This entry is part 78 of 102 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- 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?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 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”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- 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?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘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 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- 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 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- 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 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- 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.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- 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 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 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’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- 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 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 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 7:4 – The 144,000
- 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’.
This view is supported by, among others, Barrett (‘on balance’), Fee, Hays, Bassler (Women’s Bible Commentary), Payne, and Giles.
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: One in Christ) 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. A summary of some of Payne’s findings may be found here.
Appealing to the ‘definitive’ work of Payne, 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). It is typical of the polemical nature of Giles’ work that he writes as if Payne’s judgement in this matter is absolutely decisive, and take the Kostenbergers (in God’s Design) to task for not giving it more weight.
‘Payne’s evidence is compelling. It cannot be simplistically or arbitrarily dismissed. It cannot because an agreed evangelical rule is that if there is serious doubt on the textual authenticity of any text in the Bible, it should not be quoted in support of any doctrine.’
But it is an exaggeration to say that there is ‘serious doubt’ about the authenticity of this text.
Thiselton (who does not support the interpolation 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.
In Puzzling Passages in Paul, Thiselton refers to interpolation theories as lacking strong evidence, and therefore ‘improbable’. Displacement is more likely:
‘The United Bible Society’s 4th edition of the Greek New Testament classifies the text of verse 33 as “B,” i.e., “the text is almost certain.” The only very slim evidence for any uncertainty is that the Western text (D, E, F, and G, and fourth-century Ambrosiaster) displace verses 34–35 to after verse 40. However, the very early ƥ46 (Chester Beatty papyri, c. A. D. 200) together with Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, Alexandrinus, 33, Old Syriac, and most other MSS all read the normal, straightforward text. Bruce Metzger finds it entirely understandable that a copyist should move verses 34–35 to the end of the chapter for several plausible reasons. Recent debate has revived the issue, in which Philip Payne and Curt Niccum adopt opposite approaches. But Witherington concludes: “Displacement is no argument for interpolation.”’
Among those who accept the textual authenticity of this passage are: Bruce Winter (NBC), Schreiner (‘almost certainly original’), Ellis (who thinks that it is a [rather long!] marginal note written by Paul), Rosner and Ciampa, Soards (apparently), Dunn, Thiselton, Carson, Witherington, Keener, Johnson (IVPNTC), Wright (‘on balance’), Blomberg, Verbrugge (EBC),
See this by Ian Paul.
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.
‘This view has to assume that 11:5 was in fact not implying Paul’s approval of women praying or prophesying publicly, but surely if that were the case he would have had to say so. Or else one has to assume, without any contextual support, that two different kinds of Christian assemblies are in view in the two passages. Or, if one has an extremely low view of Paul, not only as uninspired but also as unable to remember what he has recently written, one can simply admit a contradiction. But these approaches surely reflect last-ditch resorts to support a highly chauvinistic interpretation of 14:34–35.’
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)
A number of writers think that what Paul is forbidding is ‘chatter’. So C. and R. Kroeger, among others. But the lexicographal evidence for this is weak.
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.
Still others think that Paul’s argument is to do with ‘order’ in worship. Thiselton (Puzzling Passages in Paul) summarises this understanding:
‘The use of hypotassō in the middle voice has the significance in this context of “imposing order,” or of “controlled speech.” REB well conveys the sense of hypotassesthōsan as “they should keep their place (as the law directs).” This is far preferable to the NRSV’s “should be subordinate,” and worse, the NIV’s “must be in submission.” Admittedly Chrysostom, Bengel, Godet, and Robertson and Plummer anticipate the NRSV and NIV meaning. Nevertheless, Bruce and others convincingly argue that the context primarily concerns the maintenance of order.21 The pattern of order has been demonstrated in God’s pattern of creation through differentiation and order, as Leviticus and Deuteronomy declare. The Spirit creatively transforms chaos into order. As Stephen Barton argues, the theme includes “the social importance of boundaries.”’
One of the more convincing approaches is that which concludes that Paul means that wives should not take it upon themselves to evaluate (in public) what their husbands have prophesied: they should take up the matter at home (v35). (Cf. 1 Cor. 4:7ff.; 5:2ff.; 6:1ff.; 8:1; 13:5.). This is supported by Witherington, Thiselton, Grudem, A. & M. Kostenberger, Carson, Hurley (Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective) and others.
Kevin Giles (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women) dismisses this interpretation as having no merit whatsoever. ‘It is just a guess’, he asserts. But Giles does not spend much time on this passage because (although he claims to want to tell us ‘what the Bible actually teaches on women’) he regards it as a non-Pauline interpolation (based on Philip Payne’s ‘compelling’ evidence).
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.
Nevertheless, the context – which is about order in public worship in general, and about the weighing of prophetic speech in particular (v32f) – gives supports to this interpretation.
‘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’
Thiselton (Puzzling Passages in Paul) says that there is, in addition, evidence of a particular situation in Ephesus that demanded this teaching. It is clear from 1 Tim 1:3 that there was a real danger of false teaching. Coupled with this is the situation regarding the Ephesian women: ‘Some of these women are characterized as learning to be idlers, gadding about from house, gossiping (or talking foolishly), and in general being busybodies (1 Tim. 5:13). They were anything but quiet.’ (Mounce)
The ‘submission’ required in v34 is, probably, to the (male) leaders, bishops, or overseers.