To the man who is in ministry the issue of women teachers and leaders is oftentimes not such a deeply felt problem. And for the woman who loves children and feels called to them it’s not that big of an issue either. There is always a place for their service. But for the woman who feels called to teach the Word to adults, and one who not just wants to or desires to teach but actually feels called, it’s no small matter. It means living in a world where you feel regularly like there’s no place for you. You want to honor the Word and do what it says but what about the deep yearnings of the soul?
Why not just teach women and be satisfied with that?
It seems like that this would be enough. But when you feel called, just teaching women somehow isn’t even the point. It’s about having the freedom and release to preach and teach the Word. Not as in be a reverend in the pulpit necessarily, but to have a place to share the Word and the revelation that God has given.
The Scriptures aren’t clear and that’s why there has been several thousand years of controversies. But we do our best to understand the text, the culture, the time, the genre and look to be obedient in our response.
There are two main Scriptural challenges: 1 Tim 2:1-11 and 1 Cor 11:1-16.
We’ve already looked at 1 Tim 2:1-11 and now to turn to 1 Cor 14:26-35
Worshiping Women in 1 Cor 14:26-35
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.
34 Women[f] 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.[g]
What is the Context?
Without a doubt there were problems with orderly worship. There were gifts expressed in unhelpful ways, issues with the Lord’s supper, how to share something from the Lord and more.
Here’s what we can gather:
When Paul says “each of you” has something to share in v. 26, we can easily imply this included women. Why? Because just a few verses before a woman is told to cover her head when she prays and prophesies (1 Cor 11:6).
So how does this correlate with “Women should remain silent..they are not allowed to speak” (v. 34)? Let’s take a look. A different look.
Lost in Translation
Translation is not an easy process. There are some things that just don’t bridge over to the next language and so inferences must be made. Here are some of the main ones:
- Punctuation – This is especially problematic in Hebrew and Greek. In Hebrew there really isn’t punctuation. And in Greek the sentences are so very long, and I mean long (Eph 1:3-14 is ONE sentence) that when it’s brought into English, it’s not always clear where to punctuate.
- Styles of Writing – There are different genres and different ways of expressing things. For example with the book of Revelation, in English genres we do not typically have apocryphal writings. And with structure, Paul and other writers frequently use Chiasmus structure (A-B-C-D-C-B-A) where we mainly use it only in poetry (more on this later).
- No quotations – There are no quotation marks or markers in Greek. One has to presume based on the context where quotation marks go or on possible indicators.
- Words with implications – Language often has words or parts of words that can imply things. In Canadian the “eh?” typically implies a “yes.” In many of the Latin languages ending with a “no?” means “yes” or “correct me if I’m wrong.”
The problem is that these differences matter. A lot. Because with them they help us see structure and meaning. Here is where these issues come up in this text.
33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.
34 Women[f] should remain silent in the churches.
It is not clear what “as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” attaches to, the words before or the words after. I do believe contextually that the translation here is correct, that it goes with the words of all the congregations have peace among them. It is the main theme here, peace in worship, and would be logical that it connects to all the churches.
That’s really all we will say about this. Context is king and so I feel that directs where it attaches.
B) The Structure of Chiasmus.
Chiasmus looks like this:
Chiasmus contains parallel thoughts up and then parallel thoughts back down. The A’s match, the B’s match, and the C’s match. And typically the crux of the matter is the peak at which they meet, in this case the C’s.
In this text we see strong indicators of chiasmus. Take a look:
A. Those speaking in tongues (14:27-28)
B. Those prophesying (14:29-22)
C. Women (14:34-35a)
C. Women (14:35b-38)
B. Those prophesying (14:39a)
A. Those speaking in tongues (14:39b)
Why does this matter? Because when we look at it through the lens of chiasmus we have verses that help explain one another.
There were two problematic issues in the Corinthian congregations.
- Allowing everything and no order – Most of chapter 14
- Allowing nothing – 14:39
Because of this Paul had to deal with two issues. He first had to call people to orderly worship. But then he had to instruct them that orderly worship did not mean an abolition of the gifts or participation in the service. He had to clearly tell them “be eager” and “do not forbid” which appeared to be happening (14:39)
How this relates in the chiasmus is that the first ascending A-B-C verses are dealing with orderly worship, and the descending verses appear to be making sure that Godly expression is not quenched. This is clear in prophesying and and tongues. But might it also be clear (at that time) for the women’s issue as well?
