dove_fireIn the September issue of the Gospel Advocate, Matthew Morine challenged the claim that women may be authorized to speak to a worship gathering including men because of their giftedness. The article is available on the Internet here. Matthew writes,

The argument is that if God has “gifted” a woman with the ability to speak in public, God must want women to speak before men and women. …

The Pepperdine keynote speaker said that every role of church leadership should be available to women. Why? Because they have been gifted. This idea of giftedness authorizing preaching or leading highlights the current culture of our time. Instead of going to the Bible for the answers on this debate, those who advocate this change are appealing to the entitlement mindset within America today.

In this article, I want to focus on the substance of Matthew’s concerns regarding women leading in worship. What does the Bible really say?

Two passages

Famously, most discussions of the role of women in church relate to two passages,

(1 Cor. 14:33b-35 ESV) 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.

(1 Tim. 2:11-14 ESV)  11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.  13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve;  14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

No matter what someone concludes about women in Gal 3:28, Judges 5, Genesis 2, or 1 Cor 12, the hierarchic camp (those who believe women may not speak in the worship service or exercise authority over a man) will insist on these passages, even if the other passages are shown to be plainly inconsistent with a hierarchic reading of these two passages.

Fortunately, we covered 1 Tim 2:11-14 in this earlier post. That leaves 1 Cor 14:33b-35 to deal with before we get to giftedness. And it would take several posts to thoroughly cover the arguments made on both sides of this passage. Let’s try a really broad-brush discussion — but even that will take up this and the next post.

1 Cor 14:33b-35

Inauthentic text?

In the New International Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Gordon Fee argues that the text is not in the original epistle penned by Paul but was added by a scribe later. This is not “liberal” but the kind of question that even the most conservative scholars consider in reconstructing the original, First Century text from hand-copied manuscripts that are always more recent than the original (we have no original texts of any book of the Bible). The gist of his argument is that (a) the passage contradicts 1 Cor 11 (where Paul addresses women praying and prophesying in the assembly), (b) there is no suggestion that women may not speak earlier in chapter 14 when prophecy and tongues are under consideration, and the text is, up to this point, gender-neutral, (c) the passage appears in different places in different ancient manuscripts, as though the scribes were unsure where to put this text, (d) none of the earliest church fathers quotes this passage, and (e) the chapter reads quite well without the passage. The argument is very technical, and there are many interesting theories on both sides. Very conservative scholars may be found on both sides of the question.

A quotation from the Corinthian congregation?

First Century Greek lacked punctuation of any kind. In fact, it was written in all caps with no spaces between the words. Therefore, whether a passage is a quotation is always a matter of interpretation. Anyone who grew upon the KJV, as I did, has noticed that several passages in 1 Cor are now translated as quoted from the questions posed by the Corinthian church to Paul or relayed to him by Chloe. For example, 1 Cor 6:12-13 and 7:1 are now considered quotations and not at all expressing Paul’s position — based entirely on context. Paul is actually disagreeing with these quotations.

It is possible, therefore, that verses 34-35 are Paul’s quotation of the position of the church, which he contradicts beginning in v. 36.

The “or” in English that begins the two questions in v. 36 translates the one-letter Greek word eta, which usually indicates a strong contrast, possibly translated along the lines of “Are you kidding?” or “Surely not!” This is why the KJV translates, “What?” The first definition given by BDAG,  the most authoritative biblical Greek lexicon, is “separating opposites which are mutually exclusive.” If so, then Paul is strongly contrasting the churches’ usual practice with what was just said. He’s disagreeing with the anti-woman views of the Corinthian church. See this post for further detail on this theory.

This theory (as well as Fee’s theory that the text is inauthentic) is supported by “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” Notice that whoever wrote these word assumes that the women may have no interest in learning at all, and if they did, their husbands would be sufficient teachers, even though their husbands may be new Christians or unbelievers. This doesn’t sound like Paul, who repeatedly expresses the greatest of respect for women. Nor is it Christ-like. Consider —

In Jewish law a woman was not a person; she was a thing. She was entirely at the disposal [of] her father or of her husband. A woman was forbidden to learn the law; to instruct a woman in the law was to cast pearls before swine. Women had no part in the Synagogue service; they were shut apart in a section of the Synagogue, or in a gallery, where they could not be seen, and were allowed no share in the service. A man came to the Synagogue to learn; but, at the most, a woman came to hear. In the Synagogue the lesson from Scripture was read by members of the congregation; but not by women, for that would have been to lessen “the honour of the congregation.” It was absolutely forbidden for a woman to teach in a school; she might not even teach the youngest children. A woman was exempt from the stated demand of the Law. It was not obligatory on her to attend the sacred feasts and festivals. Women, slaves and children were classed together. … Rabbi Jose ben Johanan is quoted as saying, “ …Everyone that talketh much with a woman causes evil to himself, and desists from the works of the Law, and his end is that he inherits Gehenna.”

