1 Cor 11 & 14 Women should pray and prophesy in congregation

1 Corinthians 11 and 14 are frequently used as passages to silence women.  However when the passages are examined more closely they point in entirely the opposite direction!  Paul expected women to pray in congregation.  He expected them to speak on God’s behalf as prophets.  The restrictions he placed on the Corinthian women (and men) was to respect cultural boundaries so as not to bring shame on The Way.

In 1 Cor 11:5 Paul expects women to pray in congregation

any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head

The surface reading is that women can pray and prophesy in the congregation.  Paul’s only restriction is on attire but head       coverings are out of scope.[1]  Notice that the passage flows straight on from 1Cor 11:4 where men are also praying and prophesying.  The only thing which distinguishes the two genders is their headcoverings NOT their actions.

The passage has always been understood as speaking of congregational meetings.  That clothing choices could bring shame (1Cor 11:5-6) demonstrates it was intended to refer to public/communal gatherings. 

In terms of prohibiting or allowing things I suggest the scale is something like:

  1. Clearly banned as out
  2. Negative examples
  3. Positive examples
  4. Clearly stated as allowed
  5. Positively demanded to happen

Scripturally women praying in the ecclesia is sitting at (4) – Paul clearly allows equality in prayer, in the congregation.

Typically conservative congregations deny women can publicly pray.  This is somewhat contradictory since they are often allowed to sing solo prayers.  They also regularly lead the congregation in musical prayer while playing instruments (I know some people will claim organists accompany the congregation – anyone who claims this is clearly not an organist!).  Strangely the conservative practices would place burdens and barriers on women which would make Paul writing by inspiration a radical.  Any interpretation of other Scriptural passages which prohibits women from praying has to account for Paul’s clear statements to the contrary.

Some do try and work around this by claiming 1 Cor 11:1-16 applied outside of congregational settings – because obviously women can’t pray or prophesy in congregation (eg Cottrell[2]).  Yet 1 Cor 11 through 14 has a clear communal application throughout.

One Christadelphian author suggested the prayer meant was a spirit gift and hence women praying has ceased and is irrelevant now[3].  But prayer is never being mentioned as a spirit gift in the various lists of spirit gifts. Nor is prayer typically mentioned in conjunction with prophesy.  

Others like Brynes appear to argue that rather than a communal prayer Paul just means silent personal prayer in congregation or saying amen at the end of a man’s prayer.  However Brynes argues this must be the case since we have no examples of females leading prayer – an argument from silence – and because men are told to prayer without anger and lifting up holy hands in 1 Tim 2:8!!!.[4]  So we are expected to think Paul means audible prayer in 1 Cor 11:4 talking about men but a silent bob of the head in v5 apparently?  This seems unlikely. 

Paul repeats his discussion in 1 Cor 11:13

Judge for yourselves is it proper for a women to pray to God with her head uncovered?

Once again he expects the women to be praying and this to be obvious to the observer.  This demonstrates that – as we would expect from v5 – the prayer is made in community and is readily observable, because she can be heard!  She is not a silent witness to worship.  The only restriction Paul puts in place is that the woman wears a headcovering because OBVIOUSLY this is appropriate as everyone knows (ie it is a cultural expectation).

Women can prophesy in congregation 1 Cor 11:5

What does prophesy mean?  From an OT perspective (and this carried forward into the NT) the most obvious meaning is God inspired future telling and delivering God inspired messages (be they judgement or advice etc).  It also includes what Paul describes in 1 Cor 14:3 where the purpose/outcome of prophecy was to “strengthening, encouragement, and consolation”.  Prophesy would disclose the secrets of an unbeliever’s heart (1 Cor 14:25).  This is not future telling but dare I say closer to exhortational speaking?  In fact on reflection we might see that the OT prophets also spoke as much (or more) of faithful living than future telling.

Prophecy was distinct from teaching, a different gift, office/calling and a superior one:

Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I help you unless I speak to you with a revelation or with knowledge or prophecy or teaching?

