The Special Case of Women Keeping Silent in the Church in 1 Corinthians

A few weeks ago, in Blaming Paul for Things He Never Said, I mentioned that I was aware of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 which has special issues and should be considered separately. My thought had to do with the church at Corinth being particularly disorderly and that perhaps Paul gave instruction to this church that was inconsistent with his usual regard for female leadership in the church.

However, one of my regular readers shared with me information of which I was unaware but that has a strong bearing here (thanks, Anca!). I would never question a passage in Paul’s authentic letters just because it is inconvenient, but the source was convincing and spurred me to investigate further which confirmed it—1 Corinthians 14:34-35 seems to be an interpolation.

Interpolation in the New Testament

An interpolation is material inserted into a book after the book is already in circulation and then shows up in later copies. The most well-known biblical interpolation is the story of the adulteress in John 8. You know the story: men bring an adulteress to Jesus to trap him but he releases her instead.

It is a lovely story, and likely an actual event, but it was not originally part of the gospel of John. It was inserted—interpolated. Our biggest clues are that the earliest manuscripts do not include the story and that some manuscripts place the passage in other places. You will also notice that many English translations make some indication that it is separate from the surrounding material.

Why Would We Think This Passages in 1 Corinthians 14 is an Interpolation?

corinthians2

The proposed interpolation actually begins at verse 33:

33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. 34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

The link shared with me is for The Evidence of Interpolation in Paul by William O. Walker, Jr. of Trinity University. In five pages, Walker describes ten types of evidence that indicate an interpolation and applies nine of them to this passage. I will list them briefly here. Most are edited or adapted from his words rather than being direct quotes, but see his link for the full text.

Lack of Citation in an Early Writer. 1 Cor 14:34-35 is cited by no Apostolic Father and by no early ecclesiastical writer prior to Tertullian (160-240 AD).

Interruption. The passage seems to interrupt its context, which becomes continuous when the passage is removed. 14:34-35 is a self-contained unit that interrupts the context in which it appears, and its removal leaves a complete and coherent discussion of spiritual gifts.

Repetition From Context. Another phenomenon is the repetition near the end of the passage, or directly following, of a significant word or phrase from the verse preceding. Here, Paul encourages his readers to be ‘zealous for the greater gifts.’ which is repeated in 14:1b-c.

Linguistic Evidence. At several points, the vocabulary of the passage appears not to be characteristically Pauline. The verb ‘be subject’ appears often in the authentic Pauline letters, but in all except three cases it refers to submission either to God, Christ, God’s law, God’s righteousness, or to ‘futility’. Apart from 14:34, it refers to submission to humans at only three places, (governing authorities, prophets, and Christian leaders). In the pseudo-Pauline Colossians, Ephesians, and Titus it almost always has in mind submission to other human beings. The adjective ‘shameful’ is found only at 1 Cor 11:16, which is part of another suspected non-Pauline interpolation, and in the pseudo-Pauline Eph 5:12 and Tit 1:11.

Content Evidence. The content of 14:34-35 contradicts its immediate context where women are among those who speak in church and its wider context in 11:3-16, where it is assumed without reproof that women pray and prophesy in the assembly. The phrase “just as the law says” appears not to be characteristically Pauline. Paul generally expresses a somewhat negative view of the law.

Situational Evidence. 14:34-35 resembles the pseudo-Pauline 1 Tim 2:11-12. Both use the same verb to enjoin silence on the part of women; both require that women be ‘submissive’ using the same root here and in 1 Tim 2:11, an idea that also occurs elsewhere in the pseudo-Pauline writings. There is nothing in the undisputed letters to suggest that the activity of women in the church was a problem for Paul. Clearly, however, such activity was later seen as problematic. This makes 14:34-35 anachronistic.

Motivational Evidence After the time of Paul, when the status and role of women in the Church apparently came to be regarded as problematic, it may have appeared desirable to have the Apostle say something to address the problem.

