Textual Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:33a-36

"Women should be silent in the churches" - Did Paul really write this?

edited by Robert Nguyen Cramer,


Some facts to help put 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 in historical context
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  1. In Paul's letter to the Galatians, Paul had said that in Christ, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one." (Gal 3:28) For more details, see also Gal 3:28 at
  2. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he refers to women praying and proclaiming God’s message in public worship. (1Co 11:5, see TEV)
  3. In Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus (Romans, chapter 16), he recognized and introduced the woman Phoebe as not only a "deacon" (not a deaconess) but also the president of the Christian church in Cenchreae. (Rom 16:1,2) For more details on this, see
  4. In the same letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul refers to the woman Prisca and her husband Aquila as his coworkers, who also host the church at their house. (Rom 16:3-5) Earlier when he was in Ephesus writing his letters to the church in Corinth, he also had referred to the church in Ephesus as being in the home of Prisca and Aquila. (1Co 16:19)
  5. In the same letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul also addressed the woman Junia and her husband Andronicus as apostles -- even as "prominent among the apostles." (Rom 16:7)
  6. In the same letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul refers to Erastus as the city treasurer. (Rom 16:23) Erastus is one of the very few Christians mentioned in the New Testament of whom there is verifiable archeological evidence of their place and time. In Ephesus Erastus' pavement has been excavated, which described him as the city treasurer. At that time and place, engraved pavements were used for the same purpose that signs on the window, the door, the awning, or elsewhere on the front of today's stores and businesses. This is literally concrete proof that Romans 16 was written to the Christians in Ephesus. For more documentation on this, see
  7. Later Greek texts of the Western Text lineage display clear anti-women biases in modifications that were made. For more details, see


The text of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36
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33b ... (As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also 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. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?)

(The above text is from The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version: A New Annotated Edition by the Society of Biblical Literature, San Francisco, 1993, page 2160. Note also that the NRSV encloses 14:33b-36 in parentheses to characterize it as a parenthetical comment that does not fit in smoothly with the surrounding texts. The footnotes below, on 14:34-35 and 14:36, are also from The HarperCollins Study Bible.)


Excerpt from 1 Corinthians: a Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Hans Conzelmann
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1 Corinthians: a Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, by Hans Conzelmann

(translated by James W. Leitch, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975, page 246)

33b-36 This self-contained section upsets the context: it interrupts the theme of prophesy and spoils the flow of thought. In content, it is in contradiction to 11:2ff, where the active participation of women in the church is presupposed. This contradiction remains even when chaps. 11 and 14 are assigned to different letters. Moreover, there are peculiarities of linguistic usage, and of thought. And finally, v 37 does not link up with v 36, but with v 33a. The section is accordingly to be regarded as an interpolation. Verse 36, which is hardly very clear, is meant to underline the "ecumenical" validity of the interpolation. In this regulation we have a reflection of the bourgeois consolidation of the church, roughly on the level of the Pastoral Epistles: it binds itself to the general custom. Those who defend the text as original are compelled to resort to constructions for help.


Excerpt from The New Jerome Biblical Commentary
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The New Jerome Biblical Commentary

edited by Raymond E. Brown, , Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990)

1 Corinthians 14:34-35. These verses are not a Corinthian slogan, as some have argued..., but a post-Pauline interpolation... Not only is the appeal to the law (possibly Gen 3:16) un-Pauline, but the verses contradict 11:5. The injunctions reflect the misogynism of 1 Tim 2:11-14 and probably stem from the same circle. Some mss. place these verses after 40. [Written by Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., Ibid., pages 811-812.]

1 Timothy 2:11,12. 1 Cor 14:33b-35, a probable early addition to the original text of 1 Cor, is close in language and sentiment to this text. The author of the Pastorals speaks explicitly only of women's behavior at Christian worship but may intend a more general application... [Written by Robert A. Wild, S.J., Ibid., page 897.]


