Excursus on 1 Corinthians 11:5


Did Paul Allow Women To Prophesy in Church?


The question has been raised whether the phrase "every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head" in 1 Corinthians 11:5 gives tacit permission for women to "prophesy" to the congregation in a church meeting. This would seem to be disallowed by Paul later in the same letter. In 14:34-35 he says:

Let the women keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a disgrace for a woman to speak in church.

In former times most commentators were impressed by the very emphatic and apparently comprehensive prohibition of 14:34-35, and so they concluded that the "prophesying" of women mentioned in 11:5 was never really approved there, or that it was something which might happen outside the regular church meeting. Others supposed that it refers to exceptional cases where a woman might be given a prophetic message to deliver to the congregation in apostolic times only, before the general cessation of this gift. We will look at the comments of some of these older writers below.

The treatment of this question in recent scholarship is controversial because it bears directly upon the role of women in Christian ministry. Women have increasingly become involved in the ministry of "evangelical" churches which retain some measure of respect for the Bible, and so an attempt has been made to make room for women speaking in the church while taking serious account of these passages. The common element in these treatments is the assertion that 11:5 must refer to women speaking in the church service, and that 14:34-35 is therefore not an absolute prohibition after all. In addition to this, it is argued that the "prophesying" mentioned in 11:5 was not necessarily of a charismatic nature, and so that permission might be extended to the kind of ordinary public speaking for which justification is sought.

The difficulty in this is, how shall we explain 14:34-35? Recently several authors have expressed the view that these verses may pertain only to the judging of prophecy spoken of in 14:29. (1) In the past twenty years this view has become popular. (2) But other writers, sensing the weakness of this interpretation, have resorted to questioning the authenticity of 14:34-35 on text-critical grounds. (3) The text-critical argument has found little favor among evangelicals. (4) Other interpretations have been offered, but these are the two most common methods used by those who want to mitigate the seemingly comprehensive prohibition. Neither of them seem to be satisfactory.

Traditional Interpretations

The early Church Fathers did not think this was an especially difficult problem. In his commentary on First Corinthians, Origen (AD 185-254) simply observed that various women who are said to have prophesied in Scripture need not have done it in a public assembly:

If the daughters of Philip prophesied, at least they did not speak in the assemblies; for we do not find this fact in evidence in the Acts of the Apostles. Much less in the Old Testament. It is said that Deborah was a prophetess ... There is no evidence that Deborah delivered speeches to the people, as did Jeremiah and Isaiah. Huldah, who was a prophetess, did not speak to the people, but only to a man, who consulted her at home. The gospel itself mentions a prophetess Anna ... but she did not speak publicly. Even if it is granted to a woman to show the sign of prophecy, she is nevertheless not permitted to speak in an assembly. When Miriam the prophetess spoke, she was leading a choir of women ... For [as Paul declares] "I do not permit a woman to teach," and even less "to tell a man what to do." (5)

John Calvin, who was not under any requirement that his interpretations should make room for women speaking in church, writes as follows in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:5.

Every woman praying or prophesying. Here we have the second proposition — that women ought to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy; otherwise they dishonor their head. For as the man honors his head by showing his liberty, so the woman, by showing her subjection. Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection — involving contempt of her husband. It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering. It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1 Corinthians 14. In this reply there is nothing amiss, though at the same time it might suit sufficiently well to say, that the Apostle requires women to show their modesty — not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any more dignified assembly, either of matrons or of men, such as are sometimes convened in private houses. (6)

Calvin seems to take it for granted that any rule of clothing must pertain to meetings which are in some measure "dignified." This is debateable. His suggestion that 11:5 does not necessarily imply any approval of women prophesying is also questionable, but it should not be dismissed lightly. This view was favored by Henry Alford, who in his New Testament for English Readers quotes the following comments by Wilhelm De Wette (1780-1849) with approval:

It appears that the Christian women at Corinth claimed for their sex an equality with the other, taking occasion by the doctrine of Christian freedom and abolition of sexual distinctions in Christ (Gal. 3:28). ... The women overstepped the bounds of their sex in coming forward to pray and to prophesy in the assembled church with uncovered heads. Both of these the Apostle disapproved -- as well their coming forward to pray and to prophesy, as their removing the veil; here however he blames the latter practice only, and reserves the former till chap. 14:34. (7)

