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Orderly participation or silenced women?

Clashing views on decent worship in 1 Corinthians 14

Why are women silenced in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35? These verses are uncomfortable for egalitarians and complementarians alike, since neither position advocates a total silencing of women in church services. When the verses are read in isolation, that appears to be what Paul commands. Interpreters over nearly two millennia largely concurred.

There are good reasons to expect different words from Paul. The problem runs deeper than political correctness or cultural acceptability – these verses seem to contradict other parts of his letter! Most current responses to the dilemma hinge on whether the verses are an interpolation. If Paul did not write them, they are typically understood in their plain sense; if he did, all manner of proposals exist to soften what they command. When Paul’s teaching is accepted as normative, it appears one can hold the traditional perspective on either their authorship or meaning.

I believe that attempts to dilute this harsh command are misdirected. The words have been carefully preserved from Paul’s time to ours, but the punctuation has not. A different solution emerges when the verses are read in the context of Paul’s two-way dialogue with the Corinthian church: these jarring verses should be enclosed by quotation marks! Paul is addressing what the Corinthians had written. Just as they expressed their view on the place of tongues, they also expressed their view on the place of women. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul quotes and rebukes their statements, insisting on a different view of worship where all can participate and benefit. A slight difference in punctuation illuminates Paul’s sharp, focused argument.

This reading is not new. 1  My goal here is to collate the various strands of supporting evidence, including a few rarely considered, while avoiding some missteps that critics have rightly seized upon. Before making the case for the reading, two barriers need to be addressed: a controversial sentence break that restructures the passage, and the frequent attempts to harmonize the verses with an apparent parallel passage.

Punctuating a key sentence

Since punctuation is not present in early New Testament manuscripts, there can be great ambiguity in how sentences should be parsed. Few cases are more significant than the sentence break in 1 Corinthians 14:33. Traditionally, this verse was interpreted as a complete sentence, but it is now common for translations to connect its last clause with the following verse:

33 For God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

34 Women should be silent in the churches.


33 For God is a God not of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. 2 

Both readings are plausible interpretations of the Greek, though each has its critics. Some find the declaration of the first reading to be an anticlimactic conclusion to Paul’s argument. 3  Others find the repetition of “churches” in the second reading awkward. 4  Linguistic factors alone are inconclusive, but other evidence clearly favours the first reading. 5 

First, Paul made similar references to other churches earlier in this letter, each time to support his preceding statement (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16).

Second, the earliest interpreters of this text understood verse 33 as ending a section. For instance, John Chrysostom’s fourth-century homilies on 1 Corinthians break between verse 33 and 34. 6  Even when Chrysostom argues that the silencing of women is universally held by all churches, he does so through an interpretation of verse 36. Had he considered it possible to read verses 33–34 as saying the same thing, he could have made the point far less circuitously.

Third, several lines of evidence show that many generations of scribes understood verse 34 as beginning a new unit. These include the verse divisions themselves and the paragraph mark between verse 33 and 34 in many manuscripts, including Codex Vaticanus. 7  Also, early Western manuscripts place verses 34–35 after verse 40. This arrangement would not have emerged and persisted for nearly three centuries if these copyists considered verse 33 an incomplete sentence.

These factors strongly weigh against a novel restructuring of these verses. Paul concludes his argument in verse 33 by declaring God’s character and insisting that it be reflected in all churches that claim his name. Verse 34 begins a new statement.

No parallel passage

Even when 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 is recognized as a distinct unit, its meaning is often filtered through the lens of 1 Timothy 2:11–15. This seems reasonable, since both passages appear to silence women. Both contain the Greek words for “women,” “men,” “permit” and “learn.” The verb “subject” in one is related to the noun “submission” in the other. As a result, it is common to expect that whatever meaning is found in one passage must apply to both, otherwise it is not true for either.

However, the common vocabulary can mask a sharp contrast in meaning. One passage instructs a woman to learn in quietness whereas the other tells women who desired to learn to wait until they get home. 8  Even by the measure of shared vocabulary, 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 overlaps more substantially with its immediate context. 9  The same word for “subject,” rather than merely a related word, is found two verses prior. The words “speak,” “silent,” “say,” “desire,” “law” and “church” are all found in the rest of the chapter, but not in 1 Timothy 2:11–15.

