12, highlighting underappreciated echoes of Zerubbabel's discourse in 1 Esdras 4.13–41. Paul puts Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and 1 Esdras 4 into conversation to support what may strike many today as a tension-fraught position. He assumes a patriarchal gender hierarchy (1 Cor 11.7–9) but also affirms woman's ‘authority’ over her head, albeit tendentiously (11.10). Rather than resolving the resulting tension, Paul uses additional, counterbalancing allusions to redirect attention away from the question of status, towards recognition of interdependence ‘in the Lord’ and shared origin in God (11.11–12).



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1 For lists of the difficulties, see Scroggs, R., ‘Paul and the Eschatological Woman’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 40 (1972) 283303; Delobel, J., ‘1 Cor 11, 2–16: Towards a Coherent Interpretation’, L'Apôtre Paul: personnalité, style, et conception du ministère (ed. Vanhoye, A.; Bibliotheca Ephemeridum theologicarum Lovaniensium 73; Leuven: Leuven University Press/Peeters, 1986) 369–89, at 369, 376–7; and Jantsch's, T. survey of interpretive cruxes and their modern history of interpretation (‘Einführung in die Probleme von 1Kor 11,2–16 und die Geschichte seiner Auslegung’, Frauen, Männer, Engel: Perspektiven zu 1Kor 11,2–16 (ed. Jantsch, T.; Biblisch-theologische Studien 152; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 2015) 160. See also the extensive bibliography by J. Brouwer, ‘Gott, Christus, Engel, Männer und Frauen: Chronologisch-thematische Bibliographie zu 1Kor 11,2–16’, Frauen, Männer, Engel, 187–235.

2 Though they are sometimes distinguished, I use ‘allusion’ and ‘echo’ interchangeably here for variety in diction.

3 As Jantsch comments, this is one of few points of scholarly consensus about this passage (‘Einführung’, 17). See e.g. Jervis, L. A., ‘“But I Want You to Know…”: Paul's Midrashic Intertextual Response to the Corinthian Worshippers (1 Cor 11:2–16)’, JBL 112 (1993) 231–46; Heil, J. P., ‘1 Corinthians 11.7–12’, The Rhetorical Role of Scripture in 1 Corinthians (SBLMS 15; Atlanta: SBL, 2005) 173–90; Böhm, M., ‘1 Kor 11,2–16: Beobachtungen zur paulinischen Schriftrezeption und Schriftargumentation im 1. Korintherbrief’, Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älten Kirche 97 (2006) 207–34; and Lincicum, D., ‘Genesis in Paul’, Genesis in the New Testament (ed. Menken, M. J. J. and Moyise, S.; LNTS 466; London: Bloomsbury, 2012) 99116, esp. 102.

4 A few discussions of 1 Cor 11.2–16 suggest one or more echoes of/parallels to 1 Esdras in passing (see notes below), but the only extended treatment of the connection of which I am aware occurs in Westfall's, C. L. Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle's Vision for Men and Women in Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016) 66–8, 72–3, 103. While I concur with several of Westfall's proposals concerning Paul's allusions and their import, I also perceive one additional echo of 1 Esdras (4.33–41/1 Cor 11.12c) – an echo that, I will argue, makes an important contribution to his allusive reasoning.

5 My project thus bears some similarity to Jervis’ study (‘“But I Want …”’), though we differ at points over which texts Paul evokes and how he sets them into conversation.

6 1 Esdras’ textual history is complex; it suffices here to note that the relevant section was apparently available at the time of Paul's writing. Josephus draws on 1 Esdras 2–9 in Jewish Antiquities, providing a clear ‘terminus ante quem for the translation of 1 Esdras’, but a version of 1 Esdras including the bodyguards story probably became available in Greek earlier, ‘toward the end of the second century bce’ (Böhler, D., 1 Esdras (trans. Maloney, L. M.; IECOT; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2016) 13–14, 1920).

