(Unless otherwise stated, all quotations of Scripture are from the New King James Version)
The previous issue of the magazine included the second part of an exposition of 1 Corinthians 14. Footnote 2 to that article read, ‘There have been many attempts to explain the seeming contradiction between Paul’s instructions in 11. 2-16 and in 14. 34, 35. A brief analysis of the main theories will form an appendix to appear in the central pages of the next magazine.’ This is that appendix.
The need for this appendix arises because of the seeming tension between Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11. 5 (‘every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head’), and in 1 Corinthians 14. 34 (‘Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak’).
I do not pretend that this article is exhaustive in terms of
- covering all the possible explanations which have been offered by Bible students,
- doing proper justice to the arguments advanced in support of each explanation, or
- setting out my full critique of each explanation. I have attempted simply to identify the main candidates and to comment briefly on each.
In my view, there are two principal candidates - listed as numbers 9 and 10 below. But before coming to these, we will consider other suggested explanations. Numbers 1 and 2 suggest that Paul was not in fact responsible for the teaching of 14. 34, 35; numbers 3 and 4 regard 11. 5 and 14. 34, 35 as wholly irreconcilable; numbers 5-7 attempt to qualify the silence enjoined in 14. 34, 35; and number 8 regards 14. 34, 35 as relevant to a particular situation in 1st century Corinth and of no direct application today.
1. Paul wasn’t responsible for the teaching of 14. 34, 35 because these verses don’t form part of the original text - they were added by scribes when later copying out Paul’s letter.
Arguments advanced in support.
- Early manuscripts show confusion as to where these verses should be inserted. In several Latin and/or Greek manuscripts and in the writings of two church fathers, the verses are found, not after verse 33, but after verse 40. The verses were created after Paul finished his letter - presumably by a scribe with extreme views on women’s subjection - inserted by that scribe into the margin of the copy he was making and later added in differing places by different scribes.
- The verses interrupt the context - which would read very smoothly if verses 34, 35 are omitted.
- The verses contradict 11. 5.
- It is important to note that every manuscript we possess of the New Testament contains these verses in their entirety - either after verse 33 or after verse 40. Further, the handful of manuscripts which move them from after verse 33 are all of a single text type, the Western - the text type which is notoriously prone to take the greatest liberties with the text. This is extremely weak evidence to set against the host of manuscripts which include the verses after verse 33 - and by far the majority of commentators and editors of the Greek New Testament therefore include them after verse 33 without question. I guess that the Western tradition arose because one scribe (and it would have taken only one) felt that the passage read better if the subjects of tongues, prophecy, and women speaking were all kept entirely separate.
- The verses do not interrupt the flow of the passage. Consistent with the wider context, they set out what is proper and orderly in the meeting of the church; cf. v. 40. Yes, it is true that the passage could be read direct from verse 33 to verse 36 without it being obvious that anything was missing - but this proves nothing. The same could be said of other undisputed sections; for example, 12. 13 and 12. 27 - which would also read smoothly if verses 14-26 are omitted.
- Any imaginary scribe who created and inserted verses 34, 35 in blatant contradiction to teaching which he had found earlier in the very same letter must indeed have been ‘a few pennies short of a pound’.
2. Paul wasn’t responsible for the words in 14. 34, 35 because he was simply quoting them as an opinion of the Corinthians - which he immediately rejects.
Arguments advanced in support.
- It is common for Paul to quote statements and slogans which the Corinthians were advancing to support views which Paul opposes; see ‘all things are lawful for me’, 6. 12; 10. 23; ’foods for the stomach, and the stomach for foods’, 6. 13; ‘we all have knowledge’, 8. 1; together with his explicit quotes,’I am of Paul’, ‘I am of Apollos’, ‘I am of Cephas’, ‘I am of Christ’, 1. 12. This must be the case with 14. 34, 35 because the verses contradict Paul’s known teaching in Gal. 3. 28 and 1 Cor. 11. 4, 5.
- The reference to ‘the law’, v. 34, is not to the Old Testament but to the traditional teaching of the rabbis. The Babylonian Talmud (a compilation of traditional Jewish teaching put together in 6th century AD) makes similar statements about the silence of women, whereas the Old Testament says nothing about it.