1 Cor 14:6

It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers

Eph 4:11

And Paul considered prophecy superior to teaching

God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues

1 Cor 12:26

The Holy Spirit fell on men and women at the same time and Peter referred to the effect being that they prophesied (Acts 2:18) and female prophets are mentioned some twenty nine years later (Acts 21:9 – the fact that these prophetess are unmarried daughters suggests they were young women and therefore probably unborn at Pentacost – God kept on appointing female prophetesses!).  In Acts 10 God made the spirit fall on the Gentiles.  The believers had to accept this is what God wanted – not just if the spirit fell but everytime.  God pointed the way by the spirit.  If God specifically appointed and empowered women to participate in a greater, more important public activity than teaching, we need incredibly good warrants to overrule the direction He pointed us in.  We typically deny women a lesser roles than the one God clearly and repeated gave them.  

Some people want us to believe that God does not want women to speak as a matter of principle rooted in the events of Genesis 3.  I believe God’s principles are consistently applied.  After all in James 1 we are told that God doesn’t change.  How can it be that God would empower women to publicly speak, that God would repeatedly give the spirit to women for this purpose if God was against such activity?!  It seem obvious that if God empowered women then He is anything but against their voices being heard.

At a minimum God empowering women to prophesy means they can at least read

Some argue that prophesy was strictly speaking verbatim God’s word and therefore not applicable today.  Accepting this definition for the moment, it means at a minimum women can read God’s word.  If prophecy is limited to mechanical dictation then reading is just as neutral. 

However objections are made to what seems logically obvious.

Some claim reading is a teaching role based on Neh 8:8 which in the KJV says “

So they [the Levites] read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading

Neh 8:8 KJV

Other translations have an alternative rending – eg the NET reads

They read from the book of God’s law, explaining it and imparting insight”. 

We are unclear exactly what the Levites did in Neh 8:8.  Some say they interpreted into Aramaic, others that they explained the reading as they went, still others following the Vulgate/KJV say they were great readers which helped their audience.  Quite possibly they acted as repeater stations amplifying the message clearly to the audience far from the main reader.  The point is we don’t know exactly what they were doing.  We DO know that reading is not teaching.  In most services the teacher is a different person to the reader, because we do not equate the two things.  Reading well is not teaching.  It is reading effectively.

Some will argue that prophesy and reading are not the same and there are no examples of women reading.[5]  The latter point is an argument from silence – and ignores the cultural reality of the OT and NT times here women tended to have less education AND were considered second class.  Besides the argument misses a far more significant point.  Prophecy is greater than reading.  If God empowered women to do the greater thing surely we should allow them do the lesser role of reading.  Prophecy at a bare minimum is acting as a neutral channel for God’s word.  God endorsed women doing this, hence being a channel for the written word, ie reading, should not be prohibited.

At a minimum sisters should be able to read based on 1 Cor 11:5.  At a maximum, God enabled women to perform a more significant audible role than just teaching, despite some thinking He wanted women to be quiet.

In 1 Cor 14 Paul is focused on edification and the external visitor’s reaction – on order

In 1 Cor 14 Paul is operating from the perspective of winning the approval of the outside per 1 Cor 14:23-25

So if the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and unbelievers or uninformed people enter, will they not say that you have lost your minds?  24  But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or uninformed person enters, he will be convicted by all, he will be called to account by all. 25  The secrets of his heart are disclosed, and in this way he will fall down with his face to the ground and worship God, declaring, “God is really among you

Things had to be done properly.  And this is a consistent theme:

God is not characterized by disorder but by peace

1 Cor 14:33

Paul wants the meetings to be conducted “decently in order” 1 Cor 14:40.  But what defines decently and in order?  It is not a defined term by Paul – he doesn’t lay out a strict order for a service.  Rather it must reflect the time and place of the congregation, the cultural mores of what constitutes decent and orderly activity.  This means it is not JUST the view of participants (which can become moribund in tradition and preference) but also the view of the outsider.

