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Andy Borgmann
UBBL341 - Thessalonian & Corinthian Epistles
Dr. Ken Waters
December 3, 2002
Exegesis: 1Corinthians 14:33b-35
Is Paul a chauvinist? Of Paul's many statements made in his epistle writing, there are few that draw as much attention and as much emotion as his writings on women. The mere mention today of gender roles in the church and family causes for an almost instantaneous association with a particular viewpoint. With this bias, is there anyway to look at a passage like 1Corinthians 14:33b-35 objectively. How can one reconcile a man who writes of woman doing ministry, of woman praying and prophesying in church, and then makes bold statements that imply that it is shameful for woman to speak in church. On top of that, assuming one can figure out the context in which Paul was making these statements, how then does one relate it universally to all churches, of all times. The best way to take a passage like 1Corinthians 14:33b-35 is to understand that Paul is writing to convey a message of orderly conduct while in worship serve, while, in connection with other writing, establishing some gender roles by appealing to creation.
The question of authorship is usually left until later on in an exegetical report. However, the authorship of this passage is such an immensely important topic, it is best for one to clear up any misconceptions before proceeding. Many scholars today see this passage as one that is added later by an editor, or another writer. This "interpolation theory" points to the fact that some ancient manuscripts place these verses not in this location, but later on at the end of the passage. Others appeal to the text being interpolated because it seems to directly contradict what Paul had said only three chapters earlier in 1Cor. 11.[1] So in turn there seems to be three theories that derive from this conflict: (1) Paul actually wrote what was there, (2) Paul did in fact address this situation, but wrote it to a limited sense, or (3) Paul did not write this passage.[2] The problem with the interpolated text theory is that despite claims to earlier manuscripts, there is not much evidence in the Greek to support the idea that these verses were added to the text.[3] In addition to that, L. Ann Jervis adds three reasons why she feels there cannot be a gloss added to Paul's original writing:
(1) there is no precedent in the Pauline letters that I know of for a gloss intended to contradict directly Paul's own view; (2) there is precedent for Paul adding words late in the processes of composing a letter and for this resulting in a variety of textual traditions, and (3) the passage appears in every extant manuscript, which should caution us against too readily adopting an interpolation hypothesis.[4]
It seems that the overwhelming evidence points to a non-interpolated theory, and therefore should be understood to be Pauline. Given this, instead of looking for excuses out of the somewhat contradicting text of 1Cor. 11 and 1Cor. 14, one should attempt to find the value in both passages and how they relate to each other.
This paper should not go further to make a very important point: hypothetically, even if the scripture was not officially Pauline, and it came from a Pauline tradition, this should not effect the message it contains. If official authorship becomes a vital litmus test for scriptural authority, scholars have a much bigger task on there hands than just deciphering gender roles. If one decides that Pauline authority is a must for this passage to be true, there are much bigger questions of canonicity that must be answered. While it is my position that Paul wrote this text himself, it does not seem relevant to me to use authorship to decide the value of the scripture.
When it comes to labeling a genre to this short passage, one is obliged to ignore all tendencies to interact with the issue of gender roles and must honestly see this passage (with out references to others) solely deals with instruction of orderly worship. Although many claims can be made in relation to what Paul is saying about men and women in the passage, the reader must seen the basic genre in this passage strictly pertaining to worship settings.
The short passage flows nicely from one comment to the next, with the exception of the first line. Although there is some dispute as to which part of the text verse 33b pertains to, there is an initial sense that Paul is talking to all churches (As in all the congregations of the saints.) There is a clear call to attention that there is something universal about what is about to be said. Paul continues by commanding woman not speak in church. The initial command does not seem to reveal a reason, but just simply that they are not allowed to speak. Proceeding from the command, Paul refers vaguely t the Law. It is not clear what passage, or context Paul is appealing to, but it is clear that he does feel justified in saying there is reason in the Law that points to why women should remain quiet. When questions do arise from women, they are informed to wait until they get home to discuss these matters with their husbands. For whatever reason, it appears that the church of Corinth had a problem with woman speaking when they should not have, in which Paul responds stay silent until you get home. If the woman's question was truly that important, she would remember when she arrived back at home and could discuss it in a non-disturbing manner. Paul closes this controversial passage by claiming that it is not only against the rules for woman to speak in church, but that it is actually disgraceful for a woman to speak. It is unclear why he felt he needed to make this point, and to what extent this disgrace is taken. However, something is stressed in this writing that indicates that something was not appropriate thinking that woman could exercise authority in all situations.
There is not much consensus amongst commentators on what is the meaning of the passage. Richard B. Hays concludes that there are five main points that can be taken from this passage: (1) building community is essential, (2) focusing on the message rather than the messenger, (3) having order in church but with out hierarchies, (4) allowing the Spirit to move in the congregation, and (5) conveying the truth to outsiders in the form of evangelism.[5] Hays points to the fact that there is an underlying theme found in this passage that indicates a community worship experience that encourages collaboration from all members. He sees that just because Paul limits the speaking capacity of women, does not mean he limits their involvement with the service.[6] It is services with communal worship experiences and order with out hierarchies in which unbelievers will either radically deny the message put forth in front of them, or accept in with a true understanding of God being among the congregation.[7]
William Barclay sees this passage as one that by no means is attempting to "quench anyone's gift." The simple purpose in communicating this message to the Corinthians is to produce an orderly worship experience in which women are not distracting. It is Barclay interpretation that indicates that the reason Paul was writing this text was because there were a collection of women in the Corinthian church that were purposely exercising their freedom in Christ to speak in church inappropriately. Therefore, they were being reprimanded for rude behavior when others were prophesying. Paul by no means had in mind to limit universally women's ability to speak in churches, but simply wanted to stress the importance of orderly worship services.[8]
Although it may not be popular amongst modern scholarship, it is the opinion of Simon J. Kistemaker that the underlying theme to Paul's passage is to illustrate the importance of gender roles when regarding spiritual matters (i.e. the church and the home). He makes it clear that this passage, along with other Pauline passages, sets the example of male leadership in the home and church, while the wife's job is to assist in support.[9] Although he does not make the distinction himself, from what he continues to write about in regards to this matter indicates that he by no means implies these roles are should be looked at as superior and inferior.[10] The mere truth is that God has created men and women differently, for different reasons, and it is these differences that best complement church and family life.