- There is no evidence whatever that Paul is here quoting the words of the Corinthians. Verses 34, 35 display none of the features of the brief slogans and statements cited above. For example:
- The longest (in 6. 13) comprises just nine words in the Greek, in contrast to 14. 34, 35 which comprises no less than 36 words; and
- each of the quoted slogans is followed by some clear qualifying or contradictory expression such as ‘but not all things are helpful …but not all things edify’, 10. 23. And I deny that there is any contradiction between 14. 34, 35 and 11. 4, 5 - or Gal. 3. 28.
- On no occasion does Paul use the term ‘law’ to refer to rabbinical teaching. Compare in particular the other occasions when he refers to what’the law says’; i.e., Rom. 3. 19; 7. 7; 1 Cor. 9. 8. It should also be noted that elsewhere in this very letter, Paul cites the teaching of ‘the law’ in the context both of the right of Christian workers to financial support, 9. 8, 9, and of tongue-speaking, 14. 21. Paul doesn’t claim that the law commands the woman to be silent. He cites the law as teaching that women are to be in subjection - in all probability with Genesis 2. 18-25 in mind; cf. 1 Cor. 11. 8, 9; 1 Tim. 2. 12, 13. As far as parallels with the Babylonian Talmud are concerned, it is absurd to assume that Christian teaching must differ in every particular from Jewish belief or teaching. Similarities with Judaism in some points (e.g. that there is one God) do not render Christianity legalistic and Judaistic!
3. The passages are irreconcilable. Yes, Paul was responsible for the teaching of 14. 34, 35, but his instructions there merely represent a human opinion and aren’t authoritative or binding.
Argument advanced in support.
Paul was a converted Pharisee and inevitably carried with him some of his pre-conversion ideas. When he allowed himself to be influenced by his Jewish background, he thought of the woman as subordinate and inferior to the man. But when he followed the prompting of the Spirit and the fresh insights he had gained through the gospel, he knew that the woman was equal to the man in everything. Paul’s own strictly Jewish (and erroneous) opinion crept through in 14. 34, 35.
The real issue here isn’t the interpretation of 1 Cor. 14. 34, 35 - it is that of the inspiration of scripture! We cannot believe the Bible to be inspired and authoritative while accepting that
- any of the teachings of God’s prophets and Christ’s apostles represent only human opinions or
- there are contradictions and errors in the Bible. The Holy Spirit has met this very objection in the immediate context; see v. 37. Either the writings of the apostle Paul are scripture or they are not; cf. 2 Pet. 3. 15, 16.
4. The passages are irreconcilable. On further reflection, Paul felt it necessary to withdraw in chapter 14 the permission he had earlier given in chapter 11.
Argument advanced in support.
Just as the apostle changed his mind about his travel plans, 2 Cor. 1. 15-17, 23; 2. 13, so he had second thoughts about what he had said in 11. 5 - and later retracted it.
I do not accept the suggested comparison with 2 Cor. 1, 2. Nobody denies that the apostles were fallible men; e.g., witness Peter’s bad error of judgement at Antioch, Gal. 2. 11-13. That Paul had on occasions to amend his plans in the light of later developments (e.g., the poor spiritual condition of the church at Corinth) is hardly surprising. This isn’t the point. The question is whether or not the writings of Christ’s apostles are inspired. For my part the suggestion that Paul sent two contradictory messages in the same letter because of ‘further reflection’ amounts to a gross insult to the Holy Spirit and is wholly irreconcilable with the divine inspiration of Paul’s epistles. See under number 3 above.
5. The teaching of 14. 34, 35 is restricted to women (a) gossiping or chattering, (b) asking questions, or (c) propagating doctrinal error during the meetings of the church.
Arguments advanced in support.
- The abridged edition of Liddell and Scott’s ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ lists the meaning of the word translated ‘speak’ in 14. 34, 35 as ‘to prate, chatter, babble: of birds, to twitter, chirp … but also, generally, to talk, talk of’. Paul had heard that feminine chatter was disrupting the meetings of the church and therefore took steps to put a stop to it. As in the Jewish synagogue, the women sat in different sections of the room to the men - and weren’t paying attention to what was being said but gossiping among themselves.