Most significantly, there is no overlap in the words used for silence and speech. In 1 Timothy 2:11, a woman is to receive instruction quietly (hēsychia); this word also ends verse 12, and appears twice elsewhere in the New Testament. 10  In Acts 22:2, it is moderated by “more,” showing it does not mean complete silence. In 2 Thessalonians 3:12, it refers to avoiding needless chatter and distraction. Unfortunately, this word is frequently translated as “silence” when addressed to women 11  even though it consistently indicates a quiet demeanour. 12 

This word for quietness is not used in 1 Corinthians 14. Instead, the silence of women in church is emphasized three times using two other Greek words: they should be silent (sigaō), they are not permitted to speak (laleō), for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Threefold repetition was a common technique used by Jews, Greeks and Hellenistic Romans to emphasize the absolute nature of a statement. 13 

The instruction to “be silent” has been used earlier in chapter 14 for a tongues speaker with no interpreter (v. 28) and a prophet interrupted by a second prophet (v. 30). The word is also found in seven other New Testament verses. In each case, unless context clarifies, it refers to a complete stop of all speaking (Luke 9:36; 18:39; 20:26; Acts 12:17; 15:12–13). The one reference where people are not directly the subject still refers to something being kept unsaid (Rom. 16:25).

The other word is a general verb for “speak.” It occurs nearly 300 times in the New Testament and almost always refers to the physical act of speaking. Here, both occurrences are negated: the women are not to speak.

When this vocabulary is considered, it becomes evident that 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 should not be read as meaning the same thing as 1 Timothy 2:11–12. While the latter exhorts women to learn in quietness, the former appears to be a far harsher command for women to be silent while in church. Further, since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians a decade or more before 1 Timothy was written, 14  he cannot have expected the Corinthians to parse his words through the grid of what would later be written to Timothy in Ephesus.

There are no shortcuts to understanding these verses, no parallel passage that clarifies their meaning. This difficult passage needs to be engaged on its own terms and within its own context.

Reason 0: A two-way dialogue

First Corinthians does not begin Paul’s correspondence with the church at Corinth. He had written at least one earlier letter (1 Cor. 5:9) and received outside reports of their problems (1:11; 5:1; 11:18). After the Corinthians replied, Paul composed the first part of the conversation to be preserved, 1 Corinthians. His key concerns begin the letter, but he signals a different approach with the words, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote” (7:1). From then on, the expression “Now concerning” continues to address topics from the Corinthian letter (7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1; 16:12). 15  The largest, “Now concerning spiritual gifts,” spans chapters 12 to 14. Within these chapters, Paul is likely to interact with what the Corinthians had written.

Quotations are not directly marked in early manuscripts. They are determined in modern translations through “exegetical deduction.” 16  While many quotations are clear, others are ambiguous. For instance, the words of John 3:16 may either continue the quotation of Jesus begun in verse 10 or start the author’s explanation after the quotation ends. In this case the meaning is much the same either way, but if an opposing voice is quoted, punctuation becomes critical.

Since 1 Corinthians is part of a correspondence in which the other pieces are missing, it contains more than its share of disputed quotations. Translations differ in what they place in quotation marks, and some commentaries suggest additional quotations. Marking Corinthian quotations is relatively new, and none have universal recognition.

The most widely recognized Corinthian quotations are short slogans. There is no rule that a quotation must be short, just as Scripture citations need not be short, but a number of factors weigh against recognizing longer quotations. Short slogans lend themselves to repetition, increasing their visibility (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). As John 3 shows, longer quotations may have indistinct boundaries. In these cases, many translations err on the side of keeping Corinthian quotations short. For example, few translations mark the whole first sentence of 1 Corinthians 6:13–14 as a quotation even though Paul counters both halves of this sentence in the next two sentences. 17  Further, major translations are reticent to depart from the traditional understanding of a passage. This favours the recognition of short slogans that are explicitly introduced (1:12), not contradicted (8:4, 8; 15:33), or nuanced rather than rejected (8:1). This bias towards recognizing short quotations should not be confused with Paul being limited to using short quotations.

