Women, speech, and the Christian Assembly: A plea for consistency

Talk to the hand
Talk to the hand

If you are a person who enjoys debating Christian theology, there are few topics that can ruffle neck hairs like the place of women’s speech in the meeting. If you have ever questioned the application of spiritual gifts among the saints then you’ll also realize this discussion is only relevant if their are other contributors to the edification of the body.

It is important to note that in traditional (institutional) settings, the only person doing the talking is the designated pastor/teacher. In those settings a discussion of this caliber is usually moot, as there are not other participants in the main assembly of the church. With that in mind, and as a foundational dynamic I believe to be important to the assembling of the saints, the discussion of female speech must be had. The central scripture founding most prohibitions on female speech is often:

(1Co 14:34) 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.

After reading and re-reading the verse in its context I became increasingly perplexed by the inconsistency of the entire chapter. At least, the inconsistency of community participation and the subsequent quashing of female speech by some reference to “the Law”. Meaning, it appears that Paul addresses the entire Christian Assembly throughout the duration of the letter 1 Corinthians.

The result of this frustration led to a brief survey of the phrase, it is written and the law in the letter of 1 Corinthians. The survey is also motivated by the bearing these phrases would have on the understanding of the verses in 1 Cor 14:34-35. The most prominent verse containing the it is written phrase furthers the inspiration behind my study here.

…that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6 c)

Please note the references in the 1st Corinthian letter that demonstrate appeals to as it is written or direct quotations to the law are OT references from the Septuagint. Masoretic references vary slightly. Paul generally quotes or alters Septuagint readings in his OT quotations.

Paul is known for reinforcing New Testament (NT) principles with Old Testament (OT) quotations. In Paul’s usage of these quotations he substantiates two things. First, they refer back to prophetic utterances that speak of future events yet fulfilled. In his references to these texts he illustrates the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and his commission to teach the churches he is writing to. Secondly, it can also be utilized as an emphatic appeal to the nature of the OT law that qualifies implementation in contemporary practice.

The nature of this study will remain confined to 1 Corinthians for the sake of brevity. Further analysis of the Pauline Corpus will reveal a similar trend (appendix forthcoming). All scriptural quotations derived from the King James Version of the Bible with exception to Septuagint references, derived from Brenton’s English Septuagint. All emphasis belongs to the author of this paper. First all verses containing it is written or the law will be cited from the KJV, then likewise from the Septuagint for comparison.

A REVIEW:

KJV

Septuagint

(1Co 1:19)  For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Isa 29:14  Therefore behold I will proceed to remove this people, and I will remove  them: and I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will hide the understanding of the prudent.
(1Co 1:31)  That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. abridged of…Jer 9:23-24  Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, and let  not the strong man boast in his strength, and let not the rich man boast in his wealth; (24)  but let him that boasts boast in this, the understanding and knowing that I am the Lord that exercise mercy, and judgment, and righteousness, upon     the earth; for in these things is my pleasure, saith the Lord.
(1Co 2:9)  But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. Isa 64:4  From of old we have not heard, neither have our eyes seen a God beside thee, and thy works which thou wilt perform to them that wait for mercy
(1Co 3:19)  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. Job 5:13  who takes the wise in their wisdom, and subverts the counsel of the crafty
(1Co 9:9)  For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Deu 25:4  Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn.
(1Co 10:7)  Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Exo 32:6  And having risen early on the morrow, he offered whole burnt-offerings, and offered a peace-offering; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to  play.
(1Co 14:21)  In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Isa 28:11-12  by reason of the contemptuous words of the lips, by means of another language: for they shall speak to this people, saying to them, this is the rest to him that is hungry, and this is the calamity: but they would not hear.
(1Co 15:45)  And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Gen 2:7  And God formed the man of dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.

THE INCONSISTENT PROBLEM:

If the above model of reference and citation can be replicated in the entire Pauline corpus, then verses containing language using law or as it is written illustrate at least partial citation of the law or OT text Paul uses in his instruction. The purpose of Paul’s OT text asserts principle for practice, or proof of a statements authority (see above scripture portions).

Of the texts referenced in 1 Corinthians containing law, or as it is written, only one of them lack definitive reference to the OT. With the trend focusing on direct quotation, partial quotation, or abridgment, it should be expected to find similarities in all other examples. Intriguingly, the former does not appear to be true for the portion of scripture, 1 Cor 14:34-35.

KJV

Septuagint

(1Co 14:34) 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. Gen 3:17  And to the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy pains and thy groanings;  in pain thou shalt bring forth children, and thy submission shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

CONCLUSION:

An honest, open, and diligent review of the scriptural evidence reveals the consistency of appeals to the law by Paul in 1 Corinthians. The end result is an obvious discrepancy in the language of 1 Cor 14:34-35 and it’s alleged counterpart of Genesis 3:17. If Paul is indeed forbidding the speech of women as a result of the Genesis curse, two disastrous results occur.

Poor logic:

“The law saith,” He shall rule over thee.”

He rules, “Thou shalt keep silence.”

Therefore, “The law saith,” “Thou shalt keep silence.” [1]

And, an unbearable yoke: If women/wives are to keep silent because of the law, Torah, or Talmud, the known teachings of Paul are contradicting his own previous statements. Paul always makes a distinction between the believer and the OT law of God (Torah). As such, Paul would not seem to yoke those whom he labors so diligently to relieve:

KJV

Rom 3:28  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Rom 6:14  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
Rom 7:16  If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Rom 8:2  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
Gal 3:11  But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
Gal 3:13  Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
Gal 4:5  To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of  sons.
Gal 5:18  But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Attempts to relieve the tension of the prohibition directed toward wives and thus answering the question, “What about single women?” through quotation of Numbers 30:3-13 further exacerbates the heresy that NT believers are bound by OT law and practice. To implicate submission, subjection, and rule over a female through the OT law of Numbers does far more than implicate principle, but advocates practice completely foreign to the commandments of Christ. Nowhere in the New Testament is it revealed unto man that all women in all places submit to men, especially when they are unmarried.

