Married Women and Worship

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1 Corinthians 14 34-35 deals with an aspect of the participation of married women in worship.

These verses forcefully forbid women to speak in church. If they have questions they are to ask their husbands at home. They appear to directly contradict 1 Corinthians 11:5 where it is clear that women can and do pray and prophesy in church. A variety of explanations have appeared:

  1. A traditional explanation has been that verses 34-35 are Paul’s standard teaching and that the material of chapter 11 must therefore refer to prayer meetings or some small group meeting rather than the worship service of the whole church.
  2. The most popular explanation has been that the women at Corinth were involved in disruptive behaviour. According to this view, the principle of submission (v34) is being lost to a sprit of defiance (v35) and arbitrators of their own church order and doctrine (v36).

    The scenario supposes that the women sat together on one side of the room and the men were on the other. If women shouted questions to their husbands or defiant remarks such behaviour would cause a major disruption of the worship. Such an explanation is certainly possible but we do not know if women and men were seated separately in early Christian worship or not. They were in the Jewish synagogues, but first century Christians worshipped in homes rather than church buildings.

  3. Others suggest that the ‘speaking’ refers to nothing more than ‘chattering’; although Paul doesn’t use the word this way in other places. David Prior in his IVP commentary concludes that “these Christian wives had discovered a unique freedom in the life of the Christian community, and it is possible that this freedom had gone to their heads or, more precisely, to their tongues. This lack of self-discipline was causing confusion and disorder in the worship of the church”.
  4. Another recent explanation has been that verses 34-35 represent a quotation from the Corinthians. That would solve the problem of contradiction with chapter 11. It also explains the very unusual use of the Old Testament Law as a rule for New Testament Christians to obey in their practice of worship. Talbert argues that verses 34-35 represent the position of at least some at Corinth and that verse 36 is Paul’s “indignant reply.” However, the normal indicators of a quotation from the Corinthians are lacking in this passage.
  5. A significant number of commentators argue that these verses were added to 1 Corinthians sometime after Paul wrote the letter. Such an approach used to be labelled “liberal” but the recent massive commentary by the very evangelical scholar, Gordon Fee, takes this position.

The number of explanations put forth for verses 34-35 shows two things. Firstly, it is very difficult to understand these verses. They seem contradict too much of what we know Paul thought about women. And, secondly, no single explanation has been sufficiently satisfactory to gain general agreement.

 

We may never know with certainty the best way to explain why these verses appear in this place and what we are to make of them. In such cases, a spirit of grace and tolerance is better than one of dogmatic assertion.

1 comment to Married Women and Worship

  • KEITH DOE

    JOHN

    Thanks for this-I guess we would only be the wiser if we had the letter which the Corinthians sent Paul.Thanks also for yesterdays sermon-really liked the illustration of the orchestra and conductor ;also found the comment re; Corinth and the Church useful because the Corinthian Church has traditionally had a bad press.

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