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What’s going on with 1 Cor 14?

When an rather obscure argument about a finer point of textual criticism (the study of differences in early manuscripts of the NT) makes it into the mainstream media, then you might be forgiven for thinking that something odd or rather interesting is going on. That’s what happened last week; in Thought for the Day on 25th September, James Jones (former bishop of Liverpool) was reflecting on Angela Merkel’s achievement as a female leader, and cited US scholar Philip Payne’s ‘discovery’ that the verses in 1 Cor 14 prohibiting women from speaking

could have been added by someone else in order to keep women out of leadership. If this is true, it is a knock on the head to the idea that St Paul was some sort of misogynist.

The text in question is 1 Cor 14.34–35:

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.

Philip Payne is a very interesting person who has been writing in this area for some time, and is best known for his substantial book Man and Woman: One in Christ. Not everyone finds the volume convincing, but it is very thorough, and should be an essential part of the library for anyone studying this issue seriously. Payne is particularly interesting, since for many years he believed that men should be the ones who exercised authority, but changed his mind after decades immersed in the key texts.

Payne has published his findings in the latest edition of New Testament Studies which is the premier academic journal in the discipline. Rather unusually, he has raised funds to make his article available free to all and you can read it for yourself, (if you are so inclined). In addition, Payne has offered a summary of his argument in a more accessible form as a guest post on the blog of Scot McKnight.

This summary of six groundbreaking discoveries from my New Testament Studies 63 (October, 2017) article about the oldest Bible in Greek, Codex Vaticanus, henceforth “Vaticanus,” dated AD 325–350, highlights their implications for the reliability of the transmission of the Greek New Testament and for the equal standing of man and woman:

  1. Scribe B, who penned Vaticanus’s entire New Testament and Old Testament Prophets, was extraordinarily faithful in preserving the text of its exemplars, namely the manuscripts from which Vaticanus was copied.
  2. The entire text of all four Gospels in Vaticanus is even earlier than the text of Bodmer Papyrus 75, henceforth P75, written AD 175–225 and containing most of Luke 3 through John 15.
  3. The entire text of the epistles in the second oldest Bible, Codex Sinaiticus, dated AD 350–360, is arguably at least as old as the text of P32, dated ca. AD 200.
  4. The two-dot symbol (the technical term is “distigme”) marking the location of textual variants throughout Vaticanus also occurs in the fourth to fifth century LXX G.
  5. Scribe B left a gap following seven two-dot+bar symbols at the exact point of a multi-word later addition.
  6. Scribe B marked 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, the only Bible passage commanding women to be silent in the churches, as a later addition.

In other words, Payne believes that he has found scribal evidence from the actual markings on the manuscripts to support the view that these verses were known to be an early addition to what Paul first wrote. It is interesting that Scot McKnight (who has been a vocal supporter in the US context of women’s ministry) hosted his comments, but Larry Hurtado (former Professor of NT in Edinburgh) is also impressed:

Over the last couple of decades Payne has been involved in adding to this acute observations about certain scribal features of Codex Vaticanus in particular, which he argues (cogently to my mind) are evidence that the copyist/scribe of this manuscript knew of some significant textual variants, and marked these places in the margins.  The mark he/she used resembles the German umlaut, two dots horizontally placed in the margins.  Payne’s new article is really about these scribal marks, backing up his earlier publications on the subject with an impressively thorough analysis of the data.

It is worth noting that Hurtado uses ‘he/she’, since there is evidence that women were involved in scribal transcription, not least because their care and attention to detail was appreciated.

However, not everyone has been persuaded. The contributors to a major blog in this area, Evangelical Textual Criticism, have mostly been sceptical, even though Payne has entered an extensive correspondence with them. (Do look at the two posts on this here and here, and especially the comments, even if just for the cross cultural experience; there is a certain degree of obsessiveness required if you are going to be a textual critic.) Peter Head, who now teaches at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, has helpfully summarised the nub of the sceptical view for me:

I don’t think the length of the bars or their distance from anything is of any significance whatsoever. These are written by hand! I think the bars and the gaps are two systems marking the same thing – a pause in the thought of the text. In the case of the gaps these are the product of the scribe (in an unknown relation to his textual exemplar and interpretive tradition). In the case of the bars these are a later addition to the text not the part of the initial production (evidence for this is that occasionally they are independent of the gaps).

