SHALL WOMEN KEEP SILENCE?
197. Different attempts have been made to reconcile Paul's directions about women "praying and prophesying" in Chapter 11 of 1st Corinthians, and the seeming command, "Let the [not your] women keep silence in the churches,” of Chapter 14, such as the following: (1) “Paul is meeting a purely local difficulty of some sort, in these latter words, of no importance outside of Corinth, or to us in our day.” Objection: We must not quickly assume that any point in Scripture has only a local application (though sometimes such is the case), lest we weaken the authority of the Bible. (2) "Paul changed his mind, and decided in the end to forbid women speaking at all." This is the usual claim made by present-day expositors. Objection 1. He changed it quickly, then, with scarcely time for fresh consideration or fresh light, or deep thought on so momentous a subject, which has surely affected for all time, in a most profound manner, the progress of the Christian church. Objection 2. A merely human writer might even be so fickle as this, though one could at least expect, under such circumstances, some intimation of a change. But, if these words are inspired, the Holy Spirit who prompted the writing of these words could never be so fickle; the Spirit knew from the first sentence of the Epistle all that was to follow, and did not need to correct His mind. (3) "He forbids the women 'babbling' and 'chattering' in church, but does not forbid them prophesying." Objection: Those who hold this view generally refer to the disorderly way women in Eastern churches, recently out of heathenism, conduct themselves. But there is no proof that Corinthian women misbehaved after this manner. But the most serious obstacle to the last view is this: The Greek word here "to talk" (laleo), may be employed in the sense of "to babble," but the Apostle never uses it in this sense elsewhere, and he uses the word 23 times in this very chapter for solemn utterance under Divine inspiration. (4) "He only forbids them to speak to ask questions; they must do that at home.” Objection 1. It is not known that even men asked questions in church, as the Jewish men did in the synagogue. Objection 2. As to asking questions of their husbands at home, some of these Corinthian women would be widows, some perhaps divorced on account of their Christian faith, some with Jewish husbands, some with heathen husbands, some not married at all. And so would it be in the Church throughout all subsequent ages of its history. Paul is represented as sending all these to their “husbands.” If Paul did so foolish a thing, he drove some back to heathenism for spiritual help; others back to Judaism for spiritual help; many others he deprived of all opportunity to get their questions answered, since they had no husbands. In fact, a majority of the Christian women would have been left in ignorance of important spiritual truths, by such a ruling. We do not believe Paul went about giving the Bread of Life to all men, and a stone for bread to many women, after this partial manner.
198. Besides, he makes use of the phrase, "it is not permitted," clearly implying that others besides Paul have, before him, forbidden this thing, yet, not one trace of any such prohibition can be found anywhere in the Bible, until these very words of Paul. This raises the important question, where and by whom was it not permitted? Genesis 3:16 is the only reference to "the law" given in the marginal references, and it will not do for two reasons. (1) If husbands command their wives to speak in public, then they must speak, if Genesis 3:16 means, "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (2) But few of the Corinthian Church members, if indeed any of them, would know this sense for Genesis 3:16, since they used the Septuagint Version. St. Paul quotes this version almost exclusively in this Epistle; he only once quotes clearly the Hebrew text, in his seventeen references to the O. T. Therefore the Corinthians would read the verse, "Thou art turning away to thy husband, and he will rule over thee,".
199. Before reaching the superficial conclusion that St. Paul's one utterance about "silence" closes the mouth of every Christian woman or that Paul meant it so, read the account of Miriam (Exodus 15:20); of Deborah (Judges 4 and 5); of the immense assembly of important personages addressed by the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-7, where it is expressly said the Lord approved of their message); the reference to Huldah the prophetess (2 Kings 22); the references to women who prophesied in song (1 Chronicles 25); and to women who “prophesy out of their own heart," where the rebuke is as to what is prophesied, not as to the prophesying itself (Ezekiel 13:17). This incidental mention of a considerable body of women prophets, implies the existence of many women prophets who were not false. Then read in the N. T. of Anna, (Luke 2:36-38); of the women Christ caused to speak in public (Luke 8:47, Luke 13:13); the utterance of Peter as to women prophesying (Acts 2:16-18); and the reference to Philip's daughters (Acts 21:9).
200. Next ask yourself this question: If this one only utterance of St. Paul's is to be set up as a Scriptural "law" to silence women, then what is to be done with the hundred and one other "laws" in the O. T. opening the mouths of women, such as "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so," "Praise ye the Lord" (repeated about a hundred times in the Psalms alone), "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord," "Declare His doings among the people," "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord," "Tell of all His wondrous works"? For it is simply impossible for men to set up an effectual claim, that all these admonitions and exhortations in the O. T. were meant for themselves only. It was not so understood or taught for thousands of years. This over zeal of certain religious teachers for such an interpretation of a single sentence of Scripture as sets at defiance a hundred or two of other Scriptural utterances (rather than an attempt to harmonize the one with the many), should warn us against accepting their interpretation too hastily. Why, for instance, have not such sticklers for a literal and universal application of a single phrase here been equally sticklers for a literal and universal application of Paul's authority where he says it is good for unmarried females to remain so (1 Corinthians 7:8,34-35)? But no! They are usually the very persons who advocate marriage and domestic pursuits as the one and only calling for women. Why do they not claim that the phrase, “Let all the earth keep silence before Him," (Habakkuk 2:20), should close, not only the mouths of women, but of the entire church?
201. St. Paul, here in the words, "it is not permitted" refers to some rule outside, not inside Scripture. The question is, where shall we find this rule of silence? The great German lexicographer, Schleusner, in his Greek-Latin Lexicon, declares the expression "as also saith the law," refers to the Oral Law of the Jews. Here are his words: "The oral laws of the Jews or Jewish traditions . . . In the old Testament no precept concerning this matter exists," and he cites Vitringa as showing that it was "forbidden by Jewish traditions for women to speak in the synagogue.” But think again! It is not likely that the Apostle Paul would quote the traditions of the Jews, and refer to them as "the law," and as constituting a final authority on a matter of controversy in the church. He spent a large share of energy battling against these very "traditions" of the Jews, as did his Master, Jesus Christ. Paul warns against "giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth" (Titus 1:14). No, the Apostle Paul is here quoting what the Judaizers in the Corinthian Church are teaching, who themselves say women must "keep silence" because Jewish law thus taught.
202. That the Talmud, unlike the Old Testament, did remand women to silence admits of no doubt. "Out of respect to the congregation, a woman should not herself read in the law.” ”It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men.” ”The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness.” These are some, out of many, of its sayings. As to asking questions: A wealthy Jewess ventured to ask once, of the great R. Eleazer, “Why, when the sin of the golden calf was but one only, should it be punished with a three-fold death?” We imagine the question was beyond his stock of knowledge, for he replied: “A woman ought not to be wise above her distaff.” One Hyrcanus protested, aside, to R. Eleazer, because the lady who was thus reproved might withhold her tithes, in retaliation, and they amounted to considerable. R. Eleazer replied: "Let the words of the law be burned rather than committed to woman.” This was accepted as a sort of judicial utterance, for future generations, among the Jews.
(To be continued.)