Whether a quotation is recognized may have drastic ramifications. If 1 Corinthians 7:1 contains a Corinthian quotation that Paul rejects – a possibility current translations are split on – it is a serious mistake to treat the statement as Paul’s instruction. Similarly, if 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 quotes a Corinthian position, attempting to harmonize the verses with the rest of the letter would undermine Paul’s own words by catering to the opinion he is rebuking!

However, adding quotation marks is not a panacea for any uncomfortable teaching. This section has opened the door to recognizing significant quotations in 1 Corinthians 14, but more evidence is required to establish reasons to view any particular verses as quotations.

Reason 1: At odds with Corinth, not himself

A number of statements in 1 Corinthians appear contradictory. One verse encourages men to avoid sexual relations with women while the next counsel marriage with unrestrained sexual intimacy (7:1–5). Mere sentences after a woman without a head covering is told to cut her hair short it is revealed that her long hair functions as a covering (11:6, 15). A statement that divisions are necessary (11:19) jars with the frequent rebukes against factions.

Too often, interpreters seem to relish the challenge to jibe contradictory statements. Rather than upholding the authority of Scripture, these attempts show that even the clearest words can be forced to mean their near opposite! When Paul is allowed to use sarcasm, paraphrase and quotations, no dilution of his words is necessary to uncover a coherent message.

Chapter 14 provides two apparent contradictions. The first, verses 21–25, will be discussed briefly in later sections. The second is the verses silencing women. In the context of chapters 11–14, their incongruity is jarring.

Historically, the crux of the tension has been the passage on head coverings that assumes women publicly pray and prophesy (11:5, 13). Directly following this, Paul assails the Corinthians for treating their poor members poorly even as they claim to all be Christ’s body through eating the Lord’s supper (11:17–34). The entire chapter reveals how the slogan “one in Christ” should be lived out. Interpersonal distinctions remain. A woman’s participation does not hinge on her being treated like a man or pretending to be a man. Similarly, estate owners and slaves need not pretend they are similarly well off in order to eat together. These distinctions persist but no longer lead to different tiers of inclusion. Women and men participate equally in gathered worship. The poor and rich partake equally of the Lord’s supper.

Chapter 12 describes gifts in the church, including many speaking gifts. They are allotted “to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (v. 11). To confront the idea that some believers are second class, Paul writes, “those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour” (v. 23). This is done in recognition that God has elevated the lower member so that “there may be no dissention within the body” (vv. 24–25). Paul’s point is wider than sex discrimination, encompassing any divisions that demean certain believers. He follows this body language with a list: “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (v. 28). He exhorts the Corinthians to “strive for the greater gifts” (v. 31), giving no indication that some will only be given to men. Indeed, his discourse underlines that cultural and social norms do not limit the Spirit’s movement in the body of Christ. Chapter 13 reveals how all these gifts need to be exercised in love to be worthwhile.

Chapter 14 begins by linking the previous chapters. “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (v. 1). The following verses make clear that those who prophesy “speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation” and “build up the church” (vv. 3–4). This isn’t for only half the congregation. “Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy” (v. 5). How does this work in practice? “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation . . . . For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (vv. 26, 31). After verses 34–35, Paul repeats this inclusive message: “earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order” (vv. 39–40).

And yet, in the middle of this two verses sound a “discordant note.” 18  Verse 34 forbids half the congregation from even speaking, whether in tongues, prophetically or otherwise. Verse 35 states that if women insist on learning, they are to be taught at home by their men, out of sight from the gathering.

Paul is not demonstrating his proverb, “if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (v. 8). His message is harmonious and clear. The sharp contradiction between these two verses and their context is the first indication that Paul is quoting the Corinthians.

Reason 2: A targeted rebuke

Following the verses silencing women, Paul writes what is widely recognized as a stinging rebuke (vv. 36–38). There is less agreement on whom Paul is rebuking. Since the Greek of the rhetorical questions uses masculine language, Paul cannot be targeting women who disobey the command to silence. 19  The masculine language is probably intended inclusively, directing the rebuke at a group that includes men and women.

The rebuke begins with a Greek particle, ē, which is variously translated as “Or” or “What?” or omitted. When used to introduce rhetorical questions, the particle intensifies the distinction between what Paul is saying and what he is opposing. Contrary to some claims, it does not necessarily indicate that one of two statements must be accepted (see 1:13 where it connects two questions answered “no”), and it may be used to rebuke a statement, not deny its truth (see 6:8–9).