This is a not a unique passage.  Multiple books encourage believers to act in way which matches external expectations and cultural mores:

  • Col 4:5  Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities
  • 1Tim 5:14 So I want younger women to marry, raise children, and manage a household, in order to give the adversary no opportunity to vilify us
  • 1 Tim 6:1 Those who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters as deserving of full respect. This will prevent the name of God and Christian teaching from being discredited
  • Titus 2:5 (old women should be) be self-controlled, pure, fulfilling their duties at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the message of God may not be discredited.
  • Titus 2:8 9 young men (to have a) sound message that cannot be criticized, so that any opponent will be at a loss, because he has nothing evil to say about us.
  • 1 Pet 2:12 maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears
  • Rom 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people

So with the view of the outsider in mind, Paul proceeds in v 26-40 to issue three instructions in 1 Cor 14:26-39 to regulate behaviour in the congregation.  The instructions are:

  • The gift of tongues should only be used if there was an interpreter
  • Prophets should speak in turn not interrupt each other, and needed some validation to ensure there was no fake prophecy
  • Women should keep silent and learn at home

The context – meeting the cultural expectations of the outsider – is an important part of the interpretation of the instruction to women.

A woman in Greek and Jewish culture was to be silent, learn at home and best be unseen

The bulk of Greek society was patriarchal and conservative as per this contemporary:

Plutarch [46-120AD] will say much the same thing: a woman should be seen when she is with her husband, but stay hidden at home when he is away (“Advice on Marriage” 9). Both her body and her words should not be “public property” but instead guarded from strangers. She should speak to her husband and through her husband (“Advice on Marriage” 31–32).[6]

Plutarch also wrote:

her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.… For a woman ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband, and she should not feel aggrieved if, like the flute-player, she makes a more impressive sound through a tongue not her own[7]

And for a little more:

Hesiod, Works and Days (seventh century b.c.) counsels a man to “marry a young lady, so that you can teach her careful ways.” Hesiod’s counsel is quoted approvingly by Aristotle (fourth century b.c.), in his Politics 1344a. In his discussion On Household Management, 7.4–35, Xenophon (fifth-fourth century b.c.) discusses how to train and teach a wife. Philo (early first century a.d.), On the Special Laws 1:106–7, recommends marrying a woman who has not already experienced marriage since such women are most open to receiving the husband’s instruction, “like perfectly smooth wax that receives the teachings which will be impressed on it.” Pliny the Younger (late first century a.d.), Letters 1.16, upon learning of a wife who has become an accomplished writer, credits this fact to her husband “as the teacher who has made such a polished and learned lady of his wife.” In Plutarch’s view, the ideal was for a wife to praise her husband, saying, “My dear husband, you are my guide and philosopher, my teacher.” He counseled husbands to teach their wives since if they do not learn from their husbands “they will, left to themselves, conceive a lot of ridiculous ideas” (Moralia 145). Later, the Babylonian Talmud came to affirm that “Before marriage a woman is a shapeless lump. It is her husband who transforms her into a useful vessel” (b. Sanhedrin 22b).[8]

Livy writing between 27 BC and 9BC records a purported speech of one Marcus Porcius Cato in 195BC:

Could you not each of you put the very same question to your husbands at home? Surely you do not make yourselves more attractive in public than in private, to other women’s husbands more than to your own? [10] If matrons were kept by their natural modesty within the limits of their rights, it would be most unbecoming for you to trouble yourselves even at home about the laws which may be passed or repealed here.’ Our ancestors would have no woman transact even private business except through her guardian, they placed them under the tutelage of parents or brothers or husbands….If you allow them to pull away these restraints and wrench them out one after another, and finally put themselves on an equality with their husbands, do you imagine that you will be able to tolerate them?[9]

Josephus expresses similarly oppressive thoughts – and claims that they are embedded in Jewish law:

But then, what are our laws about marriage? That law…commands us also, when we marry, not to have regard to portion, nor to take a woman by violence, nor to persuade her deceitfully and knavishly; but demand her in marriage of him who hath power to dispose of her, and is fit to give her away by the nearness of his kindred; (201) for, saith the Scripture, “A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.” Let her, therefore, be obedient to him; not so, that he should abuse her, but that she may acknowledge her duty to her husband; for God hath given the authority to the husband.[10]

The Law says no such thing, despite Josephus’ claim.