William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon—The Daily Study Bible (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pa., 2nd ed. 1960), page 77.

Barclay also notes that among the Jews, a strict follower of the Jewish Talmud would not even speak to his own sister in public.

Nonetheless, Jesus did not comply with the cultural norms of Judaism regarding women.

Martha was apparently the elder of the two sisters and the householder, since it was she who received Jesus into her house (Luke 10:38). For apparently unmarried women to have received a teacher into their home and engaged him in dialogue represents an unusual social situation in 1st-century Palestine.

A practical woman, Martha was distracted with the many demands of hospitality during Jesus’ visit and petitioned his assistance in obtaining her sister’s help. Her request apparently merits a mild rebuke from Jesus (Luke 10:41–42, whose Gk text exists in several variant readings). Jesus’ words do not denigrate Martha’s household service, but imply that the female disciples of Jesus, as the male disciples, are first called to be hearers of the word (cf. Luke 11:27–28). Some commentators take the repeated “Martha, Martha” of v 41 as an indication that Jesus’ seeming rebuke is, in fact, a call to discipleship (cf. Gen 46:2; 1 Sam 3:4; Acts 9:4; etc.).

Raymond F. Collins, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 4, 573–574.

Jesus treats Mary as a full disciple, who should learn from her Rabbi in preference to the traditional female role of cooking etc. Jesus broke from contemporary culture to teach women as a rabbi, even though it just wasn’t done.

Jesus not only taught Mary as a disciple, he traveled with female disciples, such as Susanna.

Susanna traveled with Jewish men. In view of Jewish attitudes about the behavior of women in public, there is little doubt that Susanna’s actions were considered scandalous. Yet the indications are that Jesus approved of women supporting his ministry and accepted women as well as men as traveling companions or disciples. While women often financially supported prominent teachers in early Judaism, the idea of Jewish women becoming students of a prominent rabbi or teacher was unknown and unacceptable prior to and during Jesus’ era. Thus, Luke 8:1–3 must be viewed as an indication that Jesus’ kingdom agenda had some socially radical consequences.

Ben Witherington III, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 6, 246.

If Jesus treated women as disciples, fully capable of learning, even at the risk of appearing immoral or scandalous to the surrounding, male-dominated culture, Paul would have done the same, making 1 Cor 14:34-35 suspect as being Paul’s own words. Thus, these two theories work very well to reconcile Paul with Jesus as well as chapter 14 with chapter 11. But there are other approaches a serious student should consider.

[In the next post, we’ll consider how 1 Cor 14:33b-35 might be reconciled with Jesus’ treatment of women and 1 Cor 11, assuming the text to be authentic and to reflect the teachings of Paul.]

10 Responses

  1. I believe the text is original/genuine. For those who are interested, here are a few of the scholars who have questioned its authenticity (from Keener’s Paul, Women and Wives, 74): Wayne Meeks, Conzelmann, Scroggs, F.F. Bruce.

    Keener’s take is that the text is authentic. Here is what he says on the same page cited above,

    “Although several of these scholars are among the world’s best text critics, it seems to me that the textual evidence for this position is very weak.
    A few manuscripts, mainly later Western texts with a narrow geographical distribution, admittedly relocate these verses, probably because they do not seem to fit their immediate context very well. But there is no real evidence for omitting them entirely; those who hold them to be later additions must argue that they occurred too early in the text’s history to leave evidence, i.e., before subsequent manuscripts were copied from the original…This idea of an early accidental addition of several verses is not easy to defend…This proposal does not suggest a mere scribal mistake, but a deliberate change of the sort that out to have been extremely rare in the earliest stage of the manuscript tradition.”

    He goes on to say that the evidence people use to favor its removal isn’t as much text based as it is context based…that people want to do something with it because it seems like an awkward reading, which also may be why people relocated those verses elsewhere in some copies. He believes it is not in contradiction to 1 Cor 11:4-5 because the two texts are dealing with two different matters. I agree.

  2. Matt told me a couple days ago that there aren’t any contradictions here and yet Jay is saying that there are unless Christians can find a way to accept that the words that Paul has purportedly written here are not actually his words at all and were either added by someone else or are quotations of someone else but Matt considers this to be a very weak position.

    So if you add up both of their positions the result is that these verses are very likely contradictory.

    Jay, I wonder how many souls were lost in the intervening years before this brilliant theory came along to show everyone that these verses aren’t actually contradictory. I can easily see a reasonable person a few hundred years ago looking at verses like these and saying to themselves, “How could I possibly believe that this is the word of a higher power when it’s contradictory?” It’s too bad these lost souls did not live long enough to find out that certain parts of the Bible that they thought were the word of God are not actually the word of God and therefore does not contradict the parts of the Bible that are the word of God – or so we think until a new theory from even more enlightened people in the future shows us that other parts of the Bible are not the word of God either.

    1. If your view of salvation is that salvation is dependent on these verses then I think you don’t understand salvation from a biblical perspective. Jay is not even saying these verses are not original. He is presenting some options that people have laid out in trying to explain these things. See his newest post for more. Thanks Jay and have a good night.

      1. Matt, you know that’s not my argument. If the bible is the perfect word of of a perfect god then there cannot be any contradictions. So if a person concludes that there is a contradiction it would be completely reasonable for them to then conclude that the bible is not the word of a perfect god.

        I know that Jay is not saying that these verses are not original but he is trying to “reconcile” the verses and what’s the point of trying to reconcile them if they don’t at least appear to be contradictory? Both of the theories that he has proposed, including the one from his latest post, are far from the plain reading of the verses. They’re theories that people have carefully constructed to reconcile the bible with itself and with modern Western culture.

        I find it humorous that he dismisses an interpretation – an interpretation that comes much closer to matching up with the actual text – simply because it would contradict other verses in the bible:

        Jay: “So if we interpret 1 Cor 14:33b-35 to simply say, “Women may not speak in the assembly,” well, that interpretation is flatly contradicted by chapter 11 and is therefore false.”

        His reasoning must be:
        1. The bible cannot be contradictory
        2. The hierarchical interpretation contradicts other verses in the bible.
        Conclusion: Therefore the hierarchical interpretation must be wrong.

        It’s humorous to me because it’s obvious that he’s not willing to even consider the possibility that the bible could be contradictory and dismisses any interpretation simply because it would result in a contradiction. This circular mentality is the reason why so many theists claim there are no contradictons in the bible… because they’ve dismissed any interpretation that would result in a contradiction no matter how closely the interpretation fits with the actual text.

        1. God used human authors to record the scriptures that were then copied over and over again and passed down to us today. There is a whole field called textual criticism that has the aim of restoring the original text as accurately as possible based on the textual/manuscript evidence we have at our disposal. That means it is entirely possible for the 1% of what we are uncertain about as far as the text of the NT goes to contain something contradictory or for even the original authors in their humanity or, say Luke, who got his Gospel from talking with the eye witnesses to have something that might seem to us to be contradictory based on what we know from archaeology, etc…for instance a verse that says they crossed the sea and went to a certain city that we believe the remains of are found in another location than where the narrative seems to point. Often those types of things are later found by archaeologists to corroborate the Bible account as more evidence is found. So, it is possible for something, to be the best of our knowledge to not line up with 100% accuracy in the text itself but often the problem is not with them but with us in our own lack of information.

          Take the pool of Bethesda in John 5. Up until the 19th century there wasn’t any evidence of its existence so people thought that it was made up/non-historical and used by John metaphorically for the healing story. Then guess what…they found the pool. It was there all along…just hadn’t been discovered.

          I just offer that to put things in perspective. There are a variety of things going on here that must be taken into account and we also must be humble about what we do and do not understand about the Bible 2000 years after the fact.

          Last thing here…your summary of Jay’s logic missed the point because he was summing up what he believes to be other people’s false assumptions/conclusions. I am addressing this,

          “Jay: “So if we interpret 1 Cor 14:33b-35 to simply say, “Women may not speak in the assembly,” well, that interpretation is flatly contradicted by chapter 11 and is therefore false.”

          His reasoning must be:
          1. The bible cannot be contradictory
          2. The hierarchical interpretation contradicts other verses in the bible.
          Conclusion: Therefore the hierarchical interpretation must be wrong.”

          1. You said that we’re only uncertain about 1% of the NT text. How could you be certain about 99% of the text when we don’t have the original copies and we aren’t even certain of who the authors are?

  3. jay9920,

    Imagine that Paul is uninspired. He is nonetheless clearly a genius of the highest order. A scholar and highly trained rabbi. We should not assume that 2,000 years of history have made us smarter than the brightest of a prior age. He was a smart man beyond all doubt.

