This entry is part 69 of 89 in the series: Troublesome texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Matthew 24:34 – This generation will not pass away?
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Ephesians 5:23- ‘The head of a wife is her husband’
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:15 – ‘Saved through child-bearing’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
1 Corinthians 14:33-35 – ‘As in all the churches of the saints, 14:34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 14:35 If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church.’
Various approaches to interpreting this (notorious?!) passage have been proposed:-
A few scholars think that Paul is self-contradictory. Having acknowledged that women may prophesy (1 Cor 11:2-16) he now reveals his true colours by denying them any opportunity to speak at all. This is a rather desperate interpretation. Better ones are readily available.
William Barclay thinks that Paul’s teaching at this point is sub-Christian; that he was unable fully to shake off the restrictions of his time and culture: ‘No man ever rose completely above the background of the age in which he lived and the society in which he grew up; and Paul, in his conception of the place of women within the Church, was unable to rise above the ideas which he had known all his life.’ This is clearly inadequate for those who hold to a sound doctrine of biblical inspiration.
Fee and some others think that this passage is a non-Pauline interpolation. Fee therefore regards this teaching as ‘certainly not binding for Christians’. McKnight summarises part of the argument of Andrew Bartlett: ‘The best explanation of the totality of the evidence currently available is that someone other than Paul wrote verses 34-35 in the margin as an early gloss or comment. Copyists mistook this as part of the original letter and promoted it into the main text, but were unsure where to position it. They inserted it in two different positions (some after v. 3 3, others after v. 40).’ Phillip Payne (Man and Woman) argues extensively for this view, suggesting, among other things, that the Western Text would not have placed this passage after v40 if it were part of the original text. Kevin Giles asserts that this passage ‘has been shown to be almost certainly not from the pen of Paul.’ (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women)
Thiselton (who does not support this theory) summarises the reasons adduced in its favour: ‘(1) the verses depart from the main theme of chapters 12–14; (2) they interrupt the argument about prophets; (3) they conflict with 11:5; (4) they appeal to a legal rule; and (5) a few later MSS place the verse after v. 40.’ But every known manuscript includes this passage.
It is possible that Paul is addressing a different group of women than those considered in chapter 11. They are the unbelieving wives of believing husbands. But there is nothing in the text itself to support this.
Some see this passage as an extended quotation from the letter that the Corinthians had sent to Paul; it does not represent Paul’s own view at all. According to this interpretation, Paul in v34f rebukes the (male) believers who have put forward this point of view. But there is little evidence to support the idea that Paul is at this point quoting the Corinthians.
A further approach is to say that Paul does indeed urge absolute silence on the part of women in church meetings. However, it is clear that women prayed and prophesied in the Christian meetings (1 Cor 11:4f). With 1 Cor 11:5 in mind, Prior puts it bluntly: ‘Whatever this section is teaching, it is not telling women to keep quiet in church.’ This cannot be an absolute ban.
Stott (Issues facing Christians today, 4th ed, p340) cites Richard and Catherine Clark Kroeger as suggesting that this prohibitions was restricted to a particular situation in Corinth (and a similar situation in Ephesus, 1 Tim 2:12). They pointed out ‘that ancient Corinth was a well-known centre of the worship of Bacchus…, which included frenzied shouting, especially by women. They, therefore, suggest that Paul was urging self-control in worship, in place of wild ecstasies, and the lalein he was forbidding (an onomatopoeic word) was either the mindless ritual shouting of “alala” or the babbling of idle gossip.’ But the application of this background to Paul’s teaching here is conjectural. However, it is difficult to square this will his comment that the rule applies in all assemblies.
Similar to the above is the approach taken by Bailey. He too thinks that the key to understanding this passage is the makeup of the church in Corinth. The city was large and diverse. Many different languages were spoken, and Greek (spoken with various accents) might have been the second or even third language for much of the population. Their use of Greek would, in any case, have been colloquial rather than formal. Due to their relative lack of education, women would not have developed an extended attention span. Due to theirs being an essentially oral culture, they would tend to process information by turning to one another and chatting. Moreover, Paul has just complained that people were getting drunk at celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, and that everyone was speaking in tongues at the same time: who can blame the women for giving up on what was happening in the meeting and instead talking to one another? For such reasons, says Bailey, the women are instructed to be subjected to the worship leadership (a leadership which was, he urges, comprised of both women and men). So, having just told others (prophets and tongues-speakers) when they need to be quiet, Paul now says to the women: ‘please stop chatting so you can listen to the women (and men) who are trying to bring you a prophetic word but cannot do so when no one can hear them.’