The double dots mark textual variation in the 16th century. Textual variation is not random so occasionally long additions occur at the end of sentences/paragraphs. No big deal, no intrinsic relation between the double dots and the paragraphoi and the spaces – three systems of textual analysis occasionally interacting with each other by co-incidence. I don’t think the length of the bars or their distance from anything is of any significance whatsoever.

An underlying criticism here is that Payne has a case to prove—that these verses don’t fit with his theological perspective about men and women—and so he is looking for evidence to support his case, and over-interprets these marginal markings in order to do so. I think a counter-argument could be made by the suspicious: that many of the writers on Evangelical Textual Criticism have the opposite case that they are concerned to defend, and so are going to be overly dismissive. On all sides, it is always a challenge to consider the evidence objectively and set aside (or at least be aware of potential confirmation bias) our own views.

This might be the point to step back and ask ‘Why is this an issue at all?’ The reason is that these two verses, 1 Cor 14.34–35, are some of the oddest in Paul’s letters and have raised issues amongst scholars for many years. Larry Hurtado gives a helpful summary:

The newspaper story focuses on the view espoused in Payne’s article that vv. 34-35 are an interpolation inserted into some copies of 1 Corinthians, probably originating as some reader’s marginal note, and then incorporated into the copy-stream at some early point.  But, actually, for a number of years now an increasing number of scholars have reached this basic conclusion.  Indeed, in his article Payne points to the numerous scholars who agree that vv. 34-35 are not an original part of Paul’s letter.  For example, note Gordon D. Fee’s judgment in his commentary:  The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1987), 705-8.

There are several reasons for this judgment.  The verses seem to go against practically everything else in Paul’s uncontested letters pertaining to women’s involvement in the churches.  E.g., in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul refers to women praying and/or prophesying in church, requiring only that they have their heads suitably covered (likely with hair).  As well (and a rather telling matter in text-critical terms), in some witnesses these verses appear, not where we have them in most Bibles, but instead following v. 40.  Such a multiple location for a body of text usually means that it has been inserted by various copyists, who made different choices about where to do so.

So there is already text-critical evidence that raises a question over these verses; they appear to contradict what Paul says in the immediately surrounding verses; and in addition (as Payne points out in his book) the language in these two verses is quite distinct from his style elsewhere in 1 Corinthians. The TNIV translation of the following verses highlights the issue nicely:

Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If any think they are prophets or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. Those who ignore this will themselves be ignored. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

In verse 39, the TNIV translates adelphoi by ‘brothers and sisters’, since everything else that Paul writes, in addressing the whole church in Corinth, makes it impossible to believe that this single term addresses the male members only. (It is just worth pointing out that it is not possible to prophesy without speaking.)

The contradictions here have generated a range of different solutions. Some will say that Paul is basically contradictory and incoherent, so why should we worry? I am not sure that is a persuasive approach. Others see these texts as having controlling significance, and should serve as an interpretive filter for reading everything else Paul says—but as Hurtado points out, that is simply not possible given that he appears to be going out of his way to encourage women to participate in ‘verbal’ ministries three chapters earlier. The person who asserts (in 1 Cor 7.4) that husbands and wives equally and symmetrically exercise authority over each other in marriage can hardly be described as a ‘misogynist’. Many years ago, Michael Green argued that ‘speaking’ in 34 was about chit-chat; the gathered meeting was not the place for tittle-tattle and gossip. Lucy Peppiatt Crawley suggests that something more complex is going on here; as Paul appears to do elsewhere, in vv 34–35 he is actually quoting those who object to women’s participation, and in v 36 (‘Did the word of God originate with you?’) he is actually rebuking them in order to defend women’s participation. This idea is supported by Payne’s observation that the phrase ‘as the law says’ is highly uncharacteristic of Paul; nowhere else does Paul offer such general comments, and when he does cite the law, he gives the text. Many people were surprised when Gordon Fee argued that these verses were not part of Paul’s letter, since as an evangelical he was committed to taking the canonical text as a whole very seriously. Anthony Thiselton has 16 pages on the issues in his commentary, and is not very sympathetic to Fee—but he notes that many of these arguments have been around for 40 years or more, and that Payne has been making proposals in this area for 20 years. Thiselton things the concerns here are ones that can be found elsewhere in Paul’s discussion—that silence is essential for learning and listening to what God is saying, and that the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit should not be disrupted inappropriately.