Although we may find it odd that Paul would deal with the subject in this manner, there are other examples of this in the same epistle, as Frederic Godet points out in his Commentary:

It might be supposed that the apostle meant to let the speaking of women in the form of prophesying or praying pass for the moment only, contemplating returning to it afterwards to forbid it altogether, when he should have laid down the principles necessary to justify this complete prohibition. So it was that he proceeded in chap. 6, in regard to lawsuits between Christians, beginning by laying down a simple restriction in ver. 4, to condemn them afterwards altogether in ver. 7. We have also observed the use of a similar method in the discussion regarding the participation of the Corinthians in idolatrous feasts; the passage, 8:10, seemed first to authorize it; then, afterwards, when the time has come, he forbids it absolutely (10:21, 22), because he then judges that the minds of his readers are better prepared to accept such a decision. (8)

Nevertheless, Calvin's suggestion that the "prophesying" in 11:5 may have in view the meetings "convened in private houses" seems more likely. This view was also favored by Bengel in his Gnomon Novi Testamenti, and in the 19th century it is often seen in commentaries (eg. Charles Hodge, C.J. Ellicott, J.J. Lias, H.A.W. Meyer). Commenting on 14:33b Hodge writes:

If connected with v. 34, this passage is parallel to 11:16, where the custom of the churches in reference to the deportment of women in public is appealed to as authoritative. The sense is thus pertinent and good. 'As is the case in all other Christian churches, let your women keep silence in the public assemblies.' The fact that in no Christian church was public speaking permitted to women was itself a strong proof that it was unchristian, i.e. contrary to the spirit of Christianity. Paul, however, adds to the prohibition the weight of apostolic authority, and not of that only but also the authority of reason and of Scripture. It is not permitted to them to speak. The speaking intended is public speaking, and especially in the church. In the Old Testament it had been predicted that 'your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;' a prediction which the apostle Peter quotes as verified on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:17; and in Acts 21:9 mention is made of four daughters of Philip who prophesied. The apostle himself seems to take for granted, in 11:5, that women might received and exercise the gift of prophecy. It is therefore only the public exercise of the gift that is prohibited. The rational ground for this prohibition is that it is contrary to the relation of subordination in which the woman stands to the man that she appear as a public teacher. Both the Jews and Greeks adopted the same rule; and therefore the custom, which the Corinthians seemed disposed to introduce, was contrary to established usage. (9)

In his commentary Meyer writes:

Prayer and prophetic utterances in meetings on the part of the women are assumed here [11:5] as allowed. In 14:34, on the contrary, silence is imposed upon them. Compare also 1 Timothy 2:12, where they are forbidden to teach. This seeming contradiction between the passages disappears, however, if we take into account that in chapter 14 it is the public assembly of the congregation, the whole ekklesia, that is spoken of (verses 4, 5, 12, 16, 19, 23, 26 ff., 33). There is no sign of such being the case in the passage before us. What the apostle therefore has in his eye here, where he does not forbid the praying and prophesying of the women, and at the same time cannot mean family worship simply (see on verse 4), must be smaller meetings for devotion in the congregation, more limited circles assembled for worship, such as fall under the category of a church in the house (16:19, Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2). Since the subject here discussed, as we may infer from its peculiar character, must have been brought under the notice of the apostle for his decision by the Corinthians themselves in their letter, his readers would understand both what kind of meetings were meant as those in which women might pray and speak as prophetesses, and also that the instruction now given was not abrogated again by the "let women be silent in the church assembly." The latter would, however, be the case, and the teaching of this passage would be aimless and groundless, if Paul were here only postponing for a little the prohibition in 14:34, in order, first of all, provisionally to censure and correct a mere external abuse in connection with a thing which was yet to be treated as wholly unallowable (against my own former view). It is perfectly arbitrary to say, with Grotius, that in 14:34 we must understand as an exception to the rule, "unless she has a special commandment from God." (10)

J.J. Lias seems to favor Calvin's first explanation, but mentions also the second:

Some difficulty has been raised about the words, "or prophesieth." It has been thought that the woman was here permitted to prophesy, i.e., in smaller assemblies, and that the prohibitions in ch. 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 referred to the more general gatherings of the Church. The subject is one of some difficulty (see Acts 2:18, 21:9), but it is perhaps best, with De Wette and Calvin (who says, "Apostolum hic unum improbando alterum non probare") to suppose that the Apostle blames only the praying in public with uncovered head, and reserves his blame of the prophesying for ch. 14:34. As for the prophetic gifts of the daughters of Philip the evangelist, Acts 21:9, they were probably reserved for assemblies of their own sex. (11)

