Should “women keep silent in the churches,” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? Is it really “shameful for a woman to speak in church?” This is one of those more difficult passages in the Bible, for several reasons.
Some critics of the Christian faith read these verses from Paul, and they therefore conclude that Christianity is hopelessly misogynistic. A few cases in church history have shown that there is a grain of truth here, so the church does need to take this on the chin, to a certain extent.
Various Christians leaders, ranging from Tertullian to Thomas Aquinas, believed from these verses that women should not sing or pray out loud, when men were present. Some Presbyterians up through the late 19th century restricted women from singing in church worship services.
The #MeToo movement today has led many to believe that the church still silences the voices of women…. in ways that go much beyond women’s participation in a worship service, with more perverse consequences. The well-publicized moral failure of evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias, accused of sexually abusing other women, sadly reminds us of this. Compounding this, I learned a few days before publishing this post, that Beth Moore, a popular women’s Bible study leader, and a sexual abuse survivor, has left her denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, saying that her denomination has not done enough to listen to the voices of women who have suffered sexual abuse in that Protestant tradition.
Other liberal-minded, or “progressive” Christians, will point out that Jesus was definitely NOT misogynistic, but will claim that Paul probably was, based on certain Bible passages like what we read in 1 Corinthians 14. Some so-called “Red-Letter Christians,” simply take Jesus over Paul, when it comes to teaching regarding women. Others might merely comment on Paul’s inconsistency of thought, when elsewhere in Galatians 3:28, he says that there is neither “male [nor] female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 then becomes the paradigm by which we can throwout other verses of the Bible that trouble us. So, we just have to put up with the rest of Paul’s lingering misogyny, when we find it here and there, and thus roll our eyes when we get to such passages as found in 1 Corinthians 14.
While these progressivist approaches are meant to somehow salvage Christian faith, it all comes across as rather desperate, and does not lend itself to give us a great deal of confidence in the Bible as God’s inspired word. After all, if Jesus really did select Paul to be his representative voice to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:1), as Paul repeatedly claims, then if Paul failed at the job, this would also reflect poorly upon Jesus. Do any genuine Christians really believe that Jesus royally messed up when he picked out Paul to be his great ambassador to the Gentiles? I would certainly hope not!
When Christians default to this kind of thinking, we end up with a faith that merely picks and chooses verses of the Bible we do like, and reject the rest, a “cafeteria” approach to Christianity, which is really no Christian faith at all. However, a closer look at the Scriptural evidence shows that there are better approaches to this difficult passage, that do not demand the reader to adopt some extremist viewpoint, whether it be on the progressive or traditionalist end of the controversy.
When I wrote my multi-part blog series on “women in ministry” two years ago, I purposely avoided discussing this passage because of its complexity, as I will show in this current blog post. There are basically three different approaches that Bible scholars propose, to try to resolve the difficulty in 1 Corinthians 14: (1) Paul is addressing a particular situation in the early Christian church, that we are largely unfamiliar with today, (2) Paul never actually wrote this passage in his letter. It was inserted by a later copyist into the text of 1 Corinthians, or (3) Paul is quoting a Corinthian objection to women speaking in church, with the purpose of refuting their argument. Let us examine each proposal in turn.
Is Paul Addressing a Particular, Cultural Situation, That Would Require Women to Remain Silent in Church?
No matter where you land in the “women in ministry” debate, often referred to by theologians as the “complementarian/egalitarian controversy,” 1 Corinthians 14:34-45 presents difficulties that extend far beyond the claims of misogyny in the Bible.
The most pressing issue is that 1 Corinthians 11 is actually encouraging women to pray and prophesy in church worship settings. Paul specifically urges women to wear a head covering, but he certainly allows women to speak in church, through prayer and/or prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5).1 Paul’s climatic verse honoring male and female equally, Galatians 3:28, only raises the stakes higher.2 So, if Paul allows for women to speak in 1 Corinthians 11, but then forbids women to speak in 1 Corinthians 14, just three chapters later, that would indicate that Paul was contradicting himself, or that he said one thing at first, only to change his mind later in the letter. Having this type of in-your-face contradiction is not suitable for something claiming to be the Word of God.
