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A copy of the booklet Covet to Prophesy by Katharine Bushnell was sent to us by Ruth Hoppin, the author of Priscilla's Letter.   She also wrote the article The Legacy of Katharine Bushnell  and sent us the Vashti-Esther article by Dr. Bushnell.   Covet to Prophesy is a real find.  In the biography of Dr. Bushnell by Dana Hardwick the bibliography lists the whereabouts of this booklet as unknown.  We are very grateful to Ruth for sharing this writing with us. 

Katharine Bushnell is the author of God's Word to Women for which this website is named.  The complete book with bibliography and notes is now on our website. 

 PREFATORY NOTE to Covet to Prophesy

 "Eve and the Rabbins" is a discussion of Genesis 3:16, reading in our English translation of the Hebrew text. "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." It has been my aim in writing to show that none of the ancient versions of the Scriptures support the thought our English translation sets forth in the first clause of the sentence, excepting those appearing after certain teachings arose that are embodied in the Oral Law of the Jews.  And, in case of these, only such as came immediately under the influence of that Oral Law.  For the full exposition of this point, I have spent much painstaking work, especially in the library of the British Museum, which affords such rare opportunities for Bible study.  The object has been to show that the position and privilege of woman has been falsely interpreted and misunderstood, almost from the first.  The clearing away of misconception and misinterpretation is demanded in order to remove impediments that block the progress of the Church.  The question is much more than a woman question.  It concerns the Church preparing the way for a more complete fulfillment of God's will as to a general outpouring of His Spirit upon believers--a fulfillment in completeness of what we saw in part in the Welsh Revival, even the pouring out of His Spirit upon "all flesh," without regard to caste, class or sex, foretold by Joel the prophet and realized on the Day of Pentecost.

Two fixed points are required in order to determine the direction of a line.  As in geometry, so has it always been taught in sound doctrine.  An inner Voice is not, alone, sufficient for guidance.  The written Word must accord therewith.  When these two are present, then a line of conduct can be fixed upon with confidence.  How are we to interpret the fact that women of holy life did speak in the public assembly both in the Old and in the New Testament times?  "An exceptional call" is the usual reply.  God could exceptionally call and qualify a woman to prophesy just as He bestowed exceptional qualities upon Balaam's beast of burden, so that the ass was led quite outside the "sphere" of her natural calling.  We grant that, but the animal didn't have to meet the difficulties of any supposed divine prohibition, and the woman must.  Expositors teach us, not only that the apostle admonished women to keep silence, but that he backed his admonition with the "as also saith the law," and added thereto the declaration that this silence was "a commandment of the Lord." The woman who goes forth to preach, then, is taught by the Church through its Bible expositors to believe that she must do so on an exceptional call that tramples upon Paul's admonition, defies the "as also saith the law," and disobeys the "commandment of the Lord."

But, if we accept the inner Voice as sufficient, though it tramples upon the Word of God as written, we plant our feet on the broad road of fanaticism.  No woman can afford to believe that she has a "special revelation" to disobey a commandment.  No Church can afford to teach such a doctrine.  The Church fears the preaching of woman in its pulpits will bring in irregularities and fanaticism.  She may well fear so long as she is herself the tutor of fanaticism to women.  There is no middle ground safe for the Church.  She should either silence women altogether in every activity that would make her voice heard in the Church as a teacher or preacher, or else give a tardy assent to the truth of Paul's sweeping assertion that "there can be no male and female" distinctions as to call and privilege that the Church is authorized to make, or can make, without mischief to the body of believers.                                            




 The present article is a discussion of the words, "Let the women keep silence in the Churches." This is generally accepted by expositors as an unqualified prohibition of the preaching of women.  We do not believe the Apostle utters these words in his own sense.  He is quoting the language of Judaizers and their teaching of the Oral Law of the Jews, which enjoined silence upon women.  The Apostle himself replies to this teaching, "What! came the Word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?"  This article presents the arguments in favor of that view.

We shall now take up the study of Paul's utterances as regards women, which are generally construed as a complete prohibition of their speaking in public.  The words are to be found in the 14th chapter of the same Corinthian Epistle in which he discusses their unveiling when "praying or prophesying" in the 11th chapter.  If he continued uninterruptedly in his task of dictating to his secretary, there would scarcely have elapsed a half-hour between the two utterances.  We give his words as translated in the Authorized Version beginning at the 29th verse.

29. Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
30. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
31. For ye may ALL prophesy one by one that ALL may learn, and ALL may be comforted.
32. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
33. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of the saints.
34. Let your women keep silence in the Churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
35. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the Church.
37. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord
38.  But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39.  Wherefore, brethren covet to prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues.
40.  Let all things be done decently and in order.

The words in italics are supplied by the translators and do not appear in the original.  The words in bold capitals we so print to call especial attention to their force.

Two different matters have been almost universally confused by expositors when dealing with Scripture utterances as regards women.   One is the public ministry, the other the subordination of woman to man, as though if subordination exists by Divine ordinance, the silence of women in Church must be the necessary consequence.  But the proof of one is not, per se, the proof of the other.  The inference is drawn on the assumption that, of course, man would invariably command woman to be silent if she were subordinate to him.  Such would not always be the case by any means.  And, besides, there were certain rights maintained by apostolic authority, even for the subordinated.

Several times over, the Apostle declares for no difference in the household of faith between the "bound and free."  Slaves are exhorted to obey their masters, yet these same slaves could take part in public worship in the Apostolic Church.  And then the veil was not per se a sign of subordination, even in the Apostle's mind.  Slaves did not go veiled.  Man is certainly subordinated to God and must acknowledge that subordination, yet Paul directed men not to veil in the presence of God in worship.  Because expositors assume much, we must not take it all for granted.  Each point must be proved for itself, and the proof of one point must not be taken as proof of something else quite different.