Early in the twentieth century the view that the "prophesying" in question was limited to house meetings was favored by Benjamin Warfield:

Precisely what is meant in I Corinthians 11:5, nobody quite knows. What is said there is that every woman praying or prophesying unveiled dishonors her head. It seems fair to infer that if she prays or prophesies veiled she does not dishonor her head. And it seems fair still further to infer that she may properly pray or prophesy if only she does it veiled. We are piling up a chain of inferences. And they have not carried us very far. We cannot infer that it would be proper for her to pray or prophesy in church if only she were veiled. There is nothing said about church in the passage or in the context. The word "church" does not occur until the 16th verse, and then not as ruling the reference of the passage, but only as supplying support for the injunction of the passage. There is no reason whatever for believing that "praying and prophesying" in church is meant. Neither was an exercise confined to the church. If, as in 1 Corinthians 14:14, the "praying" spoken of was an ecstatic exercise — as its place by "prophesying" may suggest — then there would be the divine inspiration superceding all ordinary laws to be reckoned with. And there has already been occasion to observe that prayer in public is forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2:8, 9 — unless mere attendance at prayer is meant, in which case this passage is a close parallel of 1 Timothy 2:9. (12)

In the next generation we may cite the Lutheran commentator R. C. H. Lenski:

It is quite essential to note that no modifier is attached to the participles [praying and prophesying] to denote a place where these activities are exercised. So we on our part should not introduce one, either the same one for both the man and the woman, for instance, "worshipping or prophesying in church," or different ones, for the man "in church" and for the woman "at home." By omitting reference to a place Paul says this: "Wherever and whenever it is proper and right for a man or for a woman to pray or to prophesy, the difference of sex should be marked as I indicate." Whether men are present or absent when a woman prays or prophesies makes no difference; also vice versa. Each remains what he is or what she is apart from the other.

An issue has been made of the point that Paul speaks of a woman as prophesying as though it were a matter of course that she should prophesy just as she also prays, and just as the man, too, prays and prophesies. Paul is said to contradict himself when he forbids the women to prophesy in 14:34-36. The matter becomes clear when we observe that from 11:17 onward until the end of chapter 14 Paul deals with the gatherings of the congregation for public worship and with regulations pertaining to public assemblies. The transition is decidedly marked: 'that ye come together,' i.e., for public worship, v. 17; 'when ye come together in the church' (ekklesia, no article), v. 18; and again: 'when ye assemble together,' i.e., for public worship, v. 20. In these public assemblies Paul forbids the women, not only to prophesy, but to speak at all, 14:34-36, and assigns the reason for this prohibition just as he does in 1 Tim. 2:11, etc.

It is evident, then, that women, too, were granted the gift of prophecy even as some still have this gift, namely the ability to present and properly to apply the Word of God by teaching others. And they are to exercise this valuable gift in the ample opportunities that offer themselves. So Paul writes "praying and prophesying" with reference to the woman just as he does with reference to the man. The public assemblies of the congregation are, however, not among these opportunities -- note en tais ekklesiais, "in the assemblies," 14:34. At other places and at other times women are free to exercise their gift of prophecy. In the present connection [11:2-16] Paul has no occasion whatever to specify regarding this point ... The teaching ability of Christian women today has a wide range of opportunity without in the least intruding itself into the public congregational assemblies. (13)

Recently the same view has been adopted by a popular Baptist author, John MacArthur:

The mention of women's praying and prophesying is sometimes used to prove that Paul acknowledged the right of their teaching, preaching, and leading in church worship. But he makes no mention here of the church at worship or in the time of formal teaching. Perhaps he has in view praying and prophesying in public places, rather than in the worship of the congregation. This would certainly fit with the very clear directives in 1 Corinthians (14:34) and in his first letter to Timothy (2:12) ... Women may have the gift of prophecy, as did Philip's four daughters (Acts 21:9), but they are normally not to prophesy in the meetings of the church where men are present. (14)

This view is also favored in recent journal articles by Harold R. Holmyard and J. Carl Laney. Holmyard writes:

