Textual Issues Relating to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Most scholars, both "liberal" and "conservative," consider these verses original. The manuscript tradition tends to preserve even the most unlikely readings, so it is generally a bad idea to suggest "interpolations"--additions to the biblical text--without at least some textual evidence.
A. External Evidence
There is manuscript evidence of some variation in where these verses appear in 1 Corinthians 14. But all manuscripts have the verses somewhere in the text. The vast majority of manuscripts place them where they currently appear in all translations of 1 Corinthians today. However, several manuscripts in the Western tradition place the verses at the end of the chapter after verse 40.
It is sometimes claimed that these are all late. However, Codex D dates to the 500's, as does the Latin translation known as italic d (even possibily the 400's). Further, the church father Ambrosiaster places the verses here, and he dates to the 300's. As far as manuscripts go, these are early witnesses. The earliest substantial manuscript of Paul's writings dates to around 200, and we won't find many more before the 300's and 400's.
Nevertheless, this is fairly weak evidence for a different location for the verses in 1 Corinthians, and it is even weaker evidence still for the absence of these verses from the original manuscript of 1 Corinthians. However, in the presence of what I consider to be strong internal evidence, I suspect this minor variation points to something significant in the history of these verses.
The standard question is the following: how might we explain the different location of these verses in the Western tradition? If they are original, we might note that they seem rather out of place in their current location. We might suggest that someone placed them at the end to clarify the train of thought about prophecy in chapter 14. Perhaps.
Could some "pro-women" individual have removed them at some point, only for them to be tacked back on at the end of the chapter? This seems a stretch. Who were these "pro-women" individuals? Montanists of the late 100's? We don't really hear much about groups like this. On the one hand, if such individuals existed, surely they would have removed the verses rather than move them. And if someone had put them back in, why wouldn't they have put them back where they were in all the other manuscripts?
Another possibility is that these verses were originally placed in the margin of an early manuscript of 1 Corinthians, perhaps even as a marginal comment on one of the originals. I say one of the originals because letter writers sometimes kept a copy of a letter with them at the point of origin. Accordingly, from a very early date the marginal comment may have been copied into two different places in the text. Some of those that made their way to Rome--or perhaps some very early one translated into Latin (even at Corinth, for the official language of Corinth was Latin)--put the marginal comment at the end of the chapter rather than in the location in which most manuscripts now have it.
If this latter scenario is true, it must have happened very early on indeed. If we accept the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy, then perhaps Paul himself added the comment later to 1 Corinthians. If someone denies the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy, perhaps its writer added the comment in response to a perceived problem in the worship of that day. For those who aren't acquainted with this issue, it is primarily evangelical scholars who argue for Paul as the direct author of 1 Timothy. Most non-evangelical scholars think 1 Timothy was written several decades after Paul's death pseudonymously, although recent days have seen an increasing number of scholars willing to reconsider this twentieth century "consensus."
On the whole, the evidence is weak against these verses not being in the original text of 1 Corinthians. For this reason, most scholars both liberal and conservative alike accept their Pauline authorship. We would need strong internal evidence to argue against their originality.
B. Internal Evidence
In my opinion, the internal evidence does turn out to be strongly against the verses being original. On the whole I would conclude against their originality. Accordingly I stand among a small but significant number of scholars--conservative and liberal alike--who do not think Paul would have written these verses at this point of the text. Other scholars who take this stand include Gordon Fee, a conservative pillar of evangelical scholarship (with charismatic sympathies), as well as Richard Hays, who in the vast scheme of things is a conservative Methodist.
1. The Immediate Context of the Verses
My first observation is that these verses stand out as a foreign body in the argument of 1 Corinthians 14. They pop out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. Here is how Codex D reads at this point:
"Let two or three prophets speak and let the others pass judgment. And if something should be revealed to another who is sitting, let the first person be silent. For you are all able to prophesy individually so that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets, for God is not about confusion but about peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Or did the word of God go out from you or did it come to you alone? If someone seems to be a prophet or someone spiritual, let them understand that what I am writing to you is the command of the Lord. And if someone is ignorant, he is ignorant."