A similar approach is proposed by Prior. He thinks that the new-found freedom in Christ which the women had experienced had prompted what may have been a local example of a fairly widespread tendency in the early churches. ‘They had discovered a unique freedom in the life of the Christian community, and it is possible that this freedom had gone to their heads, or, more precisely, to their tongues. This lack of self-discipline was causing confusion and disorder in the worship of the church.’
Witherington thinks that the women may have assumed that prophets at Corinth may have functioned similarly to the oracle at Delphi, who prophesied only in response to questions. Paul’s instruction then would be to say that Christian prophecy is not like that.
Another line of interpretation is to suggest that Paul is restricting only certain kinds of speech. One writer regards it as likely that ‘Paul is restricting the only kind of speech directly addressed in these verses: asking questions (Giles, 56). It was common in the ancient world for hearers to interrupt teachers with questions, but it was considered rude if the questions reflected ignorance of the topic (see Plutarch On Lectures). Since women were normally considerably less educated than men, Paul proposes a short-range solution and a long-range solution to the problem. His short-range solution is that the women should stop asking the disruptive questions; the long-range solution is that they should be educated, receiving private tutoring from their husbands. Most husbands of the period doubted their wives’ intellectual potential, but Paul was among the most progressive of ancient writers on the subject. Paul’s long-range solution affirms women’s ability to learn and places them on equal footing with men (see more fully Keener 1992, 80-85). Whatever reconstruction one accepts, however, two points are clear. First, Paul plainly does not enjoin total silence on women, since earlier in the same letter he expects them to pray and prophesy publicly along with the men; (1 Cor 11:4-5) he thus must enjoin only the silencing of a particular form of speaking. Second, there is nothing in the context to support the view that Paul refers here to women teaching the Bible. The only passage in the entire Bible that could be directly adduced in favor of that position is 1 Tim 2:11-14.’ (DPL) However, as Campa and Rosner say, Paul’s readers, just like modern readers, would have assumed that when Paul said that women should not not speak in church he meant precisely that, unless some qualification or restriction was clearly implied or stated. For those writers, the clearest statement of such a restriction comes in v35. The meaning would be, then, that if the women/wives desire to learn, they should not ask other people’s husbands in public (culturally, that would have been regarded as scandalous), but ask their own husbands at home.
One of the more convincing approaches is that which concludes that Paul means that wives should not take it upon themselves to evaluate what their husbands have prophesied: they should take up the matter at home (v35). This is supported by Grudem, Carson, Hurley (Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective) and others. Thiselton: ‘we believe that the speaking in question denotes the activity of sifting or weighing the words of prophets, especially by asking probing questions about the prophet’s theology or even the prophet’s lifestyle in public. This would become especially sensitive and problematic if wives were cross-examining their husbands about the speech and conduct which supported or undermined the authenticity of a claim to utter a prophetic message, and would readily introduce Paul’s allusion to reserving questions of a certain kind for home.’ In support of this interpretation: (a) the word translated ‘women’ could equally be translated ‘wives’, and the distinct references to the home situation in v35 supports that translation here; (b) the context has to do with the evaluation of prophecy, and not all types of speech. Prior says: ‘Although we cannot uncover the details of what was going on, we can discern some of the attitudes prevalent at Corinth. It seems that the principle of submissiveness was being ignored (they should be subordinate, 34), that a spirit of defiance was uppermost (it is shameful …, 35), and that an isolationist tendency was turning these wives into arbitrators of their own church order and even doctrine (Did the word of God originate with you?, 36). In other words, these married women were the source of some of the arrogance in the Corinthian church which Paul has already had cause to castigate’ (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:7ff.; 5:2ff.; 6:1ff.; 8:1; 13:5.). Against this interpretation is the fact that Paul does not actually state that the women/wives have been criticising their own husbands in public (a behaviour which, in any case, would have been universally viewed as outrageous). Moreover, it is not at all clear that Paul is restricting speak (e.g. questions) about prophetic utterances.