The Eden Podcast with Bruce C. E. Fleming

1 Corinthians 14:34-40 Silenced Women?

Episode Summary

Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul strings together a series of replies in a well-written dialog with the church at Corinth. As he draws near to the end of 1 Corinthians 14, he has one last proposal from Corinth to deal with. It is an especially distasteful one. After quoting it in verses 34-35, Paul then responds vigorously to it, and to those who have proposed it. In 1 Corinthians 11:16, Paul had described as “contentious” those who were the source of the words he quoted in 1 Corinthians 11:4-6. Those who are behind the words he quotes in 14:34-35, he identifies in verses 36-37 at four points as acting just like the teachers of the Jewish oral law. Rejecting their proposals in verse 38, he advises the church to implement the teachings he himself has just given them in chapters 12-14. What about the foundational research on Genesis 2-3 by Dr. Joy Fleming that makes these New Testament studies possible? Read or listen on Audible: The Book of Eden, Genesis 2-3 by Bruce C. E. Fleming.

Episode Notes

Paul inserted a final quotation from the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Then he refuted and rejected the proposal.

In these two verses the subject, tone and vocabulary of the passage change noticeably. Then, in verses 36-38 comes a return to Paul’s normal vocabulary and style with a strong rebuke to those who proposed the ideas contained in the previous two verses. Finally, in verses 39 and 40, the storm passes and earlier themes are picked up again.

According to verses 34-35, some want the Corinthian Christians to adopt legalistic limitations on who can, and who should not, use their gifts for the building up of the church. Specifically, the proposal excludes Christian women from speaking in church.

Contentious claims. In verses 34 to 35 we encounter a string of bad ideas that do not belong to Paul. Why should women not speak, or preach, publicly? Because they are “not permitted.” Permitted? By whom, or by what?

Women are to “be subject.” Why? Because that’s what their “law” says. If a Christian woman has a Christian husband who is informed enough to be able to instruct her, she can learn from him at home! Preposterous!

What law? People have suggested that the quote/unquote “law” being referred to in verse 34 is … a reference to Genesis 3:16. However, Genesis 3:16 says nothing about “speaking” or about “being silent.” As we have seen earlier, that verse is not a curse, nor does God limit woman in any way. There is no such restriction in a true 3:16!

Paul’s teaching elsewhere in the New Testament is nothing like the proposal in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. Let me quote what David Odell-Scott says:

Paul … states time and again that Christians are not under the law, but are free of it. … “But now we are discharged from the law” (Rom. 7:6). Earlier, in 1 Corinthians Paul instructs the Gentile men of Corinth that they are free of the law and are, therefore, not required to be circumcised (1 Cor. 7:18-19). Elsewhere, too, Paul has rejected the claim that Gentile Christians should keep the Jewish dietary laws. (Odell-Scott, BLT, p. 14)

Those who are proposing limitations on women in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are advocating the ideas of the legalists, the sayings of Jewish teachers that were passed on orally and later written down in the Jewish oral law. 

In an early article of his, (“Libertarian Women” Trin J 1 NS, p. 187) Philip Payne pointed out how verse 34 indicates the source of these ideas:

… when Paul refers to the Old Testament, he usually does not write ‘as the law says’ (which often suggests oral tradition) but ‘just as it is written’.

Payne also pointed out the elements in these verses that come from the milieu of the Jewish oral law:

(quote) … According to Jewish custom, the part of the synagogue given to the scribes’ teaching was open only to males, as its name suggests: andron. … Women were forbidden to teach…. Their position in society was reflected in the common formula, “women, slaves, and children.” In the home, too, the wife was not even to pronounce the benediction after a meal. (Close quote)

The “law” appealed to in 1 Corinthians 14 is the oral law. The words used here, such as the Greek word for “shame” in verse 35, are typical of the rough language used in the oral law. They are not the kind of words Paul uses. This is an example of the segregationist practices of Jewish legalism seeping into the church.

To clarify that verse 34 refers to the “oral law,” and not the Old Testament “Law” with a capital “L” Bible editors of the NIV removed the capitalization that was first used in the NIV of 1971. Instead of using a capital L “Law,” the verse now has a lower case l “law,” for “… as the law says.”

Was Paul intimidated? In making a reference to the oral law, those who contended with Paul made a serious tactical error. Paul no longer looked with favor on the rules he had followed as a Pharisee before his conversion. 

Paul had rebuked Peter for giving in to such influences (Galatians 2:11-14). He would not be swayed by a similar appeal coming to him from Corinth!

GO DEEPER: To read about the foundational research on Genesis 2-3 by Dr. Joy Fleming that makes these New Testament studies possible please see The Book of Eden, Genesis 2-3 by Bruce C. E. Fleming