The Law did say some things which might support the idea of a woman being inferior though.  The trial of jealousy.  The control/uncleanness of menstruation.  That women were worth 60% of a man in vows per Lev 27:1-8. So it’s hard to say there was no basis for sexism in the Law.  Of course Jesus himself said the Mosaic Law accommodated the hardness of men’s hearts rather the divine ideal so we shouldn’t be surprised (Matt 19:8).

Roman society (except for the very wealthy) was very patriarchal in family structures but perhaps a little looser:

Roman patria potestas (“power of a father”) gave Roman husbands almost unlimited authority as heads of their households, including the right to inflict corporal punishment on both wives and children (and in the case of slaves even to execute them for disobedience). Nothing like full-fledged modern egalitarianism characterized any significant aspect of Greco-Roman society[11]

Linda Belleville makes the following summary comment:

Greco-Roman attitudes were not as uniform as the author presents either. While it was true that Classical and Hellenistic Athenian women stayed in seclusion, Classical Spartan and Greco-Roman women did not. They moved about freely in public, participating in politics, public offices, and civic projects. Land registers show that women owned 40 percent of all Spartan real estate. The Spartan model toward which Alexander the Great gravitated held cultural sway for six hundred years. The Romans went even further. So while Paul is more restrictive in an Asian context (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18 [“Wives, submit yourselves”]), he is more expansive in Greece (1 Cor. 7:5 [“by mutual consent”]) and even more so in Italy, where he commends women—married and otherwise—as coworkers (Rom. 16). Such varying counsel and practice points to sensitivity to local practices and social norms.[12]

Bottom line – women’s public speech was generally considered a concern. 

1 Cor 14:5 & 26 men & women were expected to contribute to services

Contrary to common modern practice and ancient expectation, Paul expected everyone to contribute to the services – and contribute audibly.  He opens the chapter this way:

I wish you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy

1 Cor 14:5

Paul could have said just the men, he had no problem distinguishing male and female in 1 Cor 11 but here he wants them to all speak in tongues or prophesy – something we know both men and women did.  Combined with his comment about men and women praying & prophesying in 1 Cor 11:4-5 its hard to see why some prohibition on female contribution is imagined.  But Paul goes further describing how the services worked in 1 Cor 14:26:

What should you do then, brothers and sisters (Greek Adelphoi)? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church

The NET translates the plural adelphois as brothers and sisters?  Why?  Because as the NET notes say the Gk word in the plural points to both male and female.  The notes cite BDAG – which does indeed have an impressive list of contemporaneous cultural use supporting this reading[13].  While the Greek adelphoi in a super literal way means “brothers” it is ignoring Greek usage at the time along with the NT use to translate it this way.  If Paul wrote to a family of 1 man and 3 women the correct term would be Adelphoi – the male plural.  It wasn’t good grammar to use two words the male plural plus the female plural.  In their male dominated world the male plural already included women.  A scan of the NT epistles will demonstrate adelphoi is used to refer to brothers and sisters.  There is one occasion where the word clearly refers to just males.  Females in the plural are NEVER addressed in the NT epistles with the sole exception of 1 Tim 5:2.  They are included in all the words addressed to believers by the word Adelphoi.  Once again Paul has been very clear in 1 Cor 11-14 when he wants to specifically talk to men or women.  Here he expects everyone to contribute – audibly – to meetings.

