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Topic 34: 1 Cor. 14:26-39: Part 3: Roles or relationships?


◆ “If women are to remain silent in the assembly, how can they engage in the deliberation without audible participation? (1 Cor. 14:34)” [an argument against women suffrage] (LCMS Pittsburgh Convention Workbook, 1992, pg. 199).

Thesis: In 1 Corinthians 14:26-36 Paul is addressing not male/female roles, but relationships as publicly evidenced between husband and wife.

(A) “[vs 34]…the woman…[vs 35]…a woman…”:

(1) The word translated  as “woman” in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a form of the word gyne, which can mean (1) any adult female, (2) a wife, or (3) bride (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich, pg. 167).

(2)  In his letter, 1 Corinthians, Paul uses forms of gyne 39 times. The context in other chapters in 1 Corinthians calls for gyne to be translated “wife.”

(3) The internal context here (“[vs 35] … let them ask their husbands at home…” ) calls for gyne to be translated “wife.”

(4) Lexicon studies support the translation of gyne as wife: “… besides the use of aner and gyne in lists (where the terms are generally found in the plural) there are no examples where aner and gyne bear the meanings ‘man’ and ‘woman’ when the terms are found in close proximity” (Hugenberger, “Women in Church Office: Hermeneutics or Exegesis?” pg. 354).

(B) Is it not strange, then, that here all the major English translators choose “woman” or women”?

(C) Paul is not speaking here of women in general, or of women in society, or of women to  men in general, or of women in relationship to some public ministerial office; he is speaking specifically to wives in the Corinthian congregation as they relate to husbands within the congregation.

(1) Paul is addressing the issue of husband-wife relationships when both are together in a worship context.

(2) The reason for Paul’s restrictions on “wives” is tied up with customs of that day which reflected a wife’s submission to her husband.

(3) Debating publicly with her spouse, and thus flouting a social practice accepted even in the church of that time showed disrespect.  Sometimes even speaking publicly in front of a husband was looked upon as showing disrespect to the husband.

(4) “1 Cor. 14:34-5 represents the application, in a particular cultural context, of an order of the present creation concerning the conduct of a wife vis-a-vis her husband.  It reflects a situation in which the husband is participating in the prophetic ministries of a Christian meeting.  In this context the co-participation of his wife, which may involve her publicly “testing” (diathakrinein, 14:29) her husband’s message, is considered to be a disgraceful (aisxron) disregard of him, of accepted priorities, and of her own wifely role.  For these reasons it is prohibited” (Ellis, “The Silent Wives of Corinth,” pg. 218).