This particle does not necessarily contradict the preceding statement, but it does connect that statement to the following words. In this case, the rebuke is linked to the verses silencing women, rather than any previous discussion. 20  Either Paul is rebuking those who do not accept his silencing of women, or he is rebuking the Corinthians whose attempt to silence women he just quoted. Both the masculine language of the rebuke and the surrounding encouragement for all to participate make the first option unlikely.

The content of the rebuke also suggests that Paul is dealing with a group who assumed the authority to write their own commands. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they depended on others – especially Paul himself – to bring them God’s word. It is Paul’s solution of orderly participation, not their own solution of silencing women in accordance with a vague law, that is “a command of the Lord” (14:37). 21 

Reason 3: Cavalier use of the law

Chapter 14 contains two unusual references to the law. First, verse 21 roughly cites an Isaiah passage as “the law,” yet every other Pauline citation introduced with that term is from the Pentateuch. 22  Isaiah 28:11–12 states that because God’s people did not hear when God spoke to them plainly, he will now speak to them by foreigners. The citation states that when God speaks to this people through strange tongues, they will not hear. Without these alterations, 23  which include changing the tense and excising the core of a sentence, the citation would be irrelevant to a church gathering speaking unintelligibly to unbelievers.

Second, verse 34 appeals to the law without citing a text, another novel move for Paul. 24  Historically, the appeal was connected with Genesis 3:16, but the male domination resulting from sin is scarcely normative. More recently, the unspecified law has been connected with the creation order mentioned earlier (1 Cor. 11:8). This is unlikely since the earlier passage made no mention of the law, did not directly quote Scripture, and undermined the attempt to draw enduring principles from that ordering with a “nevertheless” statement (11:11–12). Regardless, neither connection reveals a subjection that silences women.

Both references to the law are better explained as Corinthian quotations. 25  Since Paul does not directly correct the two misuses of the law, his opponents may not have been Judaizers, but merely church leaders who used any possible source of authority to bolster their case. In the first instance, they latched onto the only scriptural example they could find of anything close to speaking in tongues, without concern for the details. In the second, they insisted the law agreed with them without going to the trouble of showing where.

Paul focuses on rebuking and correcting the conclusions they draw from their inappropriate use of the law. The very act of fully quoting these appeals may have served his rhetorical purposes, since the gentile converts were likely to be suspicious of attempts to conform their lives to the Jewish law. The uncircumcised men in particular knew some of what “the law also says” (14:34).

Reason 4: Lost cues lead to displacement

If Paul quoted the Corinthian letter at length, it would be reasonable to expect him to distinguish those words from his own. He would not use quotation marks, since they did not yet exist, but Paul or his amanuensis still had many options. He could write smaller, sideways or in a different ink. The quotation could be offset, placed in the margin or spaced differently. Boxes, arrows or lines could both set apart the words and connect them to a specific location within the text.

While these options may seem farfetched to those familiar with neatly typeset Bibles, Galatians 6:11 preserves a reality check: Paul’s original letters contained more data than words alone. In that case, the handwriting style changed, perhaps due to Paul adding a note without his scribe. As Galatians was copied, the words were meticulously preserved, but the different sizes of writing were not. Similarly, if Paul used visual cues to set off quotations, the scribes who later copied the letter would need to decide how to include these sentences in their manuscripts that lacked these formatting elements.

There is evidence of scribal confusion over where to place the verses silencing women. Some manuscripts place these verses at the end of the section, after verse 40. Since this “is the universal reading of the Western church until the influence of the Vulgate, which in this case reflects the text of the Eastern church, the position of these verses in this tradition must go back to a very early source.” 26 

One explanation is that the verses were added in the margin by a scribe, later to become part of the text in two locations. However, another explanation better accounts for both the occasional displacement and the universal presence of the verses. 27  In the course of copying the text, the removal of whatever visual cues Paul used to mark longer quotations caused confusion over where the two verses belonged. Paul’s original audience would have had no trouble recognizing where they were being quoted, both because they knew the content of their own letter, and they were receiving Paul’s original letter. Uncertainty may have crept in after the first or second copy, once any arrows or other directional markers were lost. For other quotations, the markers simply disappeared, but in this case, they led to confusion for at least one influential scribe. The resulting textual displacement fortuitously preserves evidence that the verses silencing women were somehow distinguished from their context.