It is better served of the Berean minded student of the scriptures to approach the text with the panoramic view of the Pauline Corpus. In perspective, said student is further served by remaining within the context of the New Testament understanding of the priesthood of all believers.  The conclusions drawn should in turn come not from tradition, but from scripture.  If the antecedent is not proportional then the statement should be denied. If the information is more normative with non-biblical law and Talmudic teachings[2], then 1 Cor 14:36-40 becomes clearer, and Paul’s emphatic WHAT!? demonstrates a quotation or dismissal, not a command.

 

Footnotes:                                                                   

[1] “Covet to Prophesy” by Katherine Bushnell

[2] A woman’s voice is prohibited because it is sexually provocative. (Talmud, Berachot 24a), Women are sexually seductive, mentally inferior, socially embarrassing, and spiritually separated from the law of Moses; therefore, let them be silent. (Summary of Talmudic sayings); It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men. (Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin); The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness. (Talmud, Berachot Kiddushin)

[3] This paper is available as a PDF for personal study

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James

I love writing about books, theology, and the Kingdom of God. I also enjoy viewing my vocation through a biblical lens. It is here at Seeking A Kingdom that I aim to hash out my thoughts on all these things.

3 thoughts on “Women, speech, and the Christian Assembly: A plea for consistency”

  1. If 1 Corinthians 14:34 was the only place where Paul addressed this question it would make your case stronger. It of course is not. Paul also admonishes women to “learn quietly” and “remain quiet” (ESV) or “learn in silence” and “be in silence” (KJV) in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Further, Paul doesn’t stop his exhortation in 1 Corinthians with verse 34. The subsequent passage in verse 35 reads: “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” ESV / “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.” (KJV). In either translation Paul is specifically speaking of the gathered church saying that it is shameful for women to speak “in the church” even to the point of asking questions.

    The consistent interpretation taking both the 1 Timothy passage and the full quotation from 1 Corinthians 14, along with the marriage order in Ephesians 5, the headship principle in 1 Corinthians 11 and even the parallel urging of Peter in 1 Peter 3:1-7 while also recognizing the priesthood of all believers, the recording of the daughters of Philip prophesying, the covering described in 1 Corinthians 11 and the command for older women to teach the younger in Titus 2:3-5 is that women ought to keep silent when the church is teaching and interpreting. That doesn’t indicate that a women who clears her throat should be subject to church discipline. Nor would it prohibit singing and prayers. What Paul has in mind here has to do with women usurping the creation order by seeking to teach men. Our wives are to submit to us as their husband and to no other man but neither are they to presume to teach men in the gathered church.

    1. Arthur, if you follow the logic of the article, for consistency sake, you have missed the point of my article as it pertains to verses 35-40. Following your emphasis on the continuing exhortation, the Greek of vv. 35-40 do demonstrate significant difficulty, and they also imply it “Could” be a quotation. Which follows form from many other incidents in the Corinthian letter. Making an ex-cathedra assertion from 1 Timothy 2:11-12 fails your objectivity in your own article regarding the wearing of wedding rings . If I follow your objectivity from that post (and mine as well), we see evidence of a singular issue being addressed in the church of Ephesus. But, for the sake of “systematic theology” you must use this verse to ignore the priesthood of all believers and the use of their gifts as a whole in the assembly while suppressing the speech of women, especially in prophesy, (cf. Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor. 11:3-5). So how do you in one hand isolate the issue of Jewelry from the issue of quietness in the very same text?

      Quietness is not the same as silence! Even so, the panoramic view shows us similar applications to the body universal. If so, then how do we apply verses using the same Greek word Hesuchia like:

      1Tim 2:2 …for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet (silent?) life, godly and dignified in every way.
      1 Thess 4:11 …and to aspire to live quietly (silently?), and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you…
      2 Thess 3:12 …Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly (silently?) and to earn their own living.

      Honestly, what way do you learn? Do men not learn in silence/quietness too? If you can’t keep your yapper shut, you probably cannot hear someone who is teaching you can you?

      What about the issue of submission? Does that apply to the body universal too? Isn’t this a trait applied to males as well?

      Romans 13:1, 13:5 …Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (5) …Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
      1 Cor 14:32 …and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
      1 Cor 16:15-16 …Now I urge you, brothers–you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints– be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.
      Eph 5:21 … submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
      James 4:7 …Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
      1 Peter 5:5 … Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

      I am not so sure the issues occurring in Titus 2 are relative to the church assembled, after all, these aren’t really pastoral epistles are they? I would grant that there may be limitations on the speech of women (or all believers in general) in the meeting, 1 Corinthians 11 actually enforces the idea of female speech in the assembly, as long as they cover! Would you not agree? He is referencing a meeting in 1 Corinthians 11, not ministry abroad (ex. vv. 17-34). Regardless of any limitation on female speech or what exactly NT Teaching really is… you MUST take the face value of the texts involved and at the very least permit a woman to pray or prophesy in the assembly, especially if she is part of the all 1 Cor 14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And if you throw teaching in there, I doubt it looked like today’s pulpitry and becomes a moot point, as that form of teaching seems to be the problem fundies have a problem subjecting themselves to in the first place. Again, another non-issue since not even a male could usurp the pulpit from another male anyway. Begging the question asks, what is this usurping look like again exactly?

      C’mon Arthur. You took off your suit but you still wear a tie?!

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