1 Corinthians 14:33b-37 (the rhetorical η (ēta))

roleofwomenIn a recent comment, Price pointed out,

Randy Elliott, a CoC preacher out in California will be presenting a teaching class at the Pepperdine Lectures upcoming. It is his contention, which he demonstrates, that the use of “eta” in the sentence structure indicates a quote from another source. He actually demonstrates this in several areas of I Corinthians.

Regarding the passage under discussion, it is his contention that verses 34 and 35 are part of the questions or statements that the leadership in Corinth had written to Paul about to see what his instructions would be or to clarify their understand.. See 7:1a:

“Now concerning the matters about which you wrote …”

Paul responds to their question with two questions of his own in verse 36… 1) Was God revealed only BY men … (NO) … 2) was God revealed only FOR men … (NO) …

(punctuation edited). Interesting …

I’d already written a couple of posts that report recent articles at the “Jesus Creed” blog making a similar argument, but without the grammatical support coming from the ēta (η) (not yet posted but soon to come)[1]. Scot McKnight quotes author Lucy Peppiatt’s book Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians, which argues that 1 Cor 14:34-36 are Paul’s quotation of the Corinthian church’s erroneous position. And we’ve seen that Paul uses this rhetorical device in 1 Corinthians several times.

The biggest problem with Peppiatt’s argument (and I’ve only read the summary in McKnight’s blog) is the absence of a clear grammatical marker letting the reader know that Paul is now quoting someone else. The quotation mark had not yet been invented, and Peppiatt appears to concede the absence of grammatical markers. She deals with the issue head on — with arguments we’ll get to later.

So what struck me especially about Price’s comment is the fact that, if correct, it fills this gap in her argument. But is it right?

I searched the Internet for articles on the theory, and there are quite a few, nearly all focused on 1 Cor 14:34-37. Some call it the “rhetorical ēta” and argue that its meaning is something like “Nonsense!” or “What!” or even “Pffffft!” It’s a dismissal and rejection of what was just said or about to be said.

Now, as is also true of many words in English, an ēta can take several possible meanings, depending on context. The most common sense is “or” as a disjunctive conjunction. But as is also true in English, the “or” or ēta can be used to reject what was just said. In English, it’s a matter of tone: “Are you going to your friend’s house to play cards? OR are you going to keep your promise to me?” Well, husbands know that the “or” doesn’t express a real choice. In that context, it means “Or are you stupid enough to …” Yes, it’s a disjunctive conjunction, but there’s idiomatic meaning there that a born English speaker would immediately recognize.

Thayer’s gives as the primary definition, before “or” —

to distinguish things or thoughts which either mutually exclude each other, or one of which can take the place of the other 

So let try how Paul uses ēta in 1 Cor —

(1 Cor 1:13 ESV) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

(1 Cor 4:21 ESV) What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

(1 Cor 6:1–2 ESV) 1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3=

(1 Cor 6:7–10 ESV) 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11

(1 Cor 6:15–16 ESV) 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.”

(1 Cor 9:4–6 ESV) 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6 Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?

(1 Cor 10:21–22 ESV) 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 [Or] Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

(1 Cor 11:20–22 ESV) 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

(1 Cor 14:19 ESV) Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. 

(1 Cor 14:34–37 ESV) 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? 

Each boldfaced word is an ēta in the Greek, and in each case, Paul compares two alternatives, one right and one wrong. Sometimes the wrong choice is first; sometimes second. The point is to compare two alternatives to make clear which one that ought to be chosen.

In fact, the ēta could be translated: “What?!” Accordance suggests “Hey!” or “Say now!” I’m not sure that’s particularly clear, but you get the gist of the idea. The “or” means either this or that but not both — the right choice should be obvious.

But I don’t see 1 Cor 14:36 fitting this pattern. If Paul wants us to reject one of the two options, then it’s the second set of options: the word of God came from Corinth; the church in Corinth is the only church the word has reached. And if we reject this obviously unacceptable choice, we are stuck with “For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

The argument fails, I think. Well, not entirely. As it turns out, there’s a similar argument that makes much better sense and fits vv. 36-38 more into the context. Don Johnson argues that the passage has chiastic structure.  We’ve covered this before. A “chiasm” is an argument that resolves a list of challenges or concerns in reverse order. It is, in fact, exactly the way I learned to do proofs as a math major, and it’s easy to show that Paul routinely structured his arguments this way.

Here’s Johnson’s proposal —

A 26 All believers can have a verbal contribution

– B 27-28 Tongues – be silent [sigao] if no interpreter

—— C 29-33a Prophesy – be silent [sigaoif another speaks

——— D 33b-35 Legalists: “Women be silent [sigao]

——— D’ 36-38 Paul: “Bunk! Bunk! [ē! … ē!] Women can                                      speak”

—— C’ 39a Prophesy – desire to prophesy

– B’ 39b Tongues – do not forbid

A’ 40 All things done decently and in order

By reverse engineering the whole pericope, one can hopefully see that the problem was chaos in the Corinthian church as too many speaking at the same time.  Some legalists proposed doing what the synagogues did, namely keep women quiet; this reduces the potential speakers by half.  Paul will have none of that, but he does give guidelines so things will be done in order.

Now, the chiastic structure is very Pauline, and the argument actually flows pretty well.

Now, at this point, I’ve done all the reading of little squiggly Greek letters I care to do in one sitting. But here’s some additional reading to reflect on —

Wade Burleson argues in support of the ēta theory and treating the preceding verses as Paul quoting the Corinthian church (who are in error).