Not only does the quotation view explain how the textual issue could have come about, it also explains the standard position of the verses. This position is extremely peculiar if they were either added later or contain Paul’s own teaching.

Reason 5: A carefully structured argument

Why are the verses silencing women sandwiched between the conclusion of the argument and a sharp rebuke? Whether they were added by a later copyist or are part of Paul’s own instruction, a far more obvious location would be a single verse earlier. This would lead to Paul silencing three groups (certain tongues speakers and prophets and all women), then concluding (1 Cor. 14:33), rebuking those who reject his teaching (vv. 36–38) and restating his view (vv. 39–40). While internal contradictions would remain, the structure would be understandable. Since the actual position of the verses silencing women is after Paul has concluded his argument and directly before the rebuke, the interpolation view is left postulating an “inept interpolator,” 28  while views that see the verses as part of Paul’s teaching are left with his own apparent ineptness. The quotation view faces no such problem. Paul inserts the quotation after he concludes his own case and directly before his rebuke and reiteration of his teaching, since that is the logical placement for an opposing view.

The unexpected statement in verse 22 that seems to undermine Paul’s message about tongues presents another puzzle in the chapter. Both this verse and the verses silencing women generate disproportionate ink within commentaries. Their problems are obvious, yet convincing harmonizations remain elusive. If the dialogue between Paul and the Corinthians is kept in mind, there is no need to fix the tune of these verses to match their context.

In this chapter, Paul counters two positions that have been advocated by some of the Corinthians in their letter. In each section, Paul presents his instruction, quotes the Corinthian alternative with a rebuke, and restates his instruction. The arrangement is straightforward; each verse is in place and interpreted plainly.

The first section reveals the value of various speaking gifts in the church:



  • Strange tongues may build up an individual, but in church they confuse and isolate
  • Prophecy builds up the church and draws each individual to worship

Rebuke: Grow up!



  • Strange tongues provide a sign to unbelievers
  • Prophecy only benefits believers


  • Strange tongues invite mockery by unbelievers and outsiders
  • Prophecy draws unbelievers and outsiders to God

The second section focuses on the proper use of various speaking gifts in the church:



  • Each person comes to church prepared to contribute
  • Order the speaking and provide interpretation so all understand and benefit


  • Women should be silent in church
  • If the women do not understand, they can learn at home

Rebuke: Listen to me!



  • All should desire to prophesy and be allowed to speak in tongues
  • Do all things decently and in order

In the first section, Paul combats the Corinthian view that tongues are the foremost spiritual gift by instead elevating the gift of prophecy. Apparently some of the Corinthians felt their tongues speaking was the way God would bring a sign of judgement upon unbelievers, while their prophesying was strictly for their own use. Their assertion has two halves, with a negative and positive claim in each half. “Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is not for unbelievers but for believers” (v. 22). Paul contradicts the positive claim in the first half by showing that the only thing uninterpreted tongues provides to unbelievers and outsiders is evidence the Corinthians are out of their minds (v. 23). It demeans the word “sign” to apply the term to any chaotic or confusing spectacle believers perform in the presence of others. Paul also contradicts the negative claim in the second half by showing how prophecy would convict an unbeliever or outsider and lead them to God (vv. 24–25). Rather than tongues, it is prophecy that can provide a sign of judgement – a recognized sign that leads people to repent. This complements Paul’s elevation of prophecy over tongues in the earlier verses. Throughout, Paul is also challenging their polarized language of believers and unbelievers by adding a third category, outsiders, first introduced in verse 16.

In the second section, Paul contrasts a Corinthian solution to their disorderly services with his own. Silencing women would have fit smoothly with the prevailing cultural values of the first century, whether by Jews or Greeks. “First Corinthians 11:5, 11–12, and Gal 3:28 challenge cultural conventions, but 1 Cor 14:34–35 does not.” 29  While there were exceptions, the norm was for a woman to speak only to her husband, and on his terms. A woman brought disgrace upon herself, her husband and the other hearers if she dared speak in public. In the words of the Corinthians, “it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (v. 35).

