At last, we can turn our attention to —
(1Co 14:33-36 ESV) 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?
Now, having carefully worked our way through the earlier portions of 1 Cor 14, it’s obvious that Paul changes the subject here. The topic has been the use of tongues and prophecy in the assembly, and now he starts talking about whether women should be silent in the assembly, only to return to the topic of tongues and prophecy in v. 37. Therefore, the NRSV translators place this portion of the chapter in parentheses. It’s plainly an interruption in the flow of Paul’s thought.
The manuscript evidence is interesting. The Western texts (D F G ar b vgms Ambst) place these verses after v. 40, that is, at the end of the chapter, whereas the oldest texts (א, A, B) place the verses here, where most English translations place them.
Gordon Fee, in his New International Commentary on 1 Corinthians, argues that the best explanation for the verses appearing in two different places is that the verses were not in the original manuscript. The NET Bible translators summarize his argument —
Fee points out that “Those who wish to maintain the authenticity of these verses must at least offer an adequate answer as to how this arrangement came into existence if Paul wrote them originally as our vv. 1Co 14:34-35”(First Corinthians [NICNT], 700). In a footnote he adds,“The point is that if it were already in the text after v. 1Co 14:33, there is no reason for a copyist to make such a radical transposition.”
Many consider Fee’s commentary on 1 Cor the premier commentary on that epistle. Richard Hays, one of the world’s premier Paul scholars, agrees with this argument.
The NET Bible translators argue that the text is in fact a marginal insertion — explaining why the location in the text is unclear — but that the insertion was made by Paul himself — explaining why every single manuscript we have includes the text, although in differing locations.
N. T. Wright explains,
Verses 34 and 35—the command to women to ‘keep silence in the assemblies’—don’t occur here in some of the manuscripts. Instead, they are added on at the end of chapter 14, seemingly as a kind of appendix. Since the verses are in any case very odd—Paul clearly assumes in 11:2–16 that women are going to speak during worship—many serious scholars have concluded that the verses were not by Paul, and were added by a scribe who was anxious to keep public worship a matter of male leadership only.
This could be the case, although equally wise and learned people have concluded that Paul really did write the passage.
Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 198.
Wright ultimately says he is inclined to consider the verses authentic.
On the other hand, as noted in the Pillar commentary series —
With thirty-six words it would be an extraordinarily long “marginal note”! One wonders how it could fit in the margin of an epistolary papyrus.
Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 719.
It’s a good question! Ciampa and Rosner suggest that the Western texts relocated the verses to the end of the chapter because they appeared out of place following v. 33 — as is indeed true. That is, they say the verses are original and not even a marginal addition by Paul.
On the other hand, Sampley rejects the text —
This harsh passage, urging women’s silence in church and subordination to their husbands, with an unspecified reference to “the law” as support, is probably an insertion by an editor who subsequently took this Pauline letter and brought it into conformity with the practices regarding women in his own subsequent-to-Paul time. …
If Paul’s letters were collected around the turn of the first and second centuries, as is a reasonable assumption, a time sometimes also argued for the writing of the Pastoral Epistles, then the redactor could readily have inserted 1 Cor 14:34–36 to bring the picture of Corinth’s worship practices in line with what he thought appropriate in his own time. The result: Women should be silent in church and submissive to their husbands, despite the fact that neither of these positions is sustained by the rest of 1 Corinthians nor by the six other undisputed Pauline letters that we can be sure came from the hand of Paul.
J. Paul Sampley, “The First Letter to the Corinthians,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians (vol. 10 of New Interpreters Bible, Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 968-970.
Fee and other commentators who reject the passage are not “liberals” who doubt the inspiration of scripture. Rather, they can’t see how to reconcile Paul’s instructions for the women to be silent in light of 1 Cor 11’s description of women praying and prophesying and the preceding portions of 1 Cor 14 that urge all members to participate in the worship by contributing a lesson, hymn, etc. In fact, there’s no hint of a rule limiting the role of women in earlier portions of 1 Cor 14.