Philip B. Payne, who prefers to consider the verses inauthentic, comments on the ēta theory.


[1] Koine Greek has two letters e — epsilon (ε) and ēta (η). I was trained to pronounce them with a short-e and a long-e, respectively. It’s probably better to pronounce the ēta with the ē pronounced like the “e” in “hey.” But there are several different pronunciation systems, each has its advocates, and each has its problems. And I’m too old to change habits; so it’s a long-e in my Bible classes.

When we transliterate the Greek into English, the convention is to use “e” for ε and “h” for η, because the ēta looks like an English lower-case h or n, and we need the “n” for nu.

Hence, if you see a word like agaph, that’s not pronounced agaf but agapē, which is why some preachers put a long-e at the end and others put a European short-e there. Both are right. Both are wrong.

In most Greek software, you can key in an ēta with an h, which is good to know.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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49 Responses to 1 Corinthians 14:33b-37 (the rhetorical η (ēta))

  1. Alan says:

    There’s an obvious problem with these theories. Tertullian was a native Greek speaker, and he understood 1 Cor 14:34 as prohibiting women from speaking in the assembly. Now, 1800 years later, people who would like to escape from that constraint seem to think they understand ancient Greek better than Tertullian. I seriously doubt it.

  2. Dwight says:

    I agree Alan. What the attempt to do is reach far enough into a certain text so as to affect everything following, even though the text changed by context numerous times. Paul is addressing issues as seen in I Cor.1 all the way through to the end.
    Also the scripture doesn’t say, “1) Was God revealed only BY men … (NO) … 2) was God revealed only FOR men … (NO),”
    It says, “Or did the word of God come originally from YOU? Or was it YOU only that it reached?”
    I Corinthians was being addressed to the saints in Corinth and not just the men and the next verse is “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.” So the context of 36 is followed in 37-38, where Paul is telling them that thier “prophecy” wasn’t enough information to overide his direct commands from God. If they are truly a prophet, then they would have agreed with Paul’s commands.

  3. Randy Elliott says:

    Jay, I enjoyed reading this article. I would like to offer the essence of what I intend to show in my lecture at Pepperdine, which actually is not dependent upon an argument from the “eta,” though I think the KJV’s “WHAT?” is the right way to take it.

    I will first consider the initial oddities of 14:34-35: a) they appear to contradict what is written earlier; b) the imposition of “what the law says” upon the church by Paul; and c) a citation of a law not found in the scriptures while the other nine citations of the Law in the letter are easily recognizable from the scriptures.

    However, my major task will be to show that DIALOGUE is throughout the letter. That Paul cites a Corinthian misunderstanding and then gives his correction of it. There are about a dozen or so. While there were no quotation marks on these segments in earlier translations, the newest translations have placed many of them in quotes. There are still large segments unidentified by quotes. I intend to show that they ought to be, including this passage in 11:14.

  4. Price says:

    It was Tertullian that promoted the concept that custom without truth was just time honored error… He also advocated for celibacy and was the first to refer to the “church” as the building instead of the assembly. Good man and yet very human and fallible.

    Jay, it seems that there are two major objections to reviewing this topic.. One is that people believe that is a Pro-Woman agenda.. The other is that is a violation of long held scriptural integrity.. It seems Tertulliam may have been correct in his observance that our customs and traditions often take on paramount authority..

    It seems to me that the “eta” concept pulls together Paul’s admonition regarding women very nicely. No inconsistencies whatsoever. He taught them how to pray in some kind of gathering that would honor their husbands. As a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel he would have been quite familiar with Joel’s prophesy that included women.. He would have known of Peter’s reflection on Joel as Pentecost. He would have seen the women using their spiritual gifts such as Phillip’s daughters. He seems to include women in at least the role of deacon and was obviously heavily supported by Phoebe whom he referred to as a deacon in the church at Cencherea. He would also have been quite well aware of the stories of Huldah and Deborah and Miriam…

    To suggest that Paul, knowing all of this, suddenly decided to quiet women’s participation in the assembly would mean that Paul:

    1) Taught them how to pray but forbid it in a gathering of believers.
    2) That he was confused about God’s inclusion of women being given spiritual gifts.
    3) That the spiritual gifts were to be used only by men in a gathering.
    4) That women would be forbidden to sing as he refers to singing as teaching and admonishing one another.
    5) That Priscilla was out of line in her teaching alongside her husband.

    To suggest that the “eta” understanding is correct allows all of Paul’s understandings and instructions to be cohesive in their instruction. It allows women to use the natural talents and spiritual gifts given them by God to exhort, edify and encourage as they are lead. It gives young girls and women role models such as Phoebe likely was. It is consistent with the no Jew/Greek, Male of Female distinction in the Kingdom.

    If the ultra conservative opinion is correct on the restriction of women then we need to come up with a whole list of new rules and regulations….

    1) Must a woman always wear a head covering to honor her husband when praying ?
    2) Must a woman wear a head covering only in the presence of her husband or does this include other men?
    3) Must a woman wear a head covering in the presence of other women only ?
    4) May a woman pray in a small gathering as opposed to a large gathering ? What is the deliniation?
    5) Can a woman only use her spiritual gifts outside of the presence of men ?
    6) Must a woman refrain from using her gifts in any size gathering if men are included ?
    7) May a woman sing if it is considered by scripture to be teaching and admonishing if men are present ?
    8) May a woman still serve as a deacon or does it need to be a “small d deacon” instead of a “regular” deacon ?
    9) Must women be in submission to all men or just her husband while in the assembly ? Outside the assembly?
    Perhaps the list could continue but I think you get my point.

