First Corinthians 14:34-35 presents the reader with three interpretive options.
First, are verses 34-35 a declarative statement written from the pen of the apostle Paul with the intention of forbidding women to speak in church?....Second, are these verses an interpolation, meaning a later addition or alteration to Scripture not written by the apostle Paul but by an uninspired writer?....
Now, we might note a couple of additional options:Third, are verses 34-35 a Corinthian slogan or rabbinic saying that Paul repeats for the purpose of rebuking?....
A Fourth option is a variation of the First. Is Paul quoting Torah with the intention of forbidding women to speak in Synagogues and in Greek-convert Assemblies of followers of Yeshua?Let's evaluate the options.
A Fifth option is a variation of the Third. Are verses 34-35 a Roman slogan that Paul repeats for the purpose of rebuking?
The Second option is entirely possible, but even if it's the case that Paul didn't write what's written, then whoever did add the verses really did want to sound like Paul. Supposing this doesn't at all solve the problem of whether the "Pauline" statement is ultimately (1) to silence women or (2) whether it's to rebuke men who are silencing women. The interpolater was either pretending to be Paul forbidding women from speaking. Or he was pretending to be Paul rebuking men who were forbidding women from speaking. So we still have our decision to make: (1) Are the readers to take what's written as regulating and restricting the behavior of women? (2) Or can the readers take this epistle to mean that women are as free to speak as men?
So we turn to the First (and Fourth) option(s). Is Paul (or is Torah) forbidding women?
This set of options -- that would make Paul (or Torah) forbid women in Korinth from speaking -- makes for some strange bedfellows. The strange group, for example, includes these:
- The Bible.org people, a group that works to "harness the Internet for God" with their New English Translation (NET) Bible;
- Wayne Grudem, a Protestant Evangelical Complementarian Christian and member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV);
- Willis Barnstone, a Jewish translator and restorer of the Christian-translation abuses of the New Testament.
The Bible.org people have this footnote on the verses:
For they are not permitted to speak. In light of 11:2-16, which gives permission for women to pray or prophesy in the church meetings, the silence commanded here seems not to involve the absolute prohibition of a woman addressing the assembly. Therefore (1) some take be silent to mean not taking an authoritative teaching role as 1 Tim 2 indicates, but (2) the better suggestion is to relate it to the preceding regulations about evaluating the prophets (v. 29). Here Paul would be indicating that the women should not speak up during such an evaluation, since such questioning would be in violation of the submission to male leadership that the OT calls for (the law, e.g., Gen 2:18).Grudem, in his book, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? (pages 161-62), has this note on the verses:
Finally, and perhaps most important, we should note the reason that Paul does give for instruction on this matter. Paul does not give "noisy women" as a reason for his instruction, but rather he cites the Old Testament law. He says, "For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says (1 Cor. 14:34). "Law" here most likely refers to the teaching of the Old Testament in general on men and women, because Paul does not quote any specific Old Testament passage. He frequently uses "law" (Greek nomos) to refer to the Old Testament, and especially with this formula, "as the Law . . . says" (see the other two instances in Rom. 3:19 and 1 Cor. 9:8). It is unlikely that "law" refers to Roman law or to Jewish oral traditions, for Paul does not elsewhere use nomos in those ways.Barnstone, in his, The Restored New Testament: A New Translation with Commentary, Including the Gnostic Gospels Thomas, Mary, and Judas (page 751), has this footnote:
Paul evokes the law, meaning Torah law of the Hebrew Bible rather than Roman law. It is not clear whether he has a specific verse in mind or whether there is one for his purpose. Normally, when Paul wants to alter a habitual practice or interpretation of law, such as the laws on circumcision, Sabbath, marriage, and divorce, he refers to Deuteronomy or Exodus in Torah. Here he does not do so. Most commonly, without reference to Torah, he proposes his own moral code for the emerging Jesus movement with respect to marriage, homosexuality, and deportment in the temple.Interestingly, the Bible.org people and Grudem are motivated by anti-feminist views. The former reproduce on their website a Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) essay, "'Silent in the Churches': On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36" by D. A. Carson; and the latter has been President of the CBMW and still plays an active role in this organization that views biblical womanhood as meaning that Christian women cannot preach or teach men in church.
In contrast, Barnstone is very much a feminist ally, writing a pro-woman essay "The Role of Silent Women" within his commentary on Paul (see pages 628-30 of his Restored New Testament); Barnstone makes clear, likewise, that Paul was pro-woman, if he did contradict himself sometimes by looking to "earlier [religious] . . . hierarchies":
Paul, like Walt Whitman, loved to contradict himself.... Paul speaks frequently of many women as his founding companions in the churches, his most trusted collaborators; he appoints women to keep new missions in order; and in Romans he notes that he has asked Phoebe (Rom. 16.1) a deacon (an ordained minister) in the church located in Cenchrea, an eastern port of Corinth, to carry his letter to the Romans to Rome. Deacon Priscilla (Rom. 16.3) is associated with the same [Corinthian, Cenchrean] church, and he promotes one of his colleagues to his own missionary status, saying about Junia, later Saint Junia, that she and her companion Andronikos are "outstanding among the messengers [apostles]":To summarize, the Bible.org people suggest that Paul is referencing Genesis 2:18, but Grudem and Barnstone suggest that he is referring to the "Old Testament law" or to "Torah" more generally. They all agree that it is Paul who is referring to the Hebrew Bible to build his case that the Korinthian men may silence their women. The Bible.org people and Grudem are anti-feminist; Barnstone is pro-woman and sees Paul as progressively pro-woman too even if Paul would contradict himself with the older religious hierarchies.
