Did Paul Really Say, "Let the Women Keep Silent in the Churches"?
by Dennis J. Preato
For a Short Bio of Dennis click here
"Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are
not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also
says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at
home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church." (NASB, 1 Cor. 14:34-35)
First Corinthians 14:34-35 presents the reader with
three interpretive options.
First, are verses 34-35 a declarative statement
written from the pen of the apostle Paul with the intention of forbidding women
to speak in church? If so, what do these verses mean for the church today? Does
Scripture prohibit women from speaking in the church forever or was this only a
temporary and cultural prohibition?
Second, are these verses an interpolation,
meaning a later addition or alteration to Scripture not written by the apostle
Paul but by an uninspired writer? If so, then verses 34-35 should be rejected by
all Bible readers because they were not written under the inspiration of the
Third, are verses 34-35 a Corinthian slogan or
rabbinic saying that Paul repeats for the purpose of rebuking? Paul rebukes the
oral saying beginning with verse 36. If so, then verses 34-35 do not prohibit
women from speaking in church. Whether one concludes these verses are a slogan
or an interpolation of Scripture, the effect is the same. They do not
prohibit women from speaking, teaching or preaching the word of God in
This article provides objective evidence that verses
34-35 do not represent the inspired writings of the Apostle Paul or any other
inspired writer. These verses are best understood as a slogan or rabbinic saying
based on the Jewish "oral law," not the written word of God.
Therefore, these verses cannot be used to prohibit women from pulpit ministry
within the church.
Significance of Resolving These Issues
Resolving these issues is essential for a proper
understanding of how ministry in the church was intended to be carried out. First Corinthians 14:34-35 has traditionally been linked with 1 Timothy 2:8-15
by leaders in the Church to systematically deny women the right to utilize their
God-given gifts in ministry. However, according to D. A. Carson, selectively
linking certain verses together creates fallacies and "affects the
interpretation of other texts." Carson points out that disputes in Christianity,
including the issue of women in the Church, "revolve around inconsistencies,
errors, and fallacies in this area."
Another problem arises from the fact that verses 34-35
appear in every English Bible translation as a declarative statement. The issues
relating to authorship or that these verses might be viewed as a quotation are
non-existent in most Bibles. The average Bible reader is generally unaware of
these interpretative possibilities. Only by examining this text in its
immediate context, applying sound rules of biblical interpretation, and looking
at the cultural and historical backgrounds will the original author's intent be
The purpose of this article is to help Bible readers to
better understand what Scripture intends to convey in this passage. Differences
in Christianity about the extent of women in ministry remain to this day. However, the historical evidence reveals that both men and women were active
participants in all areas of ministry in the early Christian church.
Scripture, the external writings of church leaders, historical and archeological
records, and church artifacts testify that women served as ministers, deacons,
church leaders, apostles and even bishops.
Historical Background and Literary Context
Corinth was a city of Greco-Roman culture whose
inhabitants had a reputation for sexual immorality and depravity. The Corinthian
church was characterized by divisions. First Corinthians was written to correct
a number of problems and to answer a series of questions that were raised by the
church members. Paul answers questions concerning marriage and divorce in
chapter 7, food sacrificed to idols in chapter 8, two questions regarding
worship in chapter 11, and the proper use of spiritual gifts in the church in
chapters 12-14. Conduct in worship is addressed in chapter 14 where Paul
describes and contrasts the proper use of prophecy and tongues. He concludes
that things be done in an orderly manner (v. 40).
ARE VERSES 34-35 A DECLARATIVE STATEMENT?
Those scholars who believe that the apostle Paul is
making a declarative statement exhibit a wide range of thought about the
applicability and why Paul may have written these verses. Following are examples
reflective of such diversity of opinion of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
Women must never speak, prophesy or speak in tongues in
church. One 19th century Bible commentator holds this extreme and minority view
that denies the right of women to speak, prophesy or speak in tongues by saying:
"This rule is positive, explicit, and universal ... women were to keep silence
... take no part in speaking foreign languages and of prophecy." This
commentator's dogmatic statements are totally unjustified and without merit. He
disregards Scripture's declaration that women will prophesy (Joel 2:28; Acts
2:17-18) and have already done so in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 11:5). He
believed the phrase, "as saith the Law" in 1 Cor. 14:34 was linked to Gen. 3.16 but
offered no scriptural evidence in support of his opinion.
