Saturday, February 02, 2013

1 Corinthians 14:34 and Women in Ministry

I wrote a booklet a few years ago called "Why Wesleyans Favor Women in Ministry."  The Wesleyan Church added some prefatory material and printed it.  You can still get copies of it at cost from the denomination or download a PDF of it here.

Since a lot of people don't want the electronic version and a printed version requires a little work to get, I've decided to self-publish a slightly different form of it under the title, "Why the Bible Favors Women in Ministry."  This aims to be about a 24 page booklet like the first one, which of course remains available from HQ.

Since I write better in public, I may reshape some of it here:
You wonder if there would even be any debate over women in ministry if it were not for two verses: 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12. I imagine there would, because sometimes we fight for certain positions more because of our traditions than because of the biblical texts themselves. But if you are looking for a smoking gun against women in ministry, these are the verses everyone will mention.

Of course neither of these verses are actually about women in ministry.  We will look at 1 Timothy 2 in a moment, but we can start by saying that 1 Corinthians 14 has absolutely nothing to do with the issue.  It's not even close.

Let's assume for the moment that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 were actually in the original letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians (it is not certain they were). They say, "Let the wives be silent in the assemblies, for it is not fitting for them to speak but let them be subject as the Law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a wife to speak in an assembly."

These verses sound rather damning when you rip them out of context. On the one hand, we should probably point out that they have to do with husband-wife relationships, not with women ministering to men in general.  When the Greek word gynē (“woman,” “wife”) is used in the presence of anēr (“husband), it usually refers to wives in relation to husbands rather than women in relation to men in general. The word “to submit” reinforces this impression (14:34).

What is a little puzzling about these verses is that 1 Corinthians 11 has already assumed that women did prophecy in Corinthian worship (cf. 11:5), which of course required speaking in the assembly.  There, Paul doesn't feel any need to justify the idea of women praying or prophesying in worship. He assumes it as something that regularly takes place.

In fact, the whole idea of wives needing to cover their heads in worship is exactly because Paul wants them to be modest in the presence of men who aren't their husbands, including God and the angels, who are putatively male. Paul is walking a careful line here.  He is assuming that, in the age of the Spirit, women will have spiritual messages from God like men. But he doesn't want to undermine the marriages of the Corinthians either, and the head covering helps keep the balance between the two principles, which have come into conflict.

In this light, whatever 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 means, it cannot be about women speaking spiritually in worship. Otherwise Paul would contradict himself. He would assume that women prophesy in worship only to forbid it later in the same letter!  Accordingly, we can’t use these verses to argue against women in ministry.

Whatever these verses were about, they weren't about women speaking for God in worship, not if they are original. They must have been about disruptive speech. The verses assume that wives were asking questions in worship, questions they should rather ask their own husbands at home (presumably rather than other people's husbands). The verses thus have nothing to do with women ministering. They have to do with preserving marriages and keeping order in public worship...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. These verses are difficult, no doubt. I think there is a better alternative, however, than either calling for their removal without any manuscript evidence suggesting their absence (the practice of conjectural emendation is not generally accepted in NT studies--there is no manuscript that does not have these verses) or assuming that it was the women and the women only who were disrupting the meeting (Why would Paul feel the need to call out women if it were only a few speaking? In meetings that appeared to be rather dynamic, can we assume that the community expected everyone to be nice and quiet while the preacher worked the pulpit from the front of the congregation? We are talking about a house church here). Blomberg offers a great explanation that is consistent with the context. Paul is developing rules of order on different gifts from greater to lesser in 1 Cor 14. These verses show up at the end, and likely refer to the interpretation of prophesy, something that the leaders of the church would have probably exercised exclusively. Granted, speaking would have had to have been loaded with this implicit meaning in accordance with the context. However, it is a good argument from the context that remains true to the context without loading it with unwarranted background material. Assuming that the ladies were being disruptive as a whole seems a bit goofy for the historical context of a house church setting.

Similar things can be said about the passage in 1 Timothy also. It is pretty difficult to read "cult of Artemas (?)" background into a passage that seems to be pretty independent from it. 1 Corinthians 11 should not be overlooked as evidence of complimentarianism either.

Ken Schenck said...

It is not conjectural emendation in this case because these verses are displaced in some manuscripts. It is slim manuscript evidence but there is evidence. But the reason I don't think they are original is based on internal evidence. I've discussed it here. I agree with you that 1 Corinthians 11 is evidence for complimentarianism in the first century church. The question is whether that is God's ideal for today.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the link to the booklet.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply to my comment Ken. I was aware that there was some movement of the text. However, I was under the impression that conjectural emendation is proposing a textual variant that there is not manuscript support for. Movement within a manuscript is not the same thing as absence from a manuscript. There may be internal evidence that would suggest conjectural emendation, but as I said before this is not widely accepted in NT studies. Am I wrong on my understanding of conjectural emendation? Thanks again.