Location. The position of 14:34-35 is appropriate in several ways. 1 Cor 14 deals with ‘speaking’ in church, ‘keeping silent’ in church, ‘being subject,’ and includes the phrase ‘in all of the churches,’ which reappears almost verbatim. It may simply have been the common themes of speech, silence, and submission, together with the setting of public worship in the churches, that led to the insertion at its present location.

William Walker Does not Stand Alone

William O. Walker, Jr. is not alone in identifying the 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 passage as an interpolation. Other scholars include:

  • Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 1987
  • J. Paul Sampley, The New Interpreter’s Bible : Acts – First Corinthians (Volume 10), 2002
  • Philip Barton Payne. See his comments here and here–especially the last paragraph.

A Surprising New Insight

I think this is a very interesting development, and it is an insight I had not encountered before. What are your thoughts?

Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.

Articles in this series:
Bart Ehrman – Forged: A Book Review
How Should We Regard New Testament Books of Uncertain Authorship?
Blaming Paul for Things He Never Said
The Special Case of Women Keeping Silent in the Church in 1 Corinthians

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27 Responses to The Special Case of Women Keeping Silent in the Church in 1 Corinthians

  1. I can definitely see that, as I’ve always noticed the strange interruption in the flow of that chapter. Again, though, I don’t feel like Paul was ever trying to make rules for the universal church, and he was probably still a man of his time. It would not present a problem if Paul did in fact write this, though you are right that he probably did not.

    Liked by 4 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Prog, I agree that Paul never tried to set rules for the universal church. There are others, thought, who think the it wasn’t Paul setting the rules but God setting rules, through Paul, in his inerrant bible. Of course, here the question is whether Paul wrote this passage, and I agree with you that he probably did not.

      Like

  2. tonycutty says:

    I’m with Prog Mind.

    And thanks for a *really* interesting article, Tim and Anca.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. newtonfinn says:

    Nice bit of exegesis here. For me, the identification of a section of scripture as a likely addition to the original is of only marginal significance with regard to that section’s authority or authenticity. No doubt there were many detached, stand-alone memories of Jesus and Paul that were circulating in one group or another of the diverse and loosely-organized early church. Thus I tend to look at the substance and spirit of the interpolation in light of its larger scriptural context, in order to make a personal decision as to whether I will consider the addition authoritative or authentic. When I do this with I Corinthians: 33-35, and then with John 7:53-8:11, the former does not fit within what Paul’s letters has taught me about his character, while the latter does fit very well within what I can glean from the gospels of the character of Jesus. How many other JWOBers find themselves engaging in a similar exercise? And does anyone have an even better method of discernment?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    I have come across some additional information about scholars who considers this passage to be an interpolation. Michael, a reader from another venue, states that Bart Ehrman also holds this position. He says:

    “I found it in the Ehrman Blog-a post entitled “Was Paul a misogynist” Here is what he says in one paragraph about the interpolation: Moreover, it is interesting that the harsh words against women in 1 Cor 14:34–35 interrupt the flow of what Paul has been saying in the context. Up to verse 34 he has been speaking about prophecy and he does so again in verse 37. It may be, then, that the intervening verses were not part of the text of 1 Corinthians but originated as a marginal note that later copyists inserted into the text after verse 33 (others inserted it after v. 40). However the verses came to be placed into the text, it does not appear that they were written by Paul but by someone living later, who was familiar with and sympathetic toward the views of women advanced by the author of the Pastoral epistles.”

