Longtime reader Alan (he’s been commenting almost as long as I’ve been blogging) asked,
Jay, the apostle Paul wrote through inspiration that the Law requires that a woman be in submission. So I accept that as true. [I agree.] It certainly seems likely that he was referring to Jewish law, since he does so often, and since we don’t have examples of him using secular law to prove a point. [I agree.] We don’t know exactly what part of the Law he meant. [I disagree, since only Gen 2 makes sense in context, but Paul could have been clearer.] We don’t know whether it was explicit or an implied requirement. We don’t know whether we possess a copy of the referenced document today or not. [Strongly disagree. The “Law” in Paul’s vocabulary is almost always Torah but occasionally the OT. It’s never a reference to the Oral Law or anything else.]
But the absence of evidence is not evidence. The fact that the inspired apostle said the Law requires it is enough. [I agree.]
Paul was a Pharisee. He knew the Law. [I agree.]
I insert my responses in brackets so readers can easily tell where Alan and I do not agree — since we agree on most of what he said. I responded in the comments (edited and expanded), as follows:
We’re talking past each other. Paul said that the Law requires submission. You are right. I agree. Have never said otherwise.
The question is why submission requires silence in the assembly. And it doesn’t — not per se. It requires submission, as Paul says.
(1Co 14:34 ESV) For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.
The grammar is quite exact. The clause “as the Law also says” modifies the clause “should be in submission.”
I just checked Randy A. Leedy’s BibleWorks New Testament Greek Sentence Diagrams, a feature of the BibleWorks software that diagrams every Greek sentence in the NT.
And it agrees with the translation. Hence, we look to “Law” for submission and easily find it. Not even a little controversial. Gen 2 requires wives to be suitable helpers/complements to their husbands, and so they are not permitted to act in ways that bring shame to their husbands. Hence, the Law requires submission — but in the sense of Gen 2, not in the domineering sense of Gen 3:16.
Paul’s reference to the teaching of “the law” probably has the Genesis creation narratives in mind, with their implications for order and propriety in relationships between men and women (see Thiselton 2000: 1153–54; Bruce 1980: 136; Carson 1987: 129; Keener 1992: 86–87; see also commentary on 1 Cor. 11:2–16 above). Some think that Paul is alluding to Gen. 3:16 and its statement to the woman that her husband will rule over her (cf. 4Q416 2 IV, 1–8). That text, however, deals with a domination resulting from the curse of the fall (though see Grudem [1982: 253–54], who thinks that the source is Gen. 3:16 in conjunction with Gen. 2:18–23).
G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 743.
But why does submission require silence? Paul does not say that the Law requires silence. He says that submission requires silence — it’s a second-level step in his logic. And the reason he gives is in the very next verse: “For it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.” “For” indicates that this is the explanation for what precedes (“gar” in the Greek).
“Shameful” (aischron) is a reference to the views of others in an honor/shame culture. BDAG (the premier NT Greek lexicon) defines “shameful” as —
1. A term esp. significant in honor-shame oriented society; gener. in ref. to that which fails to meet expected moral and cultural standards
In short, the grammar says that Paul is giving a cultural reason for silence in response to a scriptural requirement to be in submission.
The commentaries agree:
He simply says that they should ask their questions of their husbands at home and not disturb the assembly. That would outrage propriety; it would be disgraceful (the same word as in 11:6), which Bultmann understands as ‘ “that which is disgraceful” in the judgment of men’ (TDNT, i, p. 190).
Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 7; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), n.p.
Garland concludes that “Paul’s instructions are conditioned by the social realities of his age and a desire to prevent a serious breach in decorum” and that he “may fear that the Christian community would be ‘mistaken for one of the orgiastic, secret, oriental cults that undermined public order and decency.’” In applying such a text to other contexts and cultures we must be aware of the extent to which Paul and other biblical authors are sensitive to the social norms of proper decorum in the places where they ministered.
Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Pillar NTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), n.p.
The final reason given for their being silent in the assembly is that speaking in church, apparently for the reasons given in v. 34, is “shameful,” in the sense of being inconsistent with accepted standards of modesty.
Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 708.