But if you follow the time-honored principle of Scripture-interpreting-Scripture, you can look at a parallel passage to get a hint at what is going on. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 includes these phrases that can remind the reader of 1 Corinthians 14:3
- “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness…. she is to remain quiet”
Readers often focus on the “she is to remain quiet” part. Some might run off in a huff and mutter, “There goes that misogynistic Paul again!” But what is typically missed is that Paul wants women to “learn.” Why might that be an important cultural clue that students of the Bible should notice?
In contemporary Western culture, we regularly take for granted that both men and women should be properly educated. However, in the first century Greco-Roman society, the education of women was the exception, rather than the norm.
Imagine yourself in an elementary or middle school classroom today, and a substitute teacher comes in, but they show little ability to keep control of the classroom. If left to their own devices, the students will talk amongst themselves, resulting in chaos, and no learning occurs in the classroom.
Since women in the first century rarely participated in classroom-type settings, they would be very prone to be disruptive in instructional situations, including church services. The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, believed that the ministry of teaching was essential to the mission of the church, and he firmly believed that order was necessary to allow for learning to take place. But what was so radical about Paul is that he specifically encouraged women to learn the Scriptures, along with the men. In doing so, Paul was widely out of step with the dominant culture, that saw no reason for educating women. Our current day Western culture, which evidently values the education of both men and women, is in many ways the multi-century product of the Apostle Paul’s radical vision completely overturning a fully misogynist society, in Greco-Roman times (Just consider historian Tom Holland’s view of Christian history).
Therefore, far from being a misogynist, one could safely argue that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 follows the same pattern as 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Paul wants women to learn, but he wants them to learn within the context of an orderly learning environment, where there are not constant interruptions, and people are actively listening. Here are the two controversial verses from 1 Corinthians, in full:
- “34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.“
The advantage of this approach is that it modifies Paul’s encouragement for women to actively participate in various ways during the worship service, in 1 Corinthians 11, for a legitimate cultural purpose. For the sake of preserving order within the church, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul follows the same pattern as taught also in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Because of this, the general tone of consistency across all of the passages of Scripture involved, and the weight of tradition down through the ages, many if not most Christians find this proposal to be most likely and acceptable.4
The downside to this approach is that such a cultural modification may not satisfy all critics of this proposal. Some might still say that the while the in-your-face contradiction is removed in this interpretation, it is not wholly removed. It is merely muted.
Furthermore, supporters of this proposal will often note that women “are not permitted to speak, and should be in submission, as the Law also says.” So, where does “the Law” say that women are not to speak, out of submission? Supporters of this view contend that the Old Testament in general teaches this principle. But detractors against this view observe that there is no specific Old Testament passage, in the Law of Moses, which requires women to be silent, within the context of submission. Male headership? Yes. But the silence of women? Not explicitly. You will search the Old Testament in vain to try to find such a prooftext.
We do find instances of women being asked to remain silent in the oral tradition of the Jewish law. However, Jesus frequently rejected the oral tradition of the Pharisees, arguing that the oral law of the Pharisees would often nullify the commands of the written law, as found in our Old Testament (see Matthew 15:1-6). Therefore, according to critics of this view, if we understand that Jesus rejected the oral tradition of the Pharisees, it seems highly unlikely that Paul would be commending the oral tradition here. Nevertheless, supporters of this view contend that the Old Testament; that is, “the Law,” implicitly instructs for women to be silent in worship, out of submission.
A close variation of this particular proposal notes that 1 Corinthians 14 includes a lengthy discussion of the proper order in a church worship setting, where people offer a “tongue” or prophetic word. In this view, the prohibition against women speaking in church is not absolute. Rather, it is intended to be a prohibition against women evaluating prophecy, specifically. Again, Paul is most concerned about establishing order within a church worship service; thereby necessitating his command that uneducated women should behave in an orderly fashion in a church worship service. Again, the concept of what “the Law also says” is a broad appeal to order within the practice of corporate worship, in opposition to having confusion distorting that practice. For example:
- “29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.“
We then get to Paul’s principle that addresses how women are to behave in church. This Pauline ruling emphasizes the universal extent of this teaching, “as in all the churches of the saints” (v.33b), with the concluding admonition that “all things should be done decently and in order.”
- “As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.“5
Paul does not want women to look foolish or be shamed in church, so he seeks to honor women, who have received less education than the men. But this call for order, between the sexes, is not something Paul merely wants. He reminds his readers that this call for order is also a command from the Lord. In other words, there is a timeless principle involved, which has a particular application in this 1st century church situation.
Did an Unknown Copyist Insert Verses 34-35 Into 1 Corinthians 14?
This second particular approach is very interesting, in that it dives into the nitty-gritty of how the Bible got to be English Bible we have today. In the days of the early church, they had neither computers nor Xerox copying machines to preserve written documents. Instead, the church relied on copyists to continually copy the Bible over and over again, for each new generation of readers, as written materials tended to decay over time.
In the vast majority of cases, the New Testament copyists did exceedingly well in preserving the ancient text, that would eventually become the basis for our English Bibles today. However, there were times when mistakes were made, and textual critics are needed to step in and analyze where such mistakes were made, in order to correct them.
Nevertheless, there are certain cases where even the finest textual critical scholars are not in complete agreement regarding the authenticity of certain, small portions of the New Testament. A classic example of such controversy is regarding Mark 16:9-20. Most English Bibles today will note that some of the earliest manuscripts do not include Mark 16:9-20. Opinion is divided as to what to make of Mark 16:9-20, but many scholars contend that Mark 16:9-20 was not original to the Gospel of Mark, because of the big differences among the manuscripts.
This becomes important because there are some churches that will use Mark 16:18 as the basis for snake handling in church, “they will pick up serpents with their hands,” and they will not get hurt by those snakes … Uh… I will go with the scholarly majority on this one. How about that? 😉
Interesting, there are some textual critical scholars who put 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in the same category. The larger majority of English translations follow the standard order for these verses, but this verse ordering is following only one particular tradition.
The “Western” tradition of manuscripts, and a few other variations put these verses after the very end of the chapter, after verse 40. It would read like this (we can start with verse 33, to get a feel for it):
- “33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints…36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order…. .34 The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
So, where do these two verses really go? Between verses 33 and 36, as found in most Bibles today? Or after verse 40?
Some scholars conclude that the confusion over where to put these verses may indicate that this passage is an example of what scholars call an “interpolation,” where something of a different nature is inserted into something else. In other words, some scribal copyist may have inserted these two verses into the text, merely as a side commentary in the margins, and then this got copied into the main body of the text by later copyists, who never detected the illegitimate insertion.6
The advantage of this approach is that it raises enough suspicion about the precise nature of these two verses, such that it would warrant any Christian to proceed with caution, and not make a whole doctrine out of these two verses, in the event we eventually learn that these two verses were wrongly inserted into the New Testament, not by Paul himself, but rather, by a later copyist.
The downside to the proposal is that we have zero New Testament documents that omit these two verses. So, in this particular case of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, it does not match up exactly with the situation we have with Mark 16:9-20, where there are certain early manuscripts that omit those verses altogether.
Was Paul Quoting a Corinthian Saying, For the Purpose of Refuting It?
This last major approach to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 actually turns the whole idea of Paul approving of the idea found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 on its head. This proposal suggests that what Paul is doing here is quoting from a Corinthian saying, that would prohibit women from speaking in church, for the purpose of utterly refuting it. A little background is in order to understand this.
First, when the New Testament was originally written, and copied by copyists later, down through the centuries, there were no quotation marks in those ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. This tradition of not having quotation marks available, to aid the reader, was even extended to the popular English version of the Bible, the King James Version. You will not find quotation marks in the King James Bible, but you will find them in more modern translations, as scholars have been able to detect where a New Testament author was quoting from some other source, as opposed to where they were not quoting from an outside source.
Next, it is important to know that there were other letters involving Paul, aside from 1 and 2 Corinthians, which are not available to us in our Bibles. 1 Corinthians should probably be called “2 Corinthians” instead, because Paul has already mentioned a previous letter he wrote to the church of Corinth, which is now lost (1 Corinthians 5:9). Evidently, Paul is writing our traditionally called “1 Corinthians,” found in our Bibles, partly to respond to another letter sent by the Corinthians to him. This letter from Corinth, was probably written in response to Paul’s first, now lost letter to the Corinthian church: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote” (1 Corinthians 7:1).