Women may pray, prophesy, teach or speak as long as they
do so in an orderly manner. J. D. Douglas, editor of the New Commentary on the
Whole Bible admits the statement Let your women keep silence in the churches is
difficult because Paul had previously spoken about women praying and prophesying
in church. He writes that, "Women should not teach or speak in any way that
causes disturbance in a church meeting. But we cannot dogmatically say that
women did not and could not pray and/or prophesy in church meetings." This
commentator suggests that the apostle Paul is concerned about what is proper in
the church meetings and rebukes the Corinthians for their pride beginning in
verse 36. Additionally, he believes the reference to the "law" refers to Genesis
3.16 but offered no support for his belief.[3 ]
Some married women need to exercise self-control. David
Lowery, a professor at Dallas Seminary, acknowledges the difficulty in
determining the exact meaning of 1 Cor. 14:34-35. He acknowledges that women did
participate in worship services by exercising the gifts of the Spirit. He
suggests that Paul wrote these words because "church members needed to exercise
self-control," not only in the context of tongues and prophecy but that some
women were causing a disturbance. He writes: "Paul then wanted silence on the
part of married women whose husbands were present in the assembly, but he
permitted the participation of other women when properly adorned (1 Cor.
11:2-16). Such silence would express their subordinate (but not inferior)
relationship to their husbands." The real issue, he said, is one of
self-control. This commentator makes no attempt to account for the expression
just as the Law also says.[4 ]
Married women were uneducated and had nothing of value
to say. Leon Morris, author of The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians,
also recognizes a problem with a natural reading of the passage as Paul had
already encouraged women to pray and to prophesy. He reminds us that women were
uneducated in the first century. In that context, he states that the "Corinthian
women should keep quiet in church if for no other reason than because they could
have little or nothing worthwhile to say." He reasons that Paul is telling the
wives to ask questions of their husbands at home and not disturb the assembly. [5 ]He apparently assumes this passage applies only to married women. Women were
basically uneducated in the first century as were many of the men. He does
not discuss single women or what "law" is being referenced.
Married women must not interrupt the proceeding by
asking questions. F. F. Bruce in The New Century Bible Commentary I & II
Corinthians also notes that Paul had already recognized a woman's right to pray
and prophesy in the church. Therefore, the imposition of silence and forbidding
women to speak is only in the context of interrupting the proceedings by asking
questions of their husbands. Asking questions should be done at home. Bruce
carefully notes that the expressions they are not permitted to speak (v. 34) and
it is shameful for a woman to speak in church (v. 35) is limited in application
and refers only to the interrupting of proceedings. In commenting on the phrase,
"as even the law says," Bruce believes the appeal to Gen. 3.16 is unlikely. He
thinks the reference to which Paul is alluding to is Gen. 1:26 and 2:21 but
offers no support for his opinion.[6 ]
Summary Discussion of Scholars' Comments
The vast majority of scholars who claim that Paul is
making a declarative statement limit this prohibition regarding speaking to only
those instances where such speech causes a disturbance in the church. Women,
they say, did speak, pray in tongues, and prophesy in the early church. The
apparent prohibition based on women being uneducated was a cultural reality in
the first century. This condition no longer exists. The issue of self-control
and not causing a disturbance in church applies equally to men and women and
appears more related to the excesses of speaking in tongues and prophecy than in
anything else in chapter 14. Basically all commentators agree with Paul's
emphasis that all things be done properly and in an orderly manner (v. 40) in
the church. Most also assume that the "law" somehow refers to a specific Genesis
passage. But does it?
WHY THE LAW DOES NOT REFER TO SCRIPTURE
The testimony of the Old Testament. The phrase, "just as
the law also says" is not supported by the Old Testament. It is the major
weakness of the view that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 represents Paul's declarative
statement that women are not permitted to speak. None of these commentators have
adequately discussed or resolved how the words, Let the women keep silent in the
churches; for they are not permitted to speak are supported by the Old Testament
verses they cite. The Genesis citations quoted by these scholars (Gen. 1:26,
2:21, 3:16) have nothing to do with denying women the right to speak in church. The reason given in verse 34 that women are not permitted to speak relates
directly to the phrase, "just as the law also says." Only the phrase: "but let them
subject themselves" is a possible allusion to Gen. 3:16. But the subject phrase,
"just as the law also says," contradicts Paul's known teachings that we have been
liberated from the law (Rom. 3:28; 6:14, 7:16, 8:2; Gal 3:11, 13, 4:5, 5:18,
We have been liberated from the law. Since Paul claims
that we have been liberated from the law, how could he appeal to it? Paul also
fought against the religious zealots of his day who tried to impose the
requirements of the Old Testament's written and oral laws on New Testament
believers in Christ. These verses cannot represent the apostle Paul's inspired
words. Why? The reason is there is nothing written in the canon of Scripture
from which Paul could have quoted to support such a declaration. Such an
appeal would also contradict Paul's previously stated position in 1 Corinthians
that women can pray and prophesy in church.