- Paul’s words, ‘let them ask their own menfolk at home’, v. 35 lit., suggest that women were interrupting the meetings of the church by asking questions.
- Some women were propounding fresh revelations and teachings at variance with known apostolic truth.
- Each of these suggestions is entirely speculative - building on a totally hypothetical background for the reason why Paul requires the silence of the women - in effect putting words into Paul’s mouth which are not there and ignoring the words that are. Paul makes his appeal to the teaching of ‘the law’ that women are to be in subjection. That is, his teaching rests foursquare on a principle of scripture - which is of permanent validity,
- Paul further indicates in verses 33 and 36 that for women to speak at Corinth was a deviation from the practice of all other churches. Note that Paul says, ‘let … women keep silence in the churches’ not ‘let… women keep silence in the church (at Corinth)’. I have no problem understanding this reference to the (plural) ‘churches’ if Paul is requiring the silence of women, as opposed to oral participation by way of speaking in tongues or prophesying - Paul would no doubt be aware of many other churches where such gifts were in operation. But I can’t accept that Paul could have been requiring the silence of women who were chattering, asking questions, or spreading false doctrine during the meetings of the church. This would mean either that these bad practices were common throughout the churches - hardly a compliment to the Christian ladies of the first century - or that Paul required all the women in all the churches to be silent simply because some at Corinth were given to gossip, interrupting the meeting with their questions or propounding heresy. The Paul I know from the New Testament wasn’t given to using the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut!
- As far as 1 is concerned, it should be noted that the word translated ‘speak’ in 14. 34, 35 is found 24 times in the chapter - normally rendered ‘speak’ or similar - mainly of ‘speaking’ in tongues or of a prophet ‘speaking’. In one instance, it is used of God ‘speaking’, v. 21. It is impossible to substitute such words as ‘chatter’ or gossip’ in any instance in the chapter. What is more, on no occasion in the entire New Testament - where the word occurs about 300 times - is it possible to understand the word in the sense of chattering or gossip,
- The same word translated ‘let… keep silent’, v. 34, is used in both v. 28 and v. 30 with the meaning ‘to refrain from speaking publicly’,
- The desire of the women to learn, v. 35 (cf. ‘that all may learn’, v. 31) evidences a serious interest in God’s word and argues strongly against them chattering away during the meeting of the church.
6. The teaching of 14. 34, 35 is limited to women who adopted a formal and authoritative teaching role.
Arguments advanced in support.
Neither prayer nor prophecy involved the exercise of authority - which teaching did. Public participation in prayer or prophecy didn’t therefore violate the principle of submission - as did public teaching. The law required the woman to be submissive to man but clearly this didn’t deprive her of the opportunity to praise and prophesy publicly in the presence of men - as witness the cases of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and Anna -and probably that of Philip’s four daughters. Again, the truth of the priesthood of all believers applies equally to women as to men. It follows therefore that the woman is free to pray and prophecy in the church - 1 Cor. 14. 34, 35 and 1 Tim. 2. 11-14 prohibit her only from teaching there.