7 On the historical difficulties with 1 Esdras’ chronology, see deSilva, D. A., ‘1 Esdras: “Leave to Us a Root and a Name”’, Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Content, and Significance (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 280–95, esp. 285–6.

8 Cf. Westfall's suggestion that Paul ‘balanc[es] out the argument for women's power [1 Esdras 4] with the creation account [Genesis 2] of woman's origin from man’ (Paul and Gender, 103 n. 113; see also 72–3).

9 For a depiction of the intertextual links I propose, see Figure 1 at the end of this article.

10 All translations are my own unless otherwise noted. Greek text follows the NA28 and Rahlfs-Hanhart.

11 On the imperfect parallelism here, see Fee, G., The First Epistle to the Corinthians (rev. edn; NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014) 568–9.

12 Paul's allusions to/differences from Genesis are often noted; see n. 3.

13 Heil also suggests that 1 Cor 10.31 may shed light on 1 Cor 11.2–16. In addition to the repetition of ‘glory’, he points to πάντα in 10.31/11.12 (‘1 Corinthians’, 178–9, 185, 190).

14 Regarding how Paul's instructions may respond to cultural assumptions about honour/shame, see Finney, M., ‘Honour, Head-coverings and Headship: 1 Corinthians 11.2–16 in its Social Context’, JSNT 33 (2010) 3158.

15 Possibilities discussed by e.g. Böhm (‘1 Kor. 11,2–16’, 218–19, 219 n. 58). For a concise statement regarding Jewish interpretations of who was made in God's image, see Jantsch, ‘Einführung’, 17–18.

16 So e.g. Hooker, M., ‘Authority on her Head: An Examination of I Cor. xi. 10’, NTS 10 (1963/4) 410–16, esp. 411; Fiorenza, E. S., In Memory of Her: A Feminist Reconstruction of Christian Origins (10th anniversary edn; New York: Crossroad, 1994) 229.

17 This may reflect the fact that Paul reads Genesis 1 through Genesis 2 (Jaubert, A., ‘Le voile des femmes (I Cor. xi. 2–16)’, NTS 18 (1972) 419–30, at 422; Gundry-Volf, J., ‘Gender and Creation in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16: A Study in Paul's Theological Method’, Evangelium, Schriftauslegung, Kirche: Festschrift für Peter Stuhlmacher zum 65. Geburtstag (ed. Ådna, –J. et al. ; Gӧttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1997) 151–71, esp. 155; and Klaiber, W., Der erste Korintherbrief (Die Botschaft des Neuen Testaments; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 2011) 175–6). See also Amy Peeler's argument that Paul ‘structures’ 1 Cor 11.7–9 ‘in the direction of [the] mutual male and female image bearing’ found in Genesis 1 (‘Imaging Glory: 1 Corinthians 11, Gender, and Bodies at Worship’, Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality (ed. G. Hiestand and T. Wilson; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017) 151–63, at 157).

18 Similarly Hooker, ‘Authority’, 411; Gundry-Volf, ‘Gender’, 156.

19 See also Jaubert, ‘Le voile’, 419.

20 Especially Westfall, Paul and Gender, 66–7. Others who note 1 Esdras 4.17 (= 3 Esdras 4.17) as a possible parallel to 1 Cor 11.7b include Hays, R. B., First Corinthians: Interpretation (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1997) 186; Heil, ‘1 Corinthians’, 174; Zeller, D., Der erste Brief an die Korinther (KEK 5; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010) 358 n. 50; and Jantsch ‘Einführung’, 34 n. 118.

21 Following R. G. Wooden in NETS (and in keeping with the context), I intentionally translate ἀνθρώποις with non-gender-inclusive language here.

22 1 Esdras is not alone in Jewish tradition in conjoining these themes; see also e.g. Prov 11.16 LXX (Jaubert, ‘Le voile’, 423; Winandy, J., ‘Un curieux casus pendens: 1 Corinthiens 11.10 et son interprétation’, NTS 38 (1992) 621–9, esp. 627; and Feuillet, A., ‘L'homme “gloire de Dieu” et la femme “gloire de l'homme” (I Cor. xi, 7b)’, RB 81 (1974) 161–82, at 180).