Paul does not refer to written Scripture in this
manner. In the entire epistle of 1 Corinthians, whenever Paul quotes from and
specially uses the term "law" (meaning written Scripture) he does so with
specific intent, focus, and stylistic writing. For example, in 1 Cor. 9:8-9 Paul
writes, Does not the law also say the same? For it is written in the law of
Moses: "You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." After
referring to the law as saying something, Paul tells us that it is written and
immediately quotes Deut 25:4 verbatim. Also in 1 Cor. 14:21 after Paul writes,
"In the Law it is written," he immediately quotes from Isaiah 28:11-12. Again, in 1 Cor. 4:6 where Paul generally refers to Scripture, he tells the Corinthians to
learn through us the meaning of the saying "Do not go beyond what is written."
In every case when Paul specially refers to Scripture, he says it is written (1 Cor. 1:19, 1:31, 2:9, 3:19, 10:7, 15:45) and consistently quotes from the Old
Testament to prove his point.
However, in 1 Corinthians 14:34 the passage simply
states just as the Law also says without reference to it being written. Why
would Paul suddenly change his consistent writing style in this verse only? Why
doesn't Paul even say it is written or even quote from the Old Testament as he
has previously done in every instance throughout this epistle? Why? The reason
is more likely these are not Paul's words. Either Paul was quoting a
non-biblical source, such as a slogan or rabbinic saying or verses 34-35
represent an interpolation, an alteration of Scripture. In either interpretive
option, these words did not originate with Paul.
Problems with Inconsistent Quotation Marks.
translators have been inconsistent in the way they translate and present verses
throughout 1 Corinthians. Some Bibles put quotes around certain verses to
indicate that Paul is quoting another source, and other Bibles don't utilize any
quotes. For example, in 1 Corinthians we read: "All things are lawful for me"
(6:12; 10:23) and "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food"
(6:13). These verses are marked as quotations in the NCV, NIV, NLT, and
but they are not shown with quotation marks in the ASV, KJV, NASB, and NKJV. In
this instance, the NCV, NIV, NLT and NRSV correctly indicate that
Paul is quoting a slogan that the Corinthians used in order to justify their
Another example of where Bibles could use quotation
marks and do not is 1 Cor. 7:1. Paul writes: Now concerning the things about
which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. The second
underlined phrase should be placed in "quotes" since Paul is alluding to one of
the questions posed by the Corinthians. He is quoting them.
Origen, an early Church leader (ca. a.d. 200) considered 1
Corinthians 7:1 as introducing a slogan.  Bible translators present 1
Corinthians 14:34-35 without quotation marks, which does not mean that verses
34-35 must be read as a declarative statement. The New Revised Standard Version
(NRSV) does enclose 14:33b-36 in parentheses to characterize it as a
parenthetical comment meaning that it does not fit in smoothly with the
surrounding texts. Unfortunately, most Bible readers are unaware of the
significance of such comments. They generally read these verses as a
declaration forbidding women from speaking in church.
Paul is not writing a declarative statement. Since Paul
is not making a declaration, then how are we to interpret verses 34-35? Only
two choices remain. These verses either represent an interpolation of
Scripture or a slogan that Paul immediately refutes.
ARE VERSES 34-35 AN INTERPOLATION?
Defining an Interpolation. An interpolation means a
manuscript textual problem exists. The verses were added later by a scribe. Therefore, these verses are not the inspired writings of the apostle Paul and
are to be disregarded. Additionally, some Bibles, such as the NLT, ISV, and
include a footnote stating that some ancient manuscripts put verses 34-35 after
verse 40. However, such footnote disclosures are of no practical use to the
average Bible reader. Most readers would not fully understand the implication of
such statements. If these verses represent an interpolation of Scripture, then
any discussion of what verses 34-35 mean is a meaningless exercise since they
represent a later addition to Scripture by an uninspired writer. However,
since these verses do appear, then all Bibles readers need to consider whether
these verses are an interpolation.