Imagine you come from an egalitarian culture. You read 1 Cor 11, which speaks of women praying and prophesying in the presence of men and only requires that the women be veiled when so doing. You then read about the Lord’s Supper, gifts of the Spirit in the assembly, and chapter 13 on faith, hope, and love. You have therefore just read —
(1Co 12:7 NET) 7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.
(1Co 12:11 NET) 11 It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.
(1Co 12:18 NET) 18 But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided.
(1Co 12:21 NET) 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.”
(1Co 12:22-25 NET) 22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, 24 but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another.
And so far, you’ve not encountered the least hint that women must be silent in the assembly. In fact, your reading would be that women are and should be very actively engaged in the assembly. In particular, you’d conclude that women should exercise their spiritual gifts because they were given to them by the Spirit. In fact, the less dignity or importance a person has in a given society, the more likely it is that the Spirit would gift that person, with the expectation that the gift would demonstrate how essential that person is to the church.
Then you read chapter 14:1-33a, and again, there’s not a hint of gender restrictions. Paul repeatedly speaks of “all” or “everyone” exercising spiritual gifts in the assembly, including tongues and prophecy, which plainly involving speaking in the assembly. And he does not limit any of his arguments to men.
When you get to 14:34-35, you are surprised and confused. Not only has Paul changed the subject, he seems to have changed positions. You go back and re-read the earlier portion of chapter 14 to see if you missed something suggesting that only men may speak in the assembly, but the language is uniformly gender neutral.
The English translations often uses “himself” or “he” to refer to a hypothetical prophet or tongue speaker, but the Greek is gender neutral until we get to vv. 34-35. For example,
(1Co 14:23 ESV) If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?
The Greek for “all” (pantes) and “you” is not limited to men.
Just so, in —
(1Co 14:24-25 ESV) 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
— the several masculine pronouns are added by the translators. There are no gendered pronouns in the Greek in these verses. But if vv. 34-35 are from Paul, we have take “all” in v. 24 to mean “all men” — although no Greek reader would see the Greek there as referring only to men.
Hence, many recent translations use gender-neutral language to more accurately reflect the Greek. For example,
(1Co 14:24-25 NRSV) 24 But if all prophesy, an unbeliever or outsider who enters is reproved by all and called to account by all. 25 After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”
As a result, our hypothetical reader from an egalitarian culture would be shocked when he gets to vv. 34-35, since up to that point Paul has been using gender-neutral language to refer only to men. Such an odd way to write! Why make it appear that Paul is addressing both men and women, only to impose this restriction at the end of all these chapters on the assembly and gifts?
Indeed, to be consistent with verses 34-35, you’d have to modify the text quite a lot, something like this —
(1Co 14:1-33a NET) Pursue love and be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy [if you are male]. 2 For the one [who is a male] speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to God, for no one understands; he is speaking mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who [is a male and] prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The one [who is a male] who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one [who is a male and] who prophesies builds up the church. 5 I wish you all [who are male] spoke in tongues, but even more that you [who are males] would prophesy. The one who [is male and] prophesies is greater than the one who [is male and] speaks in tongues, unless he interprets so that the church may be strengthened.
… 12 It is the same with you. Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, seek to abound in order to strengthen the church [but only men should seek gifts that require speaking in the assembly]. …
23 So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues [but just the men], and unbelievers or uninformed people enter, will they not say that you have lost your minds? 24 But if all prophesy [really, just the men], and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all. 25 The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship God, declaring [if he is a man], “God is really among you.”
26 What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one [who is a man] has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church. 27 If someone [a man, that is] speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone [also a man] must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three prophets [but men only] should speak and the others [who must be men] should evaluate what is said. 30 And if someone sitting down receives a revelation [and that person is a man], the person who is speaking should conclude. 31 For you can all [if you are men] prophesy one after another, so all can learn and be encouraged.
It’s considerations such as these that cause many conservative scholars to question the authenticity of vv. 34-35. It’s just really hard to reconcile these verses with the first half of chapter 11 and the gender neutrality of all that’s in between (often concealed in the English).
My own position is, well, that the question ultimately doesn’t matter because you get to the same result either way — although it takes some serious study to see that. And so we’ll take up these verses in the next few posts assuming them to be authentic, to see where that assumption takes us.