23 See similarly Westfall, Paul and Gender, 66.

24 As Westfall (Paul and Gender, 67) and others (e.g. Böhler, 1 Esdras, 91; deSilva, ‘1 Esdras’, 294) discuss, 1 Esdras itself evokes Genesis. This may help to account for Paul's choice of 1 Esdras as a conversation partner here. It also bears mentioning that, at 1 Cor 13.13, the NA28 suggests a possible echo of/parallel to 1 Esdras 4.38 – also part of Zerubbabel's discourse. See Sigountos, J. G., ‘The Genre of 1 Corinthians 13’, NTS 40 (1994) 246–60, esp. 249–50.

25 Westfall comments on this intertextual connection (Paul and Gender, 67, 103), which is also noted by Zeller, Der erste Brief, 361 n. 80; Keener, C. S., Paul, Wives, and Women: Marriage and Women's Ministry in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992) 59 n. 153; and Heil, ‘1 Corinthians’, 175.

26 Elsewhere the phrase excludes women from a headcount (Gen 46.26; Bel 1.9; Matt 14.21; 15.38). On rabbinic parallels to ‘neither man without woman nor woman without man’, see e.g. Boucher, M., ‘Some Unexplored Parallels to 1 Cor 11,11–12 and Gal 3,28: The NT on the Role of Women’, CBQ 31 (1969) 50–8, esp. 52.

27 Heil also flags the similarity between 1 Cor 11.12 and 1 Esdras 4.15–17 (‘1 Corinthians’, 175), as do Westfall (Paul and Gender, 66–7) and Zeller (Der erste Brief, 361 n. 80).

28 This last proposed echo – the plausibility of which depends on the cumulative force of my argument – is not suggested by Westfall.

29 See also Westfall, Paul and Gender, 66.

30 Thus D. B. Martin maintains, ‘The implication of hierarchy … obvious in the first pair (God-man) cannot be denied to the second pair (man-woman)’ (‘Prophylactic Veils’, The Corinthian Body (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995) 229–49, at 232; see also Gundry-Volf, ‘Gender’, 157, 165). On the other hand, the meaning of being someone's δόξα may shift within 11.7, in which case the pairs would not map onto each other so neatly and might not (directly) imply a gender hierarchy. F. Watson perceives such ‘a semantic slippage’: ‘Man is the glory of God’ as God's ‘manifestation’; woman is the ‘glory of man’ as ‘the object of man's erotic joy, love and devotion’ (Agape, Eros, Gender: Towards a Pauline Sexual Ethic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) 56, 57 n. 13; also Watson, F., ‘The Authority of the Voice: A Theological Reading of 1 Cor 11.2–16’, NTS 46 (2000) 520–36, at 531). Watson's understanding of ‘the glory of man’ coheres with 1 Esdras 4's portrayal of women's strength as exerted partly through erotic attraction (4.18–32; see also Westfall, Paul and Gender, 67–70). Nevertheless, while this context may well lie in the background of 1 Cor 11.7b, it is (temporarily) obscured by Paul's allusive explication of ‘glory of man’ in 11.8–9, which as discussed below seems to encourage readers to interpret 11.7 in terms of a patriarchal gender hierarchy.

31 As R. B. Hays has shown, Paul's engagement with Israel's scriptures often ‘exemplif[ies] the … trope of metalepsis’, alluding to a passage ‘in a way that evokes resonances of the earlier text beyond those explicitly cited’ (‘The Conversion of the Imagination: Scripture and Eschatology in 1 Corinthians’, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel's Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005) 1–24, at 2).

32 E.g. Hooker, ‘Authority’, 412; Barrett, C. K., A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper's New Testament Commentaries; New York: Harper & Row, 1968) 253; Delobel, ‘1 Cor 11, 2–16’, 385. Contra e.g. Gundry-Volf, ‘Gender’, 160.