There are some significant differences found between five contemporary versions of the Bible: NIV, NRSV, NASB, KJV, NKJV. The first, and largest difference is found right way in 33b. According to the NASB, KJV, and NKJV, the statement, "As in all congregations of the saints," should be understood to belong to the previous Pauline passage. In other words, this verse segment should conclude Paul's last passage, as appose to introducing the current passage. Although Bible translators have a tendency to agree with this theory, biblical commentators do not. Richard A. Horsley stresses that when Paul refers to "in all the assemblies," he is making a clear indication that there is some sort of ominous threat to all the churches of the world.[11]
An other interesting development when looking at the different translations is found in the NASB, KJV, and NKJV versions. Here it is made clear by the addition of the word "let" in front of the command to be silent, that any silence taken by women should be there decision. This changes the context slightly, because now this command is more of a command to the men in the congregation indicating that they should not expect women to speak. It is not to say this difference neglects the emphasis later on in the passage indicating that it is shameful for women to speak, however, it may shed light as to the source of the problem with the Corinthian church.
The key literary aspects of this passage deal with the key words used by Paul including silent, speak, and disgraceful. All of these Greek words are translated similarly elsewhere in the Bible, and a word study yields little insight.[12] Literarily, Paul opens the passage by an appeal to all congregations, stressing that what he is saying is suppose to be universal (ironic isn't it that today's scholars attempt to claim that this passage is cultural). He proceeds to conclude his passage by vaguely explaining the inappropriateness of a woman to speak.
The larger literary context of 1Corinthians 14:33b-35 is found in a letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians where he avidly addresses some issues this relatively new congregation is experiencing. Paul had originally wrote to the Corinthian people instructing them to avoid associating with immoral men. Whatever the contents of this letter, many in Corinth were confused and therefore wrote Paul in seeking advice. It is this response that we find our current understandings of 1Corinthians.[13]
As far as the historical setting in which Corinth was placed in, although it was technically a Greek city, it was heavily Romanized.[14] This Roman influence had a great effect on the Corinthian understanding of women's roles inside the home (this of course spills into their mindset in the church). According to Wendy Cotter, women had high value in a family, but it was just meant to spent in the home. According to Corenlius Nepos, no man was "ashamed to take his wife to a dinner party." He later goes on to contrast this mindset with a Greek mindset that indicates a Greek man would be ashamed to take his wife to a dinner party. Obviousley, Roman stressed gender roles in a manner that (at least for that day) did not de-value the women themselves.[15]
The main controversy over a passage like this from Paul is contrasting it to his earlier statement of women prophesying in churches. How can a woman prophesy in church if she cannot speak? This of course leads one to the ultimate questions of what exactly is Paul's opinion of woman in ministry. It seems evident from his other writing that woman were in ministry with him. He named woman often in his writings as companions to his ministry. So is anyone else confused? It is popular in modern scholarship to drop Paul's statements of gender roles simply based on the assumption that he had other woman ministering with him. However, biblically there appears to be a stark difference in the ministry the women partook in, as compared to the men. Take for example Chloe and Prisca. Chloe is evidently a single woman, or has not popular tie to a man. It is unclear if Chloe is even a Christian, but there is something about her following that indicates the "house of Chloe" is a Christian movement. One could conclude that because Chloe has a movement within Christianity, and Paul addresses this, that therefore Paul does not see any value in gender roles in ministry.[16] However, this is not true. Take for example Dr. Laura of 21st century American culture. This woman is a very well known in this culture; she has followers, although sometimes her own faith is called into question. Some Paul figure could easily address the "followers of Dr. Laura" with out necessarily advocating her ministry of equal ministerial roles. The other woman often referred to is Prisca. However, the main point is usually missed with her. Most times Paul mentions her, she is also mentioned with her husband.[17] This indicates to me that Paul is exemplifying a perfect model of ministry. Yes, Prisca had a vital role in that, but it is in the complementary relationship that true ministry is best utilized. This would indicate that although Christianity would become a religion of egalitarianism, although equal did not mean the same. We all are equal in salvation; we are not all equal in our design. Therefore, we must accept the roles in which God has designed for us in our creation.
Paul spoke often on the topic of women in ministry and church (Gal 3:28; 1Co 11:5-15; 14:34-35; Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; 1Ti 2:9-12; 3:11; 5:1-16; Tit 2:3-5). What seems to be stressed in all of these is that there are difference between men and women that cannot be ignored. It is not to say that women need to become men to be saved, as the Gnostics thought. Salvation was universal. He was also not saying that women are subordinate to men in a self-worth relationship. Yes, it is true that he usually attributed more "public" forms of ministry to men, however, that is by no means saying that it has any less worth than the private forms. The key understanding is to know that we all equal in Christ, we are just not the same. It is that difference that makes us all uniquely created for a specific role in God's kingdom, and it is in this role that we find maximum utilization of spiritual and ministry gifts.
The modern day reader most likely will have a lot of problem with this passage if they do not understand the context, and purpose of its writing. Especially in 20th century America, where we are all created equal and all have the same rights. In a country where women have free speech just like men, coming to a passage that illustrates that women may need to be silent and allow the men to talk may come off harsh and chauvinistic. However, this is the reason scholars need to come to a clearer understanding of this passage. It does not help to simply discount this message because it is not popular in American society. Rather, it is better to understand what it meant to the people of Corinth, and then apply the application to our current models of ministry. Frankly, skeptic readers need to realize that there is no way to deny the fact that God creates men and women differently, and it is because of this difference that He has created us to do different things. It is not to say that one is less than the other, but simply, that we handle different responsibilities.
Paul's comments towards women and men and their roles inside church and family will likely continue to spark debates around the world. It is something that Christians need to seek answers to because it deals with the success of ministry and the fulfillment of relationships and families. God simply created us differently, now how do we react to those differences?
Bibliography
Allison, Robert W. "Let Women Be Silent in the Churches (1Cor. 1433b-36): What Did Paul Really Say, and What Did it Mean?" Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (Fall 1988): 27-60.
Barclay, William. The Letters to the Corinthians, rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Cotter, Wendy. "Women's Authority Roles in Paul's Churches: Countercultural or Conventional?" Novum Testamentum 36 (1994): 350-372.
Goodrick, Edward W, John R Kohlenberger III, and James A Swanson. Zondervan NIV Exhaustive e-Concordance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp, 1999. CD-ROM. Available from OakTree Software, Inc, 2000.
Hays, Richard B. First Corinthians Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997.
Horsley, Richard A. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: 1Corinthians. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Jervis, L. Ann. "1Corinthians 14.34-35: A Reconsideration of Paul's Limitation of the Free Speech of Some Corinthian Women." Journal for the Study of the New Testament 58 (1995): 51-74.
Kistemaker, Simon J. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993.
Morris, Leon, ed. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 8, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.


[1] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians Interpretation, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 256.

[2] Robert W. Allison, "Let Women Be Silent in the Churches (1Cor. 14:33b-36): What Did Paul Really Say, and What Did it Mean?," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (Fall 1988): 28.

[3] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 511.

[4] L. Ann Jervis, "1Corinthians 14.34-35: A Reconsideration of Paul's Limitation of the Free Speech of Some Corinthian Women," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 58 (1995): 53.

[5] Richard B. Hays, 249-251.

[6] Richard B. Hays, 249.

[7] Richard B. Hays, 251.

[8] William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), 136.

[9] Simon J. Kistemaker, 513.

[10] Robert W. Allison, 32.

[11] Richard A. Horsley, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: 1Corinthians (Nashville: Abingon Press: 1998), 189.

[12] Edward W. Goodrick, John R. Kohlenberger III, and James A. Swanson, Zondervan NIV Exhuastive e-Concordance, 1999, prepared by OakTree Software, Inc [CD-ROM] (Grand Rapids, MI, 2000).

[13] Leon Morris, ed., The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 8, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, by Colin G. Kruse (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), 20.

[14] Wendy Cotter, "Women's Authority Roles in Paul's Churches: Contercultural or Conventional?," Novum Testamentum 36 (1994): 358.

[15] Wendy Cotter, 362.

[16] Wendy Cotter, 352.

[17] Wendy Cotter, 352.


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