As a side note this simple sort of service appears to be reflected in Tertullian’s “The Apology” penned circa 200AD:

The participants, before reclining, taste first of prayer to God. As much is eaten as satisfies the cravings of hunger; as much is drunk as befits the chaste. They say it is enough, as those who remember that even during the night they have to worship God; they talk as those who know that the Lord is one of their auditors. After manual ablution, and the bringing in of lights, each is asked to stand forth and sing, as he can, a hymn to God, either one from the holy Scriptures or one of his own composing,—a proof of the measure of our drinking. As the feast commenced with prayer, so with prayer it is closed[14]

After v34-35 (which some read to silence women), Paul again tells everyone to seek prophecy and speak in tongues in the congregation:

So then, brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid anyone from speaking in tongues

He wants everyone to speak and contribute – just in an orderly way!  Everyone should be keen to prophesy and no-one forbidden to speak in tongues.  But wait!  Some people think Paul has banned women from every speaking in v 34-35!  A simple contextual reading demonstrates such a permanent ban is misconstrued.  Paul wants everyone to speak in tongues.  But he also told the tongue speakers to be quiet.  Paul wants everyone to prophesy, but just told the prophets to be quiet.  Paul wants men and women to be heard, but just told the women to be quiet.  No-one should be prevented from speaking but ALL the speakers had to be conscious that there was a time to speak and a time to be quiet.  However no one should be forbidden from ever speaking.  How strange that in seeking to apply v34-35 telling women to be quiet, some expositors totally smash v39 by prohibiting some from speaking!

1 Cor 14:33 “As in all the churches” is this referring to prophetic order or women being quiet?

While Paul could introduce a thought with a declaration of universal practice it appears to not be his practice in 1 Corinthians.  EG 1 Cor 4:17, 1 Cor 7:17, 1 Cor 11:16.  Plus as Belleville notes

to start a new paragraph at verse 33b would produce an awkward redundancy: “As in all the churches of the saints, let the women in the churches be silent.” Why repeat “in the churches” twice in one sentence? [15]

Translations appear split on where to place the comment.  It probably matters little but I tend to follow Belleville’s logic and stick with the NET’s allocation of the comment to the instruction on prophets.

So what does Paul mean when he says women should be silent in v34??

the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says

1 Cor 14:34

Everyone regardless of their interpretation of these words would agree that women can sing. A properly literal reading of the verse would disallow even this activity.  So we all limit the interpretation of “silent” to something other than complete silence. 

The word “silence” in 9 of the 10 other occurrences is used of a ceasing to speak in a disorderly or conflict situation

  • People arguing Luke 20:26, Acts 15:12, 13
  • An embarrassing disruptive beggar Luke 18:39
  • Inappropriately interrupting disciples Luke 9:36
  • Confused/disorderly but happy people Acts 12:17
  • The single babbling tongue speaker 1 Cor 14:28
  • A prophet not speaking over others 1 Cor 14:30
  • Women 1 Cor 14:34

In the other occurrence it is used of God concealing a mystery Rom 16:25 (?).

So what is the commanded silence here?

In 1 Cor 11:5 & 13 Paul allowed the women to pray and prophesy in the congregation.  So it is not an absence of noise of speaking, and 1 Cor 14:5 & 26 expects a whole lot of contribution.  It is a cessation from inappropriate speaking which would result in cultural shame.  So women were to contribute but not in a way which would be perceived as a step too far by the times.

1 Cor 14:34 be in submission as the law says

the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says

1 Cor 14:34

The word submission is crudely two words – order and under (so submission is to be under someone’s order/arrangement).  The same expression has already been used by Paul in 1 Cor 14:32 – the spirit of prophecy is subject (submissive) to the prophet.  They can bring it to order.  One of the two root words is used by Paul at the end of the chapter 1 Cor 14:40 do every in a decent order.  This kind of points us at the way Paul is using the word here.  Not submission in the English sense but maintaining the order.

What law says women should be under men?   It’s good question which is not well answered by anyone.  No-one seems quite which should invoke caution about the application of the passage.

it is not possible to be absolutely certain about the allusion, it is important to note both that Paul is very certain of his authority to lay down this ruling, and that he considered ‘the law’, the teaching of Scripture specifically or generally, to be in perfect harmony with his commandment[16]

Bro Colin Brynes claims the reference to the law only applies to the idea of submission, not silence, and claims this is a reference to Gen 1-3.[17]  Despite his claims however there is no mention of submission in Gen 1-3, only post sin conflict in Gen 3:16.  Furthermore we might observe that Gen 3:16 provides a disharmonious clash rather than the order which Paul is seeking in this chapter. 

