Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

1 Corinthians 14:34-35, in a Nutshell

1 Corinthians 14:34-35, in a Nutshell

Surprisingly for me, some Christians are still using 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to silence intelligent, godly women in church meetings.

Someone left a comment yesterday in response to my article “Did Priscilla teach Apollos?” and quoted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in full, implying that Priscilla couldn’t have taught Apollos because Paul did not allow women to speak in church.

Here is part of my reply:

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not about prohibiting women from teaching. It is about silencing the uneducated women in Corinth who were asking nuisance questions during church meetings. Paul advises these women to ask their questions to their typically more-educated husbands at home.

Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians is all about maintaining order in church gatherings and silencing the disorderly talk from some tongues-speakers, prophets, and women. The same imperative Greek verb for “be silent” is used for each of these three groups of people.

~ A tongues-speaker is to be silent (sigaō) and stop speaking in tongues if there is no one to interpret (1 Cor. 14:28).
~ A prophet is to be silent (sigaō) and stop prophesying if someone else receives a revelation (1 Cor. 14:30).
~ Women are to be silent (sigaō) and stop asking questions if there is anything they want to learn; they should keep their questions for home (1 Cor. 14:34-35).

All these people need to hold their tongues and stop speaking in these situations. 1 Corinthians 14 is not about silencing tongues-speakers, prophets, or women altogether (1 Cor. 14:39-40). Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul acknowledges that Corinthian women prayed and prophesied aloud in church gatherings, and he doesn’t silence them (1 Cor. 11:5).

This is my view of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in a nutshell.  I look at several other views in a longer article entitled Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35  here.

Image credit: © Nadya Lukic (iStockphoto)


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Other articles in the In a Nutshell Series

Posted October 5th, 2014 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, The "Difficult" Passages, , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

29 comments on “1 Corinthians 14:34-35, in a Nutshell

  1. I agree, and hate it when some folks use the that verse to restrict women in the church. I’ve even read comments from women that actually believe they need to ask their husband’s permission first to speak at church services. We need to come to a better understanding of what scriptures really mean in their entire context.

  2. I’ve never noticed the same verb used of each group! This is an awesome insight. Author John Bristow, in his book “What Paul Really Said about Women,” offered this insight from his experience at a Chinese mission:

    “My mother used to compare the situation in Corinth to the one she and my father faced in northern China. Back in the 1920’s when they were first to bring God’s message to that forgotten area, they found women with bound feet who seldom left their homes and who, unlike the men, had never in their whole lives attended a public meeting or a class. They had never been told as little girls, “Now you must sit still and listen to the teacher.” Their only concept of an assembly was a family feast where everyone talked at once.

    When these women came to my parents’ church and gathered on the women’s side of the sanctuary, they thought this was a chance to catch up on the news with their neighbors and to ask questions about the story of Jesus they were hearing. Needless to say, along with babies crying and toddlers running about, the women’s section got rather noisy! Add to that the temptation for the women to shout questions to their husbands across the aisle, and you can imagine the chaos. As my mother patiently tried to tell the woman that they should listen first and chitchat or ask questions later, she would mutter under her breath, Just like Corinth; it just couldn’t be more like Corinth.”

    The traditional interpretation, of assuming Paul is prohibiting women from speaking in church for all time, takes this verse right out of the context in which it was given.

    • Marg says:

      Yes, they’re all the same verb. The NSRV translates each occurrence as “be silent”. On the other hand, the NIV uses different English words to translate each of the three occurrences and only uses “silent” for women. Grrr

      Thanks for sharing the story! “Just like Corinth” for sure.

  3. Matthew Moore says:

    I have read some articles which suggest that these verses were an interpolation added later and not in Paul’s original text at all. Do you think this view has any merit?

  4. Personally, I believe that it is unlikely that all the men in the Corinthian church were educated. It is far more likely that many uneducated Gentile men were in attendance. Not only this, but it is clear from Paul’s letter that there were divisions and factions among them. They believed different things and many of them were contentious and unwilling to change their view. Furthermore, I do not believe that Paul would have thought that any woman’s question about Jesus Christ was a “nuisance”. He would have ensured that their questions were answered by someone who knew the gospel and taught it correctly. So I do not believe that Paul would have told wives to ask their husbands at home if they had questions. I believe that verses 34-35 is a quote of a faction of men who wrote Paul. The reference to the Law points to this as well because Paul has repeatedly stated that Christians are not under Law but under grace.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Kristen,

      The Greeks and Romans were pretty keen on education. In the 1st century, practically every city in the Roman Empire, including Corinth, had a gymnasium. These places had started out as places where athletes trained in the nude (gymnos), but by the 1st century they had developed into schools for the intellect as well as the body.