For me, I think the jury is still out on Payne’s specific argument. It is very technical, and I would need to spend more time looking at the detail. But whatever we do we these particular verses, we have to do Paul (and the formation of the canon) credit and read these verses in the context of the rest of the letter. They cannot mean that women should say nothing in the assembly, or that any of the gifts of speech that the Spirit gives to all (without gender differentiation) in chapter 12 are forbidden to women, without making Paul contradict himself within a few verses.

Additional Note: Richard Fellows has offered a fascinating statistical analysis of Philip Payne’s measurements of the bars (paragraphoi) and dots (distigmoi) on the Vaticanus manuscript, and thereby raised questions about their statistical significance—thus giving some objective statistical support to Peter Head’s objections mentioned above. But he also concludes his piece by making two important observations about this discussion:

We can also conclude that online discussion can make much faster progress then peer reviewed journals. The blog posts and comments on the ETC blog have advanced the debate, in large part because Philip Payne and others have been so willing to share their ideas and data. He has also exchanged multiple emails with me. If only all scholars were as willing to engage in online and offline discussion!

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44 Responses to What’s going on with 1 Cor 14?

  1. Will Jones October 4, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    They cannot mean that women should say nothing in the assembly, or that any of the gifts of speech that the Spirit gives to all (without gender differentiation) in chapter 12 are forbidden to women, without making Paul contradict himself within a few verses.

    I think this is right.

    Matthew Henry wrestles with the problem:

    ‘There is indeed an intimation (1 Cor. 11:5) as if the women sometimes did pray and prophecy in their assemblies, which the apostle, in that passage, does not simply condemn, but the manner of performance, that is, praying or prophesying with the head uncovered, which, in that age and country, was throwing off the distinction of sexes, and setting themselves on a level with the men. But here he seems to forbid all public performances of theirs… Praying, and uttering hymns inspired, were not teaching. And seeing there were women who had spiritual gifts of this sort in that age of the church (see Acts 22:9), and might be under this impulse in the assembly, must they altogether suppress it? Or why should they have this gift, if it must never be publicly exercised? For these reasons, some think that these general prohibitions are only to be understood in common cases; but that upon extraordinary occasions, when women were under a divine afflatus, and known to be so, they might have liberty of speech.’

    He seems to follow this view, or at least leave it as a possibility.

    It is interesting to think that it might have been a later addition (and very interesting to think that it might have originated as a reader’s note. I’ve always hated it when I find a library book full of other people’s underlining!). But how far does this impact on its authority and canonicity? Isn’t this similar to the claim that Paul did not write the Pastorals or Hebrews? Is it only authentic Pauline writings that are inspired/infallible/authoritative? Arguably Hebrews was included in the canon because it was attributed to Paul, does that mean if it wasn’t we should ignore/remove it? Can we set aside ‘later additions’ if we can show they weren’t written by the original author, particularly if they were included in the canon because they were attributed to that author? Is there any significance in the simple fact of a text long being accepted as canon? If not, how does this interact with the idea that God has been involved in preserving the text and canon of scripture so that it remains authoritative for us? What are our criteria for accepting texts as canonical?

    Lots of questions, few answers. And that’s without getting into issues of what the text actually means and how it should be applied.

    • Will Jones October 4, 2017 at 11:08 am #

      My first paragraph above should have appeared as a quotation.

