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Prisca in 1 Corinthians 16.19 once again

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A recent article in the Journal of Biblical Literature entitled, “Is There an ‘Anti-Priscan’ Tendency in the Manuscripts? Some Textual Problems with Prisca and Aquila,” by Dominika A. Kurek-Chomycz,1 has interacted at one point with my short essay on 1 Cor 16.19.2 I am flattered that in the pages of JBL, a standard theological journal, this Internet essay would get cited. Overall, Kurek-Chomycz makes some helpful arguments, advancing our understanding of the biblical text. But she also has, to some degree, misunderstood my essay and misrepresented my position. The following is a critique of her article with reference to her treatment of the grammar and text of 1 Cor 16.19.

Kurek-Chomycz says:

Does the singular ajspavzetai preceding Aquila’s name in 1 Cor 16:19 suggest that Aquila was in some way more prominent than Prisca? This is the claim of Daniel B. Wallace. According to him, “the syntactical evidence for the combination of a compound subject with a singular verb is a much stronger indicator for Aquila’s prominence than word order alone is for Priscilla’s.” If one were to follow his argumentation, one could suggest that certain scribes, regarding the singular form as an indication of a somewhat inferior position of Prisca, changed it to the plural ajspavzontai. There are, however, two problems with this interpretation.3

The language here is a bit odd: “There are, however, two problems with this interpretation.” What interpretation is she speaking about? Apparently, it is the interpretation of following my argument beyond where I take it. But she does not distance my own views from the interpretation that she then critiques. In particular, her second critique of ‘this interpretation’ is of a textual reconstruction that I do not endorse. But here I get a little lost in what she is saying. On the one hand, she notes that “it is unlikely that this change was indeed meant to highlight the position of Prisca.”4 I agree that this is hardly the reason the scribes changed the text, and in fact argued for a different construct as to why they do so, just as Kurek-Chomycz has done. On the other hand, she seems almost to reverse her understanding—at least as far as later interpreters are concerned, presumably whether ancient or modern interpreters:

However, that some readers of 1 Corinthians, whether ancient or contemporary, could interpret the change this way is best attested by the claims made by Wallace. To sum up, while it is fairly implausible that by changing ajspavzetai to ajspavzontai the copyists intended to make sure that Prisca was not regarded as inferior to Aquila, it is possible that some readers, especially those impressed by Wallace’s arguments on the combination of a compound subject with a singular verb, will interpret the plural form in this way. It is therefore notable that not all the textual variants necessarily have a negative impact on Prisca’s image.5

In correspondence with Kurek-Chomycz, I have learned that she was “more interested in the effect that some changes have on the portrayal of Prisca rather than the motive for those changes.” She does indeed articulate this approach in her article, but her clarification on this particular issue was helpful. Thus, as a point of clarification here: she has not reversed her understanding of why scribes changed the text, but is simply concerned with what later interpreters would see in such a change.

Her first critique of this interpretation does address a grammatical point I make. She says:

First, “the syntactical evidence for the combination of a compound subject with a singular verb” to which Wallace refers is too slender and therefore inconclusive. Consequently, it is difficult to formulate clear-cut rules on how to interpret the construction consisting of a singular verb with a compound subject.6

This language is confusing when it is followed by her statement that “it is possible that some readers, especially those impressed by Wallace’s arguments on the combination of a compound subject with a singular verb, will interpret the plural form in this way.” If “some readers” is anaphoric to its previous mention in this paragraph—where she says “some readers…whether ancient or contemporary”—then her statement is not clear. She is arguing first that the grammatical evidence is too minimal to see prominence, but then that some readers will regard the grammatical evidence as sufficiently clear to argue for prominence. But since she speaks of a portion of “some readers” the second time as those who may be “impressed by Wallace’s arguments,” perhaps she means that all of the “some readers” in this instance are contemporary readers. But if so, why does she then conclude that “It is therefore notable that not all the textual variants necessarily have a negative impact on Prisca’s image”? This at least sounds as though the plural verb with compound subjects fits an interpretation—whether ancient or modern—that reduces the prominence given to Aquila in the singular verb. Her correspondence with me about this indicates that she was thinking primarily of modern readers but that ancient readers could also have possibly come to the same conclusions regarding the syntactical evidence.

Regarding the grammatical argument, Kurek-Chomycz does not interact with any of the evidence I supply for my grammatical contention, nor does she mention my Exegetical Syntax7 where I discuss it in more detail. Certainly space limitations may be a factor, but the reader of the JBL article might not recognize that more than mere opinion is involved in my argument. She does add, however, some important information that may temper what I have to say there. We begin by a brief overview of the data, as found in Exegetical Syntax.