- This explanation rests on the assumption that ‘teaching’ was of greater significance in terms of gender roles in the church than ‘prophesying’. Frankly I fail to see the logic of permitting a woman to communicate God’s word directly to the church (prophesying), while prohibiting her from expounding God’s word to the church (teaching). If anything, the apostle saw ‘prophets’ as coming higher up his list of spiritual gifts than ‘teachers’ - see especially ‘God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles’, 12. 28; cf. also the order in Eph. 4. 11. ‘The prophets of the New Testament shared with the apostles the privilege and responsibility of being channels of direct divine “revelation”’; cf. 14. 30; Eph.2. 20; 3. 3-5. The very words of their prophecies were inspired and authoritative’, See part One of ‘Studies in 1 Corinthians 14’ in the May 2003 issue for the argument that the prophecy of New Testament days was different in nature and authority from that of Old Testament days, see footnote 3 to that same article. The point of 1 Corinthians 14 is that the gift of prophecy is superior to the gift of tongues in the church for instruction, edification, and conviction. I suggest that modern definitions of prophecy, which represent it as no more than some spontaneous word of praise or exhortation with no lasting significance, seriously underestimate its importance in the New Testament church,
- The argument assumes that, because (a) the New Testament envisaged women praying and prophesying and (b) there was both prayer and prophesying in the meetings of the church, women must be permitted to pray and prophesy in the church. But surely, by the same defective reasoning, we would be forced to conclude that if
- women are ever envisaged as teaching (which they are - see Tit. 2. 4) and
- teaching is given in the church (which it is - 1 Cor. 14. 19), women must be able to teach in the church - which advocates of this interpretation vehemently (and correctly) deny,
- There is no biblical evidence that prophetesses exercised their gift publicly in the presence of men. Deborah and Huldah exercised their gift of prophecy in a very different manner to men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other male prophets who proclaimed the word of the Lord in public. There is no evidence that Deborah ever publicly proclaimed anything - individuals came to her in private for a word from the Lord, Judg. 4. 5, and when she spoke to Barak she called him and spoke to him face to face, Judg. 4. 6, 14. Similarly, Huldah delivered the word of the Lord in a non-public forum when King Josiah sent messengers to her, 2 Kgs. 22. 14-20. As far as we know, Miriam ministered only in the presence of women, Exod. 15. 20. There is no hint that Anna spoke publicly to those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem, Luke 2. 38, or that Philip’s daughters prophesied publicly, Acts 21. 9 (and it is perhaps relevant that, in that very context, the Lord sent the male prophet Agabus from Judaea to Caesarea to communicate His word to Paul, vv. 10, 11).
- In no place does the New Testament associate the truth of the priesthood of all believers with public participation in the meetings of the local church.
7. The teaching of 14. 34, 35 is limited to women participating in the evaluation of the messages of the prophets (assumed by some advocates to be the husbands of the women in mind).
Arguments advanced in support.
- The structure and flow of Paul’s argument. The outline of the section is:
That is, in connection with the subject of prophecy, the two elements of the command ‘let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgement’, 14. 29, are developed separately in the following verses. Verses 3O-33a deal with prophets speaking in the church, while verses 33b-36 take up the matter of the evaluation of the prophets’ messages. Women were permitted to prophesy, but the public evaluation of prophecies which followed involved the exercise of authority. It is this weighing of prophetic utterances which is therefore prohibited.
- General Statement, ‘Let all things be done for edification’, v. 26.
- Specific Example 1 - Tongues, vv. 27, 28.
- Restriction in number - two or three,
- Must be interpretation - to ensure edification.
- Specific Example 2 - Prophets, v. 29.
- Restriction in number - two or three,
- Others must judge what is said - to ensure edification.
- Postscript to Example 2, vv. 30-34.
- Regarding prophets speaking, vv. 30-33a.
- Regarding the weighing of their messages, vv. 33b, 34.
- Paul gives no hint earlier in chapters 12-14 - which have been concerned mainly with the gifts of tongues and prophesying - that he would be introducing a new topic, that of women speaking. And indeed there wasn’t any reason for him to introduce the subject because it did nothing to promote the edification of the church.