Believers in church gatherings represent the body of Christ, the society of God's people. Those who speak are in de facto leadership roles, since all others must listen. In planned, formal meetings men ought to assume these authoritative responsibilities. But in the many small, fortuitous groupings of everyday life a woman's speech need not imply authority over males. Males might not be present, or they might be non-Christians, or they might, because of sickness or other difficulties, be the ones in need of a word to or from God. Many other circumstances could explain the propriety of a woman praying or prophesying with men present in a nonchurch setting. (15)

Laney writes:

A viewpoint that is deserving of further consideration is the possibility that Paul was addressing two different situations in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. Could Paul have been referring in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 to women "praying and prophesying" in contexts other than the meeting of the church? If so, is it possible that his restriction in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 applies only when the church is gathered in public assembly for the preaching of the Word and observing the ordinances of communion and baptism? It has been objected that 1 Corinthians 11 addresses the issue of communion, certainly a church event. But there is a clear transition between Paul's discussion of the head covering in 11:2-16 and his teaching regarding the Lord's Supper in 11:17-34. Only in the second section of chapter 11 does Paul mention the believers as coming together: "you come together" (11:17); "when you come together" (11:18); "when you meet together" (11:20); "when you come together" (11:33). Paul is clearly thinking of the gathered church in 11:17-34. But no such allusions appear in 11:2-16. One could make a strong case for the view that Paul is addressing two different contexts in chapter 11 — the first where believers are gathered in small groups for prayer, and the second where the church is gathered for teaching, preaching and communion. The ministry boundaries for one situation may differ from that of the other ... this could have significant implications for our study of 14:34-35. Is it possible that Paul is giving a restriction on public speech in the church, a restriction which would not apply in the home or other informal group meetings? Paul does contrast the church and the home in 14:35 where he points out that it is permissible for women to ask questions in one place but not in the other. The possibility that Paul is addressing two different contexts in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 is worth pursuing. (16)

Laney's conclusion that this interpretation "is worth pursuing" would seem to be an understatement. It obviously commends itself, and it has been the opinion of many commentators in the past. In addition to the scholars quoted above we could also cite Hermann Olshausen, Carles T. Ellicott, J. Agar Beet, W. E. Vine, Frederik W. Grosheide, Gordon Clark, and Philip Bachman. (17) And Laney is right that "this could have significant implications for our study of 14:34-35." The major implication is that nothing prevents us from taking 14:34-35 in its plain sense as a prohibition of women speaking to the congregation at all. One cannot help but think that this unpopular implication is the main reason that so many recent writers have insisted that the "prophesying" of 11:5 can only take place in a worship service. (18)

Objections Answered

We will not neglect to interact seriously with the arguments that have been used against the traditional view. Below we will respond point-by-point to the arguments used by D.A. Carson in his article "Silent in the Churches: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36." (19) Speaking of the "prophesying" mentioned in 11:5 and of the passage 11:2-16 in general, Carson gives seven reasons why it should not be understood as in the commentaries quoted above.

1. "Paul thinks of prophecy primarily as revelation from God delivered through believers in the context of the church, where the prophecy may be evaluated (14:23-29)."

This assertion merely begs the question. (Carson is apparently using the word church here in reference to the weekly assembly for worship on the Lord's Day, and not merely in the sense of the body or community of Christians.) Pretensions to prophetic inspiration would certainly call for and receive evaluations from responsible members of the Christian community, but neither the prophesying nor the evaluation needs to happen in the weekly worship service. And even if it could be proven that when Paul thinks of prophecy he thinks primarily of this particular meeting, "primarily" is not good enough in this case. Carson needs to establish that the prophesying mentioned in 11:5 can only refer to that prophesying which occurred in the context of the main assembly, for which Paul is laying down rules in chapter 14.

2. "Distinctions between 'smaller house groups' and 'church' may not have been all that intelligible to the first Christians, who commonly met in private homes. When the 'church' in a city was large enough (as certainly in Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and possibly Corinth) to overflow the largest private accommodation, it must have been rather difficult, once opposition was established, to find a public venue large enough to accommodate all the believers of that city; i.e., the house groups in such instances constituted the assembly of the church."

