Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, What about women?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Imagine for a moment that one of our pastors is preaching on Sunday when his wife rises from her seat and says in an audible voice, “I don’t see how you can teach this church after the way you treated me and the kids yesterday.” A lot of things might happen after that, but spiritual growth or worship are probably not among them! Something like this was going on during the church gatherings in Roman Corinth, and Paul was determined to stop it.

The first thing to remember about the women in Roman Corinth is that they lived in another time and culture. We have previously stressed the interpretive principle that a biblical text cannot mean today what it did not mean at the time it was spoken. So, our initial task is to determine what Paul was trying to achieve in Corinth. Only then will we be in a position to faithfully apply Paul’s instructions in our time and culture.

We have previously considered another highly-charged biblical passage about head coverings for women during worship (1 Cor. 11:2-16). There we found that a crucial cultural concern in Roman Corinth was shame and honor— whether those conditions applied to the individual, the community, the faction, or to the metaphorical head of the person involved. This cultural focus on shame and honor will also play a part in discussing women’s role in controlled speech during church gatherings in Corinth.

The very first thing we must say in sum about women speaking in church during the first century is that such speech was common. Concerning 1 Cor. 11:5, Garland says, “Paul affirms that it is quite permissible for women to pray or prophesy as long as they attend to their head covering.”[1] David Garland further draws attention to 1 Cor. 14:31, where Paul says that all may prophesy in turn. Most readers who give 1 Corinthians a close reading know that Paul was a brilliant man; the likelihood that he would contradict himself is zero!

So, what do we conclude? First, we say on the basis of 1 Cor. 11:5 and 14:31 that Paul not only permitted but encouraged women to speak when the church assembled. How then do we account for Paul saying “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34a)? Thiselton gets the ball rolling: “If we concur with Ben Witherington and others that what is at issue is not speech as much as abuse of speech, a probable scenario begins to emerge.”[2] We will now develop what abuse of speech is in question. Keep in mind that Paul had received a letter from Corinth as well as personal reports about what was going on there.

Yesterday we saw that in 1 Cor. 14:30-33a, Paul was dealing with specific restraints on wives who were in the process of sifting prophetic speech for soundness. In fact, we saw that 1 Cor. 14:29-36 all deals with restraints on prophecy and the evaluation of those messages for their faithfulness to Christ. The point is that the abuse of speech we are dealing with involved women who were sifting or discerning prophetic speech. You can see that this focus is much narrower than all-speech-by-women in church settings.

Thiselton[3] and Witherington suggest that the women in question were sifting the words of prophets by asking probing questions about their theology and lifestyle. This practice became particularly explosive — and disruptive to order — when wives cross-examined their husbands in a personal way that undermined their claim to be uttering prophetic speech. Such an exchange needs to take place at home (1 Cor. 14:35) not in church!

When Paul says, “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor. 14:35b), he brings honor and shame into the picture. This specific abuse of speech by certain women in relation to their husbands was shaming their husbands. Things got worse from there! Recall that: the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:3). By shaming her husband, such a woman was bringing shame on her head, and he in turn was bringing shame on Christ, and that was bringing shame on God.

Such conduct created many problems, all serious. First, it was not loving toward others in the manner of Christ. Second, it could easily give the community the idea that Christians were overturning public order and decency; that would be a serious blow to the spread of the gospel of Christ crucified. (Such a charge created a riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:21-41.) Third, such conduct utterly failed to communicate the love, order, sharing and reciprocity that reflect God’s own nature. A calamity like this could not be allowed to continue, and Paul stepped on it hard!

The practice of abusing prophets should not be surprising. Jesus told the people of Nazareth, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home” (Matt. 13:57). They demonstrated their appreciation of this insight by trying to throw Jesus down a cliff (Luke 4:29)! This teaching is repeated in all four Gospels and was a well-known concept among the churches. Such boorish behavior may be common, but it does not please God.

Thiselton convincingly argues that the Greek verb eperotao in 1 Cor. 14:35 (“they should ask their own husbands at home”) has a lot more punch than “ask” can express. Here the verb means “interrogate or cross-examine.”[4] For example, in Mark 11:29, Jesus interrogates the chief priests and scribes about how they can reject his authority and yet accept the authority of John the Baptist. There is an earnest, demanding quality about this Greek verb. A wife should speak such words to her husband at home, not in church.

There is little question that similar conduct by men in Roman Corinth, if directed toward other men in a public meeting, would have been considered aggressive but acceptable. But for a first-century woman in Greco-Roman culture to speak in such a manner about her husband would create a scandal. This difference may or may not be fair, but a culture will have its way.