The average expositor not only takes it for granted that each of these utterances of the Apostle--the one as to women veiling, and the other as to women keeping silence in Church--is the logical outcome of woman's subordination to man.  But also, vice versa, that each utterance in turn (in that their view commands the veiling and the silencing of women) constitutes an argument for the subordination of women.  We have already shown that neither veiling nor silence in the Apostolic Church was a necessary consequence of subordination.  On the other hand, considered as two arguments for the subordination of women, they destroy each other.  The first argument for subordination would then rest upon the statement that women were ordered to veil when praying and prophesying, and the second upon the statement that they were not praying and prophesying in the Apostolic Church.

We must not let this contradiction pass unchallenged.  The expositor passes it over as lightly as possible, but we call him to account for this disparity before he goes further.  It is the old story of the broken pitcher, and the woman's defense in court:  "It was broken when I borrowed it, and it was whole when I took it back." And, if we allow the defense to proceed thus, the next point may be, "What's more, I never had it." It is a point in law that "when a fact necessarily involved in an action is once determined," it shall not afterward be called in question as between the same parties of persons claiming under them." In other words, it is a res judicata.   If an expositor base an argument for woman's subordination to man on the claim that Paul commands her to veil in sign of that subordination when praying and prophesying, then he knocks the foundation from under that argument if he proceed to deny that Paul allowed that praying and prophesying.  He has destroyed the claim that women were silenced in Church.  But Paul could not actually and absolutely have forbidden women to pray and prophesy since in point of value as evidence there can be no comparison between the worth of a seeming denial of an act, such as occurs in the 14th chapter, and a description of that very act, such as is found in the 11th chapter.  Weight and worth lie with the description.  So, we have nothing to do but to seek to reconcile this teaching in the 14th chapter with the more explicit teaching of the 11th chapter.  Let us remember that every Scripture itself says elsewhere (2 Pet. 3:16) that Paul wrote some things in his Epistles "hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstable wrestle. . .to their own destruction," and proceed with prayer and careful thoroughness.

     Several attempts at reconciliation or explanation have been made of which we will mention the principal. 

a)   Paul was meeting a local difficulty of a past age, and it is a matter of no importance to us.  This might be the case, perhaps, but such a view of any portion of Scripture as this must only be received with the greatest caution, lest we weaken the influence of the Scriptures as a rule of life.  Since we do not think it necessary to be driven to this conclusion, we abandon it. 

 b) The Apostle has changed his mind in the half-hour that elapsed between the two writings, or as De Wette says:  "Both of these the Apostle disapproved as well their coming forward to pray and to prophesy as their removing the veil." Such explanations, as we have already shown, are almost too puerile to deserve refuting.  We believe they would be ruled out of court by any worthy judge.  What has the Apostle to do with entering upon an elaborate discussion with the object of directing women how to do what he is just on the point of rebuking them for doing at all?  If Paul changed his mind, and never told us so, in a matter of such seeming importance and the last declaration alone stands, then we have reason to think be may have changed his mind as to all those arguments upon which he seemingly based his conclusion.  We are left in doubt after all as to whether "man is the head of woman" whether "woman is the glory of man" and many other things.  No, that will not do.

(c) The Apostle, when he says; "it is not permitted unto them to speak," refers to women "babbling" and "chattering" in a disorderly manner, for the word "to speak" (laleo) often carries that sense.  This is undoubtedly true as to laleo, but the Apostle himself never uses this very common word in the sense of "babbling." Rather, he uses it in this very chapter some twenty-three times aside from this instance for solemn utterances under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  And, then, while there is some evidence that there were disorders in the Corinthian Church, who can prove that that disorder extended even to such conduct as this among the women? The recital of instances of heathen women today in China, Japan or India, who are disorderly in Church, is no proof.  We cannot accept this attempt to reconcile Paul's two statements.

d) Some say that Paul refers only to women asking questions in Church because they are told that "if they wish to learn anything," they should "ask their husbands at home."  But we must remember that many of these women may have been widows, some divorced wives, and others yet unmarried.  Whom shall they ask?  And of the married ones, Paul implies elsewhere that some of them had "unbelieving," that is, heathen or Jewish husbands (7:13).  That would leave only a comparatively small proportion of the Corinthian women under Christian instruction if they were left to learn these things of their husbands, And, besides, if their husbands had no sense of the right of a thing beyond that displayed by them in their fashion of celebrating the Lord's Supper (11:21), why should Christian women be referred to such sources as these for religious help?  By so doing, the Apostle would send the women who had no husband nowhere for help.  He would send the married women back to idolaters, and back to Jewish husbands, and most of the rest back to these Corinthian men of low ideals, even if professed Christians.  Is that "feeding the flock of Christ" in an honest manner, or turning part of it loose into arid lands at the mercy of the world?  Besides, the Apostle tells us himself why his silence is enjoined.   The reason is not because questions are asked, but because thus saith the law," and "it is a shame for women to speak in Church."  These are the reasons Paul gives though this does not prove, as we will presently show, that they are sufficient reasons in Paul's estimation for silencing women.  

We will now give an explanation, which we think sufficient, but because of Paul's own method of basing his conclusions on well-laid foundations, often of extended reasoning and explanation.  We must prepare the way for it by an introduction of considerable length.

