Vernon K. Robbins

Sociorhetorical Interpretation

Emory Studies in Early Christianity

Rhetoric of Religious Antiquity

Religious Sites in Atlanta

Emory Department of Religion

Emory Graduate Division of Religion



1 Corinthians 9:9: Oral-scribal intertexture

Paul: 1 Corinthians

1 Cor. 9.9 contains a clear instance of scribal intertexture: 'For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out grain"'. This is an instance of recitation, that process in which a person formally restates a tradition from the past either in verbatim wording, slightly modified wording or significantly newly formulated wording. In this instance, Pauline discourse transmits a line of scriptural text that contains four Greek words. This means that the Septuagint (Greek) version of scripture contains the intertext for this verse. In this instance, there is no inversion of the order of any of the four words in the recitation, as there often is, but there is variation in the first two letters of the verb 'you shall (not) muzzle'. In many New Testament manuscripts, and in the Septuagint text, the verb begins with the two letters ph and i (phimo�). Another common word in Greek for muzzling an animal was formed exactly the same except that the first two letters were k and (k�mo�). Some New Testament texts start the word with phi- and others start it with k�-. Since early scribes would be more likely to change the spelling so it agreed with the Septuagint (phimo�, since it purports to be a recitation of it) than that any scribe changed it so that it varied from the Septuagint text, it appears that Pauline discourse did not use the verb as it stands in the Septuagint but used the alternative verb in contemporary Greek meaning to muzzle. Recitation in this instance, then, has four words, like the Septuagint text, but it spelled one of the words differently.

After the Pauline discourse recites Deuteronomy 25.4, it engages in interpretation:

9 Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake.... (1 Cor. 9.9-10)

Pauline discourse applies the biblical verse to humans rather than oxen. A look at the verse in its context in Deuteronomy reveals that all the laws in fifteen chapters before and two chapters after the verse concern humans; only one verse in seventeen chapters speaks about animals without reference to humans. Thus, it would have been natural for interpreters to consider this verse also to be meant for humans rather than, or in addition to, oxen. The reason the discourse gives for thinking the verse applies to humans rather than oxen is not, however, the reason we have just presented. Rather, the stated reason is an argument from analogy based on traditional social logic: just as a plowman and a thresher both expect to get a share of the crop when it is harvested, so it is to be expected that God's statement about an oxen being allowed to eat while it works actually refers to humans. This means that Pauline discourse allows traditional social logic to guide the interpretation of a verse from scripture. This will gain in importance as the analysis of the chapter proceeds.


From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge:121-122.

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