When two subjects, each in the singular, are joined by a conjunction, the verb is usually in the plural (e.g., in Acts 15:35 we read: Pau'lo kaiV Barnaba' dievtribon ejn =Antioceiva/ [Paul and Barnabas were staying in Antioch]). However, when an author wants to highlight one of the subjects, the verb is put in the singular. (This even occurs when one of the subjects is in the plural.) The first-named subject is the one being stressed in such instances.8

This is followed by nine illustrations or references (John 2.2; 4.36; Acts 16.31; Mark 8.27; 14.1; John 3.22; 4.53; Acts 5.29; 1 Tim 6.4). Further, I interact with the standard New Testament Greek grammar by Blass-Debrunner-Funk in a footnote: “BDF, 75 (§135) argue that this also occurs when both subjects are viewed equally, but their personal examples are unconvincing (John 18:15; 20:3). However, non-personal subjects can behave this way (e.g., parevlqh/ oJ oujranoV kaiV… hJ gh' [Matt 5:18]).”

Kurek-Chomycz makes the important observation that “the third person singular of the verb ajspavzomai in the present tense occurs about ten times in the NT, of which only two are outside the Pauline corpus. In the Pauline literature it nearly always refers to two or more individuals.”9 She adds that the third person plural is never used with proper names except for v.l. in Rom 16.21 and Phlm 23. (She does not mention the third person plural in some witnesses in 1 Cor 16.19, apparently because this was the principal text under discussion. Nevertheless, the omission of this reference from her list means that the statistics are far less stable than it would otherwise seem.)

It may well be that, for Paul, the use of the singular ajspavzetai with two proper names is simply his own idiosyncratic way of writing, giving no prominence to the first-named individual. But Kurek-Chomycz argues against this supposition herself: “It might be of some significance that in the aforementioned cases where ajspavzetai precedes a list of individuals sending greetings, the first person often receives a more extensive characterization…, implying that that person is supposed to be somehow distinguished from the ones that follow…”10

On the one hand, it may be a bit misleading to say that the first-named person often receives a more extensive characterization since the second-named individual also, at times, receives appositional notations. On the other hand, the first-named person is marked out in a different way than the rest, and this occurs more than “often”: it is the norm. Here are the relevant passages:

  • Rom 16.21 =Aspavzetai uJma' Timovqeo oJ sunergov mou kaiV Louvkio kaiV =Iavswn kaiV Swsivpatro oiJ suggenei' mou. [Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my compatriots.]
  • Rom. 16.23 ajspavzetai uJma' !Erasto oJ oijkonovmo th' povlew kaiV Kouvarto oJ ajdelfov. [Erastus the city treasurer and our brother Quartus greet you.]
  • 1 Cor. 16.19 ajspavzetai uJma' ejn kurivw/ pollaV =Akuvla kaiV Privska suVn th/' kat= oi›kon aujtw'n ejkklhsiva/. [Aquila and Prisca greet you warmly in the Lord, with the church that meets in their house.]
  • Col. 4.10 =Aspavzetai uJma' =Arivstarco oJ sunaicmavlwtov mou kaiV Ma'rko oJ ajneyioV Barnaba' [Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas]
  • Col. 4.14 ajspavzetai uJma' Louka' oJ ijatroV oJ ajgaphtoV kaiV Dhma'. [Our dear friend Luke the physician and Demas greet you.]
  • 2 Tim. 4.21 Spouvdason proV ceimw'no ejlqei'n. =Aspavzetaiv se Eu[boulo kaiV Pouvdh kaiV Livno kaiV Klaudiva kaiV oiJ ajdelfoiV pavnte. [Greetings to you from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters.]

Six times the singular ajspavzetai is used with plural subjects in the corpus Paulinum. On four of these occasions, there is different or more information given with the first-named person, apparently marking him out in a special way. If Paul’s usage is in line with what we have detected elsewhere in the NT, then the first-named person is indeed receiving some sort of stress in such constructions.