In answering the Corinthians previous letter to him, Paul quotes certain sections of that letter, and then he responds to those concerns. For example, read the opening of chapter 7 in full:
- 1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
The quoted Corinthian saying is highlighted above. The Corinthians, in this particular quotation, were saying that celibacy is the only appropriate calling of the Christian, whereas Paul rejects that argument and affirms the validity of marriage as a genuine calling for the Christian, where sexual relations should rightly take place.
Paul makes rhetorical use of the Greek word translated into English as “or” in order to argue against the Corinthian position (1 Corinthians 1:13; 6:16; 9:6, 8, 10; 11:22), or to reject a particular practice at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 6:2; 9, 19; 10:22; 11:13).
One particular case shows how Paul’s rhetorical skill works: In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul first lays out the Corinthian quoted sayings, with some brief responses interspersed (in this instance). Paul’s purpose here is to rebuke the Corinthian mindset, which was allowing certain unethical conduct to continue on unchecked:
- 12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Note the highlighted phrases, which are quotes from the Corinthians. Then Paul unloads on his original readers by interjecting his rhetorical “or” to refute the thinking of the Corinthians fully (see the highlights in verses 16 and 19):
- 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
This same type of pattern has been recognized by various scholars in our 1 Corinthian 14 passage under review (note the quoted part, that I have highlighted, for verses 34-35, as well as the rhetorical “or” language in verse 36):
- 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,
- 34 “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
- 36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers and sisters, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
The point here is that Paul is quoting a Corinthian saying, in verses 34-35, for the purposes of refuting it, starting with Paul’s mockery of the Corinthians in verse 36.
The more substantial argument for this interpretation relies on the gender implied by the language used in this entire passage, noted above. The idea that women should remain silent, is part of the Corinthian logic. Yet Paul specifically uses masculine language in verse 36. In New Testament Greek, as in many other gendered languages, masculine language can refer to “men only” or “men and women.” But in this case, since women are being specifically addressed in verses 34-35, and the fact that the “from you” and the “only ones” mentioned in verse 36, are masculine, it would consistently indicate that Paul is addressing “men only” in this verse. For if Paul had intended his rebuke against the women of Corinth specifically, Paul would have used feminine language in verse 36, which he has not. Therefore, this would indicate Paul’s rebuke is directed against the men in Corinth, who are promoting this false teaching.
A reinforcement of this interpretation comes from observing that “the Law” referenced in verses 34-35 probably comes from the oral law, and not the written law, associated with the New Testament. In other words, it would make sense for Paul to rebuke the Judaizers in Corinth, who wish for the Christians to hold to the oral Jewish law.
Paying attention to the gender of the language, verse 36 could more accurately be translated as follows:
- What!!? Was it from you men that the word of God came? What!? Are you men the only ones it has reached?”
Far from approving of the “silence of women,” Paul is actually reinforcing his argument from 1 Corinthians 11 that women should be encouraged to participate in the church worship service, through the exercise of prayer and prophesy, just as the men do. As long as things are done in an orderly fashion, Paul is encouraging men and women to worship together.
A fully reconstructed reading of the passage might look like this, with all of the important contextual differences highlighted :
- 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.
- 34 “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
- 36 What!!? Was it from you men that the word of God came? What!? Are you men the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers and sisters, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
The advantage of this approach is that it completely removes all possible contradictions between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14, thus serving an apologetic purpose for defending Scripture better than other approaches. It also has a great deal of supportive, contextual evidence, as it extends a well known pattern of how Paul interacts with the quotations of the Corinthians, in this letter, to make this particular difficult passage exceedingly less difficult.7
The downside to this proposal is that it completely flips a great deal of traditional teaching regarding this passage. Has this more contextualized approach met the burden of proof to sufficiently overcome more traditional interpretations of this passage?
Clearing Up Confusion over a Corinthian Conundrum
Which proposal to resolving this Bible difficulty is best? You be the judge based on the evidence, knowing that this blog post is but a brief exposition of the main ideas and points of evidence available.
