Thursday, July 24, 2014

Women Speaking & Evaluating Prophecies (1 Cor 14:32-40) Part 2

“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches:for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home:for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:32-40 KJV)

“and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:32-40 ESV)

Returning to this passage in 1 Cor 14 that concludes Paul’s teaching not just in ch. 14 but also for the whole section on spiritual gifts commenced in 1 Cor 11:1. First, we should note that in the Greek, the word, “subject” (verb) in relation to the spirit of the prophet to the prophet in v. 32 is the same word translated “submission” (noun) in relation to the women in v. 33. Just as the spirit of the prophet is subject/submit to the prophet, likewise a woman is subject or in submission to the man. 

Second, we do well to note that the order or peace that God desires in the church frames the passage from v.32 to v. 40. As God is not the author of confusion or disorder (v. 33), everything ought to be done decently and in order (v. 40). Paul has already mentioned about the order on how prophets go about prophesying and their ability to restrain themselves when called for. Now Paul addresses the question of women’s role or place in church.

This passage (v.33 to v. 35) on women is incredibly dense with repetition, a familiar Jewish and biblical rhetorical device to emphasise the importance of what is being said. How scholars or exegetes can miss the clear import of Paul is saying escapes me. First, Paul enunciates that what he is teaching is not confined to the Corinthian church with the introduction, “As in all the churches of the saints”. This is an important refrain for Paul as he uses it several times in his epistles to add gravitas to his teaching a universal application in all the churches he founded and not just the church he was writing to. Likewise in 1 Tim 2’s passage on women not permitted to teach or exercise authority over men is not simply restricted to Ephesus where Timothy was based but that Paul’s injunction to the Ephesian church (1 Tim) is part of Paul’s advice on how the household of God ought to behave at all time and in all places where Jesus is named. 

Back to 1 Cor 14:33. The women are to remain in silence for they are not permitted to speak (v. 33). Like the prophets, the women could control themselves in refraining from speaking as they are in subjection to men. The immediate context here as it is linked with the teaching on prophecy seems to suggest that Paul is referring to testing or evaluating prophecies in the church. All may prophesy including the women, says Paul but when it comes to evaluating the prophecies and how these prophecies apply in the church, it is the purview of the men to judge and the women must be silent. Deciding on how the prophecies apply affects the church for good or for bad and it is here that the exercise of this role (evaluating prophecies) is reserved for men. And if the women want to know anything, they can ask their husbands at home after church.

This does not imply that Paul thinks that all women in the Corinthian assembly are married and have husbands. The vast majority of women were probably married in the first century AD and it is a general rule which the apostle uses to ensure there is order in the church. Single unmarried women normally lived at home and were subject to their fathers and they could ask their fathers at home about the discussion over prophecies in church among men.

In my previous post I have already discussed the theological rationale behind Paul’s command for the women in relation to the Law that called for the submission of women to men (cf. Gen 3). 

Next, Paul goes on to ask the Corinthians not to over-stretch the limits of their spiritual authority or charisma which they had received from the Lord. The Word of God did not originate from the Corinthians and perhaps here Paul echoes the prophet Isaiah that the Word of Lord comes from Zion/Jerusalem which is fulfilled in Acts 2 when the first church was established in Jerusalem during the Feast of Pentecost. 

Neither does the word of the Lord reach only to the Corinthian church, says Paul as if Corinth is anything special or unique in the purposes and plan of God. The apostle has already insisted that his teaching here applies to all the churches of the saints and Corinthian church is not exempted from this commandment. The Corinthian church cannot claim special place in the ecclesiastical ordering nor can it innovate or do whatever it wants even if the Spirit is working mightily in their midst with all kinds of charismatic manifestations (to be continued).

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