Greet Andronikos and Iounias,
Who were in prison with me, OustandingFrom Paul's time, and in large part because of Paul, women were ordained to preach and hold high administrative offices. Those were his [pro-woman Jewish] actions nearly two thousand years before anything like them was beginning to be permitted in Protestant churches, and more frequently in Jewish synagogues. But insofar as Paul contributed to silencing and separating women, he was following the practice of not only earlier Jewish temple customs but also Hindu, Buddhist, and later Muslim hierarchies.
Among the messengers, even before me
They were working furiously for the Mashiah.
So we turn to the Third (and Fifth) option(s). Is Paul rebuking sexist men by quoting back to them their rabbinic slogan, or Korinthian slogan, or Roman slogan?
Maybe it is an oral rabbinic slogan. If so, this gets at least Barnstone thinking that Paul sounds like he's quoting "earlier Jewish temple customs" and is thereby contradicting himself. But Paul is only contradicting himself if he agrees with such a slogan or endorses following such sexist customs. And, as Barnstone shows, Paul's own customs were very pro-woman. Why not consider that Paul might be actually quoting back to Korinthian men some slogan they were repeating to him?
Translator Ann Nyland does consider this. She notes how S. Aalen has claimed there's "A Rabbinic Formula in 1 Cor. 14,34" (see, Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 87  513-25). And Ann Nyland cites a later version of Aalen's paper to suggest, "The language in the quotation resembles known Jewish oral law" (page 330, The Source New Testament With Extensive Notes On Greek Word Meaning).
Maybe it is a Korinthian slogan, and not really a Jewish one. This, to me, seems much more plausible. When Paul writes the Philippoi (the men and women) in Philippi, Greece, he is very clear and explicit when he contradicts "old Jewish customs" (Philippians 3:5). He's more likely rebuking the men in Korinth concerning a slogan that is NOT Jewish. If I were a Bible commentator, or the writer of the footnote on I Corinthians 14:34-35, then I'd probably read the Greek there and blame it on Aristotle. Paul seems to be considerably influenced by Aristotle. Whether it's considering women differently from and as naturally ordered under men; whether it's their unique use of "logic"; whether it's their ideals for the marriage ages of husbands and their women or the ideals of whether to marry at all or their understanding of the naturalness of male baldness and of female hair length -- Paul appears to agree with Aristotle.
Well, you could probably convince me, instead, to blame it on some other Greek man. You could probably tell me Paul was quoting a sexist Greek slogan to the men in Korinth. You might even convince me that Paul was even quoting this woman disparaging slogan right back at them, to rebuke them. After all, men in Greece have this gyne-phobic and misogynistic legacy. As Peter Hammond of the Africa Christian Action network has observed:
Throughout a woman’s entire life [in much of Greek history,] she was not permitted to speak in public.
As Sophocles wrote: “Silence is an adornment to women”; Euripides asserted: “Silence and discression are most beautiful in women and remaining quiet within the house”. Aristotle declared: “Silence gives grace to women”. Homer wrote: “Speech shall be for men”. Euripides wrote: “Women, specious curse to man”. Aeschylus wrote: “Evil of mind are they, and guileful of purpose, with impure hearts”. Aristophanes wrote: “For women are a shameless set, the vilest of creatures going”. Homer wrote: “One cannot trust women!”Doesn't that sound like this?
34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.What Paul writes there to the Korinthian men sounds so much like many other Greek men, that Dennis J. Preato is led to ask, "[A]re verses 34-35 a Corinthian slogan"?
- 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, English Standard Version (ESV)
Well, that's all fine.
But there is that other variation on this Fifth option. Couldn't this be a Roman slogan? Barnstone and Grudem have ruled this out - but only because they attribute the words to Paul quoting Torah (or "the Old Testament law") vaguely.