Ken Schenck said...

I can't tell you that no one would call this suggestion conjectural emendation. I wouldn't because there is external evidence involved here. It is not a suggestion based solely on internal evidence. The varied locations can be used to argue that the verses started in the margin of a very early, key copy of 1 Corinthians, which is what I have concluded.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Conjectural and internal to authority...and understanding
In manuscripts (objective external evidence), you are suggesting that the Church (internal conjectural) used such manuscripts to theologize the best way for society to function and bring coherence (social order via theology). But, understandings do change as our knowledge of the world progresses, and politics plays it hand, doesn't it? It is similar in personal coherence.

Cognitive (objective) dissonance to one's ideals (subjectively chosen and defined within social contexts) in experience (inter-subjective social contexts) make for a need to bring coherence/resolution/understanding.
Since man seeks to defend (survival), choose (liberty) and define (the pursuit of happiness) his own life, a Constitutional Republic which allows people to determine their goals is the best environment.

Christians that define their lives by scripture limit themselves and others because their authority is an ancient text, that is presumed to be "inspired", unlike America's Constitutional Republic that was an Enlightenment project, which can be amended.

We are a society of laws and not of men, but our laws are to bring equality as justice within the context of a liberal environment/society. Equality of opportunity is what American liberty stood for and was about. Women, as well as men, are seen a persons. The Patriarchal ordering of society, although biblical, is not America's understanding of a "good" society.

Our culture wars today are due to extreme allegiance to a theological frame of interpreting "life", that is outdated. It is unfortunate in our society where liberty abounds, that people would limit their lives by theological understandings.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

This post defends the "conjugal union" as the definition of marriage.

The paper argues for "conjugal union" as the defining factor for marriage, not "emotional union". Yet, it also argues for the choice of partner. This fits nicely with the "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" and the "courtship model" of dating. I have reservations for many reasons, primarily the psychological and marital problems that occur when such teaching is accepted. Here is a blog I "ran across" that makes my point. Please read the comments as they are revealing, too.

I think our culture has "warred" enough over definitions of marriage, esp. when "Paul" is a dubious source via scholarship.

So what about "nature" or the sciences? Do biological differences make for personality differences? or are personality differences make for differences in biology? And are personality differences what make for REAL differences, not our Gender?

Neuroscience seems to affirm that personality have distinct features in the brain, in response to stimuli. If these are really the differences we find in humans, then, will our compatibility in marriage be based upon personality compatibility, as well as life experiences instead of gender definition?

With the ability of science to create life in a test tube, then, where are the boundaries to be, if any? and why? I think those are the questions that need to be asked and answered.

The Church, as usual, is still battling in the "Middle Ages".....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Conservatives defended slavery as an economic necessity,during the Civil War, as liberals argue today for amnesty. What makes for human flourishing and definitions?

The "virginity" blog's reference to "idolatry" could be the wrong choice of wording, as "idolatry" has been useful in religious circles to oppress in the "name of God", depending on how one defines "idolatry". Martin Luther destroyed many works of art because of "idolatry".

Our political climate has become inflamed by adamant opposition to social change. Yet, social change has continued to happen throughout history. Change must be thoughtfully investigated for the benefit of all, not just the religious, or the non religious. What is really good for humans is good for humans, regardless of religious affiliation. The question is, "what are things that all Americans hold in common". What makes for a 'better union'? The Constitution certainly was to bring stability, but I don't see where our society has been stabilized by our political atmosphere.

John Haidt had an interesting book that might be of interest to some..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As to the courts description of marriage... From Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) in reference to the Ninth Amendment:

The Court created the right of privacy from the penumbras of these specific rights, which it deemed created zones of privacy. The statutory regulation of a marital relationship by the state was an invasion of the constitutional right of a married couple to privacy in such a relationship, a relationship that historically American law has held sacred. The means by which the state chose to regulate contraceptives—by outlawing their use, rather than their sale and manufacture—was clearly unrelated to its goal and would detrimentally affect the marital relationship. The question of enforcement of such statutes also was roundly criticized since it would mandate government inquiry into "marital bedrooms." (via Bill Peach)

I think this is clearly a case of "mind you own business" when the issue concerns personal relationships and the use of contraception. As the marital relationship should have the right to privacy, it is inappropriate for the Church to dictate conjugal behavior.