    • Ian Paul October 4, 2017 at 11:16 am #

      Thanks Will. Interesting to hear from Henry. Two observations. First, he rather misses the point at the end of the passage in 1 Cor 11 that, as far as Paul is concerned, hair functions perfectly adequately as a covering.

      Second, I love the idea that anyone can prophesy only on ‘extraordinary occasions, under divine afflatus’. The whole point of 1 Cor 12 is that this coming of the Spirit upon people should be ordinary!

      Yes, there is an awkward question of canon, but the question of reading canonically can never be separated from the question of canon formation. Perhaps the power of Payne’s case is that he is offering evidence that the canon was *always* known to be questionable here. There is no such evidence when it comes to the Pastorals: rejection of Pauline authorship is on modern, reader-centred, criteria.

    • Penelope Wallace October 5, 2017 at 8:58 am #

      I have to agree that the passage is in the Bible whether Paul wrote it or not. Just as all the Psalms are Scripture even if we don’t agree with their being assigned to David, and we don’t have to believe (although some do) that all of Isaiah was written by one person. The only relevance is for our analysis of Paul’s actual character and attitudes.

  2. Penelope Cowell Doe October 4, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    For me the clincher about whether women were ‘allowed’ to teach and prophesy in Paul’s churches (or the early church), is Phoebe. The first commentator on Romans!

    • Philip Almond October 4, 2017 at 6:45 pm #

      Hi Penelope
      Where does it say that?
      Phil Almond

      • Simon Ponsonby October 5, 2017 at 8:13 am #

        Phil – NT Wright describes Phoebe as the ‘first expositor’ of Romans – others lean in that direction:

        • Philip Almond October 5, 2017 at 9:33 am #

          I meant ‘Where does it say that in the Bible?
          Phil Almond

          • Simon Ponsonby October 5, 2017 at 10:34 am #

            Philip, I agree its important to challenge claims, especially ones which seem to sit at odds with other passages of scripture. It isn’t unequivocally stated that “Phoebe was the first expositor’, but is it reasonably inferred? There are those who think on the basis of 1Tim2 & 1Cor14 that women are prohibited from any such authoritative speaking role and conclude Phoebe cannot have been an expositor but a mere dispatched servant acting as a post-lady. Others think she was a respected church official, commissioned to bring, read, explain the epistle, to a church led by male & female Apostolic couples. I was once of the former camp but now in the latter.

        • Penelope Cowell Doe October 5, 2017 at 9:59 am #

          Thanks Simon. It was first suggested to me by Douglas Campbell. Didn’t know Wright concurred.

      • Penelope Cowell Doe October 5, 2017 at 9:56 am #

        Hi Philip
        I haven’t seen Wright’s comment (which I must follow up, thanks Simon) but the inference is drawn from Romans 16, where Phoebe, the Deacon and Paul’s patron, carries the Letter to Rome. She must have read it to the Roman church(es), and when they required elucidation must surely have given it.
        I owe this insight to Douglas Campbell, not Wright though.
        It’s a fun question for students – who was the first commentator on Romans?

        • Philip Almond October 5, 2017 at 10:51 am #

          Hi Penelope
          Your two ‘musts’ are not in the Bible.
          Phil Almond

          • Richard. October 5, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

            Peter Head has explored the use of letter carriers in the ancient world and finds no evidence that they read the letters that they delivered. Phoebe may have interpreted, though. She probably travelled with male members of her household because women rarely travelled otherwise, but we do not know whether those male members were family or slaves, or whether they were Christians.

            The large number of female benefactors in NT churches is interesting and requires an explanation. I have argued that Lydia was one such and that Paul gave her the “leadership name” Euodia. See my Tyndale Bulletin article, which is on my blog.

          • Penelope Cowell Doe October 5, 2017 at 9:44 pm #

            Hi Phil, indeed. They are inferred from the fact that, even if she travelled with others, she is the named person in the party and therefore probably the leader (and an important person for Paul). And if she didn’t read the Letter, she may well, as one who knew Paul and was on a par with him
            have been asked to elucidate the hard bits.

