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 eper?ta? in 1 Cor. 14:35 (“they should ask their own husbands at home”) has a lot more punch than “ask.” 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, 1159–60.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 672.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 14:26–33 Order through controlled speech

1 Corinthians 14:26–33

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, two — or at the most three — should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.

29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace — as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

In 1 Corinthians 14:26–40, Paul concludes his long attempt (1 Corinthians 12–14) to correct the chaotic gatherings of the church in Roman Corinth. As he did in the matter of eating food offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:23–11:1) and issues about marriage (1 Cor. 7), he will conclude with exact instructions. The structure of Paul’s argument will prove to be important in making our interpretation of a controversial section concerning women and speaking out.

David Garland presents an insight into Paul’s thinking: “Openness to the Spirit and to individual expression of spiritual gifts is not to become a pretext for chaos. Paul does not see tongues or prophecy as a solo performance.”[1] Paul has demonstrated the priority of prophecy over tongues due to its value in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:1–25). With those thoughts in mind, here is Garland’s outline[2] (slightly adapted):

Overarching principle (14:26): “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”

1. Restraints concerning speaking in tongues (14:27–28)

2. Restraints concerning prophecy and discernment (14:29–36)

a. Restraints on the number of prophets speaking and others discerning (14:29)

b. Restraints on a prophet speaking (14:30–33a)

c. Restraints on wives in discerning (14:33b–36)

3. Injunction (14:37–38) [Read it and heed it!]

4. Encouragement of prophecy and tongues (14:39)

5. Concluding statement of general principles for worship gatherings: all things must be done in decency and order.

The way to interpret the general principle in verse 26 is to understand that whenever the church comes together the various words and actions (“everything”) must build up the church, no matter what combination of spiritual powers are expressed. Though we are not totally sure what was going wrong with the expression of grace-gifts, Gordon Fee says, “[Paul’s] antidote is to offer guidelines for regulation that, taken together, suggest orderliness, self-control, and concern for others.”[3] In other words, love for others has been joined by communal order. Order is a major theme in the final chapters of 1 Corinthians.

Before we go further, it is probably time to say that the second half of chapter 14 is sometimes interpreted as an effort on Paul’s part to put women in their place, which place, those interpreters believe, was to be in subjection to their husbands or to men. Another group interprets this section as Paul’s attempt to take away the freedom to express manifestations of the Spirit, especially tongues. We do not believe either of these interpretations represents Paul’s teaching, though each has a grain of truth. Some correction was needed in the behavior of women in the Corinthian church and to the expression of tongues there, but Paul’s solution lay in bringing about controlled speech that was ordered to build up the community.[4] As we will see — partly in tomorrow’s lesson — Paul was not trying to end either speech by women or tongues in the gathered church.

In verses 27–28, Paul introduces restrictions on the expression of tongues in the assembled church. The limits are self-explanatory. Once again, it is likely that the “someone” who must put the tongues into intelligible words is the one who spoke them in the first place. Otherwise, how would they know to remain silent (“keep quiet” v. 28) because no interpreter was present? This type of self-control was part of the order that Paul insisted on.

Verse 28 is the first appearance of the Greek verb siga?, which means “a. say nothing, keep still, keep silent . . . . b. stop speaking, become silent.[5] Garland says, “The NIV obscures the fact that the verb [Greek siga?] occurs three times in a row by translating it ‘keep quiet’ in 14:28, ‘should stop’ in 14:30, and ‘remain silent’ in 14:34.”[6] This hidden repetition adds to the case for Paul’s imposition of controlled speech to bring order within the assembled church; he calls in turn on tongues-speakers (14:28), prophecy-speakers (14:30), and women (14:34). The exact role of these women will be described in the next post.

It is apparent that Paul opens the valve more fully for prophecy (verse 29) than he did for tongues (verse 28); no upper limit is placed on the number of prophecy-speakers. However, “the others should weigh carefully what is said” (verse 29). The Greek verb is significant to this passage; the Greek verb diakrin? means “to differentiate or to distinguish between.”[7] As they hear prophetic speech, the others are to distinguish between speech that is God-given and consistent with the gospel of Christ and speech that is self-generated, self-interested or erroneous. Anthony Thiselton explains: “The authentic is to be sifted from the inauthentic or spurious, in light of the OT scriptures, the gospel of Christ, the traditions of all the churches, and critical reflections. Nowhere does Paul hint that preaching or ‘prophecy’ achieves a privileged status which places them above critical reflection.”[8] No one in church can switch off their mind!

Verse 30 gives us the first instance where someone speaking must become silent; one prophet must give way to another “if a revelation comes to someone.” When this discipline occurs, “everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (verse 31).

There is an unexpected and important connection between 1 Cor. 14:32 (concerning the prophets) and 1 Cor. 14:34 (concerning women). The connection lies in the important Greek verb hupotass?, which here means “to subordinate oneself, to be subjected, to place oneself under control.”[9] The prophets are expected to keep their speech in control, and, as we will see, so are the women.

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) 655.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 655–56.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 688.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 1132.

[5] BDAG-3, siga?, say nothing, q.v.

[6] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 671, footnote 30.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[8] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1140.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1144.

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 today’s 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 Paul’s 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 woman’s 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: “’Paul’s 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.

Exposition of First Corinthians 11:3 — The meaning of Greek kephale (often translated “head”)

There is little doubt that 1 Cor. 11:2–16 is extremely tough to interpret. One piece of this complex passage is 1 Cor. 11:3, and, within that text, the meaning of the Greek noun kephale, usually translated “head.”

Starting in the 1990s, research on social conditions in the Roman empire during the first century began to shed significant light on many passages in First Corinthians.

To better understand 1 Cor. 11:3, check out this video :

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.