Thiselton[18] suggests what the Law taught, and what Paul was looking to achieve in both this and other areas of Corinthian practice (eg the practical nature of the agape meal in 1 Cor 11), was order.  God brought order and structure from Genesis 1 through to the tabernacle.  Submit to an orderly creation as the Torah emphasizes.

Bartlett makes the brilliant – but troubling in its implications – observation that:

There is no other place in Paul’s writings where his explicitly intended Old Testament reference is uncertain[19]

This inclusion is strange to say the least.

1 Cor 14:34 what does it mean?  Not judging prophets?  maybe

In the context of orderly silence already mentioned in the chapter and the judgement of the external visitor – whose views on women likely accorded to those mentioned previously many commentators of all hues conclude the silence was MOST LIKELY refraining from interrupting or judging the words of the male prophets.

The women’s behaviour had to be culturally appropriate.  The woman was to ask questions at home – exactly as the culture (but not one single OT law) said and avoid being seen to challenge a man.

Paul gives this exact reason for his edict:

because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church

1 Cor 14:35

There is no hint of a spiritual principle.  We are not dealing with the language of sin, judgement, a trespass. Just disgrace – a result of breaking social mores which would harm the reputation of the congregation.  The previous use of this word is:

it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved

1 Cor 11:6

Note that the word “speak” here is incredibly broad which is why bro Colin Brynes concludes (without drawing the connection to the external visitor’s perspective) that judging the prophet’s pronouncements is the actual prohibition here.[20]

there is a growing consensus among evangelical commentators that Paul has in mind the oral weighing of prophecies in 14:34–35, this view is not without its critics[21]

Thiselton argues the same – stop speaking in judgment on the prophets:

The verb σιγάω, depending on context, means either to stop speaking (as in v.30, also REB), or to hold one’s tongue, or hold one’s peace, or to refrain from using a particular kind of speech, or speech in a presupposed context. Hence while KJV/AV translates keep silence (v.34) NEB has should not address the meeting, although REB returns to should keep silent, even though it translates λαλεῖν as have no permission to talk. On the other hand, vv.29–33clearly concern prophetic speech, and v.29bespecially the sifting of prophetic speech. We must therefore firmly keep in view that since11:5makes it clear that Paul approves of women using prophetic speech their silence may allude either to stopping speaking or more probably to the possibility of sitting injudgment over prophetic speech which may come from their husbands, i.e., sifting prophetic speech, or to a constant intervention of questions (cf. v.35) under the guise of sifting what has been said. To provide a balance between contextual constraints and unknown factors, we propose a general term in keeping with Paul’s own in the previous verses, namely, should allow for silence.[22]

Thiselton goes on to suggest the women may have been challenging their own husbands and maybe bringing grievances which they needed to sort out at home.  It’s a little difficult to conclude on this – we are reading a letter to someone else and we don’t know all the circumstances…

Bartlett claims this leading solution doesn’t go far enough to addressing the threefold command to silence (while pointing out the problems with the passage eg what law? And the contradictions)[23]

On balance I believe this is the best explanation though while admitting there is room for improvement.

1 Cor 14:34 an alternative meaning – be appropriate don’t ask other men

The solution Paul gives for the women’s questioning is that they should ask their own husband at home.  This suggests the instruction is focused at married women who were asking the wrong person (not their husband) at the wrong time (in public rather than at home).

Belleville suggests a better understanding than the issue being questioning the prophets is that the women were asking questions of other men in public[24].  Thomas Schriener (complementarian) agrees with this reading too[25].

The strength of this explanation is that it explains the detail of Paul’s instruction and matches the social expectations.  It thus fits into the ‘order’ focus of the chapter without supposing wives were challenging husbands – a supposition we can’t be sure of.

I suspect the better explanation is that this fits into the same ban of being disruptive evaluating the prophets.  If you claim you are just trying to learn then be appropriate and do it at home.

