In 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). 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 [sigao] if 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.
 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.