Paul wrote this Epistle in the spring of A.D. 57 when he was at Ephesus living, in all probability, with Priscilla and Aquila (16:19)[1] former co-laborers with him at Corinth in tent making--(Acts 18:3), and now at Ephesus co-laborers with him in the Gospel.  They had accompanied him to Ephesus from Corinth when he made a former visit (Acts 18:18,19).  Shortly afterwards, this couple went back to Rome, which had been their former home before Corinth (Acts 18:2), for Paul sends greetings to them at Rome a year later in his Epistle to the Romans.  It is then that he calls them his "fellow laborers in Christ Jesus, (Rom. 16:3, 4, R.V.).  He says they laid down their necks for him, and that all the Churches of the Gentiles along with Paul give thanks for them.  If Priscilla was the veiled and silenced creature, a woman of the expositor's imagination, what possible opportunity could she have had for "laying down her neck" for the Apostle?  And how did Paul and the Churches of the Gentiles get acquainted with a veiled and silenced woman sufficiently to give thanks for her?

When the Apostle first speaks of the couple in A.D. 57 (16:19), he calls them "Aquila and Priscilla," but a year later he reverses the order, calling them "Priscilla and Aquila" and again in A.D. 67 when writing Timothy (2 Tim. 4: 19).  In the book of The Acts, which  was written about A.D. 63, Luke also twice speaks of this couple as Priscilla and Aquila, reversing the common order of mentioning the husband first.  The conclusion is that after Paul and his fellow-traveler Luke had experienced the help of these two, they had found Priscilla the more efficient "fellow-laborer in Christ Jesus." But for all that, had the Apostle followed the example of his expositors in dealing with "the different ranks" of male and female, he would hardly have acted so in defiance of order and seemliness in the management of his Churches as to have put this woman's "head" behind her after this fashion.  We call attention to these things in order to get a correct historical setting.  At the very time when it is supposed the Apostle is absolutely silencing women, he is associated in the work of preaching the Gospel with a woman.  To be sure, her husband is there, but Paul does not hesitate to indicate that he prizes her services above his.

Some explain it by saying she must have been a woman of property who ministered to Paul's needs.  If the Apostle had a wealthy patroness at this time, how could he say (4: 11), "Even unto this present hour, we both hunger and thirst, and are naked and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and we toil working with our own hands"?  Paul applies this same word, "fellow laborer," to Timothy, Titus, Luke and others about him.  No one questions that they preached the Gospel with him, and that is what the Apostle means.  We have reason then for thinking the same of Priscilla.  The customs in Asia, Minor at that time would have permitted it.  This has been clearly shown by historians. 

Women in Asia, Minor were doubtless, whether Gentiles or Jews, under the rule of their husbands.   However, their husbands allowed them larger liberties than the Jewish men of Palestine permitted their wives.  There was even one synagogue at least in Asia Minor over which a woman ruled.  We quote from Professor Ramsay of Aberdeen in his Church in the Roman Empire, "A point which illustrates and is illustrated by the state of society in Asia Minor is the influence exerted on the Apostle's fortunes in Antioch by the women (Acts 13: 50).  The honors and influence, which belonged to women in the cities of Asia Minor, form one of the most remarkable features in the history of the country.  In all periods, the evidence runs on the same lines.  On the border between fable and history, we find the Amazons.  The best, authenticated cases of Mutterrect [mother rule] belong to Asia Minor.  Under the Roman Empire we find women magistrates, presidents at games and loaded with honors.  The custom of the country influenced even the Jews, who in at least one case, appointed a woman at Smyrna to the position of archisynagogos.  It would be strange if the women had not exercised some influence over St. Paul's fortunes."[2] 

     Later, Professor Ramsay says: "The universal and catholic type of Christianity became confirmed in its dislike of the prominence and the public ministration of women.  The dislike became abhorrence, and there is every probability that the dislike is as old as the first century, and was intensified to abhorrence before the middle of the second century."  Nevertheless, woman held her place as an unveiled "presbytress" in the Church until the Council of Laodicea (about A.D. 360) forbade their ordination in its 11th canon and forbade women entering in to the altar in its 44th canon.  It was during the days of this growth of prejudice against women, we believe, that the Apostle's clear utterances as regards women were turned into whimsical, illogical utterances against women by adroit misrepresentation.  That exegesis gained favor with a Church that had lost its first love and has been bequeathed to us with all the authority of traditionalism back of it.

Now let us assume, what rests upon so good historical grounds as regards the freedom of women in Asia Minor at this time, that Priscilla prays and prophesies in the Churches as she goes about with the Apostle and as his directions in the 11th chapter permit.  And, it is for this reason that Paul so values her.  She understood Scripture remarkably well; for she, principally, taught Apollos in a more accurate knowledge of the "way of God" (Acts 18: 26).  If Priscilla took her full share in this Gospel work, then the Apostle, who valued her labors, would feel indignant at any attempt to check her services and that of other women.  Nor would he so wish to defend their case as to make of this a mere "woman question," but he would deal with it on the highest grounds, and not as a matter of dispute as to the comparative rights, privileges and talents of women and men, as to which is "greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."  We believe, therefore, that the Apostle does defend the call of these women to preach the Gospel and on these higher principles.

We are not accustomed to look to German sources for broadminded statements as regards women.  Therefore, I more readily turn in that direction for a statement as to Priscilla's position in the Apostolic Church.  Prof. Harnack, of Berlin, says:[3]

"In any case she must have been associated with and more distinguished than her husband.  That is verified from Acts 18:26 and Romans 16:3f.  convincingly.   For according to the former passage, not only Aquila, but she also instanced Apollos ("whom when Priscilla and Aquila had heard, they took him to them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly").  One is allowed from it to infer that she was the chief instructor; otherwise, she would scarcely have been mentioned.  And in the Roman epistle Paul calls her and Aquila-not the latter only-his "fellow laborers in Christ."  This expression, not frequently employed by Paul, signifies much.  By the use of it, Priscilla and Aquila are legitimized official Evangelists and Teachers.  Paul adds, moreover, the following:  "Who for my sake laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the Churches of the Gentiles."  To what heroic service the first half of this clause refers, we unfortunately know not.  From the second part, it follows that the Christian activity of the couple was a genuinely ecumenical work.  Why "all the Churches of the Gentiles" were obliged to thank Priscilla and Aquila, Paul does not say."  Then, Dr. Harnack adds in a footnote, quoting the views of Origen and Chrysostom as in accordance with his own:  "that the thanks of the Gentile Churches relate only to the fact that Priscilla and Aquila saved the life of the Apostle is to me most probable." Then he proceeds again: the fact that they were so vigorously and successfully engaged in the Gentile mission is significant enough."