    Here is Ehman’s blog post, but you must be a member to read all of it.
    https://ehrmanblog.org/was-paul-a-misogynist/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Doug Stratton says:

    This could be the case, but as Amy-Jill Levine points out in The Misunderstood Jew, attempts to find evidence of interpolation are often founded upon circular arguments. If Paul was a man of his times, then despite Galatians 3, and Romans 16, he probably held what we would consider misogynistic ideas.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Doug, I agree that Paul was bound by his time and culture–as we all are no matter when we live. And I know the problems of circular argument, but this does not seem to be a circular argument here. Do you see evidence of it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Doug Stratton says:

        Dr. Levine would suggest the circular nature grows from our seeking a way to make Paul palatable. We identify the problem, we identify the audience and then we identify a solution that fits our interpretation. Without a doubt, we all do this. The piece that is lacking as evidence of interpolation is any copies of the letter that exclude these verses. John 8 is clearly an interpolation. Baptizing in the trinitarian formula is clearly an interpolation. But this is well attested in the papyri. Why must Paul approach the equality of women the way we do in the 21st century. Paul lay the groundwork for equality in Galatians 3, it has taken many centuries for that be fleshed out. If the Scriptures are a living document, the shallow understandings as well as the deep truths must be acknowledged.
        Whether Paul wrote it or not is not the primary issue. The sin from which we must repent is the church’s historical embrace of the misogyny in the text.

        Liked by 3 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Doug, you raise some good points here, and I agree with a number of them. We must not approach Paul, or any other ancient writer, on any issue in such as way as to imply that they conform to modern ways of thinking; shallow understandings in the the biblical text should not be re-framed as though they do not exist; and it is the church’s embrace of misogyny rather than whether Paul was a misogynist that is important. And certainly we should not resort to the fallacy of circular thinking.

          However, my confusion with Paul regarding this passage is that it seems so at odds to what Paul demonstrates in his attitudes of women everywhere else. And, even so, I never suggested that Paul did not write the passage until I saw the evidence of interpolation. It was gratifying but not circular.

          On the other hand, I think the evidence compiled by author William O. Walker, Jr., and others, is quite strong.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Blaming Paul for Things He Never Said | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Pingback: How Should We Regard New Testament Books of Uncertain Authorship? | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Pingback: Bart Ehrman – Forged: A Book Review | Jesus Without Baggage

  9. theotherlestrangegirl says:

    I agree also that Paul was a man of his time–but I don’t think he was overly misogynistic (at least not intentionally so). He was, like Jesus, rather progressive in his treatment and views towards women, as it is very clear that he values them just as much as he does the men.

    It is funny to me when people paint Paul as the man who wrote most of the rules that keep women bound and silenced–I don’t think Paul would be okay with this at all.

    In that verse, the emphasis on adhering to the law is, like you say, interesting, given that Paul had little use for such things most of the time (also like Jesus).

    Liked by 2 people

  10. An interesting argument. Interpolations can cause a great deal of problems, especially for those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. To our modern minds such passages – interpolations or not – may seem misogynistic and a world away from the love that Christ came to share with humanity. A question I find interesting to keep in mind when reading the letters in the New Testament is whether a letter, sent to a specific community (or groups of) would have been intended to establish rules for the universal Church. I think that maybe at the back of the apostles’ minds there was a view to making universal rules, but that the needs of the specific community were paramount and thus were the issues that they focused upon. Hopefully one day I will be able to to investigate the problem of interpolations further. Thanks for sharing this. God bless you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Introverted, I totally agree that interpolations are a big problem to those who read the Bible literally with the assumption of inerrancy. I think the general response would be to deny any suggestion of interpolation.

      I really like your question: “A question I find interesting to keep in mind when reading the letters in the New Testament is whether a letter, sent to a specific community (or groups of) would have been intended to establish rules for the universal Church.”

      I think this is a very valid question even if a passage is genuine. We should, as best we can, consider the context to which the passage was written. Not every phrase a New Testament author writes is meant to represent God’s eternal word for all situations.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. We attend a Wesleyan church which affirms women in ministry. Our pastor preached a great message in 2016 on this subject. It brought a different perspective to what I was taught in my fundamental circles.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Matthew, I am glad your church affirms women in ministry! Would that all churches do that. But I agree; it is totally different from what I was taught as a fundamentalist as well.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, The ten verifications for interpolation are new to me.
    But they seem authentic. And this passage is a good example.
    It seems to contradict Paul elsewhere. And it is quite offensive .
    Someone said to me that the reason for this passage was that
    The church in Corinth had many prostitutes and Paul was
    silencing them. Food fro thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, a big part of what bothered me about this passage is just what you said, “It seems to contradict Paul elsewhere.”

