Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Silent Church Women? Part 2

"For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 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."--Paul, 1 Corinthians 14:33-36.

The Original Language Reading

The original language reading of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 leads to one of three options:

1. Paul is addressing all of the women (in that church or in every church) and forbidding them from interrupting the service with unnecesarry questions, rude chatter, or airing private family matters to shame their husbands, not from vocally participating in an orderly fashion.

2. Paul is addressing UNBELIEVING wives attending christian assemblies with their converted husbands, commanding that they are not to speak during the assembly, until they make a commitment to the faith.

3. Paul is addressing all women everywhere and commanding them to be in silence, no speaking at all during church gatherings.

One of the most important factors to understand when dealing with the original language of the bible, Greek in this instance, is that Greek (Paul is writing in the dialect of koine) has NO SPACES between words and NO PUNCTUATION MARKS. So CONTEXT is relied on very heavily to determine meaning and arrangement.

Most English translations contribute to all the confusion surrounding this passage by dropping the phrase "as in all the churches of the saints," down to the beginning part of verse 34's sentence: "the women are to keep silent..." However, "as in all the churches of the saints" is really the last part of verse 33. So, it should read: "God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints," meaning that God wants peace and not confusion in ALL the churches. The New American Standard Version, praised for its very literal translation of the bible, rightly corrects this error that is found in most other translations.

Here are the key words from this passage and the transliterated Greek words they are translated from:

Silent = sigao

Speak = laleo


The = hoi/hai (feminine form used in these verses)

In = En

Church/churches = ekklesia

Women = gune

Disgraceful/shameful = aischros

Laleo (to speak) is used in its present infinitive form, therefore some argue it should be translated as "continually speaking up," which would support the idea that Paul is silencing women who interrupt the assembly, forbidding a type of speech, not all women from speaking in the midst of the congregation. Paul is correcting chaos, not forbidding women from speaking in the assembly in an orderly fashion.

Greek only as ONE word, gune, for women/woman and wife/wives, so the context has to determine when the word means which. In this particular instance, wives seems to make more sense, since the solution to answering their questions is having them ask their own husbands. If Paul meant all women, would he not appeal to fathers, brothers, and husbands to solve the problem of women's questions? Nonetheless the word CAN mean either. So there is no definite proof either way whether Paul is addressing unbelieving wives, or women in general.

The Greek word "hai" translated in these verses as "the" can also be translated as "those." The very same word is translated as "those" in Matthew 8:33, 9:12, 12:3 (NKJ).

Likewise, the Greek word "en" translated in these verses as "in" can also be translated as "among." The very same word is translated as among in Matthew 2:6, 4:23, 16:8, and 20:26.

While ekklesia is the word that means church, it literally means "the called out ones" or "true believers," more aptly the gathering of called out ones/true believers, both men and women. It does not refer to a building. It should be noted that when a person came to faith in the early church, they were immediately baptized to be recognized as members of the ekklesia. So could these to-be-silent women not have made a public commitment of faith yet, thus were not yet permitted to participate in the gatherings as part of the body and instead only learn in silence until they became members? It's something to consider.

Taking alternate meanings of the key words into consideration, verses 33-35 could read:

For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the congregations of the saints. Those women (or wives) are to keep silent among the called out ones (or true believers); for they are not permitted to speak (continually speak up), but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home. For it is disgraceful for a (the) woman (or wife) to speak (continually speak up) among the called out ones (or true believers: both men and women).

Some argue that the last line is addressing one unbelieving woman in particular that keeps disrupting the ekklesia. It is argued that the church at Corinth wrote Paul about the situation of a pagan woman continually interrupting with false prophecies and incoherent, babbling utterances, as was custom among the surrounding pagan cults. Since the subject of "someone" saying "Jesus be cursed" is mentioned earlier in the letter (1 Corinthians 12:3), it is not that far fetched to conclude that their were indeed unbelievers attending the church at Corinth, and if they were unbelieving wives, it can be easily seen why Paul would command their silence.

Others argue that these verses are just a matter of manners, telling women (who have never before been able to learn the things of God) to be attentive to those speaking, and not to talk amongst themselves, interrupt with constant questioning, yelling across the room to their husbands to clarify for them what is going on.