Paul repurposes their vocabulary as he rebukes their message. 30  It is the spirits who are “subject” to the prophets (v. 32); certain situations rather than a certain sex requires speakers to be “silent” (vv. 28, 30); Paul “desires” all to “speak” and “learn” (vv. 5, 31). Significantly, he does not repeat the words “woman” and “man.” Paul does not send anybody “home” to learn, but rather uses a related word to stress that the service is for the “upbuilding” of all (vv. 3, 5, 12, 26).

Paul concludes this lengthy section of the letter by stressing a framework of decency and order within which all are able to participate and benefit. They should not forbid speaking in tongues and all should desire to prophesy (vv. 39–40). It is not up to the Corinthians to decide which demographics are “permitted to speak” (v. 34).

Reason 6: Delicate and firm words about women

Paul appears to be aware that his recognition of women as equal members within the body of Christ is a sore subject in Corinth. While he does not compromise on this basic point, he moderates his language about women – or leaves it out entirely – when addressing other topics. While to the Galatians he declares that in Christ there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female,” to the Corinthians the last clause is left off (12:13). 31  When listing the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, Paul skips over the first witnesses, the women (15:3–8). While every other New Testament reference to Priscilla and Aquila together places Priscilla’s name first, to the Corinthians he reverts to the customary order with the husband first (16:19). 32  In order to be all things to all people, Paul avoids causing offense when it isn’t necessary to his point.

When the Corinthian view of women is the issue, Paul addresses it head-on. Their culture did not give women equal say in sexual relations, so Paul zeroes in on the men who had committed degrading acts (5:1–13, 6:15–20). He also rebukes another tack – that women are sex objects to be avoided – by giving the most symmetrical description of husband and wife relations in the New Testament (7:1–5). 33  In the head covering passage, Paul shows how the tradition applies to each sex and guards against extrapolations from the creation order (11:4–5, 11–12).

In chapter 14, the Corinthian position on silencing women to regain orderly services had again made women the issue. Paul’s own solution for the disorder is unambiguous in allowing “all” believers – “each one” – to participate, even as he outlines procedures for establishing order. His careful language about women in this letter is evidence that Paul recognized he was battling people who held a lower view.

Reason 7: A paucity of early citations

The verses silencing women are not cited by most early church fathers, nor by any Apostolic Fathers. 34  This is striking since related issues were frequently discussed and “1 Corinthians was the most quoted epistle by Christian writers in the second century.” 35  For instance, Clement of Alexandria writes of how women are to “pray veiled” and men and women are to go to church “embracing silence,” yet he appears unaware that Paul commanded women specifically to be silent in church. 36 

If the verses silencing women were at first understood to be a position Paul rebuked, it would be counterproductive to cite them. Only after the quotation became obscured would the verses be considered a valid citation to bolster an argument. While this line of evidence can be explained equally well if the verses are a later interpolation, it is puzzling if they contain Paul’s teaching.


Once interpreters did begin to comment on the verses silencing women, they rarely weighed the significance of textual variants or the historical element of Paul’s two-way correspondence with Corinth. Even more troubling, the church did not avoid the pervasive historical prejudice against women. When this enduring cultural fog finally showed signs of lifting, numerous new interpretations emerged. Unlike many others, the quotation view does not suggest that the words were misunderstood until now, but rather that the proper punctuation was lost.

While there are many current interpretations of the verses silencing women, only the quotation view accounts for every line of evidence discussed above. By factoring in the Corinthian dialogue, Paul no longer seems to contradict himself or muddle through a clumsy discourse. Various contextual clues, irregular word uses and the textual displacement all independently paint a bull’s-eye on these verses. Some of this evidence also marks out two verses in the discussion on tongues. Even though the original manuscript cannot be checked to see how or whether Paul set these verses apart, plentiful evidence remains to show that they were somehow different.

By marking these jarring verses as quotations, a cohesive and consistent message emerges. The church at Corinth saw their chaotic services as providing a divine sign to confound unbelievers. The only restraint they entertained was silencing women. In response, “Paul curbs the assertiveness of the bold and facilitates the involvement of the meek.” 37  Orderly and intelligible services will free all believers to participate. Then, all will benefit, even outsiders.