          • Philip Almond October 5, 2017 at 10:28 pm #

            Hi Penelope
            ‘…may well…’? that is just speculation. So is ‘…inferred…’.
            Phil Almond

          • Penelope Cowell Doe October 6, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

            Yep Phil a lot of biblical scholarship is inferred stuff. May I ask why you infer that she didn’t?

          • Philip Almond October 7, 2017 at 2:47 pm #

            Hi Penelope

            I am just reading the text:

            ‘Now I commend to you Phoebe the sister of us, being also a minister of the church in Cenchrea, in order that ye may receive her in the Lord worthily of the saints, and may stand by her in whatever thing she may have need of you; for indeed she a protectress of many became and of myself’.
            This is the literal translation by Marshall of the Nestle Greek Text with some slight re-ordering of the superscripted words. Whatever the right translations of ‘minister’ or ‘protectress’ might be, there is no mention of reading or explaining Paul’s letter. I am in favour of seeking to grasp the meaning (in context, comparing scripture with scripture, and with due regard to genre etc.) of what the Bible does say, without bringing in what scholars think might be likely given their knowledge of circumstances and history not in the Bible, but is not in the text.

            I should also say that, as far as I am concerned, the key issue on this thread and on the thread about 1 Corinthians 11 (‘Head’ does not mean ‘Leader’..) is whether the Bible rules out or does not rule out the ordination of women. I believe I have given a pointer on both threads to my case why the Bible does rule it out but the Bible emphatically supports the ministry of women. Although Ian Paul has made it clear on the 1 Corinthians thread that he disagrees with me, I don’t believe anybody has tried to meet and refute the detailed arguments in my case. I wonder if anyone has read it?
            Here it is again:
            See post Phil Almond August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #at:

            Phil Almond

          • Christopher Shell October 11, 2017 at 3:34 pm #

            The danger is that we are over-optimistic re the phenomenon of ordination (as opposed to, for example, laying on of hands or commissioning) existing in the NT.

  3. Graham Harter October 4, 2017 at 11:56 am #

    Hi Paul. Thanks for the very interesting and useful discussion on the issues raised by the recent publication and the various points of view in this debate.

    You may possibly be interested to read my comments on this issue, approached from a quite different angle altogether (the early patristic one):

    • Graham Harter October 4, 2017 at 5:32 pm #

      Oh, and apologies for the lapsus calami, Ian. I think I momentarily got you confused with the apostle!

      • Ian Paul October 4, 2017 at 10:34 pm #

        ‘Confused with the apostle’? Oh, easily done of course…!

    • Ian Paul October 4, 2017 at 10:33 pm #

      Thanks Graham. I think you are right about this patristic evidence, and it is important. However, I think Payne would argue that the markings suggest evidence from the first generation of copyists…

      • Graham Harter October 5, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

        Thanks for your feedback, Ian.

        I guess Payne would have to maintain that, in view of the evidence of Tertullian.

        And of course, the patristic evidence can’t get us back that far — unless some new Greek text of Clement of Rome or Ignatius of Antioch turns up (seems unlikely).

  4. Philip Almond October 4, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    See post Phil Almond August 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm #at:

    Phil Almond

  5. Christopher Shell October 4, 2017 at 12:54 pm #

    What a great summary. Very helpful. I was aware of the post-12.40 variant which already raised questions. The issues of the markings must be left to the specialists. To this we add the following considerations (in addition to the many already noted above):

    1. Interpretation needs to be in the context of the ch11 headcovering passage, where similarly the issue of criteria of authority is breached on a women-related topic. The parallel is close on the authority wielded by *universal practice*. Also, in the ch11 instance his actual argument is seen by some (e.g. Rowan Williams) as logically weak and consequently possibly masking personal prejudice; if that were the case, it could mean that the ch14 sentiments would have been possible for Paul whether or not penned by him.

    2. The Pastorals are strangely twinned in their content with the other Paulines, and the one that 1 Timothy is twinned with is 1 Corinthians. 1 Timothy could not have its ‘twin’ verse in 1Tim 2 unless 1 Corinthians had had the original first. This argument may be thought to be open to the criticism of circularity, but I am not sure; how would a later interpolator happen to be aware of the twinning phenomenon?