The point to be emphasized, however, is not so much that the Apostle had women associates who propagated the Gospel message, but that he could not have spoken of an absolutely silent woman as one to whom all the Churches of the Gentiles give thanks.  The fact to be made clear is that this woman was associated in the period of her greatest activity with the Apostle at the very time (and a year later), and so prominently that all the Churches of the Gentiles knew it, that the Apostle is represented by expositors as relegating women to absolute silence.  Herein lies an absolute historical contradiction to such a representation of the Apostle. 

A word as to the occasion that led Paul to the writing of this First Epistle to the Corinthians, lest we might seem to bias the case, we take the description given in the Helps to be found as an appendix to the Oxford Teachers Bible:  "Paul was defamed by the Jewish party, and rumors of alarming disputes reached him, followed by a letter full of inquiries, on matters of morality and doctrine, brought by a deputation of freed men.   He now writes the First Epistle to the Corinthians.  Then, as to the substance of the Epistle, a Summary of its contents follows: 

1. Reproof of the factions (chapter I-IV.20).

2. Intercourse with heathen . . . (chapter IV. 21 - VI.  20),

3. Answer to the Corinthian Church (VII. -XIV: 40) . . ."  Thus, we learn that what the Apostle said on the veiling of women, and what he here says about women keeping silent in the Churches.  Both come in that part of his letter where he is answering inquiries sent to him by the Corinthians.  In making these replies, Paul follows a method interestingly described by Weizsackeriv[4] in the following manner:

"And now [that is, at chapter VII] begins a new letter, or at any rate, a new section of the letter.  What follows, therefore, bears a wholly different character.  The language is now comparatively calm, official, instructive and hortatory and treats a whole series of affairs belonging to the life of the Church.  And, as an answer to the Church's inquiry, the discussion furnishes a subject new in form as well as in matter.  "THE REFERENCE TO THE QUESTIONS IS REPEATED WHENEVER A NEW POST IS TAKEN UP. . .Under each heading, a discussion is given as has been desired, and therefore the matters are discussed one after the other and, each by 'itself.'"  We print in small capitals again the portion to which we wish specially to call attention.   Let us illustrate the meaning of it.

At chapter 6:12 occur the words, "All things are lawful unto me." This was in all probability originally Paul's own declaration; but the disorderly ones among the Corinthian disciples have repeated it as a pretext for wrongdoing.  A complaint of the matter is sent in the letter of inquiry to the Apostle.  In answer, he now quotes again his own words, to add, in answer to their unlawful use of his words: "but all things are not expedient."  Then, he repeats his words, "All things are lawful unto me . . . but I will not be brought under the power of any."  Again, at chapter 8:8, he takes probably his own misapplied words, "meat commendeth us not to God," and, answers (verse 9): "But take heed lest this liberty of yours become a stumbling, block to the weak."

At chapter 9, the style varies somewhat.  He answers them in such a manner that the reply indicates what they had said, as though it read.  "They say I am not free, do they?"  "They say I am not an Apostle, do they?" "And that I have not seen the Lord, do they?" and so on through several verses indicating the criticisms that the Judaizers had passed upon him.  At chapter 10:23, he again reverts to their misuse of his language, "All things are lawful unto me," repeating, the answer: "but all things are not expedient," and yet another answer: "all things edify not."

 We think there are many indications that when the Apostle makes use of the language, "Let the women [not "your," as A.V.] keep silence," and on through the following verse, "let them ask their husbands at home," he is not saying these things in his own sense.  They are the teaching of the Judaizers, and he answers them back with, the words, "What! came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?"  Then, follow a few plain words of admonition and the conclusion, which is: "Wherefore, my brethren, covet to prophesy and forbid not to speak with tongues.  Let all things be done decently and in order."

This is the third time that the Apostle repeats, the word "covet" in reference to spiritual gifts.  "The other two places are 12:31 and 14:1.  In the last, it is translated "desire." The word "desire" occurs in one form or another nearly a hundred times in the New Testament and is expressed by a dozen different words in the original.  The Authorized Version translates this original word as "desire" only twice--in this instance and at James 4:2.  The word means properly "to be jealous of," or "to envy." It is the word used in the 13th chapter, 4th verse, "Charity envieth not."  So, we see the Apostle uses the word likewise in its bad sense, which is its ordinary force.

Those who read the Septuagint Version of the Scriptures (the Version which would be the one used among these Corinthians and the one the Apostle constantly quotes in this very letter to the Corinthians--not the Hebrew text as we have it) can hardly help calling to mind here the use of this word "envy" in relation to prophesying.  An incident occurred in the experience of Moses, recorded in the 11th chapter of Numbers.  God had descended and taken of the spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon seventy elders who were to help him in leading the people.  The Divine ordination took place in the Tabernacle, but two of the seventy, evidently for some sufficient reason, were not in the Tabernacle at the time but out in the camp among the people.  Both of them and the sixty-eight are included in the prophetic reply:  "Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!"