    If the “eta” understanding is accepted then women need not refrain from using any of their spiritual gifts as long as they are not violently disregarding the leading of her husband and it’s done with respect and concern for others. A woman need not be afraid to sing.

    I guess we each have to come to our own conclusions and honor our conscience but it seems to me that one is a “full cloth” whereas the other is a quilt-like patchwork of that leaves noticeable gaps and holes… But, what do I know.

  5. John F says:

    Jay . . .Paul responds to their question with two questions of his own in verse 36… 1) Was God revealed only BY men … (NO) … 2) was God revealed only FOR men … (NO) … If Paul wants us to reject one of the two options, then it’s the second set of options: the word of God came from Corinth; the church in Corinth is the only church the word has reached. And if we reject this obviously unacceptable choice, we are stuck with “For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

    If Paul had wanted to specifically the males, he could easily added “anthropos”. The clear antecedents in the chapter with with “y’all” in the congregation. Do you suggest that we must understand chiastic construction to interpret scripture? Really hard to follow that line of reasoning. I don’t mind being “stuck” with scripture’s clear wordings. Do I struggle with some of Price’s “application” of the principle? Yes, but that does not lessen the principle.

  6. Dwight says:

    These are bad premises:
    1. Taught them how to pray but forbid it in a gathering of believers.
    Counter: Prayer doesn’t involve speaking out and leading in prayer doesn’t encapsulate all of praying, but actually a small part of it. Jesus argued for private praying above public.
    2) That he was confused about God’s inclusion of women being given spiritual gifts.
    Counter: There was no confusion. Women exercised their gifts, but there are no examples of vocal gifts in assembly and I Cor. 14 appears to argue against this as well.
    3) That the spiritual gifts were to be used only by men in a gathering.
    Even men were told to be silent in I Cor.14 if they didn’t have an interpreter so men are not excluded from this within the assembly.

  7. Dwight says:

    4) That women would be forbidden to sing as he refers to singing as teaching and admonishing one another.
    counter: Singing isn’t included within the context of I Cor. 14 where people were speaking over other people.
    5) That Priscilla was out of line in her teaching alongside her husband.
    counter: Prisiclla wasn’t speaking publically within the assembly, which is the the context.

    What we do is focus on one point and forget the surrounding context that it was spoken in.
    The question is if Paul isn’t talking about some application, then what in the world is he saying and shooting for when putting forth something that can be applied?

  8. John F says:

    Jay: “Bunk! Bunk!

    This may be the most cogent part of the post. 🙂

    If Paul’s clear statement is not be be understand affirmatively . . . . silent . . . shame to speak, is there ANY statement we may not reverse if it is our “greater theological desire’ to do so?

    I am so tired of hearing Gal 3:28 ripped out of context. There Paul addresses equality of access to salvation — not behavior in the household of God as he does here to the Corinthian church. Context when it suits; proof text when we want. My spirit is saddened

  9. John F says:

    I guess I should have pointed out that Jay was quoting Johnson chiastic understanding. I do not want to misquote.

  10. Dwight says:

    Yes, What I find is an uneven hand in dealing with scriptures, where we apply one thing here, but don’t feel something else overhere is worth the same level of application, sometimes even when they are right next to each other. If it the contention to argue that silence is not applicable, due to I Cor.7, then why just pick on I Cor. 14, why not everything inbetween as not being applicable. We are going to allow prophecy, even when we were told it would end, but not allow silence for women in assembly even though there is no indication of ending? I guess “love” is now suspect?
    This is called pick and choose and not just reading the scriptures as it is written.
    Man, I must be out of the loop. I have never heard Gal.3:28 used to call for behavior in the household of God, but only unity in Christ despite our differences.

  11. Alan says:

    Price missed the point when he said:
    >> It was Tertullian that promoted the concept that custom
    >> without truth was just time honored error… He also
    >> advocated for celibacy and was the first to refer to the
    >> “church” as the building instead of the assembly. Good
    >> man and yet very human and fallible.

    I did not refer to Tertullian for doctrinal interpretation Rather, I referenced him for his knowledge of ancient Greek. There is no one commenting on this thread, nor any modern writer of any description, who knows ancient Greek better than Tertullian. And it’s pretty clear what he thought the language in this passage meant.

    Price also blithely commented:
    >> Jay, it seems that there are two major objections to reviewing this topic.
    >> One is that people believe that is a Pro-Woman agenda..
    >> The other is that is a violation of long held scriptural integrity..
    >> It seems Tertulliam may have been correct in his observance
    >> that our customs and traditions often take on paramount authority..

    Yes you will find it easier to argue against your chosen straw man than against the actual issue.
    The real issue is that we have no sound basis for concluding that Paul did not write these words. And that ancient native-speaking Greeks understood it to mean that Paul was forbidding the women to speak in the assembly.

    There are two arguments from the other side in this thread. One is a claim that Paul didn’t really write these words. The other is that when he wrote them he didn’t really mean to forbid women from speaking in the assembly. There are those here who seem equally comfortable defending either position, even though they are mutually exclusive. It just appears that people are willing to settle for any argument that leads to their desired conclusion, regardless of what is actually true.

    I for one have not argued for or against a “pro-woman” agenda, whatever that is. And I have not referenced customs and traditions to make any arguments. It’s all about the text.