A far more important matter is that interrupting or contradicting a true prophet displeases God! Consider the clause that says, “[The women] must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34b). Garland notes that: “The problem is that he does not cite a text from the law, and no OT passage instructs women to be silent.”[5] However, what Paul likely has in mind is Numbers 12:1-15, where Miriam challenges Moses right to speak as God’s prophet on the grounds of his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. God intervenes very sharply against this attack on his prophet, and Miriam is shut out from the camp for seven days, shaming her. The Lord explicitly mentions her shame (Num. 12:14). Moses is said to be humble, and this contrasts with Miriam’s self-promotion and self-assertion that she too could speak as a prophet. The parallels to Roman Corinth are plain.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 665.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1156.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1158.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 115960.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 672.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:13-16 Using (what should be) common sense

1 Corinthians 11:13-16

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice nor do the churches of God.

Ever hopeful that the Corinthians will do what is needed on their own, Paul puts the ball directly in their court (1 Cor. 11:13). By the nature of things (1 Cor. 11:14), Paul means the way things are.

Paul knew that Roman custom for men was short hair, and that long hair or long hair styled in some way (e.g. braiding) was considered effeminate. For example, David Garland informs us that the forum in Roman Corinth has statues of men with long hair as part of the Faade of the Captives. Their long hair is intended to send the message that these captives were weak, soft, and effeminate.[1]

Roman women usually had long hair, and it was often considered a symbol of the wifes relationship to her husband. Accordingly, Garland summarizes, Taking this cue from nature, men do not need a cover [since they have short hair]; women do [since they have long hair].[2]

As a final argument, Paul says all the churches follow this standard, and so does he (1 Cor. 11:16).

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 531.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 531.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 Shame and honor in assembled worship

1 Corinthians 11:7-12

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

As we begin todays lesson, it will be helpful to remember that the context of these verses is the church in Roman Corinth gathered for worship. Perhaps they met in the home of one or more of their wealthy members or in several other locations. We can expect that some curious non-Christians were sometimes present, perhaps even someone who reported their activities elsewhere. We will see that God and the angels are part of worship as well.

As before, a lot of attention will be given to head coverings and their social and theological meaning. In the previous lesson (1 Cor. 11:1-6) we learned that men were not to wear a head covering, but women must wear one. These conditions were dictated by social propriety and to protect the reputation of the gospel in the community. In 1 Cor. 11:7-12, we learn that even deeper theological reasons exist and get deeper into the framework of shame and honor.

It is important to know what this passage does not mean, and David Garland sets us on the path: The logic is not, This man stands before God uncovered because of his spiritual subordination to Christ, so the woman should stand veiled because of her spiritual subordination to her husband, as [some] contend.[1]

A common failing of Christians today is that we do not appreciate the importance of creation and its impact on our life in Christ. But Pauls key point is that the woman reflects the glory of man, not of God.[2] The whole reason Paul offers in 1 Cor. 11:8-9 is the order of creation with man created first (Gen. 2:7) and the purpose of womans creation (Gen. 2:22) in that she was created for the man. Paul argues that the gender differences God established in creation have an effect on how corporate worship is carried out; in particular, cultural customs are used to symbolize that difference in a way that gives honor to God. Since man is the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7), his head must remain open to plain view. To do so honors God. The woman should cover her head (1 Cor. 11:6b) so as not to dishonor her head (i.e. the man, 1 Cor. 11:3). How would she dishonor the man? The surprising answer is that the woman dishonors the man by glorifying him (woman is the glory of man 1 Cor. 11:7) in a setting of corporate worship where only God is to be glorified/honored.

Perhaps we can better understand this reasoning by saying that in corporate worship the attention should be on honoring/glorifying God, but the beauty of women (by creation) is such that they attract attention belonging to God. When that happens, the shame attaches to their husband (her metaphorical head) or to the men gathered for worship. What can the woman do? She can behave and dress in a way that does not draw attention and symbolize such intent by wearing a head covering.[3] Symbols in our culture are different, but the principle stands.

The man and the woman are not taking their respective actions — men without head covering and women with one — for any personal advantage, as Anthony Thiselton points out: Pauls main point is that man and woman are both the glory of another and therefore both have an obligation not to cause shame to their heads.[4]

The foregoing is difficult enough, and 1 Cor. 11:10 adds more mystery by mentioning angels. First, Thiselton argues that what we have here is a continuation of the issue of assertive autonomy . . . versus self-control that we have tracked earlier in the letter (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23).[5] This means the woman should use her freedom and authority in Christ for the good of others and especially for her metaphorical head; that behavior manifests self-control and love. As to the angels, Thiselton reminds us that both Jewish and Christian traditions teach us that Christians worship the transcendent God of heaven in company with the heavenly host.[6]

We began with the assumption that Paul had received a report that women might be asserting their freedom in Christ in a damaging way during corporate worship. Although he has focused a lot of attention on women and how they should use their freedom, he does not by any means back off of his assertion that in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman (1 Cor. 11:11). He adds an additional statement in verse 12 that shows how dependent man and woman are on each other. While Paul has said, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28), it is also true that creation order limits this new freedom, because everything comes from God (1 Cor. 11:12).

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 523.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 837, quoting Judith Gundry-Volf.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 839.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 841.