shared from and with BibleTexts.com users
#31 - 1Co 14:36 - Is Paul simply mocking the silencing of women?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
This page also includes Questions #32 to #33 and BibleTexts Responses #32 to #33, because they all were parts of the same thread.
Question/insight #31: "Looking at that wording [in 1Co 14:36]: "What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?" seems to cry out to me that Paul is mocking the preceeding lines [1Co 14:33b-35]: "...As in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." It appears [Paul] is quoting Hebrew law, only to say: "Absurd! Do you think God only speaks to men?"
[Note from BibleTexts: This "question/insight" was a comment emailed by a participant in an ecumenical biblical forum regarding the ordination of women. I participate in this forum along with with clergy from a number of denominations and from throughout the world. My response was originally sent to the forum.]
BibleTexts Response #31: Your very desirable interpretation would be much more consistent with the rest of Paul's genuine writings, which strongly accepts, supports, and appreciates the active participation of women in church preaching and church governance. Unfortunately, verse 36 seems to be saying the opposite of your interpretation. Conzelmann, in his Hermenia commentary on 1 Corinthians, includes in a footnote on verse 36:
Lietzmann (who accepts the genuineness of the passage) observes that apparently the active participation [of women in the church] was defended from the Corinthians' side as a 'custom of their own.'
The interpolation of 1Co 14:33b-36 alleges that Paul was criticizing the church in Corinth, which apparently allowed women/wives to speak/participate in church meetings. The interpolation alleges that the Corinthian women's church participation is in conflict with what is customary in all of the other churches.
Such an interpolation itself is in conflict with Paul's other writings, (1) where he accepted Prisca and Aquila as a wife and husband ministry team and assistants to him; (2) where he consider Phoebe as a preaching deacon or president of the church in Cenchreae -- even writing Romans 16 as a letter of introduction for her to the church in Ephesus; (3) where Paul considers Junia and Andronicus "prominent among the apostles" (Rom 16:7 NRSV); (4) where 16 of the 40 individuals Paul mentions in his genuine writings are women; (5) where Paul in 1Co 7:3-4 is uncompromising and consistent regarding equal treatment of women. These illustrate only a few of the women-supporting passages in Paul's writings.
To the church in Galatia (Gal 3:26-28), Paul articulates that there is no distinction "in Christ" between male and female; therefore, "in Christ" there doesn't seem to be any place for ranking between male and female, "for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
And Paul wrote to the church in Philippi (Phi 4:2-3): "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life."
John, from your remarks, I know that you share Paul's genuine sympathies. I include the above summary to further support your defense of and promotion of those sympathies. Again, some excellent documentation is provided by Helmut Koester in a seminar he gave, relevant excerpts of which are transcribed at http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/women01.htm.
I am grateful that we are united in our endeavor to "support these women," as Paul put it. These are our dear sisters in Christ, our family, fellow-"heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17). We all have so much to learn from each other and with each other. The opportunity here is that our mutual edification, instructed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, can free us FROM either willful or ignorant practices and theologies that have grown over the past two millennia TO a purer practice and theology of Christianity that genuinely represents the attitude and life of Christ Jesus (Phi 2:5).
* * * * *
Question/insight #32 (prompted by the comments above from Questioner #31): "What version are you quoting? My NRSV doesn't support this reading. Paul is discussing the practices in the other churches in 33-35 and then accuses Corinth (the "you" in 36) with the words, 'Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?' -- meaning, I think, "who are you to act differently?' rather than 'You are the only ones to hear it.' The mocking is directed at Corinth."
BibleTexts Response (corrected version) to questioner #32:
[Questioner #31] was quoting from the King James Version of 1Co 14:33b-36. Though he misinterpretted verse 36, the KJV translation itself is basically okay -- even though the Greek text from which the KJV was translated is not exactly the same as today's more reliable United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament text, from the which the NRSV and TEV were translated.
[Questioner #31] copied the texts from my website (http://www.bibletexts.com). He browsed the webpage http://www.bibletexts.com/versecom/1co14v33.htm, which includes not only the KJV but also the NRSV and TEV texts of 1Co 14:33b-36. On that webpage is also an excerpt from Hans Conzelmann's Hermeneia commentary, in which Conzelmann argues that those verses are an interpolation that were added into Paul's letters to the Corinthians about 50 years after Paul was martyred. By the way, I agree with your interpretation of the intended meaning of verse 36. I just don't see how Paul could have written it. On that issue I agree with Conzelmann, Koester, and others.
No ancient texts are missing those verses and the most reliable Greek texts available make it "almost certain" that the placement of those verses between verses 33a and 37 is the most original for which we have textual evidence. (See Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, page 499-500.)