    3. Paul is extremely emphatic here, allowing no dissent. Is this an instance of protesting too much and consequently a sign of interpolation, as some have seen the 2 Thess signature to the 2 Thess content? Not necesarily – otherwise we would have to say the same of Galatians’s anathema.

    • Richard. October 4, 2017 at 6:57 pm #

      That’s an interesting point, Christopher, about the possible dependence of 1 Tim 2 on 1 Cor 14:34-35. However, if there was a marginal note that was later incorporated into the text, it was probably there very early (otherwise we would have more textual variants). I date the Pastorals late, and quite possibly after the addition of the marginal note (if there was one) or its incorporation. By the way, we cannot use 1 Tim 2 to interpret 1 Cor 14:34-35 because the author had a tendency to misinterpret 1 Corinthians.

      • Christopher Shell October 4, 2017 at 10:13 pm #

        Of course I do think there is a peril in seeing ‘the Pastorals’ as a unit, because here we have 3 documents which therefore have 3 dates. (Definitely worse was the grouping together of ‘the Synoptics’ which made many fall into the fallacy of thinking that because they all have parallel passages they must all somehow be dated on the same side of John as each other; or even be treated as one entity. Doesn’t follow at all.)

    • Christopher Shell October 4, 2017 at 10:06 pm #

      I mean of course ‘the post-14.40 variant position’ (*not* ‘post-12.40’).

  6. Christopher Shell October 4, 2017 at 1:01 pm #

    typo ‘necessarily’.
    The other point is the discontinuity of this passage in context – at both ends. Paul was, however, capable of discontinuity, as are most letter-writers.

  7. David October 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    I would agree that the jury is still out on Payne’s hypothesis But for me, these verses don’t pose an issue. I think it is clear from the context that Paul is addressing some sort of disorderly or disruptive conduct in the Corinthian church, and his words do not amount to a global prohibition on women speaking in church.

    • Richard. October 5, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

      Paul was a “high context” writer, so you could be right. Even the Corinthians, who knew the culture, took his words to be of more general application than Paul himself intended (1 Cor 5:9-10).

  8. Justin October 4, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    Love your blog, as always. Thank you for this helpful post. I am reminded of Morna Hooker’s insightful rejoinder to Bob Morgan (I suppose it was the Varsity of theology!) in the Oxford SNTS a few years ago. He was surprised that Professor Hooke was working with the view that Paul actually authored the so-called interpolation passage in 2 Corinthians 6. Her response was something like: “Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean Paul couldn’t have written it.” 🙂

    Taking Professor Hooker’s tack, I’ve been seeking to understand these verses for my forthcoming commentary on 1 Corinthians (I’ve never been convinced of the interpolation hypothesis). Here are some salient interpretive decisions on these verses that I think might be helpful.

    1. It is uncontroversial that the Greek word ???? can mean either “woman” or “wife.” Given that 14:35 mentions husbands, we should translate this word “wife” throughout these verses. Paul is not talking about what women can’t do in church. He is talking about how wives and husbands relate to one another in public worship.

    (Incidentally, I would also argue we should translate “wife” in chs. 7 and 11, as these passages also make much better sense if Paul is addressing wives in relation to their husbands, not women in general.)

    2. Paul tells others to “be silent” in the surrounding context of 14:26ff, using the same word ????? that he uses in 14:34. Paul says for those speaking in tongues without an interpreter to “be silent” (14:28). He also says to someone prophesying to “be silent” if a second person wants to prophesy (14:30). Paul is not singling out women in an attempt to control them in public worship. He is giving instructions to everyone on how to keep things from getting out of hand in public worship.

    Paul tells the tongue-speaker and the prophet to be silent. Does this mean they can never talk? Of course not. It simply means they should know when to yield the microphone. We all know the Corinthians had trouble with keeping peace. Just read the rest of the letter, esp. chapters 1–4!

