#TalkingThursday – If you don’t talk about Jesus who will?
Dear reader! Welcome back, today we’re continuing our examination of the topic: Are women allowed to speak in churches or not?/Is it shameful for a woman to speak in church? This is our final post regarding this subject, so join us as we make our way to the conclusion of the matter!
From the first week’s text: The Ruckus in 1 Corinthians 14 we concluded that a thorough answer would require examination of a number of things:
- Cultural Context
- Greek Lexonic Transliterations/Translations
- Scholarly Interpretations & Opinions
- Biblical Applications & Context
In the past two weeks, we’ve concluded the Cultural Context & Greek Lexonic Transliterations/Translations. So this week, we’ll examine Scholarly Interpretations & Opinions, Biblical Applications & Context and then give a brief summary and conclusion.
C. Scholarly Interpretations & Opinions
When it comes to examining scholarly interpretations of this scripture, there are many different ideas out there. There’s particularly a debate as to whether the apostle Paul was making a declarative statement in verses 34-36. Those scholars who believe that the apostle Paul is making a declarative statement exhibit a wide range of thought about why Paul may have written these verses.
Here are examples of such diversity of opinion regarding the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
“Women must never speak, prophesy or speak in tongues in church”
One 19th century Bible commentator holds this extreme and minority view that this revokes any rights women have to speak, prophesy or speak in tongues: “This rule is positive, explicit, and universal … women were to keep silence … take no part in speaking foreign languages and of prophecy.”
However, we know these statements cannot be the correct interpretation because they disregard scripture’s declaration that women will prophesy (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17-18) and some have already done so in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 11:5).
“Some married women need to exercise self-control”
David Lowery, a professor at Dallas Seminary, acknowledges the difficulty in determining the exact meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. He admits that women did participate in worship services by exercising the gifts of the Spirit, suggesting that Paul wrote these words because “church members needed to exercise self-control,” not only in the context of tongues and prophecy but that some women were causing a disturbance. He writes:
Paul then wanted silence on the part of married women whose husbands were present in the assembly, but he permitted the participation of other women when properly adorned (1 Corinthians 11:2-16). Such silence would express their subordinate (but not inferior) relationship to their husbands.
Therefore, the real issue, he believes, is one of self-control.
“Married women must not interrupt the proceeding by asking questions.”
F. F. Bruce in The New Century Bible Commentary I & II Corinthians notes that Paul had already recognized a woman’s right to pray and prophesy in the church. As such, the imposition of silence and forbidding women to speak only applies in the context of interrupting proceedings by asking questions of their husbands; asking questions should be done at home.
Bruce carefully notes that the expressions not permitted to speak (v. 34) and shameful for a woman to speak in church (v. 35) also refer only to the interrupting of proceedings. In commenting on the phrase, “as even the law says,” Bruce believes that any relationship between that and Genesis 3:16 is unlikely.
Summary Discussion of Scholars’ Comments
The vast majority of scholars who claim that Paul is making a declarative statement limit this prohibition regarding speaking to only those instances where such speech causes a disturbance in the church. Women, they say, did speak, pray in tongues, and prophesy in the early church.
The apparent prohibition based on women being uneducated was a cultural reality in the first century. This condition obviously no longer exists. The issue of self-control and not causing a disturbance in church applies equally to men and women and appears more related to the excesses of speaking in tongues and prophecy more than anything else in chapter 14.
Basically, majority of the commentators agree with Paul’s emphasis that all things be done properly and in an orderly manner (v. 40) in the church.
D. Biblical Applications & Context
The first thing we notice is that women are not the only people Paul tells to be “silent.” He uses the same word in verses 28 and 30 to tell tongue-speakers and prophets to be silent when others speak. In both of those verses, he is calling for a temporary silence, not a complete and permanent prohibition.
Paul has already indicated that women can pray and prophesy in church (chapter 11), and a worship service includes two or three people prophesying in turn (1 Corinthians 14:29-32). This means that it is permissible for women to have formal speaking roles in the church.
Paul was apparently forbidding some other type of speech. Just as he did not allow tongue-speakers or prophets to speak out of turn, he did not want women to speak out of turn, saying things in such a way that they were breaking social customs about what is appropriate.
After surveying the Old Testament, we’ve discovered no prohibition on women speaking in public; rather our findings are opposite as scripture provides several examples of women who had leadership roles in civil government, publicly praising God, and in giving authoritative answers about spiritual matters to male civil leaders (e.g., Deborah, Miriam, and Huldah).
Therefore, the problem in Corinth probably involved either:
a) wives speaking against or dishonoring their husbands,
b) more generally, women acting disorderly and for that reason considered “not in submission.”
WHY ” THE LAW ” DOES NOT REFER TO SCRIPTURE
To assume that the phrase, “just as the law also says,” refers to the mosaic law or is supported by the old testament contradicts Paul’s known teachings that we have been liberated from the law (See Romans. 3:28; 6:14, 7:16, 8:2; Galatians 3:11, 13, 4:5, 5:18, etc.). Since Paul claims that we have been liberated from the law, why would he appeal to it?