Joshua moved evidently in a spirit of jealousy for his master Moses sees in this irregularity an opportunity to "restrict" this rivalry with his master.   But that which God does cannot be forbidden in pretence that it is out of order.   Moses had prophesied, therefore, of a time when it would be in order for God's entire people to be prophesying.  In that day, no one who prophesied could be pronounced out of order.  The spirit of jealousy on the part of Joshua stands out in contrast to Moses' zeal for the time when all would prophesy.   "Jealousy" and "zeal" are one and the same word in Greek.  So the Apostle exhorts: "Be jealous-or zealous-for the best gifts; and, moreover, I show you an imminently excellent way." [Alford's translation].  Then follows that wonderful description of charity which "envieth" not by which we know that it is not the individual and exclusive desire for these gifts to which Paul exhorts, but rather that all should have an intense desire, like Moses, that the promise of universal bestowment of the Spirit might be fulfilled to the Church.  "

No one will question that the Apostle would have women as well as men seek that"eminently excellent way" of charity.  But in the same breath that the Apostle says he will show it to us, he says:  "Covet earnestly the best gifts."  Who then can say that in one part of the verse Paul addresses men only and in the rest of it men and women both?  That is bringing matters down to a fine point indeed in Bible exposition.  What the best gift of all is Paul leaves us in no doubt about.   "I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied, for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues."  So reads the 5th verse of the 14th chapter.  Whatever else is included, we have proof here that prophecy is the greatest gift to Paul's mind, and he is speaking in the mind of the Spirit also.  And as many as he exhorts to "follow after charity," he likewise exhorts to be zealous for spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy." (14:1)  Women, then, should be "zealous to prophesy," so far as teaching gives us to understand.   Now we turn our attention particularly to the words of the lesson we have assigned for ourselves."

Verse 29.   Perhaps this means that two or three are enough speakers for any one meeting.   So Alford thinks.  By the "others" (R. V.) we understand all others who have likewise the gift of prophecy--the other prophets.  They would be the ones best able to discover whether the utterances of the speakers were truly prophetic or not.  Undoubtedly, there were men abroad trying to disseminate false teaching, such as the Judaizers, seeking every possible occasion to induce these Christian converts to return to the teachings of the traditions of the Jews and playing the part of prophets for this end (chapter 12:3).

Verse 30.  If one claimed to have, perhaps just received, a fresh revelation from the Lord, he was to be accorded a respectful hearing.   

Verse 31. This should be translated, as in the R.V.  "Ye can all prophesy."  It is not unlikely, that the Corinthians had asked the Apostle a question as to this point.  The emphasis is on the word "can"-"ye have the power to." However the distribution of gifts (12:11) took place, it was not in such a manner as to exclude any from the gift of prophecy.  The universal bestowal of that gift took place on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out upon "all flesh."  Sons, daughters, servants and hand-maidens of the Lord ALL prophesied (Acts 2:17,18.  Comp. 1:14, and 2:4).  As the promised power-dynamis--came to all, so the Apostle now says, "Ye are all empowered-dynasthe-to prophesy."  Not in the sense that all had obtained the power to prophesy, for the Apostle would not have then said, "Covet to prophesy," but in the sense that the gift was attainable by all.

 But while there is a special stress on the word "can" in this clause, the emphasis throughout the whole verse is on the word thrice repeated--all.   "All" may prophesy, that "all" may learn, and "all" be comforted.  Not all, perhaps in each meeting but there is no restriction on the gift of prophecy.  It belongs to every individual member of Christ's Body.   It was prophesied by Joel that all would receive this gift, and the Apostle exhorts all to covet it earnestly.  And, in the light of its probable reference to Moses, for each to have that spirit of zeal for "all" to possess the gift of prophecy that there shall be no show of that other form of zeal-envy--that would restrict the gift as out of order in some.

Verse 32.  "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." The word translated "subject," hypotasso, has reference rather to harmoniousness than servility (Eph. 5:21; 2 Cor. 9: 13).  A spirit of harmony will pervade all, and for the reason implied in the next verse.

Verse 33. "For God {who is the author of all prophecy, 12:6} is not a God of  confusion, but of peace, as in all Churches of "the saints."  God Himself will harmonize His own gifts.  Since the voice is one, and the various messages an expression of the will and purpose of One, the universal experience throughout all the Churches of the saints, is that liberty of the Spirit in the exercise of the gift of prophecy will not lead to confusion, even if its regulation be left wholly to the prophets within their own body (verse 32).

Verse 34.  Let your women keep silence in the Churches. . .

 The R. V. begins this verse with the words: "as in all Churches of the saints," making thereby the point (very doubtful as a matter of history) that every Church of the saints of those days kept the women silent.  This punctuation appeared in Tischendorf's edition of the Sinaitic code, and has been quickly adopted by many modern critics.  It seems to contradict the truth of plainly described conditions in the Church implied in the Apostle's directions as to veiling in prophecy and prayer, as well as the "perfectly, known instance of the four daughters of Philip (Acts 2I:9) who prophesied.  Also, we have every reason for assuming they prophesied in the Church as we would assume in the case of any male prophet.  As to the punctuation (a thing of man's invention, purely, and not belonging to the original text), that would place the last clause of the preceding verse at the beginning of this verse.  Dean Alford says, "Taken as beginning the next paragraph, the clause would be harsh beyond example and superfluous as anticipating the reason about to be given, 'for it is not permitted' etc.  besides which it is more in accordance with St. Paul's style to place the main subject of a new sentence first (see I Tim. 3:8, 11, 12).  Here is an example of reference to general usage coming last in aid of other considerations--chapter 11:16.  But it seems unnatural that it should be placed first in the very forefront of a matter on which he has so much to say."

"The women" not "your women," as in the A.V. --are the opening words of the 34th verse.  Remembering Weizsacker's words:  "The reference to the questions [that is, the questions asked by the Corinthians which Paul is answering in this portion of his Epistle] is repeated whenever a new point is taken up"--we believe these words, "The women," are, as it were, his subhead.  Next, he quotes the language of Judaizers, which has been reported to him, for him to make reply to: "Let them keep silence in the public assemblies; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but "let them be in subjection," as also the law says, and if they wish to learn anything," etc.  The quotation continues throughout the next verse. 

