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Topic 36: 1 Cor. 14:25-39: Part 5: Women and subordination


[1 Corinthians 14:34] … the women should keep silence in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. [35] 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.

Thesis: The context suggests that “[vs 34] … be subordinate …”  is the mutual voluntary submission which characterizes the wife-husband relationship.

(A) The tense is middle passive, the sense of which is that the woman is asked to “subordinate herself.”

(1) The text does not say “women should be subordinated by men.”

(2) The text does not say “Men, subordinate (or dominate) your women.”

(3) The text does not say, “Church, keep and require women to be subordinate.”

(B) The word in this context does suggest self-control and inner self-discipline (compare Galatians 5:23).  This stems from faith and demonstrates a desire not to dominate or exploit or embarrass the spouse.

(C) The word does not suggest a church rule imposed from the outside upon the woman. The context indicates that she simply should not add to the confusion in worship.

◆ “Paul cites the Law (very likely Genesis 2 in this particular context) as the basis for the subordination of woman” (LCMS’ Commission on Theology and Church Relations, “Women in the Church,” Sept. 1985, pg. 22).

◆ “In addition to the moral and vocational qualifications required of those divinely placed into this high office in the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 3:5-9), the Scriptures teach that the incumbent of the pastoral office must be a man.  On the basis of Old Testament Scripture, St. Paul taught that ‘the women should keep silence in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak; but should be subordinate, as even the law says’ (1 Cor. 14:34).  Understood within its context, this passage means that women ought not lead the public worship service, specifically carry out the teaching-preaching aspects of the service” (CTCR, “The Service of Women …, 16 November 1994”).

◆ “With the clause kathos kai ho nomos legei, Paul indicates that the regulation and practice of women maintaining silence in the assemblies of the saints, and thus subjecting themselves to the men, has its ultimate source in the Law, which is here the Old Testament” (Maier, The Springfielder, Vol. XXXIII, No. 4 [March 1970], pg. 35).

Thesis:  There is no clear exegetical evidence to understand specifically to what “Law” Paul is referring.

(A) “[vs. 34] … even as the Law says…”: The canonical Old Testament Scriptures nowhere say women should be silent in a worship context.

(B) A possible interpretation is that “the Law” which Paul cites is Jewish midrash or synagogue custom; the midrash does contain the following injunctions:

(1) Talmud, Kethuboth 59b, teaches a woman is to serve her husband no matter how many slaves her dowry enables her to purchase.

(2) Kethuboth 59b requires a wife to wash her husband’s face, hands, and feet, make his bed, and pour his wine.

(3) Kethuboth 6b, 78a, and 48b indicate that income earned from the wife’s own handicraft or from her pre-marriage assets become the property of her husband.

(4) Megillah 23a says that women are not permitted to read from the Torah in the synagogue because of the “dignity of the congregation.”

(5) One scholar suggests this refers to the Midrash on Numbers 12, which details Miriam’s disrespect for Moses.

(C) If so, Paul is then arguing not from Scripture, but from his rabbinic stance and knowledge.  “The Old Testament clearly assumed female submission but contained no law to command it, whereas rabbinic Judaism was full of traditional laws and customs which required the subservience of women” (Mollenkott, Women, Men, and the Bible, pg. 96).

(D) Note an example of such a tradition from the Mishnah: “All are qualified to be among the seven [who read the Torah in the synagogue on sabbath morning], even a minor and a woman.  But a woman should not be allowed to come forward to read [the Torah] in public” (T. Meg. iv. II, 226, as quoted in Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, pg. 374).

(E) Or, not finding such a law in the Old Testament, Martin (page 76) renders nomos as “the ruling,” based on the sense of the word as norm, principle (Romans 3:27, Galatians 6:2).

(F) Is not the Old Testament ceremonial law superseded in Christ (Matthew 27:51; Colossians 2:16-17, 20)?  For those “in the Lord,” Jewish law no longer binds consciences, even Jewish midrash which ordains segregating women from worship participation and leadership.

(G) Our notes on Genesis 2 suggest there is no “law” either explicit or inferred directing superordination or subordination; what is suggested is partnership, companionship, parity.

(H) Or, another view: “The public cultic activity of women was familiar to Hellenism, and Paul shows himself extremely free to change position on these externalities in themselves.  Passages such as 11:2 ff. and 14:33b ff. are explained in terms of the concrete situations which compelled Paul to oppose the innovations of his opponents with the demand, concretized in detail, for the preservation of the traditional practice.  Since he obviously did not sense that the active participation of women in the cultus was demanded by the Gnostics, it is characteristic of his freedom that he tolerates this practice without contradiction.  At the time of Epistle B he is better informed; hence he now demands that the Gnostic custom, which allows women to engage in public prayer and certainly also in speaking in tongues, be once again discontinued.  On this point it is interesting that he now refers briefly to the tradition and sets forth the practice of other communities as normative, without attempting again a fruitless theological motivation for this originally Jewish observance.  In judging Paul one must keep in mind the special cause which compelled him in the last analysis against his intention, to limit Christian freedom in this way, and one then will readily accept, without qualms and naturally also without legalism, passages like 14:33b ff. as Pauline.  One will then also, at the deepest level, feel no contradiction between 11:2 ff. and 14:33b ff.  It is the same correctly understood Christian freedom which lets Paul allow the activities of women in the cult there and forbid it here” (Schmithals, Gnosticism in  Corinth, pgs. 244-245).

Thesis: The word “shameful” in verse 35 (aisxros) suggests behavioral problems rather than doctrinal issues.

(A) “[vs 35] … for it is shameful for a woman to speak …”: Compare Ephesians 5:12: “For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”

(B) Plutarch writes, “Not only the arm but the voice of a modest woman ought to be kept from the public, and she should feel shame at being heard, as at being stripped” (quoted in Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, pg. 331).

(C) “Paul’s short-range solution to the disruptive problems was for women to be silent during worship.  His long-range solution was for women to become educated in their faith” (Perales, Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage,pg. 97).