    That being the case, surely he did not intend to overtly contradict himself in the same discussion in the same book regarding the same subject. Therefore, there has to be a way of reconciling the first half of c. 11 and 14:33b-35 — not to preserve some notion of inerrancy but because intelligent people don’t contradict themselves in such a flagrant way.

    So there are these possibilities —

    * We are misinterpreting 14:33b-35
    * We are misinterpreting the first half of c. 11
    * The text isn’t authentic
    * Paul is quoting the position of the Corinthian church in 14:33b-35

    I see no way to read c. 11 other than women praying and prophesying in the assembly. There are good people who disagree with me, but I find them agenda-driven and unconvincing. That leaves the other three possibilities.

    The fourth choice carries far more weight than many would accept, but there have been serious studies done to point out that there are other sections in 11 and 14 that appear to be quotations of the Corinthian position, not Paul’s. So maybe. But it’s only been 2000 years!

    The question of authenticity is also a serious one, favored by many very conservative scholars on textual grounds. I covered the theories on my blog in some detail earlier this year. The evidence is equivocal. It just is.

    In any event, I think the traditional reading of 1 Cor 14:33b-35 is clearly wrong. You may not like my reading, but the traditional reading is plainly in error. It simply doesn’t fit the Bible’s metanarrative or Paul’s theology. It doesn’t fit Jesus’ theology. It’s just bad exegesis — syncretically reading patriarchalism into the text in a way that fits modern church practice that is very different from first century church practice. For example, there was no Sunday school in the early church. Questions were taken by the preacher/evangelist/teacher in the assembly. And most traditionalists allow women to to ask questions in class at church, just not during the “assembly.”

    So if we re-read 33b-35 in light of the Roman Empire’s and Jews’ honor/shame culture and understand “Law” as a First Century rabbi who’d seen the resurrected Jesus would read “Law,” the contradiction largely evaporates.

    The over-arching difficulty is that we see Jesus and Paul placing women in roles that contemporary society would condemn, and yet 33b-35 has Paul yielding to the surrounding honor/shame culture to prevent women from asking questions of men not their own husbands. This would be logical but seems inconsistent with how very daring Jesus and Paul were in other circumstances — such as with regard to Susanna, Martha, and Junia.

    But it’s extremely difficult to put ourselves inside their culture and worldview. There may have been circumstances that required a cautious treatment of women — much as we see Paul struggling with the question of meat sacrificed to idols. Paul knows that idols are nothing and that Jesus has defeated the demons already, but he has to be sensitive to how new converts would respond to a Christian seemingly worshiping an idol.

    In short, the problem doesn’t comes from a particular view of inerrancy. It’s just there because Paul was not stupid. And we often read without bothering to do our homework. And even when we do our homework, crossing a 2,000-year cultural barrier is no easy thing.

    Therefore, among Christians, surely the lesson is that we should show grace to one another as we struggle with how to read texts such as these. For non-Christians, this hardly proves the presence of the contradiction-Holy Grail.

    But I’m no fan of the inerrancy debate or argument. After all, it’s meaningless if it’s an assumption from which we begin. It has to be a conclusion drawn from the text to have any evidentiary weight. Therefore, I don’t start with such an assumption — except that I credit Paul with being the genius he obviously was. That just being a good historian and true to the facts before us.

  4. Jay: “So if we re-read 33b-35 in light of the Roman Empire’s and Jews’ honor/shame culture and understand “Law” as a First Century rabbi who’d seen the resurrected Jesus would read “Law,” the contradiction largely evaporates.”

    So if a person isn’t familiar with “the Roman Empire’s and Jews’ honor/shame culture” and they don’t “understand ‘Law’ as a First Century rabbi who’d seen the resurrected Jesus would read ‘Law,'” then it would be entirely reasonable for them to not see the evaporation of that “contradiction”, correct? And if that person is not able to believe that the bible is the word God because of that contradiction then you would also recognize that as reasonable as well, correct?

    Your point about Paul being a genius is pointless. First of all, what evidence do you have that he was a “genius of the highest order”? Even if he was it’s certainly possible that a genius could contradict himself and it’s also certainly possible that someone else added or subtracted parts of the text but of course we don’t have the original text so who really knows?

  5. Jay said: “I see no way to read c. 11 other than women praying and prophesying in the assembly. There are good people who disagree with me, but I find them agenda-driven and unconvincing”

    There are good people who may find your interpretations “agenda driven and unconvincing” as well. Grace to all and a gentle spirit of inquiry should prevail.

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