Considered as the language of certain, or of a certain Judaizer(s) in the Church at Corinth, we must translate the word used in the Apostle's sense for 'Churches' in the more general sense of pubic assemblies, in which it was so frequently used (see Acts 13: 43; 19: 41, etc.), "It is not permitted unto them to speak." Since how long had the voice of women been silenced in the public assembly?  If Paul could say, "women are not 'permitted' to speak,' then it is required to show who prohibited them, and when it was done.  Miriam, Deborah, Huldah and Anna spoke in earlier days in prophecy.

David himself ordered the appointment of men among women to prophesy in song.  Moreover, David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, Heman,  and Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals . . .And, God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.  All these were under the hands of their father for song in the House of the Lord with cymbals, psalteries, and harps for the service of the House of God.  (I Chron. 25:1, 5, 6) But, it was not alone for music that women prophesied.  David in prophetic vision sees that "The Lord giveth the word: the women that publish the tidings are a great host."  (Psalm 68:11).  Not only were women permitted to preach the tidings but commanded in the Old Testament to do so when the Gospel dispensation opened.  The prophecy in the Psalms was hidden from view for a long time by incorrect translation.  The revisers have given us its true sense.  Had they been willing to translate with equal fairness another passage, we should have had more light on this subject.  By comparing this passage in the Psalms with one in Isaiah (40:9), we discover that they employ in the original one and the same word in the same part of speech, participial in each instance, for the word translated in the Psalm, "publish the tidings." Both are in the feminine gender, the only difference, in fact, being that one word is singular and the other plural in number.

The chapter in Isaiah in which this verse appears opens with a commandment to comfort My people because their warfare is ended.  Then follow the words, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness," indicating with certainty the period to which the prophecy relates.  Then at the 9th verse occur words which, if translated with the same spirit of fairness as at Psalm 68:11, would read in English, "O woman that publishest good tidings: to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O woman, that publishest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength lift: it up, be not afraid; say, unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!" Dr. Adam Clarke, in his commentary, prints some interesting notes on this passage.  Not only was woman, then, permitted to publish, the tidings under the Old Covenant, but also she was commanded, under the Old, to do so at the opening of the New, and it was prophesied under the Old that she should do so both by Joel and by David.

 As to the practice under the New Covenant if women were forbidden to speak in a public assembly, how come our Lord Himself did not rebuke the woman who cried out in the midst of the assembly that He was addressing, "Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the paps that Thou has 'sucked'" but only replied,  "Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." And why did our Lord require of the woman who came secretly into the midst of the crowd that thronged Him and touched the hem of His garment (Luke 8:43) that she declare before all the people for what cause she had touched Him?  Surely there were reasons of delicacy alone why she might have been allowed to keep silent, if ever a woman were, excepting that the Lord would have them know once for all that He had fully lifted what tradition called the "curse" and all its results off the woman.  Those who would silence her from her explicit testimony to this truth, if no other, are the ones who are out of order.

At what time, then, did it become the woman's duty to keep silence?  Not surely throughout the Old Testament days; not during the days of the Son of Man; not during the early Pentecostal days when the Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire and sat upon "each one" of the one hundred and twenty, a considerable number of whom were women.  When they all "began to prophesy," Joel's prophecy began to be fulfilled, "your daughters shall prophesy."  Then the women, also "began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance," as well as the men.  Not even a year after this Corinthian Epistle was written were women yet silenced (Acts 21:9).  Commentators have shown some uneasiness at this point occasionally.  Kalisch says: The New Testament is perhaps even more rigorous than the Old. While it commands the woman "to learn in silence with all subjection" (but not to teach; nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence), she was in the Old Testament admitted to the highest office of teaching; that of prophets, as Miriam, Deborah and Huldah."  Has the Gospel, then, entered the world to degrade woman, to deprive her of long recognized privileges, to execute upon her a "curse" for the sin of Eve that was never executed under the law?  Is grace more severe in its dealings with woman than law?  Endless are the contradictions into which one is at once plunged who assume that Paul silences woman since it is surely the first time that she is silenced in the true Church of God.  For these reasons, we believe these words are a quotation from the letter sent him from Corinth, which he presently answers.

The words, "Let them be in subjection, as also saith the law," are generally supposed to refer to some "law" in the Bible.  A seeming reason is that the Apostle would not in all probability speak of anything but the Word of God as "the law." But if the Apostle is not here speaking in his own sense, he is then making a quotation from those who would have called the traditions of the Jews "the law" also.

For instance, Josephus describes the practices of the Jews in a letter to Apion, under the name of "the law "--ho nomos.  At Lib ii. 25, he states: "The law says [nomos phasin, not "Scripture says," as Whiston[5] erroneously translates[6]] a woman is inferior to her husband in everything, therefore let her be obedient."  The Talmud expressly tells us, moreover, in that place where it describes for what reasons a man may put away his wife, with the loss of her marriage portion that it can be done for transgressions of "the law." Then, it defines the law as including that which the daughters of Israel follow though it is not written.

Furthermore, while not making the same deductions, the great lexicographer, Dr. Schleusner, declares that in this passage the phrase, "as also saith the law," refers to the oral law of the Jews.  In the Old Testament no rule on this matter exists, but Vitringa says . . ."that it was forbidden to women by the traditions of the rabbins to speak in the synagogue."  Those who attempt to find an Old Testament law that forbids women to speak in public utterly fail.  Such a "law" nowhere exists.