The Law (Gen 2, in my opinion) requires submission. This requirement is not in dispute. The culture (according to the apostle Paul) tells us how submission plays out — in silence — because that how the people of that age outside the church thought.
The church would be dishonored in an honor/shame culture had they acted otherwise — and that would have hurt the cause of the Gospel. See the excellent Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible for a discussion of honor/shame cultures and how understanding them helps us better understand the Bible. We covered this book in an earlier series.
Here’s an article I found helpful:
SHAME AND HONOR Honor and shame were values that shaped everyday life in biblical times. Honor, the primary measure of social status, was based upon ascribed honor and acquired honor. Inherited or ascribed honor was social standing due to being part of a social unit, principally the family. Those born to rulers and leaders were held in high esteem due to family honor. Jewish preoccupation with genealogies ensured inherited honor was secure. Matthew (Matt. 1:1–17) and Luke (Luke 3:23–38) give genealogies for Jesus that highlight the high status claimed for Him. In Matthew, Jesus’ pedigree is right both as to Jewishness (direct link to Abraham) and His right to be king of the Jews (descended from David). Luke traces Jesus’ lineage through Adam to God, claiming Jesus’ right to be Savior of all of mankind.
Acquired honor was gained through meritorious deeds or public performance. Family social position provided the honor base from which males launched out with hope of increasing family and personal honor. The public forum provided challenges for gaining or losing honor. A challenge might show the superiority of one person or group over another. A challenge could be ignored if not worthy of response due to social distance between the parties, but a true honor challenge required response. The party recognized as winning gained honor and the other lost honor or social standing. For example, when the Pharisees and Herodians observed Jesus to see if He would heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1–6), an honor challenge took place. If Jesus violated Sabbath law, He would lose honor. If He did not heal the man, He also would lose honor. The trap looked perfect. In response to this unethical challenge, Jesus clarified the Sabbath’s intent so He could lawfully heal the man. When the trap failed, they decided to collaborate to destroy Jesus and His rising social status (which came at their expense).
Constant competition in public for honor infected even religion. In both Testaments the tendency to use religion for gaining personal honor based upon a show of piety is denounced. In Matt. 6:1–18 Jesus decried misuse of religious acts (almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) for gaining personal honor.
Shame was not simply the opposite of honor, both positive and negative shame existed. Shame could be handled positively by knowing how to keep matters out of public awareness. For example, a woman could bear shame well by remaining covered in public and by avoiding male dominated arenas. Shame could also designate dishonor or loss of honor. When people claimed an undeserved place of honor, shame resulted (Luke 14:7–11).
Perhaps the most vivid honor/shame text is Phil. 2:5–11. Jesus had unquestionable inherited, ascribed honor; yet He gave it all up and took the most humble of all honor bases (a slave) and died the most shaming of all deaths, crucifixion. However, God gave Him the highest of all honor positions and a name above all names on the honor scale, causing all to bow before Him. The honor code is thus defined by God instead of men.
Women especially bore shame and were expected to do so in a positive manner. Women were also seen as threats to honor. An immoral woman tainted the honor of the entire family, and so women generally were kept away from things tending to dishonorable behavior. The veiling of women related to this concern.
“Shamelessness” described one who refused to abide by honor and shame codes. Such people did not respect social norms nor care about public opinion of their social status. In Luke 18:1–8 the unjust judge is a classic example of a shameless person, one who “didn’t fear God or respect man” (HCSB). In the OT the “fool” is a “shameless” person who likewise neither feared God or respected social wisdom and norms.
Bill Warren, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 2003, 1473–1474.
Unlike guilt, in an honor/shame society, shame is always about how others perceive you. It’s not necessarily about sin. It’s about appearances. The Japanese would speak in terms of “losing face.”
Now notice that this analysis is built entirely on the scriptures and an understanding of the culture of that age found in history. I’ve not once referred to preconceptions or assumptions or the Equal Rights Amendment or Women’s Liberation. Every argument comes straight from the Greek text.
And it’s really quite clear — if you are willing to accept the historicity of the surrounding honor/shame culture and the ill-view of women in the surrounding cultures. And if you disagree with my view of history, then you’re going to struggle explaining why Paul spoke in terms of “shame” in any other kind of culture.