33 See Hooker, ‘Authority’, 413; Delobel, ‘1 Cor 11, 2–16’, 387; and Fee, First Epistle, 574. There is only weak textual support for κάλυμμα in 11.10, clearly an early gloss on ἐξουσίαν (Thiselton, A. C., The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 837).

34 A few translations do not add ‘symbol’ (e.g. KJV, Luther Bibel (1984), NIV (2011)), but many insert some such term (e.g. NRSV (1989), NASB (1995, italicised as an explanatory insertion), Reina Valera (1984: ‘señal’)). The Louis Segond (1910) states that woman ‘doit avoir sur la tête une marque de l'autorité’ – that is, the authority ‘dont elle dépend’. See also Winandy, ‘Un curieux’, 621–3, 625.

35 Translators’ insertion of ‘symbol’ creates ambiguity about whose authority is in view: is this ‘a symbol of subjection’ or, as Hooker suggests, a symbol of woman's authority in Christ (‘Authority’, 413, 415–16; see also Murphy-O'Connor, J., ‘Sex and Logic in 1 Corinthians 11:2–16’, CBQ 42 (1980) 482500, at 498). See further below.

36 In what follows, I draw partly on Fee's summary of interpretive options (First Epistle, 574–6). There are of course variations of each basic position.

37 Fee, First Epistle, 574; on the problems with this view, see further McGinn, S. E., ‘ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς: 1 Cor 11:10 and the Ecclesial Authority of Women’, Listening 31 (1996) 91104, esp. 96–8.

38 See discussion in Fee, First Epistle, 575.

39 E.g. Hooker, ‘Authority’, 415–16, for whom the covering symbolises woman's own authority to pray/prophesy; see also Scroggs, ‘Paul and the Eschatological Woman’, 302; and Murphy-O'Connor, ‘Sex and Logic’, 498, but cf. Hays’ reservations (First Corinthians, 187).

40 So also e.g. Fee, First Epistle, 575.

41 E.g. Hays, who interprets this exercise of authority/control in terms of updos (First Corinthians, 187–8; cf. the criticism of such a view in Hooker, ‘Authority’, 413). For another version of this view, see Taylor, J. E., ‘The Woman Ought to Have Control over her Head because of the Angels (1 Corinthians 11.10)’, Gospel and Gender: A Trinitarian Engagement with being Male and Female in Christ (ed. Campbell, D. A.; Studies in Theology and Sexuality 7; London: T&T Clark, 2003) 3757, at 40.

42 See, among others, Thompson, C. L., ‘Hairstyles, Head-coverings, and St. Paul: Portraits from Roman Corinth’, Biblical Archaeologist 51 (1988) 99115, esp. 112.

43 Similarly, Thompson, ‘Hairstyles’, 112. Mitchell, M. M. also notes Paul's (tendentious) affirmation of woman's authority (Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (HUT 28; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991) 262–3); see also e.g. Keener, Paul, 21, 46; and W. Schrage's discussion of how 6.12 and 10.23 might lead to a similar interpretation of 11.10 (Der erste Brief an die Korinther, 2. Teilband: 1 Kor 6, 12–11, 16 (EKK vii/2; Solothurn: Benziger, 1995) 514). Cf. A. C. Wire, who rejects the possibility that 11.10 invokes Paul's, paradoxical view of authority as a privilege that one denies oneself’ (The Corinthian Women Prophets: A Reconstruction through Paul's Rhetoric (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 132–3).

44 On echoes of 10.31 in 11.2–16 and how consideration for the ‘glory of God’ may undergird Paul's argument, see Heil, ‘1 Corinthians’, 178–9, 185, 190. Others who interpret 11.10 in light of Paul's larger discussion of ἐξουσία often focus on the criterion of charity/non-scandalisation, which Paul also invokes in relation to idol meat (8.9–13; 10.23–4, 32–3; Thiselton, First Epistle, 802; Thompson, ‘Hairstyles’, 112; Keener, Paul, 38).