Rather than restricting women in any way, I believe 1 Corinthians 11–14 crescendos towards one of the sharpest calls for women’s full participation in church services. Paul reveals a new view of the body of Christ in which gifts are not apportioned by worldly measures. He rebukes those who would arbitrarily limit service participants by sex. When the church gathers, all are to participate and all are to learn and be encouraged. May the Spirit continue to guide our churches towards this yet-unrealized dream.


  1. ^ I was introduced to this view through Glenn Miller, “Women in the Heart of God: Paul and Women,” The Christian ThinkTank. See also Katharine C. Bushnell, God’s Word to Women: 100 Bible Studies on Woman’s Place in the Divine Economy, online ed. (n.p.: God’s Word to Women, [2005?]), lessons 25–28 (originally published in 1921); David W. Odell-Scott, “In Defense of an Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor 14:34–36: A Reply to Murphy-O’Connor’s Critique,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 17, no. 3 (July 1987); Charles H. Talbert, Reading Corinthians: A Literary and Theological Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 2nd rev. ed., Reading the New Testament (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 114–19 and Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 110–16.
  2. ^ All Scripture quotations are from the NRSV. In this case, I have adjusted the punctuation to show both readings.
  3. ^ Robert W. Allison, “Let the Women Be Silent in the Churches (1 Cor. 14:33b–36): What Did Paul Really Say, and What Did It Mean?” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (1988): 30–31. Allison suggests that adding “as in all the churches of the saints” after describing God’s character is “awkwardly anticlimactic.” However, instead of the practice of the churches being a further justification for order and peace beyond God’s character, a more fitting reading is that the practice of the churches must conform to God’s character. The addition of the second half of the verse to the first is not an anticlimax, but an application of the climax to church life.
  4. ^ C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 2nd ed. (London: Black, 1971), 330. Those who argue for the sentence beginning and ending with “the churches” (Greek ekklēsia) typically suggest that the word may have a different meaning in each case, though how repeating the word communicates this difference is not clear. To make an argument in the form “as everywhere, so here” the second ekklesia should be singular (see vv. 23, 28); to argue “as everywhere, so everywhere” makes little sense.
  5. ^ The following reasons, among others, are summarized in Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1989), 697–98.
  6. ^ John Chrysostom, “Homilies on First Corinthians,” New Advent, ed. Kevin Knight, trans. Talbot W. Chambers.
  7. ^ J. E. Miller, “Some Observations on the Text-Critical Function of the Umlauts in Vaticanus, with Special Attention to 1 Corinthians 14.34–35,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26, no. 2 (December 2003): 219–20.
  8. ^ L. A. Jervis, “1 Corinthians 14.34–35: A Reconsideration of Paul’s Limitation of the Free Speech of Some Corinthian Women,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 58 (1995): 54.
  9. ^ See Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 271.
  10. ^ A related adjective, hēsychios (1 Tim. 2:2; 1 Peter 3:4), describes a quiet life and quiet spirit. A related verb, hēsychazō (Luke 14:4; 23:56; Acts 11:18; 1 Thess. 4:11), is used variously, but the only Pauline use refers to living quietly.
  11. ^ Among others, the NRSV, NKJV and HCSB.
  12. ^ William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary 46 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 118.
  13. ^ Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 218. Even asking questions in church is ruled out by the intervening example. Rather than moderating the surrounding statements, it demonstrates that they admit no exceptions.
  14. ^ 1 Corinthians is generally dated to AD 53 or 54. There is more variation in dating 1 Timothy, partly due to its disputed authorship. For those who hold that Paul wrote it, a date near 65 is standard. Otherwise, the date is considerably later.
  15. ^ Talbert, Reading Corinthians, 8.
  16. ^ Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 233n26.
  17. ^ The TNIV and NIV (2011) likely get this right; contrast the NRSV, ESV, HCSB, NLT and NIV (1984).
  18. ^ Talbert, Reading Corinthians, 116.
  19. ^ Ibid.
  20. ^ Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible 32 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 533. If verses 34–35 are an interpolation, the particle ties the rebuke to verse 33, in this case strengthening Paul’s conclusion.
  21