Let Women Remain Silent (or Not)

Women Should Remain Silent (?)Last week in class we discussed 1 Corinthians 14.33-35. Talk about a controversial text. How does one properly interpret such a passage?  I was asked by a number of friends if I might post my notes on this. Instead of posting notes, here are “points to ponder” in working toward a proper interpretation of this passage. Perhaps I should mention at the beginning that I did not bring up the typical explanation of this being a house church wherein the women and men sat in different areas (a much later practice nowhere testified to in the NT) and thus the women would be somehow disruptive by asking their husbands something from across the room. Such a maneuver requires a historical reconstruction of which (at best) is shaky. So I offer the following after the verses in question:

 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

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. (NIV2011)

Points to ponder:
* The paragraph break for the end of verse 33 in various translations alters the reading with relation to the universal sense? Is God about peace and order “in all the churches of the saints” or are women to remain silent “as in all the churches of the saints”? (See my comments on the translations HERE). The former is followed in the such translations as the ESV and NIV84, the latter in the footnote of NIV84 and the NLT. The grammar is ambiguous. The theology, points to the latter as the more likely referent.

* “Woman” in verse 34 is clarified by speaking to ‘her husband’ in verse 35. How would this apply to single women? Does it only immediately then apply to married women?

* Women were already told they could “prophesy and pray” in 1 Cor.11.6 as long as they do so with propriety. How then should we understand not being allowed to “speak” in 1 Cor.14.34? It would not be a total speaking censure.

* this passage is framed before and after by discussions of prophesying and its proper regulation for orderliness. Has this passage shifted contexts or is it actually still regulating prophecy in the church to function in an orderly manner? How so?

* To “ask her husband” is grammatically suggestive (following the extensive lexical and semantic analysis of Waldemar Kowalski’s paper at SPS 2013 in Seattle, WA) of a critiquing and (likely) rejection. If this is actually about prophesying it would point to a husband prophesying and his wife questioning it (or him) in a negative way. While the others are already instructed to weigh what is said, if the wife of the one prophesying were to do so in the corporate worship setting it would lack propriety. She should therefore save such a questioning for the privacy of their home.

So where might this leave us for interpretation? How do you read this? Do these talking “points” help you to better understand some of the issues involved?


* It is also of note that Gordon Fee (in his NICNT commentary on 1 Corinthians) points out that some of the manuscript evidence places this text (vv.34-35) to after the chapter. His proposal (which I personally find weak, but mention because…well…its Fee) is that this text is not original to 1 Corinthians.


9 thoughts on “Let Women Remain Silent (or Not)

    • I find his proposal that this specific text is an interpolation is weak. Though the MS evidence indicates several locations, this text is always still present in this proximity and never lacking altogether from any of our MSS. That is why I say “weak”. And the likes of Anthony Thiselton argue likewise as I).

      • Are you suggesting that Anthony Thiselton says GDF’s argument is weak? Or are you suggesting that scholars like Thiselton are not persuaded? There is a difference.

        Has Thiselton ever written a single article or anything at all dealing with textual criticism? Why would someone appeal to him on a tc matter?

        If one argues that Fee’s argument is weak solely on the basis that the text occurs throughout the manuscript tradition, then I would suggest that such an argument against Fee’s position is weak and probably does not understand Fee’s argument.

        • Thiselton engages Fee (and numerous others) in his commentary (NIGTC) on 1 Corinthians pp.1148-1150. Essentially it boils down to the dislocated passage being found in Western texts (D, E, F, G and the later 88, along with Ambrosiaster), but no text lacking it. p46 (our earliest witness) includes it in its traditional location. The umlauts in several of the mss seem to likely be later additions perhaps at most indicating that this text was known by that editor to not be at this location in some ms.

          And you are right, Thiselton is not necessarily a strong appeal on tc issues, but he does engage the wider tc literature with regard to this text.

  1. “Essentially boils down to….” I see why you think Fee’s argument is weak, if your explanation as given here is what Fee’s argument is boiled down to…

    I continue to be struck by published scholars who discuss this passage without showing evidence of having worked through Fee’s argument, especially when Fee’s argument is not difficult to understand.

    This is your blog and I’m but a guest, and it is not my intention to undermine anything you’re doing here (and I’ll not say more). On the other hand, as a text critic myself, I’m persuaded that you’re underestimating Fee’s argument–standing in judgment over him so as to demean it as weak when you haven’t actually digested it. Why not revise your comments to say that you were not persuaded by Fee’s argument, even if some giants in his field are so persuaded? The fair scholar would even point to the well-written discussion by Eldon Epp in his book on Junia as an example of someone who has been persuaded.

    • Fair enough. The discourse style of a blog tends towards stronger language than that of peer reviewed academia. I would certainly have chosen other words (as you have suggested) if I were publishing my arguments elsewhere. For what it is worth, your advice is well taken. And I am fully aware of Fee’s argument on this (as elsewhere), but remain unpersuaded.

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