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Misogyny and the Bible: Does the NT teach that women must be silent in the church? An examination of 1 Cor 14:34-35: Women-Injustice#13; Justice#24

Misogyny and the Bible: Does the NT teach that women must be silent in the church? An examination of 1 Cor 14:34-35: Women-Injustice#13; Justice#24 June 28, 2021

Christians and the Bible are misogynistic: so the claim goes. And the proof is found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35:

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

As with 1 Cor 11:2-16 (see my previous three posts on this passage), there are a plethora of speculations as to what was happening in Corinth. The fact that there are so many indicates the difficulty behind reconstructing the situation in Corinth. The problem is solved, however, if we conclude that these are not the words of Paul, but the Corinthian men to whom Paul responds.

To read this passage as advocating male headship or misogyny (i.e., that Paul is issuing an edict to silence the women) presents numerous problems.

For one, the very suggestion that Paul would issue a decree to silence women flies in the face of everything we have noted regarding the kingdom of God and its’ declaration of release for those who are oppressed: including women (see Acts 2:17 below).

Secondly, the suggestion that Paul exhorts women to be silent would stand in direct contradiction to the fact that Paul has already noted that women were praying and prophesying in church (see: 1 Cor 11:2-16). If Paul were going to issue an edict in which women were to be silent in church, then why go through all the trouble to discuss whether they should pray and prophesy with their heads covered or uncovered? Why did Paul not just say in chapter 11, “the point is irrelevant as to whether or not women should have their heads covered while praying and prophesy, because I demand that they not be allowed to talk in church”?

The fact that Paul permits women to pray and prophesy in church strongly, if not conclusively, suggests that Paul could not be issuing an edict to silence women.

Thirdly, the problem in 1 Corinthians 14 appears to have been orderliness in the services. Are we to suppose that it was only women who were disorderly? Even if this were the case, why would Paul issue a decree to silence all the women? Could he not have just as easily ordered the women who were not maintaining orderliness to be silenced?

A command that silences all women would affect those who were not disruptive as well.

Finally, are we to suppose that none of the men were disruptive? Why does Paul not order them to be silent?

Explaining 1 Cor 14:34-35

It makes much more sense to suppose that the order of silence in 1 Cor 14:34-35 came from the men in Corinth. It was their solution to the problem of disorder. Paul’s response to them follows in 1 Cor 14:36-38.

NB: There are a growing number of scholars who accept the proposal that 1 Cor 14:34-35 are the words of Paul’s opponents.[1]

This means that we should read 1 Cor 14:34-38 as follows:

In 1 Cor 14:27-33, Paul sets forth prescriptions regarding orderliness in the services: both with regards to the use of tongues (14:27-28) and prophecy (14:29-33). Paul establishes that there should be only one speaker at a time (1 Cor 14:27, 29). And when someone speaks in tongues, there must be an interpreter (1 Cor 14:27-28).

The Corinthian men, in the letter written to Paul (see 1 Cor 7:1; 8:1; 12:1), had proposed their own solution to the disorder: “women are to keep silent in the churches. . . . If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor 14:34-35).

(Note: that for Paul to accept this line of reasoning he would have to contradict the very foundation of the NT’s affirmation that the Kingdom of God has begun: as expressed in the book of Acts:

And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,

‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;

And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy (Acts 2:17). 

Paul, then, replies to the men by saying,

Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? (1 Cor 14:36).

The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is “no.” The Word of God came to you it did not come from you! (Note: this is precisely what the next question affirms).

Paul adds (again, in his reply to the men):

Or has it come to you only? (1 Cor 14:36).

Again, the answer to this rhetorical question is “no.” Paul notes that the Corinthian men’s argument assumes that it came only to the men! But the Word has come both to men and women, which is why women were prophesying! (1 Cor 11:2-16; cf Acts 2:17 above).

 

Conclusion to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14

Over the last four posts, I have examined the claims that I Cor 11:2-16 and 14:34-35 support the view that women are subordinate to men. I have argued that the problem in Corinth was with the men (and perhaps the wealthy ones; 1 Cor 11:22) and not the women.

As I have noted, this reading alleviates many of the difficulties inherent in the complementarian (male headship view) reading of these passages.

Furthermore, it accords with the whole tenor of the NT. Nowhere else in the NT do we see a group that is culturally marginalized being the oppressors and/or the source of disorder.

Jesus, Paul, and the NT consistently side with the marginalized by establishing a new community in which the last will be first.

And so should we!

 

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[1] See: Allison, “Let the Women Be Silent in the Churches”; Flanagan and Snyder, “Did Paul Put Down Women in 1 Cor 14:34–36?”; Manus, “The Subordination of Women in the Church: 1 Cor 14:33b–36 Reconsidered”; Odell-Scott, “In Defense of an Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor 14:34–36”; Peppiatt, Lucy. Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians (p. 111). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers; Thiselton, First Epistle, 1150; and Fee, First Epistle, 704–5. Fee recognizes the merit of this argument but is not completely convinced because he finds it is hard to believe that Paul would use such an extensive quotation of his opponents and because it goes against Paul’s what he thinks are Paul’s views on women in 11:2-16. But if what Peppiatt and myself have argued, namely that 1 Cor 11:3-10 contain extensive quotes from Paul’s opponents and that in 1 Cor 11:11-16 Paul affirms the right of women to pray and prophesy without a head covering, then the justifications for Fee’s hesitations are unmerited.

 


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