My own conclusion at this point is that the final proposal, that of this being a quotation/refutation device used by Paul to support his teaching that women should participate fully and NOT be silent in church, has the greatest amount of explanatory power. The clincher for me is that I am very skeptical of the idea the Paul would approvingly cite a portion of the Jewish oral law (or something from pagan Roman law), as binding on the Corinthian church, particularly when Jesus makes such a big deal about how the oral traditions of the Pharisees have led them to fail to see the truth of the Gospel. The idea that Paul would knowingly leave a potential contradiction like this in one of his letters, without any clarifying explanation, is unbecoming to the character of sacred Scripture, in my mind. Nor am I convinced that some later Christian scribe would insert a similar reference to the Jewish oral law, centuries later into the New Testament. However, the other two positions are still acceptable, given the assumptions they carry, so I have no reason to be dogmatic here. The point is that we need not “bring back the patriarchy” in order to have a fully authentic Scriptural faith that properly incorporates 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. But neither do we need to throw certain passages of Paul out, simply because we do not like the taste of them.
It is important to note that Paul nevertheless affirms a principle of order, when it comes to the practice of Christian corporate worship. He also acknowledges that there are real differences between men and women, and that such differences should be honored and upheld by all of the churches of God. In particular, men and women are not interchangeable in the mind of Paul, as expressed through the Scriptures, as it is clearly taught in 1 Corinthians, particularly in 1 Corinthians 11. As London-based pastor and author, Andrew Wilson, puts it, there is a “beautiful difference” between male and female, a complementarity in how men relate to women, and vice-versa, and this is something that the New Testament calls all Christians to celebrate.
Notably, 1 Corinthians makes absolutely zero mention of elders and/or overseers in the church at Corinth. Paul is primarily concerned about how the entire local church body functions, men and women together, giving honor and glory to God. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is not interested in addressing how the church should be governed, nor is he making any special plea regarding how the sheep are to be shepherded, by those entrusted to their care. Paul leaves the discussion of such other matters, particularly with respect to church elders and/or overseers, to the Pastoral Letters, with a particular focus found in 1 Timothy.
For more reflection on the centrality of 1 Timothy for articulating a sacramentalist approach to honoring the distinction of male and female, within the context of a local church, please explore the “women in ministry” blog series, linked here.
1. The head covering issue is troubling for many as well, as most American Christian women, aside from certain traditions like the Mennonites, do not use head coverings. But the whole topic of head coverings is fascinating, that deserves separate attention. I urge readers to get a copy of Michael Heiser’s Angels, to dig into the nitty gritty of what is going on with head coverings, in a way that will probably surprise you. I reviewed Angels in 2020, and wrote about it here. ALSO: in this blog post, I am mainly quoting from the ESV translation of the Bible. ↩
2. Please note that Galatians 3:28 is getting abused more and more in the current Western culture climate. To learn about this, see this blog post from 2020. ↩
3. 1 Timothy 2:12 is probably one of, if not the most, controversial verses in the New Testament today. I address the central concerns in other blog posts (#1, #2, #3). But in this blog post, only the women being “quiet” part is being addressed. ↩
4. Some even say that the supposed contradiction (according to Sam Storms), between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14, is way overstated. Some contend that 1 Corinthians 11:5, “but every wife (or woman) who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven,” is really a conditional statement. It should be read as “if a woman were to pray or prophesy with an uncovered head, it would be disgraceful.” Paul only rejects the whole practice of women praying or prophesying in church until 1 Corinthians 14. But this type of translation appears to be a case of special pleading, as I know of no other English translation that tries to translate 1 Corinthians 11:5 in this matter. A variation of this view suggests that 1 Corinthians 11 teaches that a married woman should wear a head covering, when around their marriage husbands, in a private setting, and this practice has nothing to do with a public, corporate act of worship. But 1 Corinthians 11:16 refutes this idea, as this practice is applicable in all of “the churches of God,” which would indicate a public, worship setting. I only mention this perspective as there are only tiny minorities of Christians who hold to such views. ↩