Examining the Scholars' Comments. The arguments
supporting verses 34-35 as an interpolation have been extensively presented in
the writings of well-known scholars C.K. Barrett, Hans Conzelman, Gordon D. Fee
and others. This section recaps the major points of this view as expressed by
Gordon Fee. 
Gordon Fee, Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies,
Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. Canada, says: "the two text-critical criteria of
transcriptional and intrinsic probability combine to cast considerable doubt on
their authenticity." On transcriptional grounds, Fee states that all Western
manuscripts and a few Latin church fathers place verses 34-35 after verse 40. Fee follows Bengel's rule that the preferred reading is the one which best
explains the origin of the other readings. He concludes that the shortest
reading best matches Bengel's principle and that verses 34-35 were subsequently
written in as a marginal gloss in two different places.
Fee challenges proponents of the authenticity of verses
34-35 to explain how the Western manuscripts came into existence. He notes that
"all the surviving evidence indicates that this was the only way 1 Corinthians
appeared in the Latin Church for at least three hundred years." Fee states that
proponents of authenticity "must at least offer an adequate answer as to how
this arrangement came into existence if Paul wrote them originally." 
On intrinsic probability grounds, meaning what the
author is most likely to have written, Fee argues these verses are not authentic
for at least three reasons. First, verses 34-35 impede the flow of Paul's
guidelines concerning tongues and prophecy. Second, these verses stand in
obvious contradiction to Paul's teaching in 11:5 where women are permitted not
only to speak but to prophesy. Third, the usage of certain terms "seem quite
foreign to Paul." 
Gordon Fee also argues for an interpolation based on the
internal biblical evidence. He says the real problem lies with the phrase,
as the Law says." Fee goes on to say that Paul always cites a text to prove his
point, but nowhere does he appeal to the Law to support Christian behavior. 
Carroll D. Osburn, Professor of New Testament at Abilene
Christian University, notes that Gordon Fee is correct on transcriptional
grounds in following Bengel's rule and is correct on intrinsic grounds that the
flow of thought is important to the resolution of the problem. Osburn states
that the text "does make sense if vv. 34-35 are removed from the context."
However, according to Osburn, the problem with accepting the view that 1
Corinthians 14:34-35 represents an interpolation is the lack of enough textual
evidence to support this claim. He claims the evidence for the entire Western
text is overstated and is limited only to manuscripts from northern Italy and
Irish monastics. 
Osburn also suggests that Paul is not really
contradicting his statements in 1 Cor. 11:2-16. He states two different issues:
praying and prophesying by women in contrast to "some wives continually 'piping
up' in the assembly in chap. 14." Furthermore, Paul is dealing with a particular
problem in Corinth, and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 neither teaches nor suggests
anything regarding patriarchalism or female subjection. According to Osburn, it
is not the extent that women may participate in the work and worship of the
church but the manner. Paul does not ban women from speaking but only stops the
verbal misconduct of certain wives who are disrupting the assembly. 
David W. Odell-Scott, Professor of Philosophy at Kent
State University, offers a possible solution to the interpolation debate. He
suggests that the editors of the Western manuscripts deleted the verses from
their normal location between verses 33 and 36, and moved them in order to
shield the verses from Paul's rebuke that begins in verse 36. He suspects "the
editors shrewdly manipulated the text to serve their purposes," and that they
"sought to render the text in such a way that it would be consistent with what
the editors expected to find in scripture," meaning that the editors of the
Western text did not view Paul's rebuke of the silence and subordination of
women as a "viable possibility" given the historical culture and society's norm
of that day.  Odell-Scott actually views verses 34-35 as a quotation that
Paul repeats word for word in order to rebuke.
Summary Discussion of Scholars' Comments. Gordon Fee is
correct to say Paul did not write these words as a declarative statement and
that an interpolation of Scripture occurs. Carroll Osburn is correct to say that
1 Cor. 14-34-35 does not support patriarchalism or female subjection, and the
interpolation theory is not sufficiently supported by a wide range of
manuscripts. David W. Odell-Scott offers a plausible explanation as to how and
why this interpolation came into being and offers support for the preferred
VERSES 34-35 ARE A QUOTATION
This interpretative view states that verses 34-35 are
meant to be understood as a Corinthian slogan or quotation that Paul is
repeating. These verses are not a declarative statement that the Holy Spirit
inspired Paul to write intending to silence women from speaking in church.