- Although superficially neat and tidy, I believe the proposed structure of the passage is in fact artificial and is being imposed on the text. I find nothing whatever in Paul’s actual words to suggest that the command for silence was related to the weighing of the words of the prophets. And, indeed, I have failed to trace any source for this proposed interpretation which dates before the 1960s. The absence of any such proposed structure in the many commentaries written during the intervening 1900 years suggests strongly that the suggested new outline of the passage is, at the least, far from obvious. Is there any reason to believe that the Corinthians would have understood Paul correctly when commentators and Bible students over the next 1900 years failed to do so? In detail:
- verse 29b is too subordinate a phrase, and there is too much material between this phrase and verses 34, 35, to support the required connection. To revert to the subject of judging prophecies in verse 34 would call for some explicit link or cue, such as repeating the word ‘judge’,
- Paul gives no instructions about the interpretations of tongues (‘Specific Example 2 (b)’ in the proposed outline); he confines his remarks to the tonguespeakers and specifies the circumstances in which the tongue-speakers should be silent. I do not expect to find therefore Paul giving instructions about the evaluating of prophecy - contrary to the split shown in the ‘Postscript to Example 2’ in the proposed outline. I expect him rather to speak to the prophets and to specify the circumstances in which they should be silent - which indeed he does,
- The words, ‘For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints’, v. 33, provide a natural break in the structure of the passage - reinforcing the instructions which Paul had given about the regulating of both tongues and prophecy in the church,
- The same women are clearly in view throughout verses 34 and 35. And verse 35 specifically envisages at least some of these as longing to learn - and not as aspiring to sit in judgement on prophetic utterances,
- The proposed understanding of the passage leads to the strange conclusion that women may deliver a prophecy to the church, but may not participate in weighing someone else’s prophecy. The idea that the evaluating of a prophecy involves the exercise of authority but that the actual giving of the prophecy doesn’t, strikes me as decidedly odd. Surely a message ‘revealed’ by God to the prophet, v. 30, came on the very highest authority! See also comment (1) under the ‘Analysis’ of number 6 above,
- The wording of 14. 34, 35 doesn’t specify one particular form of speaking (viz. the weighing of prophecies) as inadmissible; the wording excludes speaking as such. As I see it then, verses 34, 35 deal, not with the judging of prophecies, but with much the same subject as the similar passage in 1 Timothy 2. 12-14 - where the required silence of the woman is connected with the non-exercise of authority over the man.
- I consider the verses about the silence of the women as forming a distinct section within a larger context which is concerned with proper and orderly conduct during the meetings of the church; cf. v. 40. See the alternative structure suggested in Part Two of ‘Studies in 1 Corinthians 14’.
8. Paul enjoined the women to be silent in the church in 14. 34, 35 because of the particular cultural and historical situation of the Corinthians - and these verses are therefore of no direct application today.
Arguments advanced in support.
It seems clear that the open (and vocal) expression of the equality between men and women in Christ was bringing the gospel into disrepute. We know that, earlier, Paul required others to forego their assumed liberty to eat meat offered to idols if this caused others to stumble, 8. 4-13. We know also that he adapted his own lifestyle to the customs and culture of others in order to win them to Christ, 9. 19-23. He also urged slaves to be submissive to their masters - for him (or other Christians) to have then launched an attack on the institution of slavery would have sidetracked men from the main message of the gospel, and brought it into disrepute; cf 1 Tim. 6. 1. In these, and other, ways the early Christians accommodated themselves to the cultural situation of their day so as not to cause unnecessary offence to society around. The command that women be silent in the church was an instance of the churches accommodating themselves to a male-dominated society where it would have caused offense for women to have spoken publicly. The command, that is, should be read against the background of a specific cultural situation which no longer applies today.
- the reference to slavery isn’t relevant. The argument ignores one fundamental difference -that the institution of slavery had not been ordained by God (and was indeed at variance with His purpose for men), whereas the relation of the sexes was established by God at the very beginning of human existence. This relation is basic to the understanding of the Bible’s teaching about the headship of the man and the submission of the woman,
- Paul makes no suggestion that the command for women to be silent rested on any particular cultural situation. He says that it rested on the subjection implicit in the creation account detailed in ‘the law’, 14. 34; cf. Gen.1. 27; 2. 18, 21; 1 Cor. 11. 8, 9. The cultural interpretation rests foursquare on speculation and ignores the specific reason which Paul gives for his prohibition. We can compare the parallel instructions in 1 Tim. 2. 11-15- where Paul rests his case for the woman learning in silence (cf. the use of the word translated ‘silence’ in Acts 22. 2) on the narratives of the creation and the fall -that is, on two unchanging and culturally-independent foundations,
- I gather that it is more than likely that the pagan priestesses of the various temples at Corinth spoke and prophesied publicly. In which case, the Corinthian society of the first century wouldn’t have found the vocal participation of the women as offensive as this interpretation requires,
- See also the ‘Analysis’ of number 5 above.