C. No Quotations
In 1 Corinthians where we find this text, the whole letter is loaded with potential quotations of others. Paul quoted
- Old Testament Scripture – 1 Cor 1:19, 31; 2:9, 16; 3:19, 20; 5:13; 6:16; 9:9; 10:7, 26; 14:21; 15:27, 32, 45, 54, 55
- The Words of Jesus – 11:14-25/Lk 22:19-20
- The Greek dramatist Menander – 1 Cor 15:33 Menander’s work Thias
- Unbelievers- 1 Cor 4:6 / B. Makkot 23a
- Believers in Corinth – 1 Cor 10:28, 12:3, 14:25
I say “quote” loosely as Greek didn’t have quotes, these are just ones observed by the translators.
Why is this important? Because there is indication that they may have missed one:
“For it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14:35b).
“Nonsense!” you say. Exactly. Now let me show you why this may be a quotation, and the very opposite of how we may be reading it.
D. Words of Implication
Just like Canadians have “eh?” and Latinos have “no?” and Scandinavians suck in their breath and everyone thinks they’re afraid, when it’s actually their “yes,” so Greek has something similar:
(It sounds just like the Canadian “eh” except with a downward intonation.)
And it has the implication of “No!” “Nonsense!” “What?” It’s called an “expletive of disassociation.” It can be an expression of utter surprise “really?!” but most frequently means “Nonsense!”
He used this little letter 49 times in 1 Corinthians. It is implemented several ways but one significant way he used it was to imply rebuttal. In particular for our study, he asked 14 questions where ἢ introduced the sentence. It’s not easy to see in English, because it’s an expression more than a word. Anyway, here are the 14:
1:13 – Was Christ divided? (ἢ – Not at all!) Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
6:2 – If any of you has a dispute, do you take it before unbelievers? (What?!) Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?
6:9 – You cheat, do wrong and do this to your brothers. (Nonsense!) Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?
6:16 – Shall I united the members of Christ and a prostitute? (No way!) Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?
6:19 – He who sins sexually sins against his body. (Really?!) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
7:16 – If the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. God has called us to live in peace. (What?!) how do you know, husband, whether you will your wife?
9:6 – This is my defense of those who sit in judgment of me. (What?!) is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?
9:7 – Who tends a vineyard and doesn’t eat its grapes? (No one!) Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?
9:8 – Do I say this from a human point of view? (No!) Doesn’t the Law say the same thing?
9:10 – Is it about oxen that God is concerned? (No!) Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he?
10:22 – You cannot have the Lord’s table and demons. (Nonsense!) Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?
11:22 – One remains hungry and another drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat in? (What?!) do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?
14:36a – It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. (Nonsense!) Did the Word of God originate with you?
14:36b … (What?!) are you the only people it has reached?
What this is saying is that the statements before were “nonsense,” or “expletives of disassociation” or surprise. They were connected to what went before but then led to a question.
2) ἢ (Nonsense! What?!)
Tying it Together
Let’s put everything in context and bring it together.
- Based on the use of ἢ in 14:35b, it would make sense that “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” was perhaps a quotation or common phrase that was being used. Paul seems to follow it with a “nonsense” or “no” with the use of ἢ and then asks the questions that he does. This is consistent with the common way of how he has used this expression before and throughout 1 Corinthians.
- The structure of the chiasmus would also lend itself to this as well–the descending chiasmus trying to stop the opposite pendulum swing of prohibiting the silence of tongue-speakers, prophets and more than likely women.
- This is further under girded by the fact that in Greek, all three disorderly parties (women, tongue-speakers and those who prophesy) are told to “be silent.” The Greek word is the same. If we translate by the word in Greek, it would look like this:
Tongue speakers – “be silent” v. 28
Prophets – “be silent” v. 30
Women – “be silent” v. 34
And so he tells all three problem categories to be more respectful to the order of how they contribute to worship, and then he says “but don’t forbid tongues,” and “be eager” to prophesy, and then women. Would it not lend itself that he was also saying to them to participate in worship, but be respectful? And that their contribution should not be shut down?
It’s something to think about. Let me reiterate what is said in Greek. ALL THREE parties are told to “be silent.” It’s the EXACT same word. And then tongue-speakers, prophets and if we go by the structure and use of ἢ, that they all three are NOT to be shut down or shut out? But they just need to be more respectful in worship? And in how they use their gift?
So what it would look like is this:
‘”It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church“ Nonsense! (ἢ )Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?’
- This supports the greater context of Jesus and Paul honoring women
- This supports the greater context of gifts being given to all people
- It supports the grammatical context in the many uses of ἢ in 1 Corinthians to mean “nonsense”
- It supports the structural context like hand in glove:
Those prophesying disorderly (get correction) – But Be Eager to Prophesy! (14:39)
Tongue-speakers disorderly (get correction) – But Don’t Forbid! (14:30)
Women being disorderly (get correction)- Don’t Shut Women Out (14:35b -36)
There is a real possibility that this is what Paul was saying in the Greek. It actually fits more fluidly then the English translation. There’s more to it than this. But it’s something to think on.
Points from Why Not Women Loren Cunningham/David Hamilton