      Wealthy Romans bought educated Greek slaves to train their young sons, and, less frequently, their daughters also.

      1 Corinthians 14:34-35 does jar with the surrounding verses and may have been a quote from a faction. It doesn’t sound like Paul. In fact, the instruction to wives to ask their husbands in the context of learning is exactly the same kind of advise that the pagan Greeks gave to women (e.g. Plutarch).
      http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/plutarch-and-paul-on-men-and-women-and-marriage/

      • The Greeks and Romans may have been educated in worldly things in the gymnasiums/schools, but they would have only been educated in the gospel if they heard the gospel from one of Jesus followers or heard the gospel in a church by someone who had been properly taught. It is likely that many of the men who were in the Corinthian church were newly saved and just learning the gospel themselves. There were also probably unsaved men in attendance who knew nothing about the gospel. There were also likely unmarried/divorced women in attendance who had no husbands (or family members) to ask. And like I said previously, there were divisions and factions among them.

        Also, if we look at 1 Timothy 2: 8 we can see that there was much wrath and dissention among the men in Ephesus which was causing them to lift up unholy hands towards one another. Paul did not silence the men or place them under a Law. Rather, he encouraged the men, in love and grace, to lift up holy hands without wrath and dissension. Encouraging people to do what was right, in love and grace, was Paul’s way. If Paul encouraged the men (who were angrily arguing) in love and grace, then why wouldn’t he do the same if women were asking questions about Jesus Christ? If Paul heard that the women were so thirsty for the gospel that they were asking questions during the church meeting, then I’m sure that he would have encouraged them, in love and grace, to hold their questions until the end and would have assured them that all of their questions would be answered. Paul would have been so overjoyed to know that so many women were so thirsty for the gospel and would have appointed someone who was knowledgeable and trustworthy to teach them. So to say that Paul would have silenced women (for asking questions about Jesus Christ), and then place them under a Law (when he repeatedly says that we are under grace), and then tell them to ask their (unsaved, uneducated, divisive) husbands at home is, for me, an impossibility. Verses 34-35 are definitely the words of a faction of men who wrote him. You even said yourself that verses 34-35 do not sound like Paul and that it was the same advice that the pagan Greeks (and Jewish men who silenced women) gave to women.

        • Marg says:

          Your absolutely correct. Only the men who had a Jewish background would have had the advantage of an education that involved learning about the true God.

          I suspect that the questions the women were asking were very basic, nuisance questions, and not necessarily about Jesus. But then again, these verses my have been an interpolation, or Paul may have been quoting a faction who was getting it wrong. I mention these other interpretations here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

          • To try to say that women in church were asking questions that were not related to Jesus is a stretch. So is the argument that all the women were mindlessly chatting during the service. Even if this were true, Paul would exhort them in love and grace to refrain from talking during the service.

            But I’m glad that you believe that verses 34-35 may have been a quote. I just wish that it was your first line of defense to men who use these verses to say that Paul did not allow women to speak in church. Judy made an excellent point, that verse 36 is a refutation of the two previous verses. I agree with her. Paul would not have refuted his own words. The refutation does not fit with the scenario that Paul was silencing women who were asking nuisance questions. And as I see it, the refutation does not fit with the interpolation theory either.

  5. Merrilyn Mansfield says:

    I also wonder how Corinth’s female prophets prophesied in silence, if 1 Cor 14:34-35 meant what some people say it does.

  6. judy says:

    I see this differently:

    1 Cor 7:1 begins “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote to me:” Paul then proceeds to answer their questions…by chapter 14 he is addressing the request of the Judaizers who wish to silence women ‘AS SAITH THE LAW’…there is no law in the Bible so Paul is not writing this as his own view for he empatically denies that we are still under the law, but under grace. The law THEY are talking about is in the Jewish regulations that are anti-woman. Why would Paul tell new female believers to ask any man at home when many of them would not have believing husbands…only a Judaizer would suggest such at thing because he would expect the women in the synagogue to be married to Jewish men.

    Finally, if Paul wrote this why is vers 36 a REFUTATION of the previous two verses? Why does Paul say “WHAT!!!!” and then ” came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?”