9. In dealing with the improper actions of the women at Corinth, Paul deliberately seized the opportunity to teach two distinct lessons - (i) the wearing of a head covering by the woman in chapter 11 and (ii) the silence of the woman in the church in chapter 14. (It is important to distinguish this explanation from the ‘on further reflection’ argument considered under number 4 above. The present explanation assumes that Paul, by the Spirit, deliberately chose to tackle the two distinct issues separately.)
Arguments advanced in support.
- This is the very procedure which Paul employed in chapters 8-10 when answering the question whether Christians were at liberty to enter a heathen temple to eat meat offered to idols. In that case, the apostle first took (in chapter 8) the opportunity of teaching consideration for the conscience of others, and then (in chapter 10) he gave the reasons why the believer could not in any case sit down to eat idol-food at what was in reality the ‘table of demons’. In tackling a double issue (a woman’s head-covering and a woman’s silence) and dealing with each part separately - the one in chapter 11 and the other in chapter 14 - Paul is therefore acting in a way entirely consistent with the method he adopted in chapters 8 and 10.
- Paul is careful to distinguish the position he takes in chapter 11 from that which he takes in chapter 14. In chapter 11 he simply notes as a fact that the women do pray and prophesy - without specifying where or when. It should be noted that 11. 5 isn’t framed as a command - as is 14. 34; the apostle does not say ‘let the women pray and prophesy’, as he later does ‘let your women keep silent’. The form of expression in 11. 5 leaves the door open for him to revisit the issue later and then to limit the audible contributions of the women to situations outside the meetings of the church.
- The section 11. 3-16 focuses on the wearing of headcoverings in any situation where a woman assumes a role normally associated with the men. In chapter 14 Paul makes it clear that the women weren’t permitted to speak (including to speak in tongues or to prophesy) in the church, thereby leaving 11. 5 to cover any other situations.
This interpretation certainly has much in its favour. It removes the seeming tension between 11. 5 and 14. 34, 35, takes seriously the teaching of both sections, and regards the principles taught in both sections as directly relevant for all times. I find it difficult to accept, however, that the parallel with chapters 8-10 (summarised in (1) above) is as close as is suggested. Chapters 8-10 are all of a piece and are concerned with a single subject (with chapter 9 functioning as a parenthesis to illustrate the principle that Paul established in the latter half of chapter 8 - namely that of one’s willingness to waive one’s legitimate rights for the sake of others). But it strikes me that the case is very different in chapters 11 to 14. These chapters deal with three distinct subjects. The first half of chapter 11 deals with the subject of the head-covering and headship, the second half of chapter 11 deals with the Lord’s supper, and chapters 12-14 deal with the subject of spiritual gifts and their regulation in the church - with the emphasis on edification and order. In my view, the ‘distance’ (both in terms of the disparate subject matter and in terms of the number of verses - no less than 106 - which separate 11. 5 and 14. 34) between the two ‘lessons’ counts against this interpretation.
10. The passages are concerned with two very different settings and situations - 14. 34, 35 is concerned with meetings of the church, but 11. 3-16 is not.
Arguments advanced in support.
- In common with number 9, this explanation removes the seeming tension between 11. 5 and 14. 34, 35, takes both passages at face value (requiring women to cover their heads on occasions when they did pray or prophesy but not permitting them to speak in meetings of the church) and regards the principles taught in both sections as directly relevant for all times.
- There is no suggestion that 11. 3-16 refers to meetings of the church. Indeed, there is evidence that it isn’t until verse 17 that Paul turns to such meetings; note the expression ‘you come together’, vv. 17, 18, 20, 33, 34 (cf. 14. 23-26), and the explicit reference to the ‘church’, v. 18 (cf. 14. 4, 5, 12, 19, 23, 28, 33, 34, 35).
- The most natural interpretation of the expression ‘For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear…’, v. 18, is that the following section deals with the first and principal topic relevant to the meetings of the church.
- I understand 14. 34, 35 to forbid women, inter alia, prophesying in the church. (The context focuses on the operation of two spiritual gifts - speaking in tongues and prophecy. The two sections which straddle verses 34-36 (vv. 26-33 and vv. 37-39 respectively) are both concerned with speaking in tongues and prophecy. It seems reasonable to conclude therefore that when, in verses 34, 35, Paul requires the women not ‘to speak’ in the church, he means, at the very least, that they are not to speak in tongues or in prophecy.)