Against this, it only needs to be said that the building in which a meeting is held need not greatly affect the character of the meeting. A dignified meeting does not require any particular kind of building, but might be conducted in the same humble room where other less formal gatherings are also held. And furthermore, we will note that the meeting place used by the Corinthians for the Lord's Supper was evidently large enough to bring together persons who were not on familiar terms (see 11:18). It is probable that the scismata "divisions" and aireseiV "factions" (11:19) which were at this time brought together in one place were accustomed to meeting in smaller and more private gatherings during the week, in which case a distinction between these gatherings becomes important. It is perhaps no accident that the headcovering issue is discussed prior to a section which is introduced, "In the first place, when you come together as a church ..." The words here are, en ekklesia, lit. "in assembly," and they imply that previously Paul has been talking about matters which do not pertain specifically to this general assembly on the Lord's Day.

3. "The language of 11:16 ('If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice-nor do the churches of God.') seems to suggest a church concern, not merely the concern of private or small-group piety. The 'we'/'church of God' parallel either means that Paul has never allowed the practice, and the churches have followed his lead; or that Paul and the church in Ephesus (from which he is writing) constitute the 'we' that have not followed the practice, and again the other churches have adopted the same stance. Either way, when Paul adopts the same tone elsewhere (see especially 14:33b, 36), he is talking about conduct in an assembly."

Again, there is no reason to understand the phrase "the churches" in 11:16 as referring specifically to the assembly of the churches on the Lord's Day. The "practice" in question here concerns the wearing of headcoverings, which were by no means limited to Sundays or "conduct in an assembly." Headcoverings were ordinary attire for many women, especially among Jews and Christians, for whom the covering had religious significance. A discussion of headcoverings has no particular reference to a worship service, except insofar as the worship service is conceived as the paramount religious setting. Paul discusses the practice under the condition of prayer and prophesying not because this is the only time such headcoverings were worn, but because it was at these times, when church members were together, that observance of the custom becomes most important or noticeable. In any case, there is certainly no reason to refer this practice or the phrase "the churches" specifically to the service on the Lord's Day.

4. "The immediately succeeding verses (11:17-34) are certainly devoted to an ordinance designed for the assembly."

This is true, but we have already noted the transitional phrases in 11:17-18 which indicate that a more specific context is addressed in 11:17-34. See also Lenski's remarks on this above. And we should also observe that the immediately preceding verses are devoted to a question pertaining to behavior outside of the assembly. This has at least as much bearing on the interpretation of this passage as the fact that it is followed by a section which begins to talk specifically about the assembly.

5. "If someone points out that 11:2-16, unlike 14:33b-36, does not include the phrase 'in the church,' it must also be observed that 11:2-16 does not restrict the venue to the private home or small group."

It is not the intention of Calvin and the other expositors who make a distinction between the general assembly and lesser meetings to "restrict the venue" of the headcovering instructions. Indeed it would be quite wrong for anyone to maintain that the instructions in 11:2-16 are meant only for private homes or small groups. The plain meaning of this passage is that Paul wants the women to cover their heads for prayer or prophesying, wherever this may take place.

6. "Whether the restriction in 11:2-16 requires some kind of hat or a distinctive coiffure, it becomes faintly ridiculous in proportion to the degree of privateness envisaged. If the restriction pertains to every venue except the church assembly, does this mean the Christian wife must postpone her private prayer until she has hurried to her chambers and donned her headpiece? The restriction is coherent only in a public setting."

Again, Carson's way of framing the question ("If the restriction pertains to every venue except the church assembly") misrepresents the opposing interpretation. The headcovering rule encompasses all public venues, as well as the semi-private venues in which women might conceivably "prophesy" with Paul's approval. It is not that there is a different setting in view for 11:2-16, but that there is no particular setting in view for the headcovering rule. Carson tries to make this seem ridiculous by a reductio ad absurdum, but he should know that in the first century it was not at all ridiculous for a woman to show such religious scruples. We know of at least one Jewish woman who was said to have kept her head covered at all times. (20)

7. "Above all, the universality of the promise of Joel, cited at Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on men and women such that both would prophesy as constituent members of the community of the new covenant, seems somehow less than transparent if the women may display their inheritance only outside the gathered messianic community."