5. Note that the word “brothers” highlighted here generally means “brothers and sisters,” when in the plural form. Other translations, such as the NIV specifically spell out that both men and women, “brothers and sisters” are addressed here. While the majority of complementarian scholars accept this particular proposal, a number of egalitarian scholars are open to some variation of this proposal as well, such as Marg Mowcko, a prominent egalitarians blogger, whom I used for reference for doing research for this blog post. Complementarian Denny Burk takes the alternative view described in this section of the blog post, staying within the scope of this particular proposal. Author Aimee Byrd takes a position midway between Mowcko and Burk. Burk takes the position that women are only being restricting from judging prophecies. Yet for some very Reformed interpreters, even this solution is going too far. ↩
6. The most notable proponent of this “interpolation” view is made by Gordon Fee, in his New International Commentary of the New Testament, on First Corinthians. ↩
7. Kirk MacGregor is a very articulate, persuasive proponent for the “quotation-refutation device” rhetorical proposal. I have tried to summarize MacGregor’s argument in this blog post. Examples of the Jewish oral law calling for the silence of women in the church assembly include: (a)The Mishnah (M. Ketub. 7:6), is sinful for a woman to “speak with any man” in assemblies, (b) first-century AD historian Josephus (Ag. Ap.200–1) relates the following instruction from the oral Torah: “The woman, says the law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive,” and the first-century AD Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, in a comment on the oral Torah, “The husband seems competent to transmit knowledge of the laws to his wife” (Hypothetica 8.7.14). With respect to examples of Roman law calling for women to be silent in government assembly, we have the 215 BC Oppian Law that banned public displays of wealth, during a time of crisis for Rome when Rome needed more money to fight Hannibal, during the Second Punic War. The law against public display of wealth for men was eventually repealed, but not for women. Women rose up against the law, after the Hannibal crisis had ended, in 195 B.C. The Roman historian Livy quotes Cato the Elder, who opposed the repeal of the law, sometime during the reign of Caesar Augustus (30 BCE to 17 CE), urging women to stay at home, or be quiet in the public assemblies. Juvenal, in the early second century CE, in Satires 6, also condemns women publicly intruding on male governance in the assemblies. The earliest prohibition of women speaking in public assembly can be traced back to Aristotle Politics 1.1260a. Critical scholar Joseph A. P. Wilson defends this view: Joseph A. P. Wilson, “Recasting Paul as a Chauvinist within the Western Text-Type Manuscript Tradition: Implications for the Authorship Debate on 1 Corinthians 14.34-35”, Religions, 2022, 13(5), p. 432 . Legal and other precedents gave way to cultural attitudes that forbade women from speaking up in public assemblies, that were common to the world of Paul. Whether the “Law” in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is the Jewish oral law or the Roman laws, there is abundant evidence to show that Paul is critiquing a misguided view held by the Corinthians. ↩
March 15th, 2021 at 3:29 am
I totally agree that Paul was quoting the church members at Corinth who wanted to silence women because of the wrong traditions of men. It’s high time people realised they have backed the wrong voice and gone against the teachings of Jesus… as explained here https://youtu.be/EbRZQcuq70E
March 16th, 2021 at 10:53 am
Hi, Robin. Thank you for commenting at Veracity.
I took a look at your video and it is very provocative, so I need to think through it some more. Your explanation of the Corinthian-quotation-followed-by-Paul’s-refutation motif at work, as in 1 Corinthians 14:21-25 is very helpful. Leon Morris, in his 1 Corinthians IVP commentary tends towards your reading as well.
My only caution is that once one begins to see this quotation/refutation motif at work, it is easy to start seeing this everywhere, even where it is not. But your work with 1 Corinthians 14 seems convincing to me.
I would like to know if you have a reference for saying that the silence of women in 1 Corinthians 14:34 comes from “the Law” is referring to Roman law. The “Law” reference seems to me to refer to the oral law of the Pharisees, which makes better sense of the passage, in that this Corinthian argument would have been kind of a Judaizer type of saying, that Paul would necessarily refute.
When it comes to 1 Timothy 2, I was once swayed by the argument you present, but when discovered some new information, I became no longer convinced. I had read Kroeger’s _I Suffer Not a Woman_ in the early 1990s, and it really blew me away with the idea that Paul was rebuking particular false teachers, who were women, by showing that Paul’s appeal to creation, in following up to 1 Timothy 2:12, is really a refutation of a full-blown version of Gnosticism, prevalent in the 2nd century of the church. The Kroegers suggested that such Gnosticism was also present in the first century, as well.
If this argument holds, it would be quite convincing. The problem is that there is very little evidence, if any, to support the Kroeger’s claim that this type of developed Gnosticism would have been prevalent when Paul wrote 1 Timothy. Sure, there was an incipient form of Gnosticism, but we simply have no evidence that anyone in the days of Paul taught that Eve was created before Adam.