    The discussion would be more constructive if there were more effort to understand the other side.

  12. John F says:

    Payne: Although Paul quotes and opposes slogans of his opponents repeatedly in 1 Corinthians, all the others are brief slogans. None is nearly this long, nor does any include a theological defense (“as even the law says”) or explication (verse 35). It seems implausible to me that the entirety of 14:34-35 was an identifiable slogan of Paul’s opponents. It is just too long to be a slogan.. . . . . .

    Payne: Without verses 34-35 in the text, however, it is doubtful that verses 36-38 could be plausibly attributed to such a particular false prophecy since they fit so well as a general repudiation of the sorts of disorder in worship addressed in verses 29-32, summed up in the climax of Paul’s chiastic structure in verse 33. Correspondingly, if Paul originally wrote 14:26-33 immediately followed by 36-40, it is only natural to view what he originally intended verses 36-40 to convey his general disapproval of disorder in the Corinthians worship. The view that verses 36-38 is Paul’s repudiation of a specific false prophecy is inherently speculative since nothing in the text identifies it as a quotation.

    john: So if we cannot throw out the passage on textual grounds, we are required to find another way around to avoid SILENCE and SHAME — do the meanings of silence and shame come under attack next? After all, ‘it depends on what the meaning of is, is”

  13. John F says:

    Dwight, do a quick Google on Gal 3:28 — it is the new “Magna Carta” of equality in religion. Just one quote here:

    The late Dr. Gerhard Hasel stated that “it is alleged by pro ordinationists that if Gal. 3:28 is taken at face value, the whole question concerning the role of women is settled.” He went on to say, “Gal. 3:28 seems to have been turned into the one and only proof text for the ordination of women!” Finally, he noted, “there is unanimity of opinion that the passage of Gal. 3:28 . . . presents the locus classicus of all Biblical texts for those who believe that, ultimately, Scripture does not discriminate between male and female and that it is therefore wrong for the Church to perpetuate such discrimination in its ordination practice” (Biblical Authority and Women, 19).

  14. John F says:

    Dwight: “It just appears that people are willing to settle for any argument that leads to their desired conclusion, regardless of what is actually true.”

    Reminds one of the preacher /debater who had in his notes: “Weak point, speak loader!”

    We sometimes see unsupported statements of “fact” as conclusions. Be careful when generalities a proposed as conclusions. Another method is to “Frame the discussion / debate in such a way as to only consider the thoughts that “seem to support” the desired outcome. Has there every been a defense attorney who did not want certain evidence to be excluded? (Sorry Jay, no personal reference intended [you practice corporate law, I think]) On the whole, I think jay tries to present a fair discussion.

  15. Jay Guin says:

    John F asks,

    Do you suggest that we must understand chiastic construction to interpret scripture?

    Let’s see: Should one understand First Century rhetorical structures to best understand First Century rhetoric? Seems obvious.

  16. Jay Guin says:

    John F states,

    I don’t mind being “stuck” with scripture’s clear wordings.

    This is a purely subjective standard. Many would consider Gal 3:28 very clear indeed regarding the role of women. Those who disagree will mount an elaborate argument about inheritance rights under the Torah, declaring this is really what Paul is addressing (for example, Cottrell’s book on the role of women). In fact, both sides have no lack of “clear” authority and of elaborate argument. “Clear to me” means nothing but “my opinion is right.” Both sides see themselves to be clearly right. Hence, the claim of clarity is meaningless.

    Rather, the far, far better test is whether a proposed interpretation fits into the larger scriptural principles — the grand narrative of the entirety of scripture, the chesed/grace of God, salvation by faith, the atonement, the work of the Spirit promised in Deut, Jer, Isa, Eze, Joel, etc and fulfilled in the church, etc. And it’s really hard to find a justification for silencing women in these great, overarching doctrines. It’s easy to find reason to respect women as co-equal creations of God and as expected to use their Spirit-given gifts in furtherance of the Kingdom.

    So I personally seek clarity in reading this Bible through the lens of the overarching doctrines — the ones that flow throughout the pages, chapters, books, and testaments. So I’m all for clarity, but not clarity separated from the context of the entirety of the holy text.

  17. Alan says:

    Jay wrote:
    >> Let’s see: Should one understand First Century rhetorical structures
    >> to best understand First Century rhetoric? Seems obvious.

    If what you’re describing is truly the correct way to understand First Century rhetorical structures, then you should be able to point to ancient sources that interpret 1 Cor 14:34 the way your theory would. ISo where are your ancient sources? Show me evidence that these theories are not of modern origin.

    I’ve pointed to three ancient sources that support the traditional interpretation. Its your turn.

  18. Price says:

    That one’s easy Alan.. Phoebe, Priscilla, and women singing.. they all predate Tertullian.. Deacon, Teacher/church organizer and all women were encouraged to sing which is hardly silent… Of course there is also Junia who seems to be fully engaged WITH the Apostles…and Phillip’s daughters which prophesied, presumably within ear shot of others who would be able to judge the accuracy of their words… The only reasoning that one seems to present for why none of this actually matters is because it’s not within the walls of some building. However, although tertullian may have been the first to start referring to the actual building as “the church” we all know that was a mistake.. the “church” is the members regardless of whether or not they are on the front lawn on in the living room.