No one would think something was missing here if we didn't know how the text reads. Indeed, the comment about peace in all the churches of the saints flows directly into the question of whether the Corinthians themselves are the origin of the gospel or the sole recipients of it. Similarly, prophecy remains the subject of discussion in this rendition, while the two verses 34-35 do not explicitly mention it. When we consider that Paul has nothing to say forbidding women from prophecying when he directly addresses the issue in chapter 11, 14:34-35 are puzzling at this point of the text. They interrupt what otherwise is a clear train of thought.
2. The Content of the Verses (14:34-35)
I tried in my previous entry to figure out what these words might mean given what Paul says earlier in 1 Corinthians 11. I concluded that Paul must have meant them in a very limited sense, for he has nothing to say against women prophesying in the assembly when that is clearly what he is talking about. Ultimately, I can't come up with anything other than what I called "cheap harmonizations" in my last entry if these verses were original. I have difficulty ascribing these verses to Paul unless they represent an "emotional moment" for him.
Let me clarify what I am saying here. There are "emotional moments" in the Bible. If our theology of Scripture cannot handle them, then our theology of Scripture is inadequate. When the writer of Psalm 137 writes of the blessedness of someone who would bash the babies of the Babylonians against a rock, is this not an expression of deep anger and vengeance toward the Babylonians? When Paul writes that he wishes the individuals agitating the Galatians would castrate themselves, is this not an expression of emotional anger on Paul's part (Gal. 5)? I see no other way to process these comments.
And so I note that the tone of these verses is not Paul's normal tone toward women in his early writings (excepting 1 Timothy also as atypical). I mentioned in the previous entry that even in 1 Corinthians 11 when he is probably dealing with certain women causing problems in Corinthian worship, he feels compelled to step back and point out that men are still not independent of women. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul points out that a husbands body belongs to his wife.
He considers individuals like Euodia and Syntyche his fellow workers in Philippians 4. He considers Priscilla and Junias coworkers in the Christian enterprise and commends Phoebe as a "deacon" of the church of Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). This is the same word used in Philippians of leaders in the Philippian church (Paul uses a masculine form of the word too).
But given its current context, the verses seem particularly harsh. In their current context, they are preceded with the words "as in all the churches of the saints," a statement that significantly broadens the scope of the prohibition. And the comments that follow make these verses also sound particularly harsh--"did the word of God go out from you or did it come to you alone?" This makes it sound like Paul is not only forbidding, but chastising the Corinthians for letting women speak in church.
But perhaps the most telling aspect of these verses is the fact that they give a command to the churches, plural: "Let women be silent in the churches." 1 Corinthians is not addressed to churches, plural, but to the singular church at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2). The Corinthian church has no control over other churches, and Paul was not writing to any church but the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians. This minor point places these words at a point in time when Paul's letters were read as Scripture directed at all churches--a point of time probably after Paul's death. It is our tendency to read these words as universal in scope that leads us to miss this major breach of context.
Finally, we have already pointed out that the reference to the Jewish Law also seems somewhat out of character for Paul. It's the kind of argument I make when I'm emotional and pushed in a corner. Paul generally resists using the Jewish Law as a basis for ethical command. If these verses are original, we might suggest that the problem Paul addresses comes primarily from Jewish women in the church.
Notice also the heavy use of honor-shame language in the verses. This heavy "emotional" element is absent from the earlier places where women are addressed in 1 Corinthians. If Paul wrote them, they bespeak a problem in the Corinthian community (or in the Ephesian community) that is under Paul's skin when he writes this part of 1 Corinthians 14.
In summary, if the verses are original, I see them as an "emotional moment," almost an outburst on Paul's part because of something that is eating at him. On the other hand, I am more inclined to see them as an early interpolation. The context flows more smoothly in their absence, and they seem to contradict Paul's message and tone both in the rest of the letter and in the bulk of his other writings, as well as in Acts.