45 If the body analogy is instructive for all of 11.1–14.40 (Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric, 269), perhaps Paul's reasoning about ‘clothing’ less honourable members (12.22–6) parallels his call for (less glorious?) women to be covered in worship. See D'Angelo, M. R., ‘Veils, Virgins, and the Tongues of Men and Angels: Women's Heads in Early Christianity’, Women, Gender, and Religion: A Reader (ed. Castelli, E. A. with the assistance of Rodman, R. C.; New York: Palgrave, 2001) 389419, esp. 393–4.

46 Similarly e.g. Lakey, M., Image and Glory: 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 as a Case Study in Bible, Gender and Hermeneutics (LNTS 418; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010) 114.

47 Hooker, ‘Authority’, 411; see also Jervis, ‘“But I Want …”, 243; Fee, First Epistle, 526–47, 568; Lakey, Image and Glory, 108–9, 113. Cf. Westfall, who assumes that 11.10 does follow from 11.9 and (re)interprets 11.9 accordingly (Paul and Gender, 103).

48 In both 11.8 and 11.9, γάρ may point back to 11.7 (Fee, First Epistle, 572; see also Winandy, ‘Un curieux’, 626).

49 See n. 30.

50 Interestingly, the term ἐξουσία comes up in Zerubbabel's speech: first in the context of highlighting the king's power before showing women's superior strength (1 Esdras 4.28–9) and then in the context of affirming Truth's still greater strength (4.40).

51 The interpretation of ‘because of the angels’ is notoriously difficult; a detailed treatment of the question cannot be undertaken here (see e.g. Thiselton, First Epistle, 839–41; Fee, First Epistle, 576–8). However, I would note one possibility that coheres well with my argument: perhaps this enigmatic comment relates to Paul's claim that believers will judge the angels (1 Cor 6.2–3). Christian women, who will judge angels, should be competent to decide how to attire their heads! For further discussion of this possibility, see Keener, Paul, 41–2; Fee, First Epistle, 577; Wright, N. T., Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (Louisville, KY/London: Westminster John Knox, 2004) 142; and Westfall, Paul and Gender, 35, 99.

52 Paul's allusions to Genesis 2 are widely recognised; see n. 3.

53 11.8–9 and 11.11–12 are ‘two sets of parenthetical remarks’ (McGinn, ‘ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν’, 93; see also e.g. Fee, First Epistle, 545).

54 Westfall's analysis of Paul's interactions with Genesis and 1 Esdras in 1 Cor 11.11–12b is similar to mine in its broad strokes (Paul and Gender, 72–3, 103 n. 113; see below).

55 Fee, First Epistle, 578; see also Gundry-Volf, ‘Gender’, 161; Delobel, ‘1 Cor 11, 2–16’, 384.

56 Westfall, Paul and Gender, 67–8, 72–3, 98–9. Böhler takes 1 Esdras 4.22–7 to highlight the potentially ‘ruinous’ character of women's power (1 Esdras, 92–3; see also deSilva, ‘1 Esdras’, 294–5; somewhat similarly Westfall, Paul and Gender 67–8). Paul does not clearly allude to these verses, but if he is aware of them, their ominous portrayal of women's strength may further explain his concern to qualify his affirmation of woman's ἐξουσία.

57 As noted, Westfall also holds that Paul's use of allusion in 11.11–12 ‘evens out the balance’ between the sexes (Paul and Gender, 73), though her primary concern is not to trace this intertextual conversation in detail (see Paul and Gender, 66–7, 72–3, 103 n. 113). Westfall perceives the emphases in this intertextual exchange differently than I do, thanks partly to our different reconstructions of the situation to which Paul is responding. I assume he addresses (at least in part) women who want to uncover their heads; Westfall makes an intriguing case for the possibility that he defends women who want to cover their heads (Paul and Gender, 26–43, 34–7, 98–9).