    The westernized concept of “church” distorts considerably what was going on in the first century…
    The assemblies were often in people’s homes.. obviously limiting the size of those gatherings to a very limited number.. One of the “churches” was in Priscilla’s house. Is it logical to assume that if she corrects Apollos that she likely gave instruction in her own home ? Surely.. There is also Euodia and Syntych who Paul urged to “agree in the Lord.” Did he tell them to be silent or to agree? How would anyone know what they thought if they were silent..?? They seemed to be ardent supporters of the church and very outspoken. Oh, but again, was it inside a building.. don’t know.. doesn’t say.. .doesn’t matter.. The church, contrary to tertullian isn’t a building.. There are plenty of examples in both old and new covenants where God chose the women to serve and to speak his very words.. As Jay indicated.. there is a full cloth fabric made from an understanding from scripture that God does use women in leadership, as prophets, deacons, and teachers.. Hardly the silent type..

  19. Dwight says:

    The problem with Gal.3:28 is that it doesn’t say anymore than it says. In the scriptures we are told, “the Jews first, then the gentiles”, but this doesn’t mean that the gentiles had the history of the Jews or that the Jews were better than the gentiles, it simply gives the order of transmission of the gospel.
    The context of Gal.3:28 is seen in vs.26-27 “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” and vs.29 “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” So the context argues for all belonging to Christ, but elsewhere in the NT scriptures there is an argument for differing gifts, but I guess if we are to take vs.28 to be equality in all things, then all should have the same gifts and men and women should have all of the same roles. But the context only speaks to equality in salvation and doesn’t extend beyond that “all children of God”.
    We cannot and should not isolate scripture from immediate context and go searching for other context that isn’t directly related to it.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    First, let me thank you for introducing the eta argument into the discussion. I was not aware of it until Price mentioned it. And I’d entirely missed the fact that the KJV honors the argument —

    (1Co 14:36 KJV) What? [eta] came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

    (1Co 6:19 KJV) What? [eta] know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

    (1Co 6:16 KJV) What? [eta] know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

    Interestingly the more recent translations seem to have uniformly preferred “or.” I wonder what happened in Greek studies to shift the translators’ opinions? In fact, in each example in 1 Cor of the eta construction I gave this morning, you can substitute “What?” for “Or” and get good, even better, sense. Paul plainly uses the eta to mark a false choice between a good and a bad alternative — and the bad alternative always deserves at least a “What?”

    The double eta construction in 14:36 is surely intended to be more emphatic.

    On the other hand, I don’t buy the argument that “Law” in 14:34 is local law because Paul routinely uses “law” to mean Torah throughout his writings, and in very parallel ways in 1 Cor — 9:9-10; 9:20; 14:21; and 15:56. That’s every use of nomos in 1 Cor. All seem to plainly reference Torah. Hence, if it’s Paul speaking in those verses, I take him to be speaking of Gen 2 (future post).

    The dialogue argument is true in principle. No one disputes that there are several passages in which Paul quotes the Corinthian position — with no indication of when the quote begins in the Greek. (Translators add quotation marks based on their own exegesis.) The general rule is that it’s from the church, not Paul, when it’s contradictory to Paul’s position stated in the immediate context (it would seem to me). And there is a strong case for just such a contradiction in these verses. And Pappiott’s work is surely helpful to your thesis.

    My earlier argument is that Paul speaks in gender neutral terms in the preceding chapters, making his reference to silencing women something of a shock to those who read Greek and who don’t come to the text with a hierarchical bias. If that’s right — and I’ve not yet seen a refutation — then that passage may well be a quotation from the Corinthian congregation.

    I have to say that my own inclination (but I’m still thinking all this through) is to conclude that Paul is speaking to a temporary cultural issue, evidenced by his reference to “shame” in an honor/shame culture and the emphasis he places on wives speaking to their “own” husbands (NASB correctly translates the Greek idios). It’s about not speaking to another woman’s husband — which is entirely concordant with First Century cultural attitudes. But it’s entirely possible that the Corinthians were the ones worried about shame and a woman’s own husband.

    I regret that my health won’t let me travel to Pepperdine this year (double fusion back surgery scheduled for end of May). I’d love to hear your presentation. I’ll certainly order the recording.

  21. Alan says:

    No, Price. You’re dodging the question. Show me a single ancient example where someone commenting on 1 Cor 14:34 interpreted it the way it is described in Jay’s blog post above. This is a question about language, not about church practices. If you can’t show that “the rhetorical ēta” was used and understood as described here by ancient Greek speakers, then you have to look elsewhere for justification for your practice of women speaking in the assembly.

  22. Price says:

    Alan, are you honestly suggesting that an “ancient example” is more binding than an example recorded by a divinely inspired author ? Surely not.. Why do I need confirmation from fallible people to confirm infallible examples in scripture ? I’ll stick with the examples in my Bible.. You do what you wish.

  23. Alan says:

    Price, you’re talking about women speaking in the church. I’m talking about the rhetorical ēta. If you don’t want to discuss that, it’s fine with me.

  24. Price says:

    Alan. You’re talking about women being silent when gathered together. I’ve listed examples of women who were anything but silent. Eta is consistent with the scriptural narrative of the involvement of women since Miriam. Demanding that women be silent isn’t.

  25. Jay Guin says:


    You quite right that Tertullian enforces a very conservative interpretation of these verses, but he is the earliest to do so and only a Third Century writer.

