May 31, 2013 by jmar198013
Over the next several days, I’ll continue my vintage Jeremy retrospective by presenting a paper I wrote 7 years ago on the textual evidence for the authenticity (or inauthenticity) of 1 Cor. 14.34-35. I was so little back then and at a very conservative Christian university in West Tennessee. To say that I was walking on eggshells would be an understatement. But for all my eggshell walking, this paper still got me in hot water.
1 Corinthians 14.34-35 admonishes the women to remain silent in the assembly, saying:
[…] the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (RSV)[i]
These two verses have greatly influenced the practice of the church, informing its judgment concerning the proper role of women in the public life of the church. In the wake of changing cultural dynamics relating to the perception of women in church and society, however, these verses have become what C. D. Osburn has termed “a virtual battlefield” (Women in the Church 189). This shift in the cultural climate has prompted scholars from all sorts of backgrounds—conservatives and progressives alike—to reexamine the passage and many (Barrett, with some reservations, 332-333; Conzelmann 246; Fee First Epistle 699-708; Hays First Corinthians 246-249; Horsley 188-189; Murphy-O’Connor 90-92) have judged at least vv 34-35 inauthentic (Conzelmann 246 and Keck 18-19 would include vv 33 and 36). The prevailing view of these scholars is that the verses are “a gloss introduced into the text by the second- or third-generation Pauline interpreters who compiled the pastoral epistles” (Hays First Corinthians 247).[ii] The purpose of this study is to enter into a critical engagement with the work of those scholars who assert that 1 Cor 14.34-35 present a non-Pauline interpolation.
Why Examine the Issue?
Even among those who accept the passage as genuine, there are widely divergent viewpoints about the application of these verses. For instance, A. T. Robertson boldly asserted that “There is no doubt at all as to Paul’s meaning here. In church, women are not allowed to speak (lalein) nor even to ask questions. They are to do that at home (en oikoi). He calls it a shame (aischron) as in 11:6” (185). Lenski approaches the matter (as usual) in a somewhat more forceful manner:
Whether they have the gift of tongues or of prophecy makes no difference, in fact, Paul’s prohibition is intended just for such. And this prohibition is general and complete. From the little that Paul says we cannot properly infer that this question was acute in Corinth, and that women attempted to speak in assemblies. (615)
Of course, Lenski is in grave danger of overstepping the bounds of plausibility here. I am not sure what Lenski’s motivations were in making such a statement, but they do not seem to present an honest attempt to deal with the passage in question on its own terms.
On the other hand, we find interpreters who accept the authenticity of the passage, yet draw very different conclusions about the application thereof. Bristow (63) argues that Paul was only limiting disruptive speaking, and states: “He did not write that women are not to preach, or teach, or declare, or give a discourse, or proclaim, or affirm, or aver, or to speak for something.” Brauch (168) takes a similar approach, with the addition of an insistence (contra Lenski) that Paul’s directive on women’s participation the assembly is a localized ruling:
Paul is dealing with abuses and actions in worship which disrupt God’s purposes, and which therefore need correction. Within such a setting, our text seems clearly to belong to the category of “corrective texts” whose purpose is focused toward a local situation. Paul’s word that “women should remain silent in the churches” would therefore seem, at least primarily, to have authoritative import…for the particular situation at Corinth…One must be careful therefore not to jump to the conclusion immediately that Paul’s injunction has implications for all women in all churches.
G. Gaebelein Hull cuts right to the point of the tension when she asserts, “Yes, the Pauline ‘hard passages’ are a genuine problem that needs our full attention” (26). The ramifications of our understanding of 1 Cor. 14.34-35, and passages with similar sentiments, can often produce situations rife with irony. For instance, Gilbert Bilezikian recalls when he was asked to appear on a radio talk show where the hostess was arguing strongly for woman’s submission. He concludes: “Here was a woman with no credentials as a teacher trying forcefully to teach a huge radio audience and myself that women were not supposed to teach men or assume authority over them” (12). All that being said, it is not the primary goal of this study to present an acceptable interpretation of the verses in question, but to thoroughly investigate the matter of their genuineness. However, for the reasons we have seen above, this passage is a hotly debated one; thus, our decision about its authenticity will have a definite impact on how we talk about the role of women in the public life of the church. If we conclude that it is a spurious passage, then we have good reason for repentance; if we conclude that it is genuine, this still does not remove from us our duty to interpret it responsibly, consistently, and honestly.
[i] Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural citations are from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version (RSV).
[ii] Of course, this assessment also rests upon the assumption that the pastoral epistles are deutero-Pauline.
Barrett, C. K. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Harper’s New Testament Commentaries. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.
Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.
Brauch, Manfred T. Hard Sayings of Paul. Downers Grove: IVP, 1989.
Bristow, John Temple. What Paul Really Said About Women. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians. Hermeneia. James W. Leitch, trans. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975.
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament. F. F. Bruce, ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.
Hays, Richard B. First Corinthians. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997.
Horsley, Richard A. 1 Corinthians. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998.
Hull, Gretchen Gaebelein. “Response.” Women, Authority, and the Bible. Alvera Mickelsen, ed. Downers Grove: IVP, 1986.
Keck, Leander E. Paul and His Letters. 2nd ed. Proclamation Commentaries. Gerhard Krodel, ed. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
Lenski, R. C. H. Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1963.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “Interpolations in 1 Corinthians.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 48.1 (1986): 81-94.
Osburn, Carroll D. “The Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35.” Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity. Vol. 1. Carroll D. Osburn, ed. Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 4. Nashville: Broadman, 1931.