Excerpt from Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally, by Marcus J. Borg
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Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but Not Literally

by Marcus J. Borg (NY: HarperCollins, 2001, page 262, footnote 64)

Passages speaking of the subordination of women and wives are all found in letters most likely not written by Paul. The possible exception exceptions are I Cor. 14.34-35 and I Cor. 11:2-16. The first text says that women should not speak in church but should ask their husbands about matters after they get home; many scholars think that these verses are a later, non-Pauline addition to the letter. In the second text, Paul says that women should not pray or prophesy in church with their heads unveiled and their hair therefore exposed. Whether this text speaks of subordination depends upon the translation of the Greek word kephale (pronounced "kefalay") in v. 3: the husband/man is the kephale of the wife/woman. Often translated "head," here it almost certainly means "source"; if so, it echoes the Genesis creation story in which the man (adham) is the source of the woman (woman is made from his rib) and does not mean subordination. Strikingly, v. 12 affirms the equality of man and woman: "just as woman came from man [in the creation story], so man comes through woman [in birth]," But whatever the judgment about the correct translation of kephale, it is important to underline that Paul does not say that women should not pray or prophesy in church, only that they should be veiled when doing so. Finally, it is interesting to note that Paul grew up in a city (Tarsus) which women wore the complete chadar in public, completely covering them from head to foot (including their faces). Thus it is possible that Paul found unveiled women rather shocking.


Excerpt from The Oxford Bible Commentary
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The Oxford Bible Commentary

edited by John Barton and John Muddiman (NY: Oxford University Press, 2001, page 1130, article by John Barclay)

Either Paul is truly inconsistent here, reacting against a threat of 'unruly' women by forbidding their verbal participation, despite what he had earlier allowed [e.g., 1Co 11:2-16, where women were understood as publicly praying and proclaiming]. Or this passage is an interpolation into the letter by a later editor, one who took the opportunity of the surrounding context to introduce the restrictive ethos of the Pastoral Letters (e.g. 1 Tim 2:8-15, part of a letter generally regarded as written by a later Paulinist, not by Paul himself). This latter option is favoured by many commentators, and it is given slight textual support by the fact that some manuscripts place verses 34-35 at the end of the chapter, rather in their present location; that might indicate that they were once a marginal gloss which was inserted by scribes a varying points in the the original text...


Excerpt from First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
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First Corinthians: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching

by Richard B. Hays (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1997, pages 345-349)

(Hays provides the most complete discussion and resolution of these verses.)

All things considered, this passage is best explained as a gloss introduced into the text by the second- or third-generation Pauiline interpreters who compiled the pastoral epistles. The similarity of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is striking: Both command women to "learn" in silenced and submission. Such directives assume a later historical situation in which there was a conscious effort to restrict the roles played by women in the first-generation Pauline churches. (page 247)

Nonetheless, the passage remains in our Bibles, even if we think it is an interpolation. Furthermore, passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15 reinforce the same teaching. How, then, is the interpreter to deal with such passages? It is not sufficient to say "Paul didn't write it" and let the question drop. Recognizing that the teaching of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is the work of a later hand that sought to squelch women's public role in the church is only the first step toward getting the issues clearly into focus. The task of the teacher or preacher is to encourage the congregation to develop a more nuanced view of the authority and diviersity of the canon. The Bible is not a homogeneous of systematic body of teachings; there are many points of internal tension. (For example, Romans 13 and Revelation 13 take radically different views of the power of the state.) (page 248)

For example, the church ultimately came to decide that the institution of slavery -- though widespread in the ancient world -- was incompatible with the New Testament's fundamental vision of the freedom and dignity of human beings; consequently, those New Testament texts that support slavery (such as Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:22-4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; 1 Peter 2:18) must be rejected, or understood as provisional adaptations of the gospel message to a particular cultural setting. Such texts should not be used normatively to perpetuate slavery in the church. (page 249)

Similarly, with respect to the issue of women's public leadership, there are good theological reasons to insist that we should be guided by Paul's vision of Christian worship in which the gifts of the Spirit are given to all members of the church, men and women alike, for the building up of the community. The few New Testament texts that seek to silence women (such as 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-15) should not be allowed to override this vision. As our congregations wrestle with the ongoing task of discerning God's will for our life together -- a task to which 1 Corinthians repeatedly calls us -- we must be faithfully attentive to Paul's wider vision of men and women as full partners in the work of ministry. (page 249)


Misrepresentations of Paul's teachings regarding women
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Women topical index
Church authority & women
Church history & women
Rom 16 to deacon Phoebe
1Co 14:33-36 topical index
Anti-women bias of KJV Greek text

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Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer
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