    Paul is not motivated by misogyny but by mission. He wants peace to prevail in the assembly as they hear from God and as visitors come in their midst (14:33, 40; cf. 14:1-25).

    With these pieces in place, we can now turn back to these verses on “wives” in 14:33-36.

    After mentioning the priority of peace (14:33), Paul turns to another scenario where peace might be in jeopardy: wives and husbands. What should wives do when their husbands are prophesying? Instead of being part of the “discerning” process outlined in 14:29 to test what the prophet says, the husband’s own wife should “be silent.” She should instead enquire (i.e. question him) at home about his prophetic speech. (Paul’s use of the word “learn” is the natural term in this teaching context; it is not used in a derogatory way as if the wife knows nothing.)

    Why should the wife remain silent in this scenario? Because we all know that in the ancient world (as in many parts of the world today) asking questions of someone in public could be seen as a challenge to that person’s honor. In the gospels, Jesus’ disciples never ask him a question in public, but only in private. Only those who wanted to challenge Jesus asked him questions in public. It was an honor contest. (NB that when Nicodemus goes to Jesus privately, what ensues is a conversation, not a showdown.)

    Paul has already judged that their home gatherings are public, not private (14:1-25). This is why wives should keep their veils on when they prophesy or pray (11:2-16). Otherwise, their husbands would be shamed publicly. In the same way, wives should “be silent” instead of asking questions of their own husbands who are prophesying publicly. Otherwise, their husbands would be shamed publicly.

    We’ve all experienced that awkward moment at a dinner party when a spouse takes the mickey out of their significant other. That’s what Paul is trying to avoid in the Corinthian congregation. This is why Paul says it is “shameful” for the wife to speak at this particular juncture. Again, he isn’t saying they can never talk publicly. We’ve got to read these verses as part of his larger discussion on discerning prophetic speech (14:29ff). Paul reasonably concludes that the assembly should do things in a fitting and orderly way (14:40).

    If this understanding of these verses is true, why doesn’t Paul tell husbands to be silent when their wives are prophesying? This is a valid question, but not the Achilles heel. Perhaps the Corinthian wives had already been doing this, and it was causing too many awkward moments in their assemblies (it seems they were also taking their veils off, which is why Paul addresses it). Perhaps it wasn’t considered shameful for husbands to enquire from their wives?

    In any case, we may never know why Paul doesn’t say something. But I hope this reading above helps us to understand better not only that these verses reasonably come from Paul but also that we can understand them not as a manifesto against women speaking in church but as specific instructions on how wives and husbands are to relate to one another in worship.

    With this understanding, we can also begin to understand 1 Timothy 2, but your post was on 1 Corinthians 14, so here is where I’ll stop. 🙂 Sorry for the long comment…I’d love to hear reflections/objections as I continue to think through these verses.

    • Justin October 4, 2017 at 3:31 pm #



      **Greek words didn’t come through: gune “women/wife” and sigao “to be silent.”

      With apologies.

    • Will Jones October 4, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

      If it belongs there then that is a pretty good shot at giving it a sense that makes sense in the context. However, I keep reading the verses and trying to see what you’re saying as the natural meaning and I’m struggling to get away from the general language: ‘As in all the assemblies of the saints, wives should be silent in the assemblies. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says… For it is shameful for a wife to speak in the assembly.’ If Paul had meant this only for the specific scenario of weighing prophecy, could it not have been made clearer? It has been misunderstood for most of church history,after all. Not saying you’re wrong, just that I’m struggling to see it as the plain meaning.

      Do you give any weight to the fact that manuscripts vary in where they put the verses, suggesting an uncertainty about where (and even whether) they belong?

      Also, what do you think of Ian’s point that the head coverings Paul has in mind in 1 Cor 11 for women are most likely their hair?

      • Justin October 4, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

        Great question. I actually think my reading is the more natural (plain) meaning when we read 14:26 through to the end of the chapter. On the other hand, I think when we take 14:33-35 out of context, it looks contradictory to 11:2-16 as well as Paul’s affirmation of women’s ministerial roles (e.g. Phoebe).