If anything, this argument lends more support to the argument that 1 Timothy was written in the 2nd century A.D., as this would align well with the context for that period. But then you’ve moved away from trying to see if there was room for a purely egalitarian reading to raising a serious challenge to the authorship of 1 Timothy, which is a more pressing apologetics issue. Even worse, the more one pushes full-blown Gnosticism into the 1st century, the more vulnerable you make the position that contends that historical Orthodoxy is really that “orthodox.” In other words, the Kroeger thesis may be “great for women,” but it comes at a cost of potentially undermining our confidence in Scripture.
This made me realize that the real reason I found the Kroeger’s argument so compelling is that I really wanted it to be true, not because there was actually any substantial evidence to support the claim. I still think that the Kroeger thesis, as you have set forth in your video, is still probably the mostly convincing egalitarian reading of 1 Timothy 2, but until I see some substantial evidence to support it, it remains a possible, though more unlikely, i.e. improbable, reading in the long run.
As I have tried to argue, in presenting a more sacramentalist approach eldership and the non-interchangeability of male and female, there does not seem to be sufficient evidence to demonstrate support for women elders, but at the same time, we have good support for women deacons, and for allowing women to speak (and not be silent) in church, thus permitting an exceedingly wide range of ways for women to serve in the church, alongside men. In other words, there are ways where both women and men can utilize their God-given gifts for ministry, and still affirm the difference between male and female, in the order of the church, without appeals to thoughts like “women are more easily deceived than men,” or other such nonsense.
I welcome your thoughts and criticisms.
March 15th, 2021 at 4:53 pm
D.A. Carson on the disputed passage under review:
I do not think he gives the fairest shake on the quotation/refutation view of this passage. However, I do share his caution, advising us that we should be slow to adopt quotation/refutation frameworks as being plentiful in 1 Corinthians (not just here in this passage).
May 5th, 2021 at 6:29 am
It is clear that you did not use the King James Version of the Bible. In the KJV 14:36 says: “What? came the word of GOD out from you? or came it unto you only?” The NIV and some of the other versions of the Bible have removed “What?” Consequently, when they removed “What?” the removed the admonishment; Paul was admonishing these saints at Corinth for holding this disposition. I offer you to read this article that GOD has given me to share in the name of JESUS to help address this issue regarding women role and preaching and teaching the Gospel of Our Lord and Savior JESUS Christ. https://www.revelationuptotheminute.org/en/for-christians-leaders/488-determining-whether-doctrines-are-of-god-or-of-man-women-roles-in-the-church-2
May 7th, 2021 at 9:08 pm
Elmore: Thank you for commenting at Veracity.
I finally got around to reading your essay, and I appreciate the work you put into it. At first, I was not sure in reading your comment whether you were rejecting what I was saying, or if you were affirming what I was saying in my blog post. So, reading your essay was helpful.
Let me say, in short, that my position is that of being what might be called a sacramental complementarian. In bringing all of the relevant texts together, I see that the evidence in Scripture points to the fact that all believers (male and female) are called to teach one another (Colossians 3:16), but that this is not the same sort of teaching role to be taken by elders/overseers (1 Timothy 2 & 3). Men and women can be called to teach and serve one another in many areas of church ministry (including deacons: see also Romans 16:1). Paul also affirms women as church planters and missionaries, such as Junia (Romans 16), and Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3). So, Paul clearly affirms the ministry callings of both women and men, for gospel ministry.
However, in NONE of these cases are women designated as elders/overseers (presbyters), which Paul does not permit, per 1 Timothy 2 & 3. The reason why Paul only designates men to be elders, in a local church context, is to affirm the creational design of God, that while affirming the basic equality of men and women, this also affirms the non-interchangeability of male and female. A man cannot be a mother/female. Likewise, a woman can not be a father/male. The church is called to sacramentally express the differentiation between male and female, as part of the order of church life, as a way of encouraging healthy Christian marriages and family life.
Your contention that 1 Corinthians 14, according to many modern translations, ignores the “what” that exposes the “women should keep silent in the church”, as a teaching of man (and not of God), is correct, in my view. There we have agreement.
Where we differ is in how to interpret 1 Timothy. Your argument suggests that Paul was preaching “his (my) doctrine,” with respect to preventing women from teaching with authority, in 1 Timothy. But you also argue that later, by the time we get to the writing of Titus, that Paul comes to his senses, and drops his prohibition against women teaching with authority.