    Paul’s response shows that he did not write the verses 34-35…of why would he be responding to them in this manner?

    He clearly does not agree with those two verses…and is taking the writers to task.

    As Ancient Greek had no quotation marks we simply do not have them to show that Paul is addressing their question, one of many dealt with from chapter 7 onward.

    That is how I see it anyway.

    • Marg says:

      You could well be correct, Judy.

    • Karin says:

      I have seen more than one Bible translation that link the law mentioned in 1 Cor. 14,35 to Gen. 3,16. This always seemed to me like they are desperate to find a fitting Bible passage. Gen. 3,16 is a statement describing the consequence of sin, and even if one would read it as God’s will for Christians (which I don’t), it seems “nature” or “creation principles” would describe it much better than the word “law”.

  7. If Paul really felt women should be silent, why is it not in every letter he wrote to individual churches? Why wouldn’t he be gender-specific in each of his lists of spiritual gifts? 1 Cor 14 and 2 Timothy 2 are the only instances that can be cited in support of a view that women are to be silent in the church. This would effect half the church in how they use their spiritual gifts. Wouldn’t he have been more clear if this was a “rule” that every church should enforce?

    • Marg says:

      I see 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Tim 2:12 as dealing with a certain kind of undesirable speech. I think these verses should be seen as the “exceptions”, and the several passage verses about spiritual giftings (which are all gender neutral) as the “rule”.

  8. Marg says:

    Hi Kristen,

    I fully acknowledge that there are several ways that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 can be interpreted. And several of these ways, including the interpolation and quote interpretation, have validity and merit.

    My preferred interpretation, which I don’t hold on to adamantly (because I don’t think we can know with 100% certainty) is based on a few keys words (they want to learn-μαθεῖν θέλουσιν, let them ask-ἐπερωτάτωσαν, ignorant-ἀγνοεῖ), plus the “ifs”. My view takes into consideration the way teaching and learning occurred in the 1st century, plus, of course, it considers the context of the unruly meetings in Corinth.

    If you get a chance, you might want to see what Ben Witherington and Craig Keener say on this in my longer article. But, I don’t want to dissuade you from your view as it is very credible.

  9. Jamin Hübner says:

    On my chapter on this verse in my doctoral dissertation, I essentially argue the same. Ciampa and Rosner’s Pillar Commentary on 1 Corinthians is probably the best resource available on this text to my knowledge (for those who want further study). On the surface, it seems like Paul is saying the absurd, but subtle textual clues narrows the scope of his focus.

  10. Martin says:

    Catherine Bushnell’s chapter on this passage in the booklet “Covet to Prophesy” is excellent:

    http://godswordtowomen.org/covet.htm

    Her logic is compelling: Paul has just urged the Corinthians (both men and women) to “strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.” How can he, a few verses later, say that all women should be silent in Church?

    It is clear that he is quoting from the Judaizers and their teaching of the Oral Law of the Jews (there is no Old Testament Law which demands that women be silent). Paul’s response to the Judaizers is: “What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only it has reached?” He then repeats his encouragement: “earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues”, which implies that the women also should earnestly desire to prophesy, and that nobody should forbid the women from speaking.

    Catherine Bushnell concludes:

    Verse 39. “Wherefore,” his final conclusion from what goes before. How strangely inapt it would be if the Apostle had just said in his own intention, “Let your women keep silence.”

    “Let your women keep silence, wherefore covet to prophesy.”

    “Let your women keep silence, wherefore forbid not to speak with tongues.” But as a conclusion rendered in the plain language of a judicial statement, resting upon his reminder by a question that the word of God neither came from them nor upon them only, its fitness cannot be questioned.

    “The word of God came not unto you, wherefore forbid not to speak.”

    The expression, “covet to prophesy,” deserves attention here. It is the positive admonition of that which is negatively put by the Apostle in 1 Thess. 5:19, 20. Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings. It relates not properly to the individual, but to the whole body. Covet the to prophesy is the literal reading, and it means, “covet the prophesying,” that is, the gift itself, both for one’s own and for others exercise. As Moses, having the gift himself, refused the jealousy that would restrict but expressed the zeal that would make universal the gift of prophecy. See Numbers 11:29 where in the Septuagint the same Greek words are employed for “envy” and “forbid” as here.

