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1 Corinthians 14, 34-35

This text, which is clearly an interpolation into Paul's original letter, has been used in Church tradition to exclude women from ministries in the Church. The interpolation can be inferred from the following facts:

  • Verses 34- 35 appear after verse 40 in a number of important old manuscripts: the Claromontanus of Paris , the Boernerianus of Dresden , Minuscule nr 88, and versions of the Old Latin (Itala) translation (2nd - 4th cent.). It shows that the verses were a later gloss written in the margin of the original papyrus which entered the body of the text in later copies.
  • The rule that women should “keep silence in the churches” (vs. 34) flatly contradicts what Paul says about women prophesying in church in 1 Corinthians 11,5. See also: “Whoever prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14,3; etc.).
  • The phrase “as even the Law says” (vs. 34) contradicts Paul's teaching that we have been liberated from the Law (Galatians 2,16; 5,1.18; 3,23-28; etc.etc.).

Although in 1 Timothy 2,12 the author used didaskein (=teaching) while in 1 Corinthians 11,35 the word used is lalein (=speaking), the parallelism of the two texts on women’s/wives’ restrictions is generally accepted by scholars. Probably 1 Corinthians 14,34-35 stems from a similar origin as 1 Timothy 2,11-14, an effort in Asia Minor of around 100 AD to counteract the influence of Gnostic teaching on women. See 1 Timothy 2,11-15.

Read C.K.BARRETT, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, London 1971, pp. 330-333; H.CONZELMANN, Der erste Brief an die Korinther, Göttingen 1981, pp.298-299; H.J.KLAUCK, 1 Korintherbrief, Würzburg 1984, pp. 104-106; F.LANG, Die Briefe an die Korinther, Göttingen 1986, pp. 199-201; R.A.HARRISVILLE, 1 Corinthians, Minneapolis 1987, pp. 242-244; G.DAUTZENBERG, ‘Zur Stellung der Frau in den paulinischen Gemeinden’, Die Frau im Urchristentum, p. 193. 257-300; G.FITZER, “Das Weib schweige in den Gemeinden”. Über den unpaulinischen Character der mulier-taceat-Verse im 1.Kor 14, Munich 1963; V.C. STICHELE, ‘Is Silence Golden? Paul and Women's Speech in Corinth’, Louvain Studies 20 (1955) 243-250.

Commentary on the text

[“As in all the churches of the saints, (verse 33b)]
the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate, as even the Law says. (verse 34)
If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (verse 35)

The fact that the verses are a later interpolation does not affect their status as part of the inspired text. In both the Old and New Testaments books grew through a succession of editions and enlargements.

However, the fact of the interpolation does make a difference to the interpretation of the passage.

Do these verses teach, as part of the inspired message, that women are subject to men for all time to come and may not assume a task of leadership in the Church even in the future? The answer is clearly: no, for the following reasons:

  • The original prohibition obviously had a limited scope. It contradicted Paul allowing women to prophesy (1 Corinthians 11,5). It argues from Mosaic Law as if that were to bind women of all time to come (verse 34). It presumes all women have husbands to whom they can direct questions (see verse 35). It bases itself on the Jewish prejudice that considered it shameful for a woman to speak in the synagogue (verse 35).
  • Like 1 Timothy 2,11-14, it expresses measures taken in some early Christain communities to counteract a specific problem.
  • It goes against the “literal sense” of the text and against the intended scope of the author to make this an inspired, permanent prohibition for women to take a ministerial function in the Church!

John Wijngaards




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