- Given that 11. 5 envisaged situations where the women did prophesy, the most natural explanation is that these situations excluded church meetings. The wise words of Tertullian, written about 215 AD, still stand true today, ‘it is easier (to believe) that one passage should have some explanation agreeable with others, than that an apostle should seem to have taught (principles) mutually diverse’, De Monogamia 11. 8.
Several objections have been raised against this interpretation. The main objections of which I know are as follows,
- ‘The repetition of the phrase, “I praise”, vv. 2, 77, serves to unite 77. 2-76 and 7 7. 17-34; the section to v. 16 is therefore also concerned with church meetings’. Not so. Paul opened by praising the Corinthians in general terms for holding fast the apostolic ‘traditions’, v. 2. Both 11. 3-16 and 11. 17-34 act as qualifications of that praise -‘But I want you to know’, v. 3, and ‘Now (or But) in giving these instructions I do not praise you’, v. 17. The word translated ‘come together’, v. 17, clearly relates only to that which follows, and not to the preceding section,
- ‘The section closes with the words “if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God”, v. 76. By specifically referring to the how other churches operate, Paul is indicating clearly that in the preceding section he has been dealing with a church setting - as in 14. 33, 36b‘. Not so. In 7. 12-24, Paul spoke of personal and private matters - marriage and divorce, circumcision and slavery - and yet he makes it clear that the principle he is there establishing (that nobody is required to change his or her status when he or she becomes a Christian) is enforced in other churches, v. 17. That is, Paul refers to the uniform beliefs and practice of churches when speaking of matters other than formal church meetings; cf. 4. 17.
- In the context of 1 Cor. 11-14, both praying and prophesying were activities associated with church meetings - as they are throughout chapter 14. The prayer and prophesying of 11. 4, 5 are therefore to be understood as taking place in meetings of the church. Not so. Yes, it is true that prayer and prophesying were appropriate to church meetings. But neither required the ‘coming together’ of the church. The following points are worthy of note:
- Prayer is certainly not confined to church meetings. As far as the church is concerned, Paul desired ‘the men’ (‘the males’ lit.) to pray in every place, 1 Tim. 2. 8. When in a public place with men present, Hannah prayed to the Lord only ‘in her heart’, 1 Sam. 1. 9-13.
- In the same way that Zacharias prophesied in his home among relatives and neighbours, Luke 1, it is by no means unreasonable to suppose that Christian prophets prophesied in the same setting,
- There is no record that women who prophesied under the Old Covenant (e.g. Exod. 15. 20; Judg. 4. 4; 2 Kgs. 22. 14; 2 Chr. 34. 22; Neh. 6. 14; Isa. 8. 3; Luke 2. 36) ever did so in Israel’s formal worship services. As far as Philip’s four daughters were concerned, Acts 21. 9, the comment of Origen is worth quoting, ‘If the daughters of Philip prophesied, yet they did not speak in the churches. We do not find that in the Acts of the Apostles’,
- In chapter 12, Paul emphasizes that every member of ‘the body’ has a spiritual gift to be exercised for the common good. Any interpretation of 14. 34, 35 which limits oral participation to the men therefore undermines the teaching of chapter 12. Not so. Two main points:
- All gifts are not speaking gifts. Spiritual gifts often fall into the category of what we might call ‘serving gifts’ as opposed to ‘speaking gifts’; see Rom. 12. 6-8; 1 Pet. 4. 11.
- That many women have speaking gifts doesn’t mean that these gifts must be exercised in a church meeting; see Tit. 2. 3-5.
- A headcovering would have no relevance outside a meeting of the church. I understand 11. 5 to apply to any situation where the woman (outside of church meetings - such as among other women) assumes a position of spiritual and audible prominence. When angels observe a woman adopting a public role - which the angels would normally associate with a man - it is imperative that the woman wears the sign and symbol of man’s headship and authority; see v. 10.
Although I don’t altogether rule out number 9 above, I incline to number 10 - the interpretation mentioned in the main text of the second expository article on 1 Corinthians 14 - as the most likely explanation of the seeming tension.