    Verse 40. “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Joshua would have had Eldad and Medad at least as “out of order,” forbidden to prophesy–out of jealousy for his lord, Moses. Moses would, in his jealousy for God’s honor, have had all the people prophesy. This was his conception of decency and order. We say again, one is almost compelled to believe that in all three of these passages where the Apostle makes such striking use of the word “covet” (12:31; 14:1; and 14:39), he has direct reference to Moses’ desire that all the people of God should be prophets (Num. 11:29), as the true pattern of emulation for each Christian believer.

  11. […] 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, in a Nutshell […]

  12. […] 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in a Nutshell […]

  13. […] Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul acknowledged that women pray and prophesy aloud in church meetings, without asking them to stop or be silent (1 Cor. 11:5; cf. 1 Cor. 14:26). So Paul’s call for silence in 14:34 cannot be about a complete, universal and lasting silence from all women. Rather he is referring here to a specific kind of speech in a specific situation. […]

  14. Alex says:

    I ask this question not with the typical condescending attitude of the Complementarian, but with a sincere desire to learn, and open ears to listen.

    If what Paul is warning against in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is just idle chitchat or unwelcome interruptions, without necessarily forbidding women to speak at all times, then why does the next verse state that it is “a shame” (αἰσχρὸν) for a woman to “speak” (λαλεῖν) in church?

    The Greek word translated as “a shame” is also used in Ephesians 5:11-12 —> «And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.» Therefore we can know the gravity for a woman to “speak” according to Paul — but the doubt is still there: by “speaking” does he mean idle chatting? Or all speaking?

    The Greek word translated as ‘speak’ here is λαλεῖν, and I can’t find a single ocurrence of this word in the new testament that even hints to “idle chatting”: http://biblehub.com/greek/lalein_2980.htm

    So based on what do you claim that Paul only prohibits speaking under certain circumstances, and not all?

    God bless you.

    • Marg says:

      Alex, have you actually read this article? Your comments do not seem to correspond with, or relate to, what I’ve written.

      Nowhere do I state that the problem Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was idle chitchat. λαλ- words are used 27 times in 1 Corinthians 14. 27 times!!! And none of these are in the context of idle chitchat.

      λαλ- words occur in the three passages looked at in the article. As well as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, λαλ- words occur in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28 (twice) in the context of speaking in tongues, and in 1 Corinthians 14:29-31 (once) in the context of prophets speaking. Both men and women spoke in tongues and were prophets in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26; cf. Acts 2:17-18). That women prophesied in the Corinthian church is further attested here.

      The three calls for silence in 1 Corinthians 14 were each given in response to three specific “speaking” situations that were occurring during gatherings of churches in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:28, 30, 34). 1 Corinthians 14:35 indicates the kind of speaking some women were engaging in; these women wanted to learn and were asking questions. Paul provides the solution: they should ask their husbands at home. Obviously, this instruction applies to husbands who knew more than their wives, and hints that some women were poorly educated.

      The honour-shame dynamic was intrinsic in the first-century Mediterranean world, and the concept of “shame” was readily applied to unacceptable demeanour and behaviour of women. The Greco-Roman concept does not correspond precisely with the concept of “shame” in modern western society. More on honour-shame here.

      The basis of my claim that Paul prohibited three kinds of speaking in three specific circumstances is outlined in the article.

      • Alex says:

        My bad. I apologize for this confusion.

        I have another question. There are quite a few theologians who don’t believe 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to have been included in the chapter originally, rather being a late work by scribes. Do you think this is an appropiate argument?

        • Marg says:

          Hi Alex,

          Yes, there are quite a few scholars who have a high view of the inspiration and authority Scripture and who suggest 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 may be an interpolation (i.e. inserted addition). There are several reasons for this idea. I mention the interpolation idea briefly in this article here.

          Philip Payne has an article where he explains the evidence which indicates 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 may be an interpolation, here.

          Several interpolations have been included in older manuscripts and translations of the New Testament. The most well-known interpolation, called the Johannine Comma, is found in 1 John 5:7-8 in some Bibles/New Testaments. Another interpolation, which has some variants, is a longer ending of the Gospel of Mark. Still another interpolation is the story of the woman caught in adultery found John 7:53-8:11. Each of these interpolations has a different history about how it came about.

          Despite these interpolations and a few other variants, the authenticity and reliability of the New Testament is secure. (More on this here.)

          I’m personally not convinced 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation, but I do understand why others think it is a possibility.

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