Here we have only to note how Carson's expansive phrases — "as constituent members of the community of the new covenant" and "outside the gathered messianic community" — merely cloud the issue by confusing the Christian "community" with the assembly which is under discussion. The opposing view does not suppose that 14:34-35 constitutes some blanket prohibition of female speech in all gatherings. It makes a distinction between the more formal public gatherings and those which are less formal. So once again, Carson fails to interact with the opposing view in a meaningful way.

Regarding the interpretation of Joel's prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) which prevailed in the early church, we will only point out that there is no evidence that the words "and daughters" received as much attention in the early Church as Carson seems to think they demand. In the second chapter of Acts, where this prophecy is quoted by Peter, there is no mention of women having prophesied on the day of its fulfillment. It seems that Carson is merely imposing upon the text a modern opinion about what the early church ought to have made of Joel's prophecy. In any case, to bring in this detail from such a remote context and to assert that it forbids us to make any distinctions between men and women in the assembly, is to indulge in a very questionable method of exegesis. (21)

It is on the basis of these very weak arguments that Carson insists that 11:5 can only refer to prophesying in the assembly, and that we are therefore "constrained" to adopt Margaret Thrall's new interpretation of 14:34-35, that it is nothing but a minor restriction upon women regarding an obscure "judgment of prophecy" session which is supposed to have taken place in the meetings. But regarding the prophesying itself, and despite the emphatic and absolutely plain language of 14:34-35, Carson says, "Women of course, may participate in such prophesying; that was established in chapter 11." He even leaps from this assertion to the idea that Paul really encouraged women to prophesy in the assembly:

...in a Greek ekklesia, i.e., a public meeting, women were not allowed to speak at all. By contrast, women in the Christian ekklesia, borne along by the Spirit, were encouraged to do so. In that sense, Paul was not trapped by the social customs of Corinth: the gospel, in his view, truly freed women from certain cultural restrictions.

The rhetorical excess of this last statement, which is so much at odds with the tenor of 14:34-35 and that of several other Pauline passages on the place of women in the Church, should cause us to wonder whether Carson is really approaching this question in his usual sober and scholarly spirit. That Paul was "not trapped by the social customs of Corinth" really goes without saying, but does Carson want to suggest that the silence of women in public meetings was merely a Greek custom, against which Paul strives?

We have not even touched upon the serious problems involved in Carson's favorite interpretation of 14:34-35, which requires us to imagine Paul allowing women to prophesy in the same assembly where he forbids them to ask any questions. The idea here is that somehow these questions represent authoritative teaching, while the prophesying itself does not. But how can questions be put above prophesying? And under this interpretation how do we account for Paul's dictum, "it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church"? Why did Paul give such a general reason for the silence of the women if he only meant to restrict their participation in one kind of discussion? But this is enough. (22) Our review of the scholarly literature on this subject should be enough to show why 11:5 does not "constrain" us to adopt such a novel and problematic interpretation of 14:34-35. Carson's careless arguments can hardly be said to have constraining force, and they really amount to a cavalier dismissal of all the commentators who have solved this problem simply and naturally by making a distinction between the church and the worship service.


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NOTES

1. According to D.A. Carson, this interpretation was first proposed by Margaret E. Thrall (professor at the University of Wales) in her commentary, First and Second Letters of Paul to the Corinthians (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1965). It was then picked up by James B. Hurley (professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi) in his book Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pp. 188-193. Then it was adopted by Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington: University Press of America, 1982), pp. 245-255. Grudem was followed by D.A. Carson in his article Silent in the Churches: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991). The most elaborate defense of this view is by the egalitarian scholar Anthony Thiselton in his commentary, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), pp. 140-53. Grudem persists in this view in his recent book, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than 100 Disputed Questions (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004).

2. In 1988 the Report of the Committee on Women in Church Office submitted to the Fifty-fifth General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church mentioned this interpretation alone as the "most satisfying" explanation. In 1991 it was given as the only explanation of 1 Corinthians 14:34 in a popular study Bible, The Believer's Study Bible edited by W.A. Criswell (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991).

3. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 699. Fee asserts that "the transcriptional question ... has always been the primary reason for thinking it an interpolation" (p. 701, n. 12), but the text-critical grounds are quite inadequate. There is a slight dislocation of the verses in some manuscripts belonging to the "Western" witnesses (copies of the old Latin versions and some inferior Greek copies that were influenced by them in bilingual codices), where the verses appear after verse 40. Fee falsely states that "the entire Western tradition" (p. 699, note 1) puts the verses here. The truth is, less than half of the Western witnesses do so. On the basis of this dislocation of 14:34-35 in some of the Western witnesses, Fee concludes that the verses were added by later scribes, in different places. But the verses appear in all known manuscripts of the Paul's letters, some of which are very early (e.g. Papyrus 46, from about A.D. 200). Fee demands an explanation for the dislocation, but the old Latin copies are notorious for their arbitrary modifications of the text, and often their peculiar readings can only be explained as a consequence of scribal haste and incompetence. There is no need to find another explanation for the dislocation of 14:34-35 that occurred in some of the early Latin copies, and the Greek witnesses allied with them have evidently been conformed to the Latin. No text-critical editor of the Greek text has ever concluded that these verses are an interpolation. So despite Fee's assertion, we can only suppose that the primary reason for his thinking that these verses were interpolated is that they "stand in obvious contradiction to 11:2-16, where it is assumed without reproof that women pray and prophesy in the assembly" (p. 702). His interpretation of the text-critical data has been biased by his prior committment to the idea that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 cannot be reconciled with the wording of 11:5. for a complete account of the text-critical facts see C. Niccum, "The Voice of the Manuscripts on the Silence of Women: The External evidence for 1 Cor. 14:34-35," New Testament Studies 43 (1997), pp. 242-55.

4. The idea that words which are present in all known manuscripts of the Bible could be inauthentic is intolerable to the theologically conservative. If such ill-grounded speculative criticism is allowed, it will only end up destroying the basis for our confidence in the authenticity of the biblical text.

5. Origen, Fragmenta ex commentariis in epistulam i ad Corinthios (in catenis), Greek text published in Claude Jenkins, "Documents: Origen on I Corinthians. IV," Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909), p. 41. English translation from Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1976), p. 28.

6. John Calvin, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, Calvin's Commentaries [translated by John W. Fraser] (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 231.

7. Henry Alford, The New Testament for English readers, Containing the Authorized Version, with Marginal Corrections of Readings and Renderings, Marginal References, and a Critical Explanatory Commentary. 3rd ed. (London: Rivingtons, 1872 ), reprinted in Chicago by Moody Press, n.d., p. 1041.

8. Commentary on St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians by F. Godet, translated from the French by Alexander Cusin (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889). Although he finds it reasonable enough, Godet calls this view "unsatisfactory, because it remains true that [in general] one does not lay down a condition to the doing of a thing which he intends afterwards to forbid absolutely ... I rather think, therefore, that while rejecting, as a rule, the speaking of women in Churches, Paul yet meant to leave them a certain degree of liberty for the exceptional case in which, in consequence of a sudden revelation (prophesying), or under the influence of a strong inspiration of prayer and thanksgiving (speaking in tongues), the woman should feel herself constrained to give utterance to this extraordinary impulse of the Spirit. Only at the time when she thus went out of her natural position of reserve and dependence, he insisted the more that she should not forget, nor the Church with her, the abnormal character of the action; and this was the end which the veil was intended to serve." But this is no solution at all, because in chapter 14 Paul is addressing a situation in which so many of the Corinthians were claiming to have an "extraordinary impulse of the Spirit" that "prophesying" and "speaking in tongues" was not exceptional in their worship services. It is in this context that he prohibits the women from speaking, and in this context it makes no sense to say that he intended to allow "exceptions" for those who claimed to be under the influence of "extraordinary impulses."

9. Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Robert Carter, 1857) Eerdmans reprint, n.d., pp. 304-305.

10. H.A.W. Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians. Translated from the Fifth Edition of the German by Rev. D. Douglas Bannerman. New York: Funk & Wagnals, 1884. page 249. I have further translated Meyer's Greek and Latin phrases into English. —M.D.M.

11. J.J. Lias, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (In the the Cambridge Bible series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1892). page 107.

12. Benjamin B. Warfield, "Paul on Women Speaking in Church" The Presbyterian, October 30, 1919.

13. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1963), pp. 436-7.

14. John MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), pp. 256-7.

15. Harold R. Holmyard III, "Does 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Refer to Women Praying and Prophesying in Church?" Bibliotheca Sacra 154 (October-December 1997) 461-72.