Grudem goes on and on in a footnote, asking for proof for the Roman slogan -- even more proof than he himself can provide for his own claim - an unwarranted claim itself without "one shred of proof" - that "'Law' here most likely refers to the teaching of the Old Testament in general on men and women, because Paul does not quote any specific Old Testament passage." Grudem's footnote on page 162 is here:
Linda Belleville say, "law" here refers to Roman law ("Women in Ministry," 119). As evidence, she says, "Official religion of the Roman variety was closely supervised," but the only proof she gives is a reference to her book, Women Leader and the Church: Three Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), 36-38. On those pages, we look in vain for any reference to Roman law regulating Christian conduct or any other religious activity within a worship service. Belleville asks us to believe, without proof, the rather remarkable position that Roman laws prohibited women from asking disruptive questions within a worship service such as found in a Christian church. And she gives not one shred of proof.Grudem, as mentioned, is being anti-feminist here and is working to attribute not only to Paul but also vaguely and generally to "to the teachings of the Old Testament taken as a whole" the woman-silencing teachings. He discounts what Belleville claims by positing that "Paul never uses 'law' (Greek nomos) to refer to Roman law." Grudem does not consider the possibility that Paul is actually rebuking the men of Korinth for their own use of "'law' (Greek nomos) to refer to Roman law."
Paul never uses "law" (Greek nomos) to refer to Roman law, but often uses it, as here, to refer to the teachings of the Old Testament taken as a whole.
Walter Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988) claims that "the law" here means Rabbinic teaching, but he provides no supporting evidence, and, again, Paul does not use the word "law" in that way.
Is Grudem going to blame the Jews (and not the Romans)? Why not blame, instead, the men of Korinth and their use of a slogan of the Roman law to silence women in their Assembly?
I know, I know. This blog post has gone on long enough. I've risked boring readers and losing you all. Maybe this is burying the evidence, the real punchline, of what I'm hoping you'll see. Would you get out your old copies of the Roman Twelve Tables? Would you review, as I'm guessing the Korinthian men did, the Roman law of patria potestas and the man's exclusive rights in pateras familias? Or will you at least look at your old edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica: a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and General Literature, Volume XXIV, to find the entry on "Women, Laws concerning" and then the long paragraph on Roman law? Don't have it anymore. Well, let me read it here then:
What's very interesting is how the writer, the historian in brief, concludes. It was late and progressive Roman emperors, Christians, who did what Wayne Grudem does not want the Old Testament Law or Paul to do. They changed the law. But the Korinthian men didn't want that, it seems. And I think Paul was trying to show, in practice and by his letter, that anti-woman Roman slogans just don't reflect the Jewish scriptural liberties given to those created in the image of God, male and female.
In Roman law a woman was even in historic times completely dependent. If married she and her property passed into the power of her husband; if unmarried she was (unless a vestal virgin) under the perpetual tutelage of her father during his life, and after his death of her agnates, that is, those of her kinsmen by blood or adoption who would have been under the power of the common ancestor had he lived. Failing agnates, the tutelage probably passed to the gens. The wife was the purchased property of her husband, and, like a slave, acquired only for his benefit. A woman could not exercise any civil or public office. In the words of Ulpian, "feminae ab omnibus officiis civilibus vel publicis remotae sunt." A woman could not continue a family, for she was "caput et finis familiae suae," could not be a witness, surety, tutor, or curator; she could not adopt or be adopted, or make a will or contract. She could not succeed ab intestato as an agnate, if further removed than a sister. A daughter might be disinherited by a general clause, a son only by name. On the other hand, a woman was privileged in some matters, but rather from a feeling of pity for her bodily weakness and presumed mental incapacity than for any more worthy reason. Thus she could plead ignorance of law as a ground for dissolving an obligation, which a man could not as a rule do; she could accuse only in cases of treason and witchcraft; and she was in certain cases exempt from torture. In succession ab intestato to immovable property Roman law did not, as does English, recognize any privilege of males over females.Legal disabilities were gradually mitigated by the influence of fictions, the praetorian equity and legislation. An example of the first was the mode by which a woman freed herself from the authority of her tutor by fictitious cession into the authority of a tutor nominated by herself, or by sale of herself into the power of a nominal husband on the understanding that he was at once to emancipate her to another person, who then manumitted her. The action of equity is illustrated by the recognition by the praetor of cognatic or natural as distinguished from agnatic or artificial relationship, and of a widow's claim to succeed on the death of her husband intestate and without relations. Legislation, beginning as early as the Twelve Tables, which forbade excessive mourning for the dead by female mourners, did not progress uniformly towards enfranchisement of women. For instance, the Lex Voconia (about 169 B.C.), called by St Augustine the most unjust of all laws, provided that a woman could not be instituted heir to a man who was registered as owner of a fortune of 100,000 asses. A constitution of Valentinian I. forbade bequests by women to ecclesiastics. But the tendency of legislation was undoubtedly in the direction indicated. Adoption of women was allowed by Diocletian and Maximian in 291. The tutelage of women of full age was removed by Claudius, and, though afterwards in part revived, has disappeared by the time of Justinian. This implied full testamentary and contractual liberty. In regard to the separate property of the married woman, the period of dos had by the time of Justinian long superseded the period of menus. The result was that, in spite of a few remaining disabilities, such as the general incapacity to be surety or witness to a will or contract, of a wife to make a gift to her husband, of a widow to marry within a year of her husband's death, the position of women had become, in the words of Sir H. Maine, " one of great personal and proprietary independence." For this improvement in their position they were largely indebted to the legislation of the Christian emperors, especially of Justinian, who prided himself on being a protector of women.