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Sunday, February 12, 2012

On 1 Corinthians 14:34

            I believe one of the blessed facets of a simple church meeting, in a portion in which the group studies a passage of scripture, is that the discussion goes in the direction of where any of the participants have a question about the passage, and cannot avoid aspects of a passage that any one person might find “inconvenient”, to borrow Al Gore’s phrase.

            The last time my church met, the scripture for study was First Corinthians 14:26-35.  This passage has the problematical sentence appearing in verse 34 about women keeping silent.  Now, this is not just problematical because it runs contrary to equalitarian attitudes in modern western culture, but because the idea of men and women being equal before God appears at times in the Old Testament, but consistently in the New Covenant. The most obvious places are Judges 5 (Deborah as judge/leader of Israel), Joel 2 (prophecy of the New Covenant, where God would pour His Spirit on men and women), Acts 2 (where, after the Spirit comes upon the believers, Peter publicly quotes Joel 2),  1 Corinthians 11 (where Paul speaks about women prophesying, which makes no sense if women were not to speak, as 14:34 appears to say), Romans 16 (where the leaders Paul greets are roughly balanced between men and women), John 4 (where Jesus speaks to the immoral woman in contradiction of human rabbinical tradition of not speaking to any women or teaching them), etc.

            Now, I had been familiar of the writing of Gordon Fee, where he points out that 14:33b-35, in all ancient texts found in the geographical area of the Orthodox Church according to the Catholic/Orthodox split of 1034 A.D. have that phrase appearing after verse 40, and that it doesn’t flow with the rest of the passage in either position, which, according to him, implies (although at this time it cannot be proven one way or another) that both positions were due to an early leader having written a note referring to 1 Tim. 1:12 on two different scrolls, one of which was later carried east, and then another scribe mis-inserting the phrase into the text.  I also know that some of my fellow believers who will not feel comfortable reading complex theological works will not feel comfortable with that explanation.

            Anyway, one of the brothers at church found a reference from a professor from Georgetown College, Joe Lunceford (, who suggests that the reason for the phrase is that Paul would be quoting a question someone in Corinth wrote down to have Paul answer, but that the Greek had no equivalent to our modern quotation marks.  I had never heard that explanation before.  I might also say that if Fee is right, the person at Georgetown is wrong, and vice versa.  If one reads the link above, the professor dismisses Fee’s explanation in one phrase, and makes his suggestion without any real detail (in the work where Fee gives his explanation, the explanation is 12 pages long, as is necessary to defend a point which, at first glance, seems counter to our general cursory understanding of scripture).    

The obvious problem is a status quo culture which has used this scripture, not balanced with all the other scriptures which indicate God having a contrary attitude to the implied idea of this sentence not connected with the other areas of the Word, which have abused the chauvinistic status quo of most cultures, which are part of a fallen world. 

This comment could use significantly more research behind it than I have done here, but I have been under the weather lately, which has made it more difficult for me to think deeply lately.  For instance, I know I have the Fee reference somewhere (actually, I have a photocopy of the 12 pages in some box or binder somewhere).  I remember that it comes from a commentary Fee edited on First Corinthians which is about 800 pages long (he couldn’t have written more than one such work). One of these days I will update this.

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