1 Corinthians 14 – Gender Roles and Jungle Law

1st Corinthians 14 Bible with Green and Blacks Organic 70 Percent Cacao Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate

Today’s Passage: 1 Corinthians 14

The bulk of this chapter details the proper use of spiritual gifts, and its instructions are relatively uncontroversial. But near the end, just when you think we’re going to get through this one without any major issues, Paul drops this bomb on us:

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. (14:34-35)

Why’d you have to open up that can of worms, Paul? Come on!

Paul is apparently not content to file away all his controversial opinions on gender roles in chapter 11 (pun absolutely intended). But before you dismiss his ideas as intellectually bankrupt (again, pun intended), take a closer look at them in context. I’d heard it taught that this prohibition was culturally-based, as women in the Roman empire were typically uneducated, and that the issue was their lack of education within that culture, not their status as women. But rather than base my defense of Paul’s propositions on my all-too-fallible memory of Bible-study peers who may or may not have known what they were talking about, I decided to look for a reputable and cogent commentary on the passage, and I found one in an excerpt from David Scholer’s essay on women in ministry, hosted by Fuller Theological Seminary.

Scholer quickly points out that Paul’s prescription of silence for women can’t be a blanket prohibition; it’s got to be conditional. After all, women are already praying and prophesying in the Corinthian church’s gatherings, and Paul’s approved their activity as long as they’re wearing stuff on their heads. Remember his words from a few chapters back? “But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved” (11:5). But the question remains: when, where, and/or in what forms of speech are women to keep silent? If it’s a conditional prohibition, what conditions does Paul have in mind?

Scholer points out the flaws in some common views before presenting the one he finds most compelling. He points to the stipulation right in the middle of Paul’s command: “If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home” (14:35). He isn’t forbidding women from speaking entirely; he’s prohibiting disruptive questions. An incessant stream of inquiries can prove just as interruptive and disorderly as a crowd of people all speaking in tongues with no interpreter.

Paul reminds the Corinthians: “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (33). Church meetings and services aren’t supposed to be Jungle Law, where prophecies go unevaluated, everyone babbles at once, and you can’t speak for five seconds without someone butting in with a question. And sure enough, Scholer notes that women were “usually uneducated in the culture of Paul’s time.” And Paul doesn’t object to women’s education; he encourages them to ask their educated husbands after church meetings, so they can learn from those who have already been taught. If the men were interrupting with questions, I expect that Paul would’ve had words for them as well.

So, women and men alike: feel free to speak in church, exercise spiritual gifts, and ask questions. But remember Paul’s words: “All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner” (40). Don’t be selfish or invite chaos into the church. Jungle Law is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.

 

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