What is ‘the law’ in 1 Corinthians 14:34?

Scholarly Commentary

The very phrase which Paul uses is found in a number of proximate Jewish writings, and its meaning is not in doubt. It is a clear reference to a principle drawn from the Biblical text (not a direct quote), either to the Pentateuch[1] or some other part of the Old Testament.[2]

Several commentators note that this appeal to ‘the Law’ is a standard form of argument in Paul’s writings.[3] [4] [5] [6]

Of twelve standard modern Bible commentaries,[7] almost all of them understand this is as a reference to the Law of Moses or a general principle from Genesis or the Old Testament; of these commentaries only one egalitarian commentary disagrees.[8]

Bible Translations

Only one standard modern translation gives this passage an egalitarian interpretation.

* CEV: The text has ‘as the Law of Moses teaches’, referring explicitly to the inspired Law of God given in the Old Testament

* ESV: The text has ‘as the Law also says’, the definite article and capitalization indicating that this is a reference to the law revealed in the Old Testament, not Jewish oral tradition or Roman law, and a footnote says ‘[ver. 21]’, referring to 1 Corinthians 14:21, where Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11–12 and refers to it as ‘the Law’

* GNB/TEV: The text has ‘as the Jewish Law says’, the definite article and capitalization, which may be a reference to the Jewish oral tradition rather than the Law of Moses

* HSCB: The text has ‘as the law also says’

* The Message: The text has ‘God’s Book of the law guides our manners and customs here’, referring explicitly to the inspired Law of God given in the Old Testament

* NAB: The text has ‘as even the law says’

* NASB95: The text has ‘just as the Law also says’, the definite article and capitalization indicating that this is a reference to the law revealed in the Old Testament, not Jewish oral tradition or Roman law, and a footnote says ‘1 Cor 14:21’, where Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11–12 and refers to it as ‘the Law’

* NCV: The text has ‘as the law says’

* NET: The text has ‘as in fact the law says’

* NIV: The text has ‘as the Law says’, the definite article and capitalization indicating that this is a reference to the law revealed in the Old Testament, not Jewish oral tradition or Roman law

* NIRV: The text has ‘as the Law also says’, the definite article and capitalization indicating that this is a reference to the law revealed in the Old Testament, not Jewish oral tradition or Roman law

* NLT: The text has ‘just as the law says’

* NRSV: The text has ‘as the law also says’

* TLB: The text has ‘the Scriptures also declare’, referring explicitly to the inspired Old Testament

* TNIV: The text has ‘as the law says’, and a footnote says ‘ver 21; Ge 3:16’, referring to 1 Corinthians 14:21, where Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11–12 and refers to it as ‘the Law’, and citing the subordination of Eve in Genesis 3:16 as the specific principle Paul has in mind


[1] Paul’s reference to the teaching of “the law” probably has the Genesis creation narratives in mind, with their implications for order and propriety in relationships between men and women (see Thiselton 2000: 1153–54; Bruce 1980: 136; Carson 1987: 129; Keener 1992: 86–87; see also commentary on 1 Cor. 11:2–16 above).[1]’ Beale &. Carson, ‘Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament’, p. 743 (2007).

[2] ‘Against the argument that the use of οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται, there exists no permission, is not Pauline, several writers refer with approval to S. Aalen’s argument that the key word is drawn here by Paul from a rabbinic formula used in the context of biblical texts, especially in the Pentateuch, which express a principle often introduced with νόμος λέγει, the law indicates.363 BAGD, Moulton-Milligan et al. and Grimm-Thayer provide instances of the verb in the sense of it is permitted (sometimes with the perfect stative sense, there exists permission) in the papyri, Josephus, and other first-century sources.’, Thiselton, ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text’, p. 1151 (2000).

[3] ‘In particular, Paul felt quite comfortable in employing Scripture texts from the Old Testament to prescribe and interpret aspects of assembly activities. In 1 Cor 5:4 the church is assembled to censure a sinful fellow believer. The expulsion of wayward believers is authorized on the basis of a frequently found command (“Expel the wicked man from among you”) from Deuteronomy (e.g., 17:7; 19:19; 22:21, 24; 24:7). First Corinthians 11 provides a singular example of the use of Genesis material from the Creation and Fall Narratives to insure propriety regarding liturgical head coverings in the worship assembly of believers. More to the setting and context of 1 Cor 14, Paul refers to the Law (though the quotation is principally from the Prophets) to interpret the phenomenon of tongue speaking in a worship service in the Roman colony of Corinth.’, Oster, ‘1 Corinthians’, The College Press NIV Commentary (1995).

[4] ‘The apostle’s reference to “the Law” (ὁ νόμος, ho nomos) is not as enigmatic as many scholars have suggested. This type of use of the Old Testament is generally in line with Paul’s technique at other places in 1 Corinthians.’, Oster, ‘1 Corinthians’, The College Press NIV Commentary (1995).

[5] ‘The same apostle Paul who so naturally curbed unacceptable male and female head coverings practices during prophecy and prayer on the basis of principles from Genesis and challenged aberrant tongue speakers at Corinth with a theme from Isaiah, could with equal facility curb aberrant women’s speech with a theme from Genesis.’, ibid.

[6] ‘Fourth, “as the law says” does not refer to secular law restricting women’s actions in the public arena but to the OT law.34 Paul’s presumed impatience with the law is exaggerated. He appeals to it in the context in 14:21 and also in 7:19 and 9:8–10 (cf. Rom. 3:19; 7:7). The problem is that he does not cite a text from the law, and no OT passage instructs women to be silent. Perhaps he refers to a general assumption that the law calls for the wife’s submission to her husband.’, Garland (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, p. 672 (2003).

[7] Orr & Walter, ‘1 Corinthians’, The Anchor Bible (1976); Robertson, et al, ‘A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.’, The International Critical Commentary (1971 ed.); McArthur (complementarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (1984); Ellingworth & Hatton, ‘A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians’ (2nd ed., 1994); Morris, ‘The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians’, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (2nd ed., 1985); Garland (egalitarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (2003); Beale & Carson, ‘Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament’ (2007); Oster (complementarian), ‘1 Corinthians’, College Press NIV Commentary (1995); Hodge, ‘An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’ (1980 ed.); Bruce (egalitarian), ‘1 and 2 Corinthians’, New Century Bible Commentary (1971); Kistemaker, ‘Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians’, New Testament Commentary (1986).

[8] Fee, ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians’, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (2nd ed., 1987).

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