        In terms of reading it with 14:29ff, the verbal connections on “being silent” are striking. And then we also have the summary in 14:36-40 that concludes his comments on prophets that he began back in 14:29. IT seems odd if he were to leave his discussion of prophecy (14:29-32) to tell women to be quiet (14:33-35), only to return to summarize his discussion of prophecy (14:36-40). Thus, it makes more natural sense to read the part about wives/husbands within the bigger discussion on discerning prophets.

        On Paul’s statement in 14:33b, “as in all the congregations of the saints,” I think this introduces his discussion of wives as enquirers of their husbands. With this disclaimer, Paul is showing that he is not singling out the Corinthians. He does a similar thing in 11:16 about wives wearing head coverings when they pray and prophesy. This, too, is something he teaches in all the congregations.

        (I don’t buy the hairdo argument–see A. C. Perriman in JTS among others)

        In other words, according to 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches in his churches:

        1. When wives are praying and prophesying in public worship, they should cover their heads with a veil to make it clear that they are married. Otherwise, they would be shaming their husbands.

        2. When husbands are prophesying in public worship, their wives should not be one of the public discerners (although they should feel free to do this at home in private). Otherwise, they would potentially shame their husbands publicly.

  9. Chris Wooldridge October 4, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    Fascinating article. My only quibble would be your statement that chapter 7 teaches that “husbands and wives equally and symmetrically exercise authority over each other in marriage”. Whilst the chapter does speaking of mutual submission and rendering to one another, there is nothing about equality or symmetry in the chapter. In fact there are some fairly clear gendered differences highlighted in the chapter, especially when it comes to marriage and divorce.

  10. Simon Ponsonby October 4, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

    Always been fascinated by this since reading Fee over 20years ago on it. Whilst the Interpolation argument seems credible, I do rather wince fearing it undermines the concept of God at work in transmission, collation and canonisation. In the words of Salieri in movie Amadeus: ‘Displace one note and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase and the whole structure would fall.’

  11. Richard. October 4, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

    Payne’s identification of a “distigme-obelos” symbol is based on a statistical analysis of measurements of the bars. Unfortunately, measurements that he gives are systematically in error, and he uses an inappropriate statistical test. I made the measurements myself, without knowing which text was which at the time of measurement, and the results showed no statistical significance. I’ll post the plots to my blog and let you know when I have done so.

    • Ian Paul October 4, 2017 at 10:36 pm #

      Thanks Richard—that will be very interesting.

  12. Tommy Wasserman October 5, 2017 at 6:46 am #

    Thanks Ian! In the blogpost on ETC that you referred to I criticize Payne’s second statement that “the text of Varicanus” is an older one than “the text of P75” based on an observation of punctuation. This is based on an unsound methodology, and Larry Hurtado also agree with this critique (which I first made in a comment on his blogpost). With that being said, I am 100% for female leadership in church, and I believe Junia was an apostle, etc, so it has nothing to do with the larger issues (as you seem to imply). It has to do with textcritical and palaeographic arguments.

    • Ian Paul October 5, 2017 at 8:11 pm #

      Thanks Tommy. I didn’t have any particular person in mind, but I am aware that others who contribute to the post are less sympathetic to the acceptance of women’s ministry than yours. My general observation is that we are all able to read things in a way which suits our theological convictions, so we need to be self-critical of our claims to objectivity.

      Does that make sense?

  13. Richard. October 5, 2017 at 9:04 am #

    On my blog I posted a discussion, and included plots that compare Philip’s measurements of the bars with mine. See here. I conclude that he has made systematic errors in his measurements and that his statistical case evaporates when these are corrected.

    • Ian Paul October 5, 2017 at 10:04 am #

      Dear Richard, thanks so much for this. It is a stunning piece of detailed analysis, and really helpful. (Have you posted the link on ETC?).

      You are also right in your two final comments. The interaction afforded by online discussion can resolve things very quickly, and as you say this has taken the argument forward very quickly.

      But, again as you highlight, this entirely depends on the openness and graciousness of the different parties in the debate, and Philip Payne has been faultless in this regard.

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