(As in all the churches of the saints,34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) 1 Corinthians 14:33b-367 NRSV

This is one of two major texts that are used in the church against women in leadership of a church (or teaching/having authority over a man).

Before we discuss any topic covered in the scriptures we must first note that in the world of biblical interpretation there exist two very important words which are, exegesis and eisegesis.  It is important that we understand the meaning of these two words before we get into examining our biblical text.

The word exegesis means; exposition or explanation especially:  an explanation or critical interpretation of a text[1]

Eisegesis can be defined as the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas[2]

The way my New Testament instructor explained the very important difference between these two words this way: with exegesis in order to get the meaning that was intended for the original recipients you must draw the meaning OUT of the text.  Using eisegesis, you are trying to interpret the text using your own bias and experience or agenda, thus you are putting meaning INTO the text.

So if one wants to be faithful to the meaning of the biblical text, one must employ exegesis not eisegesis.  This can be a difficult task when approaching a scripture to understand a point like the role of women in ministry in the church.

One further word on exegesis is that if one wants to understand the meaning of the text, they must also understand the context to which the text is written.  Sometimes this requires further research into the culture and history of the time the text was written.  As with any letter, a writer does not always provide detail that is already known by the recipient, but we can acknowledge that the assumed information does have an impact on the substance of the text.

With that said we move on to the text in 1 Corinthians 14.

The passage found in 33b-46 seemingly prohibits women from speaking the church setting, saying that women must be silent in church.  This text itself makes no specific mention of women teaching or having authority over a man, it simply states that she must be silent.  The previous verses in the chapter indicate that Paul here is addressing order in worship.  He talks about the fact that everyone has something to bring to worship and that it should be brought in an orderly fashion.  Specifically, he refers to speaking in tongues and prophecy.  The verse directly preceding (v33) the verse about the silence of women states that God is a God of order and not chaos.

It is a confusing portion because earlier in the same letter as recorded in chapter 11, Paul indicates that women also prophesy in church and it seems to be normal practice.  Clearly in chapter 11 of the scripture, women are actively involved in the life of the church.

So what does Paul mean when he says here that women must remain silent?  He indicates an unreferenced law, and then goes on to say that if a woman wants to ask a question she should wait until she gets home to ask her husband.

The problem with the text is that it does not tell the modern reader what is wrong with asking a question in church, or what kinds of questions were being asked.  It also does not address whether or not this is a command for all women, for all time.

The priestess of Delphi John Collier (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As I indicated earlier, context is important and in the context of the time some suggest that Paul’s command may have had something to do with the Oracle of Delphi.  At the oracle, there was a prophetess called the Pythia who was believed to speak on behalf of the gods.  She was not really a fortune teller, but rather people would seek her advice on making critical decisions.  It is said that she would fall into a trance and begin babbling as she spoke to the people.[3]  (Sounds similar to the picture we have of those who spoke in tongues).

Therefore some would suggest that because this was part of the Greek culture and the Corinthian church was located not too far from the oracle, that the women were confusing the speaking in tongues in the church with the prophetess of the oracle and were asking inappropriate questions for worship.

Whether or not the culture of the oracle had an impact on Christian worship at the time cannot be proven or disproven by the text, because the information is not explicitly given, however it is worth considering the culture at the time.

It is my opinion however, that due to the allowance of female prophets earlier in the text and the consideration of the culture, that this text alone makes a weak argument against women taking a leadership role in the church.

However we must also consider 1 Timothy 2, so tune in next week.


[1] “Exegesis.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed December 17, 2013. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exegesis.

[2] “Eisegesis.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed December 17, 2013. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eisegesis.

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