Is 1 Cor 14:34-35 even original?

Fee has argued for a long time that these verses are an interpolation:

Although these two verses are found in all known manuscripts, either here or at the end of the chapter, the two text-critical criteria of transcriptional and intrinsic probability combine to cast considerable doubt on their authenticity[26]

However the existence of the Greek in all known manuscripts speaks against it at a superficial level.  Consequently some high profile complementarians like Keener express doubt on the conclusion:

several of these scholars are among the world’s best text critics, it seems to me that the textual evidence for this position is very weak[27]

Being present everywhere would suggest if it is an addition it is an extremely early one (although we know that happened).


The text floats from our position to the end of the chapter in many early Western type manuscripts. D F G ar b vgms Ambst)[28].  On the other hand:

fourth-century Ambrosiaster displace vv. 34–35 to after v. 40. However, the very early 𝔓46 (Chester Beatty, c. ad 200, together with א, B, A, 33, 88 mg, Vulgate, Old Syriac, and most other MSS) read these verses in their normal, accepted place[29]

So it appears – at least on first blush to be a Western text type issue.  The extent of the float has no other parallel.  There should be some reason for the float – a phenomena often associated with added material.  However caution should be applied given the issue could trace back to a very small number of early copies (Thiselton reviews the evidence succinctly[30]).

Although 1 Corinthians was widely quoted in early church writings these verses don’t appear. However as an argument only from silence this is not particularly significant.

Recent study on two key manuscripts has pointed to overlooked evidence for early manuscripts which omitted the text.  The conclusions remain hotly contested, which is hardly surprisingly given the implications for a contested subject! 

Payne notes two significant codexs relevant to the discussion.  Codex Vaticanus (circa 325 AD) marks the passage in the same way as other known additions.  The scribe (known as scribe B) has a fantastic reputation for accuracy.  He calls out by notations all the LXX additions to the Hebrew text for example[31].  The scribes concerns about the passage therefore deserve consideration given his attention to detail shown elsewhere.

Similarly Codex Fuldensis (Latin 541AD) has a great reputation for accuracy based on the careful scholarship of it’s editor.  As Payne notes:

in every case where Victor edited the text, including this one, manuscripts survive supporting his judgment[32]

While the editor of Codex Fuldensis had a preference for the Vulgate in this spot he abandoned it.  We can have confidence that he did so based on good manuscript evidence which we don’t have access to.

An interpolation also works with the internal evidence.

  • It resolves what the reference to the law is – an incorrect expectation/understanding of an uninspired scribe
  • It explains an otherwise unusual type of appeal to the law, the reference is not how Paul normally used the law
  • The strange plural “churches” is suddenly explained as it doesn’t work in a letter to a single church

There doesn’t appear to be quite enough evidence for this.  Perhaps more will emerge.  The solution to the very troubling reference to the law certainly makes the explanation more compelling.

Conclusion1 Cor 14:33-34 what I think it means

My summary of 1 Cor 14:33-34 would be:

  • It was then socially unacceptable (shameful) for a woman to interrupt &/or take a superior position to a man
  • Consequently
    • Women were not to evaluate the prophets (1 Cor 14:29, cp 1 John 4:1) it was culturally inappropriate (not submissive)
    • Women shouldn’t question other men but learn appropriately by asking their own husband privately

Troublingly I have no idea what the reference to the law is about and no-one does. 

We don’t have prophets whose words must be judged by a panel as inspired or not.  No-one claims this authority so there is no comparable check in place.  A Bible class talk is not comparable because the speaker is clearly offering their opinion not claiming divine endorsement.

Because the definition of decently and in order has changed we should be open to reconsidering our practices.  Is it no longer disgraceful for a woman to speak or ask questions in public in Western countries.  In fact it is disgraceful to prohibit them from such actions. 