Metzger and others acknowledge that there are some ancient manuscripts (as early as 5th Century) where verses 34-35 are found after verse 40. This is evidence that those verses were at least moved around in some Greek versions. The obvious awkwardness of their placement between verse 33a and verse 37 encouraged such movement. It is my current honestly held conclusion that those verse likely were added/moved INTO the letter sometime around 115 AD. Many scholars share this conclusion.
* * * * *
Question/insight #33 (from Questioner #31 in response to comments by another email-forum participant): "Then you see the mock. 'Or are you the only ones it has reached?' (NRSV) I see as asking 'Do you think women are not also reached?' George Lamsa once pointed out in Old Testament Light, regarding the wording of God's apparent agreement with the serpent in Genesis, that Adam and Eve had become as gods, that in that culture, such apparent agreement was a form of satire, and as such, a mock. I see Paul's preceding words as reflecting a similar manner of speaking. Lamsa came from a part of Asia Minor where the language (Aramaic) and culture are close to that of Palistine 2,000 years ago, having changed little since then. His own translation of the Bible is a personal favorite of mine."
BibleTexts Response #33:
REGARDING 1 CORINTHIANS 14:33B-36
The "New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha edition of the NRSV (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994, p. 245 NT) has the following footnote regarding 1Co 14:33b-36:
Since 11.5 [1Co 11:5] reports that women had a role in worship at Corinth, some refer "women" here only to those married (see v.35), or distinguish a house church in ch 11 from the total community in Corinth (v.26), or take these culturally conditioned verses as an editorial insertion; see 1 Tim 2:11-12.
Bruce Metzger, who chaired the translation of the NRSV, uses that Oxford edition of the Bible when he lectures and preaches. He is also a contributor to the articles in that edition. He obviously endorses the NRSV translation, which begins the parenthetical 1Co 14:33b-36 paragraph as follows:
(As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches..." and it concludes, "...For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)
This is directly corroborated by 1Ti 2:11-12 (NRSV), which states,
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
This was apparently the practice "in all the churches of the saints" - at about 115 BC(!), when 1 Timothy was most likely written.
From the perspective of the period of about 115 BC, women's more active role in the church in Corinth was contrary to what was being done (at that time) in "all" the other churches -- at least in all the churches that the writer of 1 Timothy considered as truly orthodox, holy churches. Again, as clearly documented by Helmut Koester and others (see http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/women01.htm), neither 1Ti 2:11-12 nor 1Co 14:33b-36 could have been written or signed by Paul, because his indisputably authentic writings clearly document and support the active roles that women played in the churches with which he was involved.
As much as I would like to accept the "mocking" interpretation, I don't believe it can be justified by the text, in the NRSV or in the UBS4 Greek New Testament.
REGARDING THE LAMSA BIBLE
By the way, I don't want to 'rain on your parade' regarding the Lamsa Bible, but Dr. Metzger, in a seminar he conducted at the Foundation for Biblical Research, commented on the Lamsa Bible. I'll preface this by noting that he is a genuinely gentle and mild-mannered individual, but when he addressed the issue of the Lamsa Bible, he spoke with unequivocally - and, for him, uncharacteristically -- strong words.
As transcribed (with the Foundation's permission) from an audio recording of the seminar, Dr. Metzger's words were: "George Lamsa,...in the 1940s persuaded a reputable publisher of the Bible in Philadelphia, the Winston Publishing Company, to issue his absolute fraud, of 'the Bible translated from the original Aramaic.' Absolutely a money getter, and nothing else." (For more of Dr. Metzger's remarks on Lamsa's works and on the value of Aramaic resources, you can browse http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa023.htm.)
Some years ago I had already questioned the value of the Lamsa Bible, when I observed that many of the same errors that appeared in the Textus Receptus were also in Lamsa Bible. These were errors that first appeared, anywhere in the world, in the 16th century, which is when Erasmus haphazardly prepared his first edition of what later become the Textus Receptus. It seems almost as if Lamsa began by translating the Textus Receptus (or the KJV?) into Aramaic and then translated his Aramaic translation back out to modern English.
Later when I heard Dr. Metzger's remarks, his comments really made sense. They were especially believable, since Metzger is arguably the world's foremost scholar on the subject of New Testament manuscripts and the Greek New Testament. And Metzger was already a recognized biblical scholar when Lamsa first published his Bible in the 1940s, so Metzger is speaking here on first-hand knowledge of the events of that time. What appears to be a lack of forthrightness in the representation of the Lamsa Bible unfortunately casts a shadow on his other works. (For more info on the history of the Textus Receptus - and references to some of Metzger's and others' works on the subject, you can browse: http://www.bibletexts.com/kjv-tr.htm and http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa021.htm.)
The above info on the Lamsa Bible is really only a relatively insignificant footnote. Your considerable contributions to the Ordination of Women dialog are yours, to the glory of God, with or without Lamsa's works.
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer