Does 1 Corinthians 14:34 contain a quotation from Paul’s opponents?

The Claim

Egalitarians such as Bilezikian[1] and Arichea,[2] claim that the restriction on women speaking found in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is a quotation from Paul’s opponents rather than the words of Paul himself.

The Facts

The interpretations of Bilezikian and Arichea are strongly motivated by the egalitarian view they bring to the text.

Bilezikian writes from an unabashedly egalitarian position, calling for “deliberate programs of depatriarchalization” (p. 211) in our religious institutions and “a systematic effort of deprogramming” in our thinking so that we do away with “regard[ing] the opposite sex as opposite” (p. 210; italics his).’[3]

‘He [Daniel C. Arichea Jr] has also written numerous Bible studies for young people and on the subject of women in the Scriptures, one of which is entitled “Laying to Rest the Misconception of the Subordinate Role of Women in the Church.”‘[4]

To reinforce the egalitarian motivation behind his interpretation, Arichea lists among the ‘advantages’ of this interpretation the fact that it is supportive of the egalitarian case:

‘a) It changes the passage from that of an oppressive text that can be used as an anti-feminist tool to one which advocates the active participation of women within the church.’[5]

‘f) The spirit of Gal. 3:28 is not violated by Paul in any way.’[6]

Nevertheless, Arichea himself lists a number of objections against this interpretation of the text:

‘However, there are objections to this position as well, among which are the following:

a)  There simply is no way to be certain, since the Greek text does not contain any interpretive markers of any kind. What then if Paul was actually advocating the silence of women in the church?

b)  Such a position advocating the active participation of women in the church service seems too advanced for Paul and for the early church at that stage of its history.

c)  Canonical history seems to indicate that vv 34-35 was understood primarily as an admonition to silence, as is clear in the repetition of these same arguments in 1 Tim. 2:11-15.

d)  But the main objection has something to do with the difficulty of relating the passage to its immediate and wider context. Considering that the subject of the whole of chapter 14 is orderliness in the worship service, which came under threat due to the practice of speaking in tongues, it would be rather unlikely for the chapter to contain a section asserting the right of certain people, and specifically the women, to speak in the church service.  It would be more likely for an admonition to silence to be included rather than a justification for speaking.’[7]

Arichea also states clearly that the translation suggestion which he finally proposes has no support from the scholarly consensus whatever:

‘Considering the whole argument, it does seem that this third option is worth considering and pursuing further. It should be noted, however, that no translation (to my knowledge) has followed this option, nor has it been mentioned in the notes accompanying various translations. Of all the commentaries I have examined, only one advocates this position.’[8]

Scholarly Commentary

This suggestion has not found significant support among scholarly commentators, and remains a marginal position even among egalitarians.  It is rejected by egalitarians such as Johnson and Witherington,[9] [10] [11] Fee,[12] Hays,[13] Horrell,[14] and Keener.[15] Thiselton notes other commentators rejecting the suggestion.[16]

Following the scholarly consensus, these verses are represented as Paul’s words (not a quotation from the Corinthians), by the CEV, GNB/TEV, HCSB, ISV, Message, NAB, NASB95, NET, NCV, NIRV, NIV, NLT, TLB, and TNIV. In fact, no standard modern Bible translation renders these verses as a quotation.

[1] ‘…Paul is quoting derisively the words of his Judeo-Christian opponents,’, Bilezikian, ‘Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible’ (3rd ed. 2006).

[2] Arichea, ‘The Silence of Women in The Church: Theology and Translation in 1 Corinthians 14.33b-36’, The Bible Translator, p. 110 (46.1.1995).

[3] Trotter, review of Bilezikian‘s ‘Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible’, in Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 12 (30.1.101), (1987).

[4] 2008-09 Bulletin of the Duke University Divinity School; this is a publication by the university at which Arichea works.

[5] Arichea, ‘The Silence of Women in The Church: Theology and Translation in 1 Corinthians 14.33b-36’, The Bible Translator, p. 110 (46.1.1995).

[6] Ibid., p. 110.

[7] Ibid., p. 110.

[8] Ibid., p. 110.

[9]The best refutation of this view is given by Ben Witherington, who argues that the previous quotes of Corinthian views in the letter were actually stated and then refuted or circumstantially modified by Paul.’, Johnson, ‘1 Corinthians‘, p. 272 (2004).

[10] ‘More telling against this view is the large number of words in verses 34-35 that resonate with the immediate context (Witherington 1988:90-91).’, ibid., p. 272.

[11]Witherington offers stronger and more detailed arguments why the hypothesis of Odell-Scott and Flanagan and Snyder are open to doubt. In sum, because of such phrases as as in all the churches of God’s holy people, and because 6:12; 10:23; 7:1 et al. represent not “rebuttals” but circumstantial qualifications “they raise more questions than they answer.”359  With a deft turn, he adds: “In all probability Paul is anticipating the response he expected to get (v. 36) when the Corinthians read his argument (vv. 34–35).”360’, Thiselton, ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text’, p. 1151 (2000).

[12] ‘The very first word *e, “or,” “either… or,” or the interjection “what!”) should not be seen as introducing a statement rejecting the previous two verses, as if they were an aberrant Corinthian viewpoint, but as Paul’s anticipation that his rules to control speech practices at Corinth would anger the Corinthians.  As Gordon Fee correctly points out, “Has God given them [the Corinthians] a special word that allows them both to reject Paul’s instructions… and to be so out of touch with the churches?” (1987:7210).

It appears that the Corinthians were trying to make up their own rules, and perhaps even thinking their own word is sufficient or authoritative or even the word of God themselves” (cf. v.36; Witherington 1988:98).’, Johnson, ‘1 Corinthians‘, p. 277 (2004).

[13] ‘Hays considers it “far fetched in the extreme” to think that Paul was quoting theCorinthians in verses 34-35 before he rejects the statement in verse 36. (Hays p.249)’, Mayer, ‘The Women Should Keep Silence in the Churches’, Resources for Sustenance and Renewal(2002).

[14] ‘D.W. Odell-Scott’s attempt to offer an ‘egalitarian’ interpretation of 14.33b-36 based on the contrary force of the particle h (at the beginning of v. 36 is highly implausible in relation to vv. 34f (which must then be read as a statement of Corinthian not Pauline opinion); the particle’s ‘contrary force’ makes much better sense in connection with v. 33.’, Horrel, ‘The social ethos of the Corinthians correspondence: interests and ideology’, p. 187 (1996).

[15] ‘Some have argued instead that Paul here quotes a Corinthian position (1 Cor 14:34–35), which he then refutes (1 Cor 14:36); but 1 Corinthians 14:36 does not read naturally as a refutation of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35.’, Keener, ‘Man and Woman’,  in Hawthorne, Martin, & Reid, ‘Dictionary of Paul and his letters’, p. 590 (1993.)

[16]Horrell finds the view of Odell-Smith and Allison “implausible” not least because, as Conzelmann also notes, v. 36, which attacks the self-important claims of some at Corinth to be “different,” then leaves v. 33b either as part of the Corinthian slogan, which would not cohere with our knowledge of Corinth, or as simply hanging without continuation until after an overly long quotation, or as belonging to vv. 26–33a, which, apart from Barrett, KJV/AV, RV, Alford, and Phillips, is widely accepted as belonging with vv. 34–37 (as UBS 4th ed., NRSV, REB, NIV, NJB, Conzelmann, and most writers).357 “The point about the particle … makes most sense when v. 36 is linked with v. 33.”’, Thiselton, ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text’, p. 1151 (2000).


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