I know of no New Testament scholar (living or dead) who would agree with your interpretation of these texts. Paul’s teaching authority reflects his apostolic calling, as he claims that Jesus himself specifically called him out to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. Therefore, what Paul teaches is binding on the church, in all matters of doctrine. We do not have the authority, as Christians living 20 centuries after Paul, to reject the traditional interpretation, that Paul does not permit women to teach as elders in spiritual authority, without sufficient evidence to demonstrate against the traditional view.
True, 1 Timothy 2:15, regarding women being saved through “childbirth” is a difficult verse to handle. But we need not rush to the conclusion that Paul is teaching some type of works-based salvation, as this would contradict the very heart of everything else Paul was teaching about. We are saved by grace, and grace alone! Nevertheless, there are other ways of understanding this verse, that does not require the conclusion that you draw. For example, there is very strong case to be made that what Paul is saying here is that women (as exemplified by Eve) are to be saved through “the childbirth” (the definite article “the”, is actually in the original Greek text, which is omitted by many English translations today). “The childbirth” here is most likely a reference to the birth of Christ, as Genesis 3:15 indicates that the progeny of the woman would one day lead to the Messiah coming into the world, as setting all believing people free from sin, including men AND women.
So, while Paul is restricting the office of elders to being only men, he is not laying a complete prohibition against women teaching. Non-elder men and women are permitted to teach, in many settings…. just not in the position of being an elder in a local church.
Your sincerity in finding ways for women to serve to use their gifts in ministry is quite commendable. Unfortunately, your argument does so in a way that actually undermines the apostolic authority of Paul, as designated by Jesus himself. I hope you might consider that there is a different way of making sense of these difficult passages, while honoring both the God given gifts for ministry, for men and women, AND also honoring the God determined differences between male and female, as being created in the image of God.
May the Lord grant you blessings upon your ministry, in the name of Jesus!
Here is the link to your own video on the topic, that Veracity readers might explore:
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June 3rd, 2021 at 8:50 am
It looks like Russell Moore left the Southern Baptism Convention partly over the same reasons why Beth Moore (not related) left the SBC; the improper handling of sexual abuse allegations within the SBC:
July 9th, 2021 at 5:29 pm
Mike Winger tackles this passage, opting for the view that this is about the evaluation of prophecy given in the church, and that women should not participate in that evaluation…. but that women are certainly permitted to prophecy in church themselves, per the teaching found in 1 Corinthians 11. I find the the quotation/refutation view the most persuasive, instead, as the context with respect to the mention of “the Law” is something found in the Jewish Talmud (as well as Greco-Roman law), and not in the written Hebrew Scriptures. Paul is certainly not about endorsing something found in oral tradition (the source of much of the Jewish Talmud):
December 4th, 2022 at 10:29 pm
I wish I could find the written reference to the Roman law that forbade women to gather together in public assembly, but perhaps the “law” reference was more about the established practice of urging women to stay at home and not meddle in politics. Cynthia Westhall argues that the “law” could easily mean “rule,” i.e. an established practice in Roman governance, which encouraged women to stay at home and not interfere with male duties in politics.
Either the way, the appeal to the “Law” is clearly referenced in the oral tradition of the Pharisee law, that made its way into the Mishnah:
“We shall now call attention to the basis on which 14:33b–35 restricts women from speaking in the assemblies, namely, adherence to the Jewish oral Torah, which was closely associated with the Pharisees: “They are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, just as the law says.” That “the law” here denotes the Jewish oral Torah (later to become the Mishnah) and not the written Torah is evident by the facts that no OT text precludes women from speaking or demands their submission in assemblies. More to the point, both mandates (silence and submission) are explicit in the oral Torah. The Mishnah (M. Ketub. 7:6) states that it is sinful for a woman to “speak with any man” in assemblies, and the first-century AD historian Josephus (Ag. Ap. 200–1) relates the following instruction from the oral Torah: “The woman, says the law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive.” As Payne observes, “although 1 Cor 14:34 is out of harmony with Paul’s use of ‘the law,’ it fits Jewish appeals to oral law perfectly.”25 The same is true of 14:35, “But if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home,” which is directly paralleled by the first-century AD Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, in a comment on the oral Torah, “The husband seems competent to transmit knowledge of the laws to his wife” (Hypothetica 8.7.14).”