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.
The Quotation Reading
The words found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are so problematic that many doubt their authorship even belongs to the Apostle Paul. The external and internal problems of these verses have even led some to believe that these verses were added MUCH later by a scribe, since if these seemingly contradicting verses are removed, the text reads much more smoothly. Here are the issues: these verses seem to contradict, not only the rest of the bible, but Paul himself, in multiple places, and in the very same letter (1 Corinthians 11:5, 12:4-11)! The style employed in these verses is utterly foreign to Paul's writing style . The appeal to the "Law" to justify silencing women frankly does not exist anywhere in the Old Testament. No where in the Old Testament does any law or command require that women "subject themselves" by being "silent" in an assembly or while in public.
Walter C. Kaiser, author of Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women notes:
"The problem simply put is this: nowhere in the whole Old Testament does it teach or even imply what is claimed here. Now law in the entire old testament, much less the Torah, can be cited to teach that a women 'must be in submission' and 'remain silent' and if she wants to know or ask about anything, she 'should ask [her own] husband at home.' Women spoke freely in both testaments."
When Paul actually does cite the Law or scripture to support his points, he immediately follows it by quoting the law he is referring to, as he does in 1 Corinthians 9:8-9, 14:21, 1:19, 1:31, 2:9, 3:19, 10:7, 15:45. For more in depth analysis of Paul's consistent writing style and the "mystery law," see the very thorough article by Dennis J. Preato at God's Word To Women.
A growing number of scholars insist that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not the words of Paul at all, but that Paul is quoting the letter written to him from the church at Corinth and then promptly rebuking this degrading, legalistic notion in verses 36-38. Besides the fact that these verses contradict everything Paul has instructed the Corinthians up until this point AND there is NO SUCH LAW in the Torah or the entire Old Testament that requires women to be silent, there are other clues in the original manuscripts that support the quotation reading.
We must remember that ancient Greek did not have punctuation marks, so there is no such symbol that we can equate with how our quotation marks surround a quoted sentence. However, in many of the earliest manuscripts, there appears this greek symbol: η with a grave accent at the beginning of verse 36 to signal to the reader that the above statement is quoted.
Paul already informs the reader that he begins addressing "the things you wrote" back in chapter 7, verse 1. After Paul gives very thorough instructions on how to maintain order during worship gatherings, this bizarre verse appears and contradicts everything he has just instructed, followed by a peculiar, sharp rebuke in verses 36-38.
But if one reads verses 34-35 as a quote from the Corinthians and verses 36-38 as Paul's response, suddenly the meaning becomes crystal clear and totally conducive to the rest of Paul's letter: all members of the body participating in worship assemblies in peace and order. So Paul repeats this appeal from Corinth for the purpose of rebuking it, not to command a universal ruling that silences women in church.
It's imperative to note that while there IS NO law in the OT that silences women, rabbinical "law" strictly forbade women to vocally participate in religious assemblies. Women were seen as obscene, deceitful, immoral, untrustworthy seductresses, whose only purpose was to make babies and serve men. Paul NEVER appeals to rabbinical law to establish universal mandates. Jesus spent most of his ministry openly defying and challenging such legalistic "laws" and "traditions" of the rabbinical Judaism. The early church experienced its fair share of Judaizers (Jews who converted to Christianity, but still believed it necessary to observe the purity codes and rabbinical laws/traditions). Judaizers insisted that converted Gentiles be circumcised, abandon eating idol-offered meat, observe Jewish Sabbaths, etc. Paul refutes all of these assertions made by Judaizers clinging to rabbinical tradition. Such is the case here; Paul quotes Judaizers in Corinth to reveal the hypocrisy in such a statement and then flatly contradicts it, even mocks it. Ironically, these verses used to silence women are actually part of Paul's defense of a woman's right to participate as full member of the body.
Bible Scholar Dennis J. Preato concurs that the "mystery law" cited here is from the irrelevant rabbinical laws:
These verses are best understood as a slogan or rabbinic saying based on the Jewish "oral law," not the written word of God. Therefore, these verses cannot be used to prohibit women from pulpit ministry within the church.Below is the entire passage from verses 26-40. Remember that the the word brethren (Greek word: adelphoi) is gender plural or gender inclusive, including both men and women. Read verses 34-35 as a quoted statement. This blew my mind the first time I did this.
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.
But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; 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 THE CHURCH.
Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
The King James Version translates verse 36 as: "What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?"
The phrase "Did the word of God come to you only.." is believed to be a reference to Jesus' first appearance to the women at the tomb, the first entrusted with the good news of His resurrection and the first commissioned to tell the male apostles about it! Basically, Paul's point is that the word of God has come to all believers, so how dare they deprive the church body by silencing half its members.
J. Lee Grady points out:
"This strange response makes no sense if we believe that Paul penned verses 34 and 35. But if he is contradicting the statements made by the Judiazers at Corinth, then we can understand the definat tone of verse 36."
Deciphering quotations seems to be a tricky task for bible translators. For instance, 1 Corinthians 6:12, 6:13 and 10:23 are marked as quotations in the NCV, NIV, NLT, and NRSV; but they are not shown with quotation marks in the ASV, KJV, NASB, and NKJV. These kind of discrepancies occur because of the lack of punctuation signals available in ancient Greek.
However, all the available evidence seems to point to these verses and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 being quotations that Paul is rebuking.
Theologian Kenneth S. Kantzer wrote:
"In 1 Corinthians 14, we are caught in an intricate interplay between quotations from a missing letter form the Corinthians and Paul's solutions to the problems the letter had raised. The verse is clearly not repeating a law of Scripture and cannot be taken as a universal command for women to be silent in church. That interpretation would flatly contradict what the apostle had just said three chapters earlier."
I believe this reading is the strongest and most logical choice for interpreting 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I apologize for the lengthiness of this post, but it's difficult to present the sound-bite version of a biblical interpretation most people are unfamiliar with and do it justice! When there are only 2 obscure and highly controversial verses in the entire new testament that seem to bar women from ministry and church participation, we must dig into the scriptures and examine all available evidence to clarify their true meanings.