The arguments against these verses being Pauline have been previously presented.
The Holy Spirit did inspire Paul to include this
quotation for the purpose of rebuking them and their words. Paul's rebuke begins
in verse 36. The Holy Spirit also inspired Peter on the day of Pentecost to
quote the prophecy of Joel 2:28 which says that men and women shall prophesy
(Acts 2:18). Perhaps the obvious must be stated: In order to prophesy or
speak in tongues you cannot be silent, but you have to open your mouth and
speak! In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul speaks to his audience at great length about
the proper use of spiritual gifts; and he expects that such manifestations of
the Spirit be done in an orderly manner.
The Cultural Background. The writings of Greek
philosophers provide external documentation informing us of the mindset that
permeated the ancient city of Corinth. In Greek society, women were clearly held
in low regard. For example, Plato (424-347 BC) ascribed to the inferior status
of women by stating: "It is only males who are created directly by the gods and
are given souls." Aristotle (384-322 BC) added, "women are defective by nature"
because "a woman is as it were an infertile male," and males command superior
intelligence.  Under existing Roman family law, the father had complete
household authority. A husband could punish his wife in any way including
killing her, and he could make love to other women with impunity. 
Therefore, it is not unreasonable, given the Greek
cultural background of Corinth, to see how various derogatory statements about
women permeated that culture and society. Also by the time of the first
century, the Jewish system of traditions and oral sayings were well established.
Examining the Scholars' Comments and Evidence
Based on a detailed examination of Greek manuscripts,
Dr. John Gustavson states, "Paul never wrote these words as a 'commandment of
the Lord' but was simply quoting what the Judaizers in the Corinthian church
were saying." He goes on to say that "there is not one trace from Genesis to
Malachi of any such prohibition of women to literally keep silent in the church
nor is there a single word in the whole 'law of Moses' dealing with the
subject."  So what "law" is the author referring to or quoting? Gordon Fee
says this "law" refers to an external source, meaning "an oral understanding of
Torah such as found in rabbinic Judaism."  Gustavson agrees and points out
that the Jewish Oral Law taught the silencing of women and cites the Talmud that
states it is "a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men." He also
notes that Paul never appealed to the "law" for the guidance of the Church of
Christ. On the contrary, he declared that believers were dead to the law by the
body of Christ" (Rom. 7:4) so that they might serve in newness of spirit and not
the oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:6). 
Adam Clarke (1762-1832) represents one of the earliest
post-reformists biblical scholar who said that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 "was a Jewish
ordinance" because "women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies or even
to ask questions." He noted that "The rabbis taught that 'a woman should know
nothing but the use of her distaff.'" Clarke quotes the harsh and misogynist
"sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, as
both worthy of remark 'Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they
should be delivered to women.'" 
Dr. Katharine C. Bushnell (1856-1946), a physician,
missionary, and Bible scholar fluent in Hebrew and Greek notes that vv. 34-35
refer to some external rule separate from Scripture. Bushnell quotes the great
19th century German lexicographer Schleusner who said the expression as also
saith the law "refers to the Oral Law of the Jews" noting that "in the Old
Testament no precept concerning this matter exists." Additionally, Vitringa, an
18th century scholar, said that it was "forbidden by Jewish tradition for women
to speak in the synagogue." Bushnell also comments that the Talmud remanded
women to keep silent because according to Rabbi Eliezer "the voice of a woman is
filthy nakedness."  Bushnell points out that Scripture supports the exact
opposite of what verse 34 is claimed to prevent. She rhetorically asks: "what is
to be done with the hundred and one other 'laws' in the O.T. opening the mouths
Bushnell reminds us that Scripture declares: "Let the
redeemed of the Lord say so, and let everything that hath breath praise the
Lord." How could Paul command Let the women keep silence immediately after
exhorting the congregation of women and men to covet to prophesy in the context
of the church (14:1) and then immediately conclude with an exhortation to covet
to prophesy and forbid not to speak in tongues (14:39)? 
Sir William Ramsey (1851-1939), Professor at Oxford and
Aberdeen, was the most widely accepted authority on Paul in the early 1900's. He
writes: "we should be ready to suspect Paul is making a quotation from the
letter addressed to him by the Corinthians whenever he alludes to their
knowledge, or when any statement stands in marked contrast either with the
immediate context or with Paul's known views." Ramsey's point is clearly
applicable to vv.34-35. 