    The hypothesis that that these verses were not in Paul’s original letter helps to explain why none of the Apostolic Fathers—Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Polycrates—or Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Shepherd of Hermas, the Gnostic Gospels or second century pseudepigraphae, Tatian, or Clement of Alexandria or Hippolytus ever make reference to them. Clement of Alexandria has it in his head that both men and women should “embrace silence” at church, but extols Miriam as Moses’ associate in commanding the host of Israel as a prophetess, which together implies his text of I Cor 14 did not have vv. 34-35. Tertullian (Bap. 15.17) [early 3rd century], then, is our first Christian writer to clearly show his awareness, not to mention wholeheartedly acceptance of, this pseudo-Pauline policy of feminine silence.


    So it seems that the Tertullian argument actually cuts the other way. I mean, the entirety of the Apostolic Fathers have no knowledge of this text.

  26. Alan says:

    Price, I know I’m not going to persuade you to change your mind about women speaking in church.

    I’m still waiting for anyone else who can supply an ancient example of someone interpreting 1 Cor 14:34 as described in this post. I don’t expect anyone will find such an example. But I’ll make it easier. Can anyone find even one example more than 100 years old, where the writer thought Paul was saying it is OK for women to speak in the assembly? Just one example?

  27. Alan says:

    All of the existing references to 1 Cor 14 from the ANF support the traditional interpretation. The earliest of those were from native Greek speakers. Note that the Latin Vulgate also supports the traditional reading. In the face of all that evidence, I think you have to reject the theories about a rhetorical ēta.

    You are still left with debates about whether Paul wrote these verses, and if so whether they were meant to apply generally or only specifically in Corinth, and whether they were meant to pass away over time. You can also discuss whether they apply to praying, to singing, etc… and whether they apply only in the Sunday assembly or in every gathering. And I’m sure there are other areas that could be debated despite the ANF evidence. But I think the evidence is conclusive about the rhetorical ēta as applied to 1 Cor 14:34. Absent ancient evidence, it is simply a modern invention.

  28. Price says:

    How soon were Paul’s letters readily available in print for distribution ?

  29. Monty says:

    Paul said, As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. How were they to “remain” silent? Doesn’t that mean that they were already being silent(in all the congregations)and that they were to continue to stay that way? They were not allowed to speak. We can debate what that means exactly but not the fact that they were not allowed to speak. Not sure how much more clearer Paul could have made it. Sometimes we just want what we want, it would seem.

  30. John F says:

    John F asks,

    Do you suggest that we must understand chiastic construction to interpret scripture?

    Jay responds: Let’s see: Should one understand First Century rhetorical structures to best understand First Century rhetoric? Seems obvious.

    Lest I be misunderstood; my point is that we as Christians “should not” be expected to be linguistic experts to understand the Bible’s clearer language. Do I have to understand 1st C rhetoric to be a Christian? Should we be required to have “teachers in the law (scholars)” lay a burden of understanding contrary to a declarative statement that the “ignorant multitude” have apparently misunderstood for centuries?

    Chiasms are understood by a low percentage of believers. Not matter how many pages and words of “possible” considerations made — the simply stated words of Paul are still SILENCE and SHAME, then “if you think your are spiritual; acknowledge that these words are of the Lord.

    The “grand narrative of the Bible”‘ demonstrates male spiritual leadership is normative. Jesus could have chosen six men and six women as apostles IF He had wanted to made a statement about gender responsibilities. An exception does not make the rule.

  31. John F says:

    Jay: “So it seems that the Tertullian argument actually cuts the other way. I mean, the entirety of the Apostolic Fathers have no knowledge of this text.”

    Quite an assumption from silence. There is NO DOUBT the verses are authentic (review above) whether in place (the best evidence) or at the end of the chapter. Perhaps the ANF were silent because there was no doubt or dispute on the meaning — no problem = no discussion.

    Surely this assumption from silence has as much or more merit (in view of textual evidence) than jay’s comment.

    Don’t worry Jay, I will still love you. Wish you well on your surgery

    Monty, it would seem the when the word is in the way, reword the word — eta or chiasm or another means. We just want what we want.

    Have to be careful here or I’ll become sarcastic. Maybe sarcasm would be okay if it was in the form of chiasm that “appeared” to be a platitude?

  32. Price says:

    Early Church Father quotes….

    Tertullian: “The curse God pronounced on your sex still weighs on the world. …You are the devil’s gateway…. You are the first that deserted the divine laws. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because you deserved death, it was the son of God who had to die”.

    St. Jerome: “woman is the root of all evil.”

    John Chrysostom: “were great characters, great women and admirable…. Yet did they in no case outstrip the men, but occupied the second rank”

    Augustine: “Why was woman created at all”.

    Then, there’s God… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [Gal 3:28 ESV]

    Seems these men of honor and distinction in the early church were also fallible…. It is interesting to see what they did.. but their example is no more binding to all men that what Jay does…who would force us all to root for Alabama…

    To whom does Paul direct this admonition ? To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [1Co 12:7 ESV]. Each man only ? Everybody who has a gift given them by God ?.. I don’t see a limitation to men only in the text much less in the foretelling of the coming new covenant nor in the examples given us to confirm.. What is the purpose of the gift : THE COMMON GOOD.. Like how can it be for everybody in the assembly if it can’t be expressed verbally…

  33. Alabama John says:

    I guarantee women had a say in the church back then.
    Don’t have to have scripture, just know women.

