Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"It is Shameful for a Woman to Speak in Church" (1Cor 14,35b) Part 1

I promised several blogposts ago to comment on 1 Cor 14,32ff in some detail. When I read the passage in Greek and English again, it is still as forceful as I first understood the true intent of Paul's words in April 1983, almost a year after my conversion. I have not changed my mind since, and I am more convinced than ever the truth of Paul's injunction that a woman should not speak in church. First, I will quickly deal with the argument that Paul could not be forbidding women speaking since in 1 Cor 11 he had earlier allowed women to pray and prophesy, both activities having to do with speech. Paul is not incoherent or self contradictory as some have claimed. Women praying and prophesying are regulated in that they must be covered (whether it is the veil or long hair as covering is another issue). The exception does not prove the rule. Praying or prophesying is permitted of women as these activities do not intrude into the authority of men. Women inspired to pray and prophesying are to be encouraged but it does not over-ride the limits of the women's authority as Paul sets out in 1 Cor 11 and 14.

Chapter 11 begins a new section in 1 Cor that ends in chapter 14. The inclusio about God's order frames 1 Cor 11-14. Paul insists in orderly behaviour in worship based on the order or heirarchy that God has ordained. As man is the head of a woman, so is Christ is the head of man and God is the head of Christ (11,3). This order is eternal and is worked out in the creation of man and woman and should be evident on earth during worship in church.

1 Cor 14 as well as ch. 11 refers to the creation and fall accounts in Genesis 1-3. So says the law on woman's submission to man is the reference to God's order to Eve to Adam after the fall that the husband would rule over her. If the word, "law" causes any confusion it is because some have not associated Genesis with Law as Paul did per the Jewish tradition that the first five books of the Bible could be summed as Law (torah in Hebrew and nomos in Greek). So it is not surprising for Paul to cite the Law as commanding women's submission to men.

Second, in 1 Cor 14 Paul emphasises that all activities in church/assembly should be orderly (ekklesia in Greek refers to the assembly of male citizens but Paul uses it in NT to refer to the assembly of men and women gathered for worship). To be orderly does not mean everything is pre-arranged like many churches' order of worship today but it means that even inspired by the Spirit all things must be done decently and in peace with the aim to edification of the whole church.

Paul had mentioned in 1 Cor 14,26 that members could bring a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, etc so that everyone could contribute and be mutually edified. But Paul does set limit to what could be done - speaking in tongues could go ahead only with interpretation, if there is no interpreration, the person should keep quiet and at most by 2 or 3 people. Likewise prophesying, 2 or 3 people, one after the other if all 3 wish to prophesy so that not one activity dominates the proceedings and detract from the priority of reading Scripture and preaching in church.

If God's order is followed, then women are to keep silent except when they are moved to pray and prophesy. Again, I must note that praying and prophesying take only a few minutes. Long prayers are spoken against by Jesus for the Pharisees say long prayers for show and monetary gain. As an aside I advise that the modern form of pastoral prayer to be limited to 2 or 3 minutes. I have sat through pastoral prayers that sounded like short sermons or homilies lasting 10 minutes or more. The mood of the service cannot recover from boring prayers which most can't identify with. If time permits at the close of the service a short time for prayers is allocated so that the congregation could pray together in unison.

In 1 Cor 14,32 Paul puts it to the prophets in the Corinthian church that they can control their prophesying. Never claim that just because he feels inspired by the Spirit he loses control. The prophet can stop prophesying if they want to because the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet. For God does desire disorder but peace. An interesting Greek word is used here for the translation "confusion" or "disorder". The Greek word is a strong word denoting tumult or rebellion or riot or uprising as in 2 Cor 6 Paul mentioned that he had suffered among other things, "mob uprising", the same word used in 1 Cor 14,33. Prophets out of control or pretend that they can't stop prophesying are in fact disturbing the peace and overthrowing God's order and God's desire for peace in the church. Likewise women speaking in church contrary to God's law that they should be subject to men and in turn subject to Christ who is the head of the church. It is a shame for a woman to speak in church but today this verse is forgotten in many churches or conveniently exegeted away by scholars and Christian leaders so-called (to be continued).

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