With regard to singular verbs with compound subjects in the NT, although I gave nine examples in Exegetical Syntax, many more could be mentioned. The following are supplementary illustrations of this phenomenon from both the NT and the Apostolic Fathers:

  • Matt 17.3 ijdouV w[fqh aujtoi' Mwu>sh' kaiV =Hliva sullalou'nte met= aujtou'. Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him. Moses almost surely was regarded as more prominent in the history of Israel than Elijah.
  • Matt 28.1 hlqen MariaVm hJ MagdalhnhV kaiV hJ a[llh Mariva qewrh'sai toVn tavfon. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. The fact that Matthew speaks of “the other Mary” suggests that the emphasis is on Mary Magdalene.
  • Mark 3.31 KaiV ejrcetai hJ mhvthr aujtou' kaiV oiJ ajdelfoiV aujtou'. Then [Jesus’] mother and his brothers came. Jesus’ mother can be seen throughout the Gospels as more prominent than Jesus’ siblings.
  • Mark 3.33 tiv ejstin hJ mhvthr mou kaiV oiJ ajdelfoiv ªmouV; Who is my mother and my brothers?
  • Mark 13.3 ejphrwvta aujtoVn kat= ijdivan Pevtro kaiV =Iavkwbo kaiV =Iwavnnh kaiV =Andreva: Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately. Peter’s prominent role among the disciples, at least in the Gospels, is consistently affirmed.
  • Luke 8.19 Paregevneto deV proV aujtoVn hJ mhvthr kaiV oi& ajdelfoiV aujtou' [Jesus’] mother and his brothers came to him. This parallels Mark 3.31.
  • Luke 22.14 ajnevpesen kaiV oiJ ajpovstoloi suVn aujtw/'. [Jesus] took his place at the table and his disciples joined him. Obviously, Jesus is more prominent and more important than his disciples.
  • John 1.45 o}n ejgrayen Mwu>sh' ejn tw/' novmw/ kaiV oiJ profh'tai euJrhvkamen. We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about. Moses is typically considered more prominent, even more important, than the prophets.
  • John 2.12 katevbh eij KafarnaouVm aujtoV kaiV hJ mhvthr aujtou' kaiV oiJ ajdelfoiV aujtou' kaiV oiJ maqhtaiV aujtou' [Jesus] went down to Capernaum and his mother and his brothers and his disciples.
  • John 12.22 ejrcetai =Andreva kaiV Fivlippo kaiV levgousin tw/' =Ihsou'. Andrew and Philip came and they spoke to Jesus. The language here may seem a bit curious. Philip told Andrew that certain Greeks had requested an audience with Jesus. But John then switches the order of the two disciples and uses the singular verb for “came” but the plural verb for “spoke.” (This actually is a normal feature: when a compound subject is introduced with a singular verb, the plural verb is then used from that point on.) Andrew’s help was solicited by Philip to present the case to Jesus. It seems possible, if not likely, that Philip was the main link to the Greeks, while Andrew was the main link to Jesus. Andrew may have been the main spokesman, the one who gave the duo more credibility, or simply closer to the inner circle of disciples.
  • John 18.15 =Hkolouvqei deV tw/' =Ihsou' Sivmwn Pevtro kaiV a[llo maqhthv. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus.] BDF suggest that emphasis is not given to Peter, but the fact that the other disciple is not even named suggests otherwise.
  • John 20.3 Exh'lqen ou oJ Pevtro kaiV oJ a[llo maqhthV kaiV h[rconto eij toV mnhmei'on. Then Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. This is similar to John 18.15, and is also cited by BDF to the effect that Peter’s prominence is undetectable by the singular verb. But again, that he is named and the other disciple is not suggests otherwise. However, the verse is rounded off with the plural verb, segueing into the next verse which speaks of both of them running together. Indeed, in many of the other passages that begin with a singular verb with a compound subject, the plural verb is utilized afterward. It seems as though a point about emphasis needed to be established. Once done, it does not need to be made again.
  • Acts 26.30 =Anevsth te oJ basileuV kaiV oJ hJgemwVn h{ te Bernivkh kaiV oiJ sugkaqhvmenoi aujtoi'. So the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. The king is obviously of greater importance than the other characters in this scene and hence gets first billing with a singular verb.
  • 1 Tim 1.20 w|n ejstin &Umevnaio kaiV =Alevxandro/among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander. These names are obviously known to Timothy. In light of the consistent usage of giving prominence for some reason to the first-named individual in NT texts elsewhere, it is likely that Hymenaeus is being stressed.
  • 2 Tim 1.15 w|n ejstin Fuvgelo kaiV &Ermogevnh/among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. See 1 Tim 1.20.
  • 2 Tim 2.17 w|n ejstin &Umevnaio kaiV Fivlhto/among whom are Hymenaeus and Philetus. See 1 Tim 1.20. Further, if this is the same Hymenaeus as was mentioned in 1 Tim 1.20, that he alone would be listed for two offenses may be the clue as to his prominence.
  • M.Poly. 8.2 uJphvnta aujtw'/ oJ eijrhvnarco &Hrwvdh kaiV oJ pathVr aujtou' Nikhvth. Herod, the police chief, and his father, Nicetes, met him. Similar to the NT texts involving ajspavzetai, the first-named person is singled out in some way.
  • Did 11.8 ajpoV ou tw'n trovpwn gnwsqhvsetai oJ yeudoprofhvth kaiV oJ profhvth. Thus, in this manner the false prophet and the prophet will be known. Obviously, a true prophet would be considered more important than a false prophet, giving a much-needed caution as to a dogmatic interpretation which suggests that the first-named person is necessarily more important in such constructions. (We have seen, however, that in some passages this is indeed the case.) In this passage, the false prophet seems to receive prominence because the focus in Didache 11.7–12 is on sniffing out the false prophets.