The Problems:

The fact remains, that outside of the phrase "as in all the churches of the saints" being dropped down to appear as the first part of verse 34, this really isn't concretely a case of mistranslation, but of key words retaining a variety of meanings. Hardcore complementarians can just as easily argue for the "traditional" reading that exists in most modern versions and not technically be wrong. They may have to backpedal and qualify a lot of other verses to avoid contradictions, but the original words themselves, could render either reading.

Even if one subscribes to the alternate readings, it does not account for Paul's uncharacteristic reference to the mystery "Law," (further explanation in next post). And if Paul is telling women/wives that it is disgraceful to "interrupt" the service with their speech as opposed to all women publicly speaking, then why is this limited only to women? Isn't in disgraceful for men to interrupt services as well? Also this alternate reading does little to explain the sharp, puzzling statements that follow in verses 36-38. We haven't touched on these verses yet, but will explore them in the next post.

For a more indepth look at the original language AND entire context of 1 Corinthians see "Let the Women Keep Silent in the Churches" by Dianne McDonnell.

If one fuses the original language options with the cultural and historical factors, it makes a strong case for this verse NOT being an all-time, universal command to silence all women from publicly speaking during church gatherings. However, I do not believe it to be the strongest option.

So, the next post will explore The Quotation Theory. This is my personal understanding of this bizarre passage.

17 comments:

MDMOM said...

I'll add my two cents about this. Twelve years ago, this left me fighting mad!! As a female physician, I was quick to get angry about discrimination because of personal experience with it. After some years of experiencing and maturing and understanding myself better, here's my take on it:

We are in a very conservative denomination that doesn't allow women pastors or deacons, no women in leadership roles. Women can only teach women, or prepubertal children. Now I was on the Education Committee (that's service, not leadership) and being a thinkin' woman, wanted to know why if women weren't good enough to teach men and teenagers, did we qualify to teach our children and each other? Response: slack-jawed deer-in-the-headlights stares. Now we have couples teaching all our children's Sunday school classes and it is great. The children get to see Christian men practicing their faith and nurturing the next generation. In our modern world men have abdicated their call as spiritual leaders of the family. We women are always more than happy to take up the slack (part of the curse put on Eve/women) but it is bad for everyone. Women do 90% of the work in the church and end up resenting the men for doing little more than occasionally pontificating. If we can pontificate too they will sit back and stop doing even that! This is a huge generalization - forgive me you go-getter men out there.
But perhaps if we as women realize that holding back at church and discussing it with our own husbands would empower him to lead spiritually and relieve some the burden from us that is rightfully his, everyone's spiritual growth would be enhanced.
Perhaps that's the other side of the "shameful" coin - that the men have left a void that we feel the need to rush in and fill.

musicmommy3 said...

Women can only teach women, or prepubertal children.

Mdmom,
What do you guys believe about teaching your own children? I read a couple's teaching once that taught that once their boys were around 12 years old that their mothers could no longer teach them the Bible. Just wondered your thoughts on that?

Michelle said...

Tia - thanks as always for the great research! I'm reserving judgement till I read all you have to share, but this is very interesting stuff.

Peter said...

I have always held to the original language evidence to refute these words as a "universal" command. But I am unfamiliar with the details of the quotation theory. You have peaked my interest!

Tommy said...

Seems like alot of effort to make the scripture say something diffrent. Why is it so bad for women to be silent in church? What's the big deal?

Michelle said...

The big deal is that in plenty other places Paul praises women for NOT being silent. I can't quote them or given the chapter/verse, but I'm sure Miss Tia can :)

Tonya said...

I'm back from KY and catching up. These last two posts (and the comments) are very interesting. I can't wait to see the next one. I'll reserve comment until then. Good stuff, Tia!

Giant mountain o' laundry calls. Must answer.

P.S. to everyone who was offended by my condescending tone in the comments two posts down, please read my apology there. I appreciate you guys calling me out on that. It was never my intention to offend and I am truly crushed (I cried) that I came across so badly. Please forgive. Thanks for putting up with me and please stop me if I start sounding rude again. Thanks:)!

Tia Lynn said...