As to the phrase, "Let them he in subjection," or rather, "They are commanded to be under obedience," as the Authorized Version translates (supplying the words; "they are commanded "), the marginal reference is to Gen. 3:16, "he shall rule over thee." But ancient versions of Scripture which distinguish between the two tenses, as the Septuagint and Vulgate, treat this as a future, not an imperative form, and certainly the Hebrew permits it.  Thus, it is a prophecy, not a commandment.

For these reasons, the Revised Version refers to this passage in the margin but adds an interrogation point questioning its propriety.  Granted for the sake of the argument that the Apostle does in very truth forbid women to speak in public, assigning as the reason that they are commanded to obey their husbands in Genesis 3:16, the logic is as bad as it very well could be.  And one must be left to marvel why the Apostle could not have summoned better to the, defense of his position.   Here it is reduced to syllogism:

"The law saith," "He shall rule over thee."

Therefore, "Thou shalt keep silence," O woman.  

But that will not do.   We must have three terms in our syllogism.  What shall we supply?

"The law saith," "He shall rule over thee."

He rules,  "Thou shalt keep silence."

Therefore, "The law saith,"  "Thou shalt keep silence."

But who supplies that second term?  Who has decided what shall be, for in it is the begging of the whole question?  That is passed over lightly by the expositor as though accepted by common consent.  Is it true?  Do all men tell their wives, "Thou shalt keep silence?"  Supposing even a small number pursued an opposite course, then, another second term must be found, and the argument stands:

"The law saith," "He shall rule over thee."

He rules,  Thou shalt NOT keep silence.

Therefore, "The law saith," "Thou shalt NOT keep "silence."

This effort to base an argument for woman being silenced in the Churches on a statement that she is under her husband's rule is a piece of flimsy sophistry of which we do not believe the Apostle Paul was ever guilty.  We cannot find Scripture warrant, therefore, for referring the words "as also saith the law," to the word of God.  Now it remains for us to show that it does refer, as Schleusner and others claim, to the Oral Law, or Talmud, of the Jews.  It is not always possible by any means to trace a statement in the Talmud back to its real originator.  We do not know how old some of these decisions may be, however great the antiquity claimed for them, since they were not reduced to writing until the beginning of the 3rd century of the Christian Era although the body of the laws began to be formed at about an equal number of years before Christ.

One decision is as follows: " The "Wise Men" say, "Let not a woman read in the law for the honor of the synagogue." The rabbins of the Mishna--the oldest portion of the Talmud--taught:  "Out of respect to the congregation, a woman should not herself read in the law."  One Rabbi, Samuel, declares, "The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness."  It must be remembered, however, that these teachings of the Oral Law influenced more largely the Jews about Jerusalem.  As we have said before, the women of Asia Minor enjoyed considerable freedom at this time.  But the persecuting Judaizers against whom Paul had to contend so much came out of Palestine originally to exert their influence in prejudicing other Jews against Paul (Acts 15:1, 24; Ga. 2:4, 12;  Acts 28:21.)vii[vii]

Verse 35. And if they will learn anything let them ask their husbands at home...for it is a shame for women to speak in the public assembly.   Because of these words, some have thought that Paul only prohibited women from asking questions, but not from prophesying.  But, did the order of the Apostolic Church permit these disputations?  It hardly seems in harmony with our conceptions of a Spirit-inspired ministry.  To be sure, the Apostle disputed with the Jews, but that is not saying that he disputed with fellow believers.  He lays down an order of exercises at verse 26 for the guidance of the Christian body that makes no mention of disputings and questions in the Church.  These words seem, in fact, a further indication that all this is said not from the Christian but from the Jewish stand point. 

At "the meetings of learned men," Conybeare and Howson inform us, some passage of the Old Testament was taken as a text, or some topic of discussion propounded in Hebrew translated into the vernacular tongue by means of a Chaldee paraphrase and made the subject of commentary.  Various interpretations were given, aphorisms were propounded, allegories suggested, and the opinions of ancient doctors quoted and discussed.  At these discussions, the younger students were present to listen or to inquire, or in the sacred words of St. Luke, "both hearing and asking them questions; for it was a peculiarity of the Jewish schools that the pupil was encouraged to catechize the teacher."  But women were not allowed to ask questions like this. 

A certain woman asked R. Eleazar, "Why, when the sin of the golden calf was but one only, should it be punished with a threefold death?"  He answered, "A woman ought not to be wise above her distaff." Saith Hyrcanus to him, "because you did not answer her a word out of the law, she will keep back from us 300 measures of tithes yearly." But he [answered], "Let the words of the law be burned rather than committed to women." Another version of the story represents R. Eleazar as replying to the woman: "The distaff is the only legitimate object for the exercise of woman's wisdom, for it is said, "All the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands." Exodus 35:25viii[viii]  (Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, following 204).  This decision seems to have been rendered at an early date.  And, if so, these Judaizers would have made full use of it in urging the body of Christian believers to silence women, and for an argument that they must be instructed to "ask their husbands at home," since the decision was rendered on the occasion of a woman presuming to ask a question.

The Mishnaic Rabbis also taught that "Women and slaves shall be dispensed [excused] the reading of the schma [that portion of Scripture read or recited which begins; "Hear, 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord," (Deut. 6:4), which occurs so frequently in the Jewish ritual] and from the precepts of the phylacteries.  Because it is said,  "Thou shalt teach the precepts to your sons" (Deut. 11:19) and not, consequently, to your daughters, the question was asked, "And why are slaves dispensed?"  "Because he would say we have no other superior than God while the slave is subordinate to his master."[9]  The husband was forbidden to teach his wife any more of the law than that which related to her own special duties.  He who teaches his daughter the law is like as if he teaches her to sin.[10]  The Talmud says, almost in the exact words employed in this verse, "It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men" (Kiddushin, fol. 70, col. I).