Paul also fought against religious zealots during his time who tried to impose the requirements of the Old Testament’s written and oral laws on New Testament believers in Christ. Therefore, these verses cannot represent the apostle Paul’s inspired words.
Because there is nothing written in Scripture from which Paul could have quoted to support such a declaration. Such an appeal would also contradict Paul’s previously stated position in 1 Corinthians that women can pray and prophesy in church.
Paul does not refer to written scripture in this manner. In the entire epistle of 1 Corinthians, whenever Paul quotes from and specially uses the term “law” (meaning written scripture) he does so with specific intent, focus, and writing style.
In 1 Corinthians 4:6 where Paul generally refers to Scripture, he tells the Corinthians “Do not go beyond what is written” and in every case when Paul specifically refers to Scripture, he says “it is written” (See 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1:31, 2:9, 3:19, 10:7, 15:45) and consistently quotes from the Old Testament verbatim to prove the point he is making.
However, in 1 Corinthians 14:34 the passage simply states just as the Law also says without reference to it being written or stating the scripture he is referring to. It causes one to wonder, if Paul were truly referring to scripture, why would he suddenly change his consistent writing style in this verse only?
The most likely reason is that these are not Paul’s words. Either Paul was quoting a non-biblical source, such as a slogan or rabbinic saying or verses 34-35 represent an interpolation, i.e. an alteration of scripture. In either option, it is most likely the case that these words did not originate with Paul.
ARE VERSES 34-35 AN INTERPOLATION?
Defining an Interpolation: An interpolation means a manuscript textual problem exists. The verses were added later by a scribe. Therefore, these verses are not the inspired writings of the apostle Paul and are to be disregarded. Additionally, some Bibles, such as the NLT, ISV, and NRSV, include a footnote stating that some ancient manuscripts put verses 34-35 after verse 40.
If these verses represent an interpolation of Scripture, then any discussion of what verses 34-35 mean is a meaningless exercise since they represent a later addition to Scripture by an uninspired writer. However, since these verses do appear, then all Bible readers need to consider whether these verses are an interpolation.
Carroll D. Osburn, Professor of New Testament at Abilene Christian University suggests that the verses are not an interpolation, rather Paul states two different issues: “praying and prophesying by women” in chapter 11 in contrast to “some wives continually ‘piping up’ in the assembly” in chapter 14. Paul is dealing with a particular problem in Corinth, and 1 Corinthians 14:33b–36 neither teaches nor suggests anything regarding patriarchalism or female subjection.
According to Osburn, it is not the extent that women may participate in the work and worship of the church but the manner.
Therefore, it is more likely that these verses are not an interpolation, rather they are a quotation.
VERSES 34-35 ARE A QUOTATION
This interpretative view states that verses 34-35 are meant to be understood as a Corinthian slogan or quotation that Paul is repeating. These verses are not a declarative statement that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, with the intention of silencing women from speaking in church.
After a detailed examination of Greek manuscripts, Dr. John Gustavson states, “Paul never wrote these words as a ‘commandment of the Lord’ but was simply quoting what the Judaizers in the Corinthian church were saying.”
He goes on to say that “there is not one trace from Genesis to Malachi of any such prohibition of women to literally keep silent in the church nor is there a single word in the whole ‘law of Moses’ dealing with the subject.”
More so, note that Paul, beginning in verse 36, rebukes the Corinthians for various reasons, including their pride. Verse 36 does begin with a rebuke, but it is most likely that Paul is rebuking the “slogan” (in verses 34-35) that was being used to prohibit women from speaking in church. This reason is probably why verses 34-35 appear in Scripture.
Although we cannot answer all questions about the specific situation Paul was addressing in Corinth, we do conclude that he was addressing a specific situation rather than making a general prohibition on women speaking in church. His intent was to prohibit disruptive and disrespectful questions and comments that were part of the chaotic Corinthian meetings—and in Corinth, these particular practices were coming from the women.
Just as he told the disorderly tongues-speakers and prophets to control themselves because God is not a God of disorder, he also told the women to control themselves because the law teaches self-control. Only one person should speak at a time. Everyone else, whether male or female, should be quiet, for it is disgraceful for people in the audience to be talking while someone else is speaking to the group. In our day this would mean people chattering or muttering while the pastor was addressing the audience or giving the sermon.
As Paul’s call for tongues-speakers or prophets to be silent was not turned into a demand that they never say anything at all, so also his call for women to be quiet should not be turned into a demand that they never give messages of spiritual value in church. Verses 34-35 do not prohibit women from speaking in the church in either pulpit ministry, teaching, preaching, praying, prophesying, or any other speaking function. These verses represent a quotation, which is the most plausible and correct interpretation of that scripture. The evidence is compelling, diverse, and objective and allows for the natural flow of thought to remain uninterrupted with verses “34-35” noted as a quotation and a rebuke beginning in verse 36.
The eternal focus of Chapter 14 is on the proper use of spiritual gifts, tongues and prophecy and that is what we must be concerned with whenever we study this chapter. Paul’s closing exhortation, beginning in verse 39, is a fitting conclusion:
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner.
We hope you have enjoyed this series and gained much from it. Let us know your opinions via our social media pages using the #TalkingThursday. God bless you!