      Like

  13. Doulos68 says:

    After his Damascus Road experience, Paul was driven with a relentless singleness of purpose to carry out the Great Commission with greater (considering the beatings he endured) enthusiasm than he once pursued and persecuted Christians. My view is Paul’s type A personality made him the perfect man for the task at hand, someone whose self-confident and goal-oriented personality would never let what others thought or said about him alter his evangelical game plan. My point is that it seems illogical to me that Paul would stifle anyone (let alone half of the population of the world) when it came to spreading the good news of Christ, and he certainly was not misogynistic as seems apparent from the article linked in the first paragraph above (“regard for female leadership”). Hence, while 1 Cor 14: 34-35 may be patriarchal, sexist, and misogynistic, I view it as an interpolation because it is inconsistent with Paul on several levels.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Doulos, I really like your description of Paul’s personality and behavior and the conclusion you draw from that against his ‘stifling’ of women. I agree!

      Like

      • doulos68 says:

        JWOB, in an above comment you wrote, “I agree that Paul never tried to set rules for the universal church.” This implies to me that Paul had some type of vision or glimpse of what the future held in regard to the growth of the church. Paul likely saw the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea as ‘the known world’ or ‘ends of the earth’ of his time. I find it difficult to accept that Paul prayed for anything more than the hope that the good news of Jesus Christ would not die on the vine during his lifetime or shortly after. Even in the case of the instructional letters to Timothy, I sense intent for Timothy’s local church, but doubt Paul had any intention of establishing guidelines for a “universal” church. He surely was guided by the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think he had a crystal ball. For example, (IMO) the Revelation to John was described in terms John could relate to from his day and age, not futuristic images of men on the moon, sophisticated weaponry, etc. Is there any source (or scripture) you are aware of that may support Paul’s longer term view of a “universal church.”
        Blessings,
        Doulos

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Doulos, you make some good points. I don’t think Paul had any idea that his words and work would be so universally known 2000 years later–or even that there would be a 2000 years later. I agree that he was more interested in the churches he had planted than some ‘universal’ church and was a product of his on time and culture.

          Well said!

          Like

  14. David Grayson Duggan says:

    It is a proper method of philosophical inquiry, if not of Biblical interpretation or exegesis, to ask what has been the outcome of the contrary case, i.e, allowing women to “speak in church,” and to examine that outcome against the greater good of ushering in the Kingdom of God. Note that the operative word is “speak,” not “read,” not “pray,” not “sing,” and this should be understood as a metaphor for preaching. To consider the alternative outcome, all one must do is look to those churches which have deviated from this adjuration: Episcopal principally among them. With a membership decline of more than 40% since the events of the mid-1970s when women’s ordination (and therefore preaching) became a reality, it can scarcely be said that this has done wonders for ushering in the Kingdom. I know, this proposition falls afoul of the “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” logical fallacy, and assumes that numbers are the determinant of the success of the Kingdom, but if the goal of the faith is to bring all under God’s reign, then the turn-off that many faithful Christians feel from the truly terrible events that have unfolded under women’s clerical (and episcopal) leadership should be sufficient to re-examine the “conclusion” that I Corinthians 14:33-35 is either wrong or an after-generated “interpolation.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      David, I am not at all sure that decline in the churches is due to allowing female leadership. I think there are other, more significant, issues such as relevancy for example. On the other hand, I am not at all inspired by those churches that practice Christian patriarchy.

      Another thing to consider is that for centuries the best way to keep in touch with other believers was through the local church, whereas there are many more avenues of connection in today’s world. I don’t think the health of the kingdom of God can be measured by the level of traditional church attendance.

      Like

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