Both 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2: 12-15 are difficult passages, for reasons that have nothing to do with women speaking or teaching men. In the 1 Corinthians passage, Paul says “as the law says.” This is a strange comment, especially from Paul. What “law” is he referring to? In the 1Timothy passage, Paul says that women will “be saved” “through childbearing” (check the Greek term if your translation says otherwise.) What happened to “saved through faith”? These statements do not fit with the theology that Paul teaches anywhere else in his letters. I have researched these things and this is the second of a series of blogs discussing what I have found (see Women In Ministry 1
). This blog will deal with the interpretation of the 1 Corinthians passage, and only briefly mention the topic of women teaching men (the 1 Timothy passage).
Complementarians believe that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 forbids women to speak in “official” gatherings. If you believe, as I do, that Scripture does not contradict Scripture, this creates a problem, since in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul tells the Corinthian women that they should respect the local cultural views of modesty (by covering their hair) when they pray or prophesy in their gatherings. There are numerous reasonable interpretations of the chapter 14 passage that have been proposed by egalitarians that do not require Scripture to contradict Scripture. This blog presents the one that seems the most convincing to me. Other’s will be discussed later.
In Greco-Roman culture (a strongly male dominated culture – see The Social Status of First Century Women
) of the first century there were laws that regulated the rights and duties of wives, grown daughters, children and slaves. One of those civil laws required the wives, grown daughters, children, and slaves of a household to follow the religion and religious customs of the male head of the household (the reason why Timothy was not circumcised even though his mother was Jewish.) But Christians allowed women and slaves to be full participants in the faith all by themselves
(which was quite subversive). Because of this, many of the women who worshipped in Christian gatherings would not have had Christian husbands at home to ask questions of. However, there was a group of women who absolutely would have had husbands to ask. Those were the pagan
wives who were merely tagging along because their civil law
required them to subject themselves to their husband’s faith. In ignorant disrespect, they disrupted the meetings with questions that they should have held until they got home.
The Greek word gynaikes
that is translated here as “women” could also have been translated as “wives”, and probably should have been, since they are told to ask “their own husbands” (andras
, or men). It is interesting that the first word, which can mean women or wives is translated “women” and the next gender term that can mean men or husbands is translated “husbands”. Standard translation guidelines would dictate a parallel translation. So the meaning of this passage would then be that the pagan wives should remain silent and save their questions for when they got home, showing respect in their observance of their civil law.
These noisy women were not preaching, or praying, or speaking words of wisdom, they were asking questions. That should help guide the interpretation. Furthermore, Paul is addressing, at most, only married
women with Christian husbands, since the other women did not have husbands to ask. So, it was only the married women with Christian husbands who were being told to be silent. Why would Paul do that?
And, now, a brief thought regarding the complementarian view that women should not teach men (and conversely that men should not learn from women). There is a lot of Scripture that men who hold a complementarian view need to get rid of. Starting with Genesis, they must go through their Bibles and mark out all the words of women that they might learn from. Strike out everything said by Sarah. No song of Miriam, no Ruth or Naomi, no Deborah, Hannah, Huldah, or Elizabeth, no Magnificat, no announcement of the resurrection from Mary Magdelene, no discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, no . . . , well you get the point.