Oh no Tonya!!! There’s no crying in baseball!!! (see League of Their Own, movie illiterate folks). Please stay a straight shooter! I was just having trouble determining whether or not you were going to discredit any evidence that favored the egalitarian side based solely upon the fact that I have personal experiences that make that position more appealing to me or am more passionate about it than neutrally indifferent. Please, take down the logic and reasoning if it comes across flimsy! I want to be challenged and look at the evidence from every reasonable point of view out there. Your input has been tremendously valued in this debate, it keeps me on my toes! :) Love ya!

sonja said...

I am usually a silent reader, but I wanted to commend you for expending the extra effort to link to all the resources you reference. Not only does it allow the reader to dig into more information, but it shows you have intellectual integrity and credibility. I especially loved the link to greek word website. I always learn when I peruse over here.

Terry said...

Just wanted to let you know that I'm here, but since I don't know a whole lot about the different arguments and interpretations surrounding this particular verse, I'm just waiting to see how it unfolds.

donnav said...

Well, it's my turn to be taking off...for most of April it seems...I'll be checking back in when I can. Thanks Tia Lynn for all the work and study you are putting into these posts!!!

Tia Lynn said...

You'll be missed donna! Come back when you can! :)

Tonya said...

Tia, I would never dicredit evidence based on personal experience. Ever. What I was trying to say (and badly) was that I think it is a good idea to evalute a postion all the more strictly if you like it. If a position appeals to me because of my experience, I try to rip it apart from the other POV (using the Bible as a plumb line) asking God to remind me of my personal biases and doing a little soul searching to make sure I'm not adopting said position just because it tickles the ear, so to speak. That was my point. I was sad because I came across as a pompus boob and if people who KNOW me were offended, then certainly those who don't know me were. It is not, and never was, my intention to fight about this, but simply to debate it (like i know you love to do) and see what is most biblically sound. I do NOT want to offend anyone unless it is unavoidable in the face of Truth, but then the problem would lie with the offendee, not the offender. It's my job as a sister in Christ to be loving and apparantly, I wasn't:).

Debate doesn't change the fact, for me, that everyone visiting here from the most hard core C to the most hard core E are more than likely my brothers and sisters in Christ whether we agree on every thing or not. However, this may be easier for me because, as you know, I don't get offended easily at all so no matter what anyone says, I assume they meant it in the nicest way possible:):):). I need to remember that there are different, highly valuable personalities here and take the rebukes when they come since they will only help me be a better sister. I, for one, want to hash this out and come away from this discussion with a deeper understanding of God, an acceptance of that which is of Him and rejection of that which isn't. If Truth can't be determined, then we all need to realize that "that too God will make clear" to us. (Romans?)That's what fellowship is about. Anyway, I am fine and I will be back "with guns blazing" as you say, only I'll try to be more diplomatic. However, I'll try to refrain from saying "Tia, you should write a book or run for president". If I do, you can slap me:):):).

Tia Lynn said...

Amen to that! and Deal!

Tonya said...

Okay, I have a second and I was just going over these passages. This is a question. I am NOT baiting. I want to know what you do with this. This is a stricter C view than I normaly hold, I am sure, but I am trying to study this objectively.

In 1 Cor chapter 11, we do not find evidence that Paul is specifically talking about public worship until vs. 17. In fact, he is talking about eating and other things that are part of every day life outside the actual assembly. Before vs. 17, is it possible that he is speaking of women praying or prophesying at home or with other women, and not in the general assembly? I know it is generally thought that these instructions have to do with public worship, but I am not seeing that evidenced here. Any insights?

In chapter 14, my NIV translates the passage this way. (start with vs. 32)

"The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets. For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."

If you look at it from this POV, it looks like women should not speak at all in church, even to prophesy or pray aloud. What do you think?

Tonya said...

Oh. My question was, how do we know that 1 Cor 11: 1-16 is talking about public worship?

Because this passage heavily influences the interpretation of 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2. For me, at least.

Tia Lynn said...

Good question Tonya. Sorry its taken me so long to get back to you. Real life keeps getting in the way of blog time!  But I tried to answer your question in the above post. I know there is more digging to do on that specific topic, but regardless of that specific verse, 1 corinthians 14:34-35 contradicts many parts of the bible, not just that one. 