We SHOULD conduct our meetings in a way which does not bring disrepute to the gospel given the surrounding culture.  In the West that means allowing everyone to contribute (like Paul said!).

by Daniel Edgecombe

[1] Some will argue the ruling about headcoverings is a permanent requirement.  Others will link it to Greco Roman expectations of wifely modesty and point to the appeals to nature & common sense as supporting their view.  Either there is a clothing requirement based on principle or a principle of complying to cultural norms & not shaming others.  The call to exercise judgement/nature points to the later, particularly when you consider the significant contrasting penalties in the second half of 1 Cor 11 (eg v27 and 29).

[2] Cottrell, J. (2008). Headship, Submission and the Bible: Gender Roles in the Home (pp. 238–239). N.P.: College Press Publishing Co.

[3] Edgecombe, M. (2010). In the Image of God.  Note the author of this work has altered his opinion but the work is still in circulation and promoted by some

[4] Byrnes, Colin (2011). God Christ Man Woman. Christadelphian Scriptural Study Service (page 157-158)

[5] Byrnes, Colin (2011). God Christ Man Woman. Christadelphian Scriptural Study Service (page 201)

[6] deSilva, D. A. (2012). Honor, patronage, kinship & purity: unlocking new testament culture (p. 33). Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[7] Ciampa, R. E., & Rosner, B. S. (2010). The First Letter to the Corinthians (p. 726). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[8] Ciampa, R. E., & Rosner, B. S. (2010). The First Letter to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[9] Livy. (1912). History of Rome. (C. Roberts, Ed.). Medford, MA: E. P. Dutton and Co.

[10] Josephus, F., & Whiston, W. (1987). The works of Josephus: complete and unabridged (p. 806). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[11] Blomberg, C. L. (2005). Women in Ministry: A Complementarian Perspective. In S. N. Gundry & J. R. Beck (Eds.), Two Views on Women in Ministry (Revised Edition, pp. 141–142). Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan.

[12] Blomberg, C. L. (2005). Women in Ministry: A Complementarian Perspective. In S. N. Gundry & J. R. Beck (Eds.), Two Views on Women in Ministry (Revised Edition, p. 197). Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan.

[13] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 18). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[14] Tertullian. (1885). The Apology. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), S. Thelwall (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 47). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[15] Belleville, L. L., Blomberg, C. L., Keener, C. S., & Schreiner, T. R. (2005). Two Views on Women in Ministry. (S. N. Gundry & J. R. Beck, Eds.) (Revised Edition). Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan.

[16] Edgecombe, M. (2010). In the Image of God.

[17] Byrnes, Colin (2011). God Christ Man Woman. Christadelphian Scriptural Study Service (page 184)

[18] Thiselton, A. C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 1155). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[19] Bartlett, Andrew (2019) Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (p 173) London, England.  Inter-varsity Press

[20] Byrnes, Colin (2011). God Christ Man Woman. Christadelphian Scriptural Study Service (page 193-194)

[21] Taylor, M. (2014). 1 Corinthians. (E. R. Clendenen, Ed.) (Vol. 28, p. 360). Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.

[22] Thiselton, A. C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 1152–1153). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[23] Bartlett, Andrew (2019) Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts (p 169-173) London, England.  Inter-varsity Press

[24] Belleville, L. L. (2005). Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective. In S. N. Gundry & J. R. Beck (Eds.), Two Views on Women in Ministry (Revised Edition, pp. 74–75). Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan.

[25] Blomberg, C. L. (2005). Women in Ministry: A Complementarian Perspective. In S. N. Gundry & J. R. Beck (Eds.), Two Views on Women in Ministry (Revised Edition, p. 193). Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan.

[26] Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 699). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[27] Keener, C. S. (1992). Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul (p. 74). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

[28] Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.

[29] Thiselton, A. C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 1148). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[30] Thiselton, A. C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 1148). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[31] Payne, P. B. (2019). Is 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 a Marginal Comment or a Quotation? A Response to Kirk MacGregor. Priscilla Papers, 33(2), 27.

[32] Payne, P. B. (2019). Is 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 a Marginal Comment or a Quotation? A Response to Kirk MacGregor. Priscilla Papers, 33(2), 27–28.

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