Of the seventeen passages mentioned above, twelve instances seem clearly to place an emphasis on the first-named person, while this interpretation is also likely in the other five. In the least, there are no clear texts in which the emphasis falls on the second-named person with the singular verbs, nor even those in which the emphasis is equal on both parties. These seventeen texts need to be added to the nine I listed in Exegetical Syntax, and the six that Kurek-Chomycz lists with the verb ajspavzetai. Of those six, four of them seem fairly clearly to point to the first-named person as the one being emphasized. It should be noted that singular verbs are sometimes changed to a plural verb in the manuscripts, perhaps to conform to more normative Greek or to lessen the emphasis on the first person mentioned. For example, some witnesses in Mark 3.31 have e[rcontai rather than e[rcetai; paregevneto is changed to paregevnonto in Luke 8.19 by most witnesses; w[fqh is changed to w[fqhsan by most scribes in Matt 17.3. Most likely, the reason is due to normal syntactical conventions. If so, this points to the use of the singular verb with compound subjects as that which an author does for some sort of emphasis. The great majority of instances, as we have seen, suggest that the emphasis is on the first-named individual. And none of the texts argue against this interpretation. In syntactical investigation, one must establish meaning from clear texts. And if the database is sufficient, and no texts in the construction contradict the clearly established meaning, it is likely that the ambiguous passages need to be interpreted in light of the clear ones.

But again, the reasons for the emphasis are not clear from the syntax alone. Didache 11.8 is especially valuable here, since the false prophet is mentioned before the true prophet. He is not more important, but he is the center of the discussion in this passage.

Perhaps Kurek-Chomycz’s argument with me is that I use the word prominence to describe Aquila with reference to Prisca. But she uses the word emphasize to speak of the first-named person; prominence and emphasis are often used interchangeably. Nevertheless, I will take this opportunity to clarify my meaning: by prominence I mean emphasis; I do not mean importance. I noted in my essay that what that prominence is cannot be determined by the grammar alone. In fact, I go to great lengths to stress this fact, none of which Kurek-Chomycz acknowledges. Indeed, her statement that “the form of the verb in 1 Cor 16:19b does not allow us to make generalizing statements about Paul’s attitude toward the couple throughout their missionary career, as Wallace does”11 is very puzzling. Where do I make any generalizing statements about Paul’s attitude toward the couple? She prefaces this comment by stating that “the question of how to interpret the construction composed of a singular verb with a compound subject is a complex one”—which is what I said immediately after I noted the syntactical point: “But we do not want to make too much out of this, either. We simply are working with insufficient data to make dogmatic statements either way.”

Where I would disagree with Kurek-Chomycz is over whether the construction indicates some sort of emphasis on the first-named person. She is uncertain as to whether this does so, while she seems convinced that simply mentioning a person first does. My argument previously was that if mentioning a person first gives that prominence, using a singular verb with a compound subject in such a construction does even more so. Nevertheless, Kurek-Chomycz has raised a significant issue in this regard: If it was normal practice to list the husband first, any places that would place Priscilla before Aquila would give her some prominence. That is apparently so,12 and is a factor that must be recognized when thinking about Priscilla’s role in the early church. What that prominence means, however, is not clear.

Kurek-Chomycz seems to have concluded that since I see some emphasis on the first-named person in such constructions, I must think that Aquila is more important in Paul’s mind. Let me reiterate the point: What that emphasis is cannot be known from the grammatical evidence alone. My main point in the brief essay seems to have been overlooked by Kurek-Chomycz: If it is legitimate to claim all sorts of things about Priscilla’s prominence in relation to Aquila simply because she is usually mentioned first, there is even more reason to make this claim when Aquila is mentioned first and the verb used is in the singular. My point was simply to note that those who make grandiose claims based on word order alone are not looking at all the data, and are being more dogmatic than the evidence warrants. It is important to point out here that Kurek-Chomycz is not in this camp: she does not make grandiose claims, but rather treats the data carefully for the most part, and makes the important point that textual variants alter the picture we have of Priscilla in the NT to a degree. It is probably too much to argue that scribes felt uncomfortable with Priscilla being mentioned first (since only one of the six texts that speak of Priscilla and Aquila [Acts 18.26] has a word-order change among the manuscripts)13, just as it is unlikely that they were scandalized at the singular verb in 1 Cor 16.19.