  34. Dwight says:

    AJ. I think you make a good point. Just because Paul says “women remain silent” in the assembly, doesn’t mean they did have a voice and couldn’t speak outside the assembly, as noted may prophesied and taught outside of the assembly. We want all or nothing and do not recognize that as saints we are all saved, but as people we are given different gifts and different roles.
    If we are arguing from Price’s direction, then women are not supposed to be submissive to thier husbands even in the household, because they are both saints.
    Price is right that many of the early church “fathers” were anti-women and some have even supposed this of Paul, but Paul never condemns women (or men), but suggest through the HS differing roles.
    Monty, makes a good point “remain or keep silent” which is what Paul is arguing for, so he isn’t instituting a new thing, but enforcing something already being done that should be done. .

  35. Alabama John says:

    Dwight, this is not new, been this way from the beginning. Remember GOD made woman (Eve) and her tongue. Men wrote scripture. Both men and women are judged by her use of it and how men react to it.
    Given a choice, I’ll go with God’s creation acting over all the scripture and Greek writings you can muster.

  36. Dwight says:

    AJ, God made men and women and cursed them both, differently, but both cursed. Scripture says that through man, Adam, sin came, so Eve is kind of left out in being responsible for sin, but then again through another man, Jesus, salvation came, so man gets the blame and the kudos. In the end it is the faithful that gain God, but we must do what we can within our roles here. Unfortunately we don’t laud women as much as we should, but then again we don’t empower them to teach others, be helpful, etc., but then again we don’t empower the men to do these things other than on Sunday and Wednesday. My point is that our life and responsibility is much bigger than our time in assembly which usually takes about three hours out of our week. And here we have people arguing about what a woman can do at assembly, when assembly is a small sampling of a saints life. We will not be judged by what we do in assembly, but what we do in life.

  37. Randy Elliott says:

    Dwight, I agree that there are some more important things to do in life than argue about what women can or cannot do in an assembly.

    Just to clarify, I have made zero arguments about what women can or cannot do in an assembly. Nor do I intend to. My only goal is to bring clarity to the message of 1 Corinthians.

  38. Randy Elliott says:

    BTW, God cursed neither the man or the woman. He cursed the land and the serpent.

  39. Larry Cheek says:

    As I listen to the references to an assembly and what may or may not have happened as Christians met in the early years of the church, I have a problem visualizing a order of conduct, a standard routine, or even a suggested unpublished traditional routine for an assembly in the setting of a home. I believe that there were children as well as adults in this gathering, it is easy for us to think in terms of an adult study, rather than, well more like a family gathering. Which normally does not abide by a set of guidelines like a ritual. Can anyone believe that one home meeting place in the early church would have criticized (possibly to the extent of suggesting those to a lost condition) another assembly in another home as not properly conducting a routine ritual while worshiping God? We have been church building-ized to the extent that we cannot even recognize the church.

  40. Price says:

    Larry, I believe you are correct. Many have turned the building into some kind of Temple environment and then establishing new requirements from selected texts while ignoring others Not sure why we can’t be 21at century Christians

  41. Alabama John says:

    Dwight, the last two sentences are still ringing in my head.

    If only others would think as your posted in two simple, easy to understand sentences.

    I believe God will look more favorably on those that do as you stated (Mother Teresa) than those that can explain and argue back and forth over Greek (eis) or the like.

    Many good Christians I have known couldn’t even read or write and those that could never got above the 6th grade since that was when they became 16 and could lawfully quit school and go to work in the mines. They sure could and did DO many good christian things for others though.

  42. laymond says:

    AJ you are right as rain, when you say you don’t have to know Greek to do good.

  43. John F, Dwight, and Price-discussions about whether women can use speaking gifts in the assembly is not the most important discussion, but with all due respect, as the only woman commenting here-a woman who loves the church of her heritage, gifted with speaking gifts and completing her Mdiv from Asbury Theological Seminary, studying under Keener and Ben Witherington, with a degree and experience in education- my walk with Christ with my church family is deeply affected by this issue, as it is for many other women.I don’t mention that to be boastful, but to bring the human element into our exegesis-this is a real struggle for many real women. It is only a handful of hours in the week, but they should be the hours that fortify us and prepare us for our ministries outside the assembly. I agree that Gal 3:28 should not be used as a proof text for the egalitarian stance, as it is about salvation being open to all, and the inheritance. But for women like me, to say someone is a full heir according to Gal 3:28 (or even Col 3:12-that I am a part of the chosen, holy, and beloved), but then say, “But that doesn’t mean you have the same Spirit, or the gifts the Spirit gave you are being misinterpreted, or as a woman you must not live as a full heir here when we are all together, or we will publicly acknowledge and bless and nurture the gifts of the males in our sacred assembly time together, but not yours-you need to nurture those on your own outside of the assembly”…or whatever else we say to disjoint one’s being in Christ and the outpouring of that through doing for the body…is extremely unsettling, confusing, and reeks of ‘separate, but equal.’ Usually, it leaves women with speaking or leadership gifts believing that the Body part God gave them for mutual edification is not needed-and the context of Paul’s Body part passages is for the assembled people- which can easily make one question whether she has a place in the Body at all. So as long as our young women (or older ones like me) are asking, “What do I did with gifts I have that I long to use for the edification of the Body?” this is an important conversation. We are half of the church, after all. 😉

    We should never base doctrine of personal experience though, which is why I so value this discussion. It is thorough, quality exegesis. As for Tertuliian, yes, as another pointed out, he also called women, “The devil’s gateway”. Similar sexist statements are all throughout the church fathers, who also brought us the doctrine of the Trinity and many other wonderful things. Tertullian, like the others, like us, approached the text with his own bias and culture, and this bias inevitably affects what we see and how we interpret, regardless of how alert we are to eisegesis. I think it wise to put the weight of this discussion in the Scriptures, and acknowledge that everything for salvation is quite clear and does not require knowledge of rhetoric and chiastic structures, interpolations and gendered Greek pronouns. But some matters do.