58 ἐξ ἀνδρός (1 Cor 11.8) versus ἐκ τοῦ ἀνδρός (1 Cor 11.12; Gen 2.23). See e.g. Gundry-Volf, ‘Gender’, 162 and A. Lindemann, Der erste Korintherbrief (HNT 9/1; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000) 244.

59 Gen 2.23, echoed in 1 Cor 11.8 and 11.12a, uses ἐκ for woman's origin ‘from’ man; by using διά in 11.12b, Paul preserves ‘the difference between man and woman’ (Gundry-Volf, ‘Gender’, 163).

60 ‘Praise of truth becomes praise of God’ (Böhler, 1 Esdras, 94).

61 For suggestions that 11.11–12 qualifies, clarifies or corrects the earlier verses, see e.g. Jaubert, ‘Le voile’, 429; Fee, First Epistle, 547; and Furnish, P., ‘Women in the Church’, The Moral Teaching of Paul: Selected Issues (rev. 2nd edn; Nashville: Abingdon, 1985) 83114, at 98, 100, 111; but cf. Schrage, Der erste Brief, 517–18.

62 Martin, ‘Prophylactic’, 296 n. 15. Watson acknowledges this as well, though he concludes that Paul downplays the issue of hierarchy here (‘Authority’, 528): the point is ‘interdependence’ and not hierarchy or equality (‘Authority’, 522–3, 527–8; Agape, 56–7, 71–80). See also Schrage's insistence that 11.11 implies interdependence, ‘nicht Gleichheit!’ (Der erste Brief, 518–19).

63 Somewhat similarly e.g. Hays, First Corinthians, 188–9.

64 J. M. Myers, for example, mentions numerous early Christian writers who allude to 1 Esdras (primarily the end of Zerubbabel's speech), including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Cyprian, and others; see the list in I and II Esdras: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (AB; Garden City: Doubleday, 1974) 17–18.

65 If the Corinthians were not familiar with 1 Esdras, this need not have prevented Paul from alluding to it; it is generally acknowledged that Paul himself reasoned in conversation with Israel's scriptures, and 1 Corinthians attests to the fact that he could write the Corinthians letters surpassing their interpretive powers (5.9–13).

66 Cf. R. B. Hays’ ‘seven tests’ for evaluating the cumulative evidence for a proposed intertextual echo: availability, volume, recurrence, thematic coherence, historical plausibility, history of interpretation and satisfaction (‘The Puzzle of Pauline Hermeneutics’, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989) 1–33, at 29–32; ‘“Who Has Believed Our Message?”: Paul's Reading of Isaiah’, Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel's Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2005) 25–49, esp. 34–45). On dating 1 Esdras 4, see n. 6.

67 That some would question Paul's essentialist, binary conception of gender raises important further questions, but these lie beyond the scope of this article.

68 I suspect, however, that Paul's treatment of head coverings reflects the same theological and ecclesiological commitments that inform his handling of other potentially divisive differences that he sees as constitutive of the church's divinely ordered unity. Paul does not simply map other kinds of diversity onto gender (Furnish, ‘Women in the Church’, 101; McGinn, ‘ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν’, 99), but patterns do emerge: since the Corinthians are contentiously competitive (3.1–4; chs. 12–14), he downplays issues of relative status (11.11–12; 12.14–26), without denying that some differences affect status (7.7–8, 38, 40; 11.3–9; 12.27–31; 14.1–5, 12–31). On conflict, diversity and unity in 1 Corinthians, see Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric; on theological, ecclesiological and eschatological commitments undergirding Paul's hermeneutics, Hays, R. B., ‘“The Word is Near You”: Hermeneutics in the Eschatological Community’, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale, 1989) 154–92.

69 Thanks to Richard B. Hays and Christopher M. Blumhofer for commenting on an earlier draft of this article.

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