Does the Bible tell women to shut up?
“W”omen should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 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.”
There it is. The Bible tells women to shut up?—as so many Christians, over time, have said. But if you read 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, if you care what it says, why not continue along to the next verse?
“What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (KJV)
Let’s realize: This is a dialogue. The Corinthians speak. Paul replies. They say: Women should be silent!
He replies: Who died and made you God?
In its long history the Bible has been very poorly read, and 1 Corinthians particularly so. It wasn’t until the 20th century that scholars realized it’s a Q&A. It’s an exchange.
Paul is working off questions he’s received, and marks his replies with phrases like ‘With regards to…’ (cf. 7:1; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 16:12).
Clearly, 14:34–35 belongs to this category.
He’d only just said, in 14:31, that “all prophesy,” and in v.39, “brothers and sisters” will speak.
And what is this ‘law’ he’d be referring to?
“No ‘law’ can be found anywhere in the Bible forbidding women to speak in public,” as Katherine Bushnell notes.
She is the Bible teacher and scholar who developed the quote-and-reply reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 in God’s Word to Women, in 1921.
The ‘law’ in question is actually from the Jewish Talmud (i.e. “The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness”).
If taken to be Paul’s voice, he is authorizing that as a Christian authority? . . . which didn’t happen.
The Q&A reading strengthened over time. The first word of v.36 is easy to overlook, perhaps, in being a single letter: ē.
The rebuke begins with a Greek particle, ē, which is variously left untranslated or translated as “Or” or “What?” When used to introduce rhetorical questions, the particle intensifies the distinction between what Paul is saying and what he is opposing.
There was never any reason for thinking Paul would tell women to be quiet. In Colossians 3:16, he has Christians “teaching and admonishing” without regard to gender.
In Romans 15:14, “brothers and sisters” are to “instruct one another.”
In Titus 2:3, women “teach what is good.” In Romans 6:1, he notes Phoebe is a ‘minister’, and, in 16:7, Junia is an ‘apostle’. He work alongside Priscilla and often greets her (Acts 18:26; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19; Rom. 16:3).
If telling women to be silent, he’d be qualifying the doctrine of God teaching humans how to speak (Luke 12:12, 21:15; cf. Exo 4:12; Mt 10:19).
If women need a husband to spiritually develop, Paul would have needed to deal with the problem of unmarried women back in 1 Corinthians 7:7.
It goes on and on.
“I think Paul’s rule aimed toward an outrageous equality,” says classicist Sarah Ruden in Paul Among the People.
Even the many women in Paul’s greetings affirm, as Wayne A. Meeks notes, “that in the Pauline school women could enjoy a functional equality in leadership roles that would have been unusual in Greco-Roman society as a whole and quite astonishing in comparison with contemporary Judaism.”
The actual Christian message is the original feminism!
Later ‘feminism’, I realized, might be a revival of first century Christianity? We’d recall that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the women in her circle were, after all, Bible scholars.
Well, you might say, doesn’t 1 Timothy 2:11–15 affirm that women had to be quiet?
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. (KJV)
This is simply the tradition doing yet another malign reading. Note Ann Nyland’s translation: “A woman must learn and she is to learn without causing a fuss and be supportive in everything.”
She speaks to the language issues here. Paul is telling Christians not to quarrel (cf. Rom 14:1), which is what he is always doing.
The context of 1 Timothy is problems on church staff, which seem to involve rowdy Christian women teachers, working through the difficult issues of what the Jesus teachings involved.
Paul moves next to the doctrinal issues. “I most certainly do not grant authority to a woman to teach that she is the originator of a man — rather, she is not to cause a fuss — for Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
It seems he’s been asked another question: Is woman ‘the originator of a man’? He replies: No, this is not a biblical teaching.
The guide to Christians in sexual matters is Galatians 3:28!
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Continue in my re-reading of the sexual teachings of the Bible!