    John F, you said, “The “grand narrative of the Bible”‘ demonstrates male spiritual leadership is normative. Jesus could have chosen six men and six women as apostles IF He had wanted to made a statement about gender responsibilities. An exception does not make the rule.” I think this is confusing the grand narrative of Scripture being God-ordained male leadership with the entirety of the Biblical writings and events taking place in patriarchal cultures. We should be careful not to canonize patriarchy, or any other Biblical culture, like honor and shame based societies or commercial trade over commercialism…. From that perspective, the exceptions about women in leadership can make the rule because they illuminate a trajectory of change that Jesus or Paul (even YHWH int he OT) is putting into place in the midst of a patriarchal culture. Following the trajectory, rather than the patriarchy, now in modern egalitarian culture, the expectation would be for the church to be much further along in God’s plan of reconciliation. This is where Gal 3:28 can come into consideration-as the goal of our trajectory. Blessings, Gentleman. Thank you for handling this topic respectfully and intelligently. Jay-your blog is always a pleasure to peruse. 🙂

  44. Dwight says:

    Tiffany, It is as Larry suggest. Assembly was not the scheduled, go by the book monster that it is today. When Paul wrote to the churches in Corinth, he addressed it to the saints in general in the cities and not the assemblies as the assemblies were people that met in their homes. They were personal affairs. Sometimes many saints would gather together, but this was not the norm. Even In I Cor.14 Paul states, “If the whole church come together…”, proper translation, “IF the whole congregation come together…”. This was an IF statement and Paul is making the point of many people who might gather together to use thier spiritual gifts. I Tim.2 does also make a similar point within the realm of teaching in the teaching scenario. Also, the scripture argues that people have different gifts and different roles even though they are all spiritual heirs. In fact I cor.12 argues against people trying to have the same gifts or to think less of others who have different gifts. Most all of us don’t utilize the gifts we have to the edification of the body and towards the kingdom of God, but somehow the focus is on the assembly, which is 2-4 hours out of the week..

  45. Dwight-I agree-the ‘assembly’ under discussion now is so removed from the original that orthopraxy about it is quite complicated. And I also agree wholeheartedly that Paul argues against people vying for the same gift, but rather encourages not only the greatest gift, but the diverse use of gifts that the Spirit has distributed. He (and Peter) also makes clear that one should use the gift he or she has been given. The discussion very often lands here-does the Spirit distribute along gender lines, and if not, what are women to do with the speaking and leading gifts they have been given in the ‘assembly’ as we have it now. All in love,

  46. Price says:

    Tiffany, I agree.. It makes no sense whatsoever that God would give spiritual gifts and natural talents to women and then them them to hush and not use them… And in light of the examples we’ve been given it’s clear that they did in fact use them to exhort, edify and encourage.

  47. need4news says:

    I thought God inspired the Bible but didn’t write it. Paul and his cultural biases are writing this.

    All of this (to this dummy seems) to be debating our ability to get it (all) right in order to make the Angry God hold off on the lightning bolts.

    If Jay’s overarching point about God covering/overlooking our errors (such as ‘wrong’ baptisms) is true, He will cover the ‘error’ of women praying public prayers with glad and humble hearts.

  48. Dwight says:

    Tiffany and Price, I have never argued against using our gifts to our fullest the body of Christ, but we are the body and yet when the body was in assembly gifts were limited. Even the men were told to keep silent if they had no one to interpret. This scripture only seems to be limited to an assembly by context. We have put many things in motion that have no representation in the scriptures and yet we try to argue from that direction. We need to understand that all things aren’t equal, not all people have the same gifts or the same roles or the same responsibilities, but we also need to remember that many of the responsiblities or duties today did not exist back then. They didn’t have paid for building in which paid for preachers set up shop and spoke every Sunday. The elders oversaw not an assembly, but the city. The people spread the gospel not in assembly, but in talking to others. The assembly wasn’t the focus of the saint and their actions, Christ was. To argue, “Why can’t my gender practice these particular gifts here?”, is like Naaman arguing that he should have been able to be dipped in better water, but God has reasons.

  49. Price says:

    Dwight, I know you love the Lord.. I don’t have a problem with you personally at all.. I’m glad we can interact… but that makes no sense whatsoever… To suggest that the gifts were limited is wrong.. All Paul said was that if no one was available to interpret then they should withhold speaking in tongues. How often was that ? Pure speculation. All the other gifts seem to have been quite active.

    The purpose of the gifts was to exhort, edify and encourage the body.. You’re suggesting that when they came together to be exhorted, edified and encouraged that the gifts given to women were restrained. There is nothing whatsoever in the text that remotely suggests that.. Furthermore, how many defines an assembly ? Can a woman use her gifts only in isolation? Of course not. What if there were 3 people and one was a man.. Is she to remain silent ? I’m sorry but that makes no sense whatsoever.. It seems you’ve just made up your mind and you’re gonna stick to the idea that women can’t speak…unless they sing.. or if they assemble to study and not do all 5 acts of worship…?? wow.. One can only imagine Priscilla being asked to be quiet in the church that gathered in her own home…We just have to disagree on this brother..

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