Kurek-Chomycz’s characterization of my essay as an “attempt to play down the role of Prisca is simply misleading and ideologically motivated”14 is the most surprising comment in her article. It strikes me as very unfair, reading into my article what I absolutely do not say. I have to wonder how carefully she read my article.

Here is how I concluded that essay relevant to this point:

What does all this suggest? Let us summarize the evidence: First, in four out of six instances, when these two are mentioned in the NT, Priscilla is mentioned first (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19). Second, in one of those passages the couple is the subject of the verb—and the verb is also plural. Third, only here and in Acts 18:2 (the first mention of them) is Aquila mentioned before Priscilla. Fourth, to suggest that Priscilla is given prominence because of word order in four out of six instances is a possible inference; but what kind of prominence is suggested is far from certain.15 Fifth, in one of the passages—1 Cor 16:19—the singular verb is used with the compound subject, with Aquila standing first. The syntactical evidence for the combination of a compound subject with a singular verb is a much stronger indicator for Aquila’s prominence than word order alone is for Priscilla’s. But we do not want to make too much out of this, either. We simply are working with insufficient data to make dogmatic statements either way.16 That so much is often built upon such a slender thread may betray an over-eager exegesis—one that wants to see things a certain way, whether the evidence truly supports it or not.

I appeal to Kurek-Chomycz, as I have to others who are wrestling with these issues: “Any advance in the discussion over the role of women in the church ought to be conducted with the greatest of charity and dignity. One’s theological position does not need to impact one’s personal attitude. Further, at all times we must pursue truth and bow to it. No one is truly objective, but at least we should try to wrestle with the data in an honest manner. I am speaking not only about ad hominem arguments, but also about dogma in the face of ambiguous data. The cause of Christ and his kingdom is never really served when truth takes a backseat to our presuppositions.”17

In sum, I applaud Kurek-Chomycz’s observations about ajspavzetai in Paul, and her overall fair treatment of the issue of Prisca/Priscilla in the Greek NT manuscript tradition. The half dozen examples of compound subjects with a singular verb are helpful to add to the syntactical fund. But I had hoped that she would not have read my work so quickly as to jump to conclusions about what I am really saying. That my essay would show up in an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature was indeed flattering, but that it was not accurately represented in the academic arena is disappointing. I hope that I have not done the same to Kurek-Chomycz’s article.18

1 Dominika A. Kurek-Chomycz, “Is There an ‘Anti-Priscan’ Tendency in the Manuscripts? Some Textual Problems with Prisca and Aquila,” JBL 125 (2006) 107–128.

2 Daniel B. Wallace, “Aquila and Priscilla in 1 Corinthians 16:19,” posted at (/article/aquila-and-priscilla-1-corinthians-1619).

3 Kurek-Chomycz, “‘Anti-Priscan’ Tendency,” 112-13.

4 Ibid., 113.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 113.

7 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).

8 Wallace, Exegetical Syntax, 401.

9 Kurek-Chomycz, “‘Anti-Priscan’ Tendency,” 112.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 113, n. 16.

12 Cf. BDAG, s.v. Privska who use as an analogy to the listing of Priscilla first: “Julia Severa is named before her husband Tyrronius Rapon, prob. because she was of higher rank.”

13 I say “probably” because the singular verb was changed to the plural in 1 Cor 16.19 in the Western and Byzantine texts, something that would be counter to this motivation. As well, they leave Acts 18.18 and other texts alone.

14 Ibid.

15 Cf. Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Equal To Serve: Women and Men in the Church and Home (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1987); Letha D. Scanzoni and Nancy A. Hardesty, All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992); and many others, for repeated assumptions about Priscilla’s prominent role as a teacher in the early church.

16 To my knowledge, no extensive treatment has been done on compound subjects with singular verbs. For some preliminary suggestions, see D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 401-2.

17 This is the final paragraph of my essay, “Aquila and Priscilla in 1 Corinthians 16:19.”

18 Professor Kurek-Chomycz is to be thanked for looking over this essay and making several helpful suggestions. We still do not agree entirely, but I believe that we understand each other better.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Textual Criticism, Scripture Twisting