Pastor Grace Ying May asks the question: "How could
Paul, having made such an exhortation in 1 Cor. 11:5, suddenly change his mind
and forbid women in the very same congregation from speaking in church? Such an
interpretation makes Paul not only a confused writer but also an uninspired one,
and would flatly contradict what Paul says about women prophesying in church in
1 Corinthians 11:5." 
David W. Odell-Scott, Professor of Philosophy at Kent
State University, argues that the grammatical structure and content of the text
indicates that verses 34 and 35 were quotations from a Corinthian letter to
Paul, which he immediately rebukes. "Paul replies in verse 36 with a two-fold
negative rhetorical query: What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are
you the only ones it has reached?" 
Sharyn Dowd, Professor of Religion at Baylor University,
in a 1991 article said: "This interpretation of verses 34-35 as a Corinthian
slogan which Paul rejects has been gaining ground in recent years." Those who
have made this argument in various forms, include the following in chronological
order: Katharine C. Bushnell, (1889); Jessie Penn-Lewis, (1919); Helen Barrett
Montgomery (1924); J. A. Anderson, (1933); Joyce Harper, (1974); Walter C.
Kaiser, (1976); Guy B. Dunning, (1977); N. M. Flanagan and E. Hunter Snyder,
(1981); David W. Odell-Scott, (1983, 1987, 1989); Chris U. Manus, (1984);
Charles H. Talbert, (1984, 1987); Gilbert Bilezikian, (1985); Gordon D. Fee,
(1987); Robert W. Allison, (1988); Linda McKinnish Bridges, (1989, 1990).
The Biblical Rebuke of Verse 36. Some modern
commentators who view 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as a declarative statement note that Paul,
beginning in verse 36, rebukes the Corinthians for various reasons, including
their pride. Verse 36 does begin with a rebuke, but Paul is rebuking the
"slogan" (vv. 34-35) that was being used to prohibit women from speaking in
church. This reason certainly seems to be why verses 34-35 appear in
Perhaps Paul's reason to include this quote was obvious
to the Corinthians. However, it has been correctly observed that no one today
has independent access to Paul's mind. The only record available for our
consideration is that of the historical written text and writings of others. Paul writes to correct the error of the Oral Law of the Jews or anyone else who
wants to prohibit women from speaking in church. Paul's immediate and strong
rebuke beginning in verse 36 can be viewed as a correction to those men who held
to the Oral Law of the Jews. Bibles have variously translated verse 36 as
What! Came the word of God out from you or came it
unto you only? (KJV)
Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you
the only people it has reached? (NIV)
Do you think that the knowledge of God's word begins
and ends with you Corinthians? Well, you are mistaken! (NLT)
A footnote of the Spirit-Filled Life Bible says of this
passage: "One other view sees vv. 34, 35 as Paul quoting from the Judaizers'
letter to him in beginning a new paragraph. Proponents of this view then see v.
36 as his rhetorical answer, essentially saying, What? Men only? Nonsense! (p.
Summary of the Evidence Favoring the Quotation View
A substantial body of internal and external evidence
exists to conclude that verses 34-35 could not have been authored by Paul. Internally, there is not one verse in the Old Testament that Paul could quote to
support such a declaration. Nor is Paul alluding to any general Genesis
passage to support a view opposite from his stated declaration in 1 Corinthians
that women can pray and prophesy in church.
As previously discussed, Paul is quite specific when
referring to the Old Testament to prove his point. The extensive, eternal
evidence points to the fact that Paul is quoting a saying from the Oral Law of
the Jews that prohibited women from speaking in the synagogue.
Oral Jewish laws do not constitute Scripture and are not
authoritative for the body of Christ. Scholars also point out that Paul never
appeals to the "law" as guidance for the Christian Church. Scripture tells us
that God calls and uses anyone to minister regardless of gender. Paul has just
finished telling the Corinthians that women can pray and prophesy in church. In
verse 36, Paul corrects the Judaizers' error. Therefore, interpreting
verses 34-35 as a quotation with an immediate rebuke remains a contextually
viable and the preferred option.