Verse 36.  What! came the word of God out from you!  or came it unto you alone?  This we interpret as a stern rebuke of those who would silence the prophecy of women.  Alford says, "However, this question seems to refer to all the points of Church custom which he has been noticing."  But it seems unnatural for the Apostle to refer to Church customs as the "word of God," while that very expression is most Scriptural as applied to the voice of prophecy.

"The word of the Lord" and "the word of God" are spoken of constantly throughout the Old Testament when a spirit of prophecy came upon God's prophets.  So in the New, Luke tells us: "The word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness, "when he began his ministry." (Luke 3:2) It was promised of the Messiah (Deut. 18:18), "I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth."  Psalm 68:11, "The Lord giveth the word, the women that publish the tidings are a great host. . ." Jer.18:18,  "The law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet."  Jer. 23:28, "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully...Therefore, behold I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal My words everyone from his neighbor."

The constant teaching throughout Scripture that the message of the prophet is the "word of God" needs no amplification.  It is of this prophetic utterance that the Apostle now speaks, this, which has been the subject of all his teaching from the 12th chapter to the end of the 14th, when he says, "What! came the word of God out from you?"

Does not the very expression, "word of God," acknowledge its source as from God?  The Apostle recalls them to the truth that no real prophet speaks on his or her own behalf.  To attempt to control prophecy by mundane rules means to dictate what instruments God shall use.  The only subjection possible is a test applied by others possessing the same "word of God," as to the genuineness of the message given.  God has a right to choose His own instrument whether that instrument is a king (I Sam. 10:10), a child (I Sam. 3:17), an ass (Num. 22:30), or a woman (2 Kings 22:15, 16).  The voice is from God, and contempt for the instrument would mean defiance of God's authority.  This is what the Apostle recalls them to consider (2 Cor. 2:17).  Perhaps he refers, however, more definitely (and we believe he does) to that day upon which the Spirit descended upon "all flesh," and they all "began" to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:I ff.) 

How was it when the Church received the Holy Spirit?  Surely you will not hold that the word of God came out from you?  It  "came from Heaven, a sound as of the rushing of a mighty, wind."  Surely you will not claim that it came unto you only?  It came unto the women also of that company; for it was in fulfillment of Joel's prophecy, "Your daughters shall prophesy," and the cloven tongues sat upon "each of them" of whom a considerable number was a woman.  The rebuke of the Apostle is the sterner because he has just been teaching that a false modesty will not permit one to excuse oneself from position and responsibility in the Church as a member of Christ's Body.

"If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body."  Nor will egotism permit one to say of another member, "I have no need of thee" (chapter 12:15, 21).   In considering these words of the Apostle in the 12th chapter, we forget that the word "member" cannot be used of mere position as one speaks of a member of the human body or of a member of the Church.  There is no position in Christ's body for a member apart from function.  "Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh it away."

Verse 37.  The things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.  He sets this over against the mere utterances of men as recorded in the Oral Law of the Jews against women speaking in a public assembly.

Verse 38. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.  "A renunciation of further effective instruction," Winer.  (Rom. 1:17, 32; Isaiah 6:9; Ezek. 3:27; Mark 4:11; Rev. 22:10.

Verse 39. Wherefore," his final conclusion from what goes before.  How strangely inapt it would be if the Apostle had just said in his own intention, " Let your women keep silence."

 "Let your women keep silence, wherefore covet to prophesy."

"Let your women keep silence, wherefore forbid not to speak with tongues." But as a conclusion rendered in the plain language of a judicial statement, resting upon his reminder by a question that the word of God neither came from them nor upon them only, its fitness cannot be questioned.

"The word of God came not unto you, wherefore forbid not to speak." 

The expression, "covet to prophesy," deserves attention here.  It is the positive admonition of that which is negatively put by the Apostle in 1 Thess. 5:19, 20.  Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings.  It relates not properly to the individual, but to the whole body.  Covet the to prophesy is the literal reading, and it means, "covet the prophesying," that is, the gift itself, both for one's own and for others exercise.  As Moses, having the gift himself, refused the jealousy that would restrict but expressed the zeal that would make universal the gift of prophecy.  See Numbers 11:29 where in the Septuagint the same Greek words are employed for "envy" and "forbid" as here.

Verse 40. "Let all things be done decently and in order."  Joshua would have had Eldad and Medad at least as "out of order," forbidden to prophesy--out of jealousy for his lord, Moses.  Moses would, in his jealousy for God's honor, have had all the people prophesy.  This was his conception of decency and order.  We say again, one is almost compelled to believe that in all three of these passages where the Apostle makes such striking use of the word "covet" (12:31; 14:1; and 14:39), he has direct reference to Moses' desire that all the people of God should be prophets (Num. 11:29), as the true pattern of emulation for each Christian believer. 


1.  Conybeare and Hewson, Life and Epistles, of St Paul, Vol. II, p.85, note 9.  As dates, we have the chronology of these authors. 

2.  Dr Ramsay refers his readers to Nebauer in  Studia Biblia, I, p. 70; and Reinach in Revue des Etudes Juives,VII, p.  161, for further light. 

3.  Probabliliaüber die addresse des Hebraerbriefs in the Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenchaft, Erster Jahrgang.  Heft 1 1900. Giessen

4.  Professor of Church History University of Tubingen, in his work, The Apostolic Age of the Christian Church.

5.  The subject is separated by intervening words from its predicate, hence Whiston's careless translation.

6.  See Dr. Lightfoot's Talmudic Exercitations on Luke 7:37.

7.   Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Conybeare and Howson, footnote p. 96, Vol II.

8.   See Dr. Lightfoot's Exercitations, comment on John 4:29.

9.   Schwab's Translation, Berakoth II.

10.  McClintock and Strong's Dictionary of Biblical and Theological Literature, see "Talmud."

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