16. J. Carl Laney, "Gender Based Boundaries for Gathered Congregations: An Interpretive History of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35" Journal For Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 7/1 (Spring 2002), pp. 4-13. Online at http://www.cbmw.org/journal/editions/7-1.pdf

17. Hermann Olshausen, Biblical Commentary on St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1855), p. 174; Charles T. Ellicott, St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1887), p. 202; J. Agar Beet, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians, 6th ed. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1895), p. 181; W.E. Vine, 1 Corinthians (London: Oliphants, 1951), p. 147; Frederik W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), pp. 341-42; Gordon Clark, "The Ordination of Women," Trinity Review 17 (Jan-Feb 1981), pp. 3-4; Philip Bachman, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther, 4th ed. (Leipzig: A. Deichertsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1936).

18. I think Wayne Grudem practically admits a pragmatic motive for rejecting the obvious and traditional interpretation when in his recent book Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth: An Analysis of More than 100 Disputed Questions (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004) he says that this view leads to a "repressive situation" (p. 233, note 31). See also his interesting comments on page 64, note 1: "Egalitarian literature contains many real-life stories of wrongful repression of women's gifts and viewpoint, such as Ruth Tucker's carefully stated but evidently painful memory of trying to serve as a pastor's wife when her husband would repeatedly put her down by quoting 'Women should be silent in the churches' whenever she said something in a Bible study or church business meeting (Tucker, Women in the Maze [1992], 121-22). I appreciated Ruth as a colleague when I was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and I know that God has gifted her with wisdom and compassion and significant gifts for the benefit of the church. Though I differ with Ruth and with other egalitarians at several places throughout this book, I hope that I and my fellow complementarians willl continually be mindful of the hurt that has been caused, and the damage that has been done, by harsh advocates of male headship, people that do not hold to a balanced complementarian view but rather to a repressive 'male dominance' view. And I hope that we will resolve also to oppose such a harsh, repressive view whenever we encounter it, and thus fully honor the wisdom and gifting that God has given to women in His church." But are Paul's teachings really in line with the "balanced complementarian" views of Grudem, Carson, and others who are trying to maintain cordial relationships with "gifted" feminists in the seminaries?

19. D.A. Carson, "Silent in the Churches: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36," in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991). I choose to interact with Carson because his article is the only one I could find in which there is a serious attempt to interact with the traditional view. Some recent commentators act is if it did not exist. For example, Gordon Fee in his recent commentary on First Corinthians skates over the whole matter with the facile statement, "There can be little question that in the new age inagurated by Christ women participated in worship along with the men" (p. 497), and he briefly tips his hat to 1900 years of exegetical tradition in a footnote: "It was traditional for exegetes, especially in some Protestant traditions, to argue that women did not really pray and prophesy, but that Paul's language had to do only with their being present in divine service when prayer and prophecy were going on, or to their private praying. This view has been revived in recent times by F.C. Synge, 'Studies in Texts—1 Cor. 11:2-16,' Theology 56 (1953), 143; and Weeks, 'Silence.' But v. 13 completely disallows such a view; the woman 'prays to God,' and the context makes no sense at all if it is not in the gathered assembly. Cf. the discussion in Isaksson, Marriage, pp. 153-57." (p. 497, n. 22.) These remarks are totally inadequate as a description and response to the traditional interpretation, and they only show that Fee does not take it seriously. It even seems that he is ignorant of it (or at least unfamiliar with the several well-known commentaries I have quoted above), or perhaps he is just unwilling to interact with it.

20. See Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), p. 359.

21. Carson may rightly be charged with the same failure to recognize distinctions for which he criticizes other scholars in his book, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), pp. 97-98. There he even discusses the way in which Joel's prophecy, along with Galatians 3:28, is frequently abused by feminists. Here is the example he uses (from an article by David C. Steinmetz) of an unacceptable exegesis: "Women may be forbidden to preach, teach, and celebrate the eucharist only if it can be demonstrated from Scripture that in Christ there is indeed male and female (contra Paul) and that in the last days sons shall prophesy while daughters demurely keep silent (contra Peter). Women already belong to a royal priesthood. Otherwise they are not even members of the church." We will notice that Carson's failure to distinguish the church from the assembly involves the same fallacy.

22. For more detailed criticism of the “evaluation of prophecy” solution, see James Greenbury, “1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Evaluation of Prophecy Revisited,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51/4 (December 2008), pp. 72131.


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