Verses 34-35 do not prohibit women from speaking in the
church in either pulpit ministry, teaching, preaching, praying, prophesying, or
any other speaking function. These verses represent a quotation, which is the
most plausible and correct interpretation. Paul is quoting a saying from the
Oral Law of the Jews which is not intended to be understood as the writer's
original declaration. The evidence is compelling, diverse, and objective. This
view also allows for the natural flow of thought to remain uninterrupted with
verses "34-35" noted as a quotation and a rebuke beginning in verse 36. Paul
also has no need to specifically address women as the only cause of
"interrupting the service" as some scholars suggest. Paul's
conclusion in verse 40 is more than adequate to tell the Corinthians that both
men and women must be careful to minister in the gifts of the Spirit in an
The focus of Chapter 14 is on the proper use of
spiritual gifts, tongues and prophecy. Paul's closing exhortation, beginning in
verse 39, is a fitting conclusion: Therefore, my brothers and sisters, desire
earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But let all
things be done properly and in an orderly manner.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
It is a travesty that men have systematically denied
women the opportunity to utilize the full extent of their gifts for God's glory. This denial is based on a few highly problematic passages in Scripture, such as
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12. Perhaps the obvious must again be
stated: Sound hermeneutical principles warn against drawing unwarranted
inferences from passages fraught with numerous interpretive issues. Yet,
despite this knowledge, scholars, church leaders, and lay people continue to
utilize such passages to deny or limit women the full exercise of their
Scripture teaches us that the gifts and callings of God
are given to all members of the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 12:3-8;
I Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:7-11; I Pet. 4:10-11). None of these gifts or offices is
the exclusive prerogative of men. I believe this oppressive behavior against
women grieves the Holy Spirit and hinders the Spirit's work in the Church.
Much confusion in the church today over "women in ministry" results from Bible
scholars and others who fail to rightly divide and present God's truth.
Many evangelical scholars have boldly attempted to break
down traditional assumptions and biases that prevent women from speaking and
ministering in churches as pastors and teachers of the Word. A tremendous
obstacle still remains. Bibles generally do not present alternative
interpretive options of many "problem passages." First Corinthians 14:34-35
illustrates this point.
Most people read these passages as a declaration without
knowing about the quotation option. Bible translators should be more diligent in
presenting all views on particularly difficult passages. Some day all Christians
will stand before God to give an account of their lives and actions. We may be
asked: What have you done with the women I have anointed to minister in My
Church? Did you hinder or accept these women? My prayer is that more Christian
leaders and lay people not hinder the move of the Holy Spirit in the lives of
women called to ministry. Then, and only then, will God's work go forth with
greater effectiveness and power to accomplish His purposes.
1 D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition
(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 139-140.
2 Robert Frew, ed., Barnes Notes on the New
Testament: I Corinthians 274.
3 J. D. Douglas, ed., New Commentary on the Whole
Bible: Old Testament Volume (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1990), electronic
4 David K. Lowery, John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, eds.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of The Scripture by Dallas
Seminary Faculty, New Testament Edition (Hiawatha, Iowa: Parsons Technology,
Inc., 1997), electronic ed.
5 Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the
Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 198.
6 F.F. Bruce, The New Century Bible Commentary I & II
Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 135-136.
7 William W. Klein, Blomberg, Craig L., Hubbard, Robert
L. Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Dallas, Texas: Word
Publishing, 1993), 362.
8 C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to
the Corinthians (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 332-333.; Hans Conzelman, 1
Corinthians (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 246; Gordon D. Fee, The New
International Commentary on the New Testament, the First Epistle to the
Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 705.
9 Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on
the New Testament, the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1989), 699-700.
10 Ibid., 701-702.
11 Ibid., 707.
12 Carroll D. Osburn, "The Interpretation of 1 Cor.
14:34-35," in Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity: Volume 1, ed.
Carroll D. Osburn (Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1995),
13 Ibid., 241.
14 D.W. Odell-Scott, "Editorial dilemma: the
interpolation of 1 Cor 14:34-35 in the western manuscripts of D, G and 88,"
Biblical Theological Bulletin, (July 22, 2000). Also available from
15 Women Priests Catholic Internet Library, "Greek
Philosophy on the Inferiority of Women," [doc.on-line]; available from
accessed 20 May 2003.
16 Women Priests Catholic Internet Library, "The Rights
of Women According to Roman Law,"[doc. on-line]; available from
http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/infe_rom.htm; accessed 20 May 2003.
17 John Gustavson, "Part 2: Women in Christ: A Study in
New Testament Principles," [doc. on-line]; available from
accessed 24 May 2003.
18 Fee, The New International Commentary on the New
19 Gustavson, "Part 2: Women in Christ: A Study in New
20 Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Old
Testament (Cedar Rapids: Parsons Technology, Inc., 1999), electronic
21 Katharine Bushnell, God's Word to Women
(Oakland, CA: K. Bushnell, 1930), para.201-202.
22 Ibid., para. 210-211.
23 Ibid., para. 205.
24 Grace Ying May and Hyunhye Pokrifka Joe, "Setting the
Record Straight: A Response to J. I. Packer's Position on Women's Ordination"
Priscilla Papers 11, no 1 (Winter 1997), 1-10.
25 D. W. Odell-Scott, "Let the Women Speak in Church: An
Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:33b-36," Biblical Thinking Bulletin 13
26 Sharyn Dowd, "Helen Barret Montgomery's Centenary
Translation of the New Testament Characteristics and Influences" [doc.on-line];
available from click here. See Sharyn
Dowd's footnote #38 for a more comprehensive list of source material and writers
who support the view that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a quotation or oral rabbinic
saying, not a scriptural command.
Dennis J. Preato, Master of Divinity, magna cum laude is
a graduate of Bethel Seminary, San Diego. He authored "Junia, A Female Apostle"
published in Priscilla Papers Volume 17, Issue 2, Spring 2003. Dennis presented
a paper titled "Empirical Data in Support of Egalitarian Marriages: A Theological
Response to the Far Western Regional Conference of the Evangelical Theological
Society" (ETS) meeting during April 2004. Dennis writes articles discussing what
biblical gender equality means for the Church and the home.
Mary was raised Catholic and came to meet Jesus and be filled with the Spirit in
the 70's. She and her husband were missionaries in Bethlehem, Israel back then
and have been pastoring together as a team for the past 20 years. She is
a member of Christians for Biblical Equality.
Her heart's desire is "Him" and to see people all over the world come to love
Him and know His freedom.
You can write to Mary at firstname.lastname@example.org
I was raised in a traditional large Italian Catholic family in Philadelphia.
When I was young, I was so eager to know God. One of my goals was to be a nun. I
wanted so much to be close to the Lord. As I grew older and my eyes opened to
the stagnation in the religious system I belonged to. My hunger sought other
ways to be satisfied and I turned to drugs and promiscuity during my high school
Deep in my heart I continued to search for God, but I was deceived by the
immediate gratification I found in sedating my hunger with substance abuse. I
left home and lived from house to house with friends and continued following
darkness deeper and deeper. I was so empty and depressed. A high school girl
friend wrote me a letter from a hippie commune in California where everyone was
called "Jesus Freaks." She had become one herself. Her letter was filled with
joy, little drawings of stick men with smiling faces saying "Hallelujah," and so
much love. In that letter she described to me how to be saved and my heart
responded immediately. I knelt down in my bedroom that day, March 16th 1975 and
surrendered my life to Jesus.
Within 2 weeks I left family, friends, job and Philadelphia to head to
California to learn more about Jesus. My love for Jesus has continued to consume
me ever since. I was filled with His Spirit and immersed in Bible study,
witnessing on the streets and prayer meetings.
After two years of training, I left to be a missionary in Israel with my new
husband (3 days after our wedding we were on the plane). Since that time of
ministry in Israel, God has led me to the heights of the Himalayas in Nepal, the
Amazon in Brazil, Red Square in Moscow, villages in China, islands in the
Philippines, streets of India and the avenues of America to tell others of the
great love that God has for us in sending His only Son Jesus to bring us into
relationship with Him.
My husband and I pioneered a church on the west side of Portland, Oregon in
1983. Our heart was to teach others who they are in Christ, that He has given us
the spirit of adoption by making us His children, and to help people find joy in
their walk with the Lord. We are a team like Pricilla and Aquila in the book of
It is wonderful to be in a church where men and women are equal and flow in the
gifts of the Holy Spirit side by side. One of my passions is to ignite hunger in
the heart of the Church to love Him unrestrained. I love to teach and preach and
see the Lord use me to love His people by elevating them to the place He died to
give them. What a lover of people He is. I joy in witnessing people coming alive
with His love.
What a humbling experience it is to pastor His Bride, His beloved. I, too, can
say, I have come to serve not to be served. In our 24 years of marriage, God has
blessed us with three awesome kids, a really cool son-in-law and a grand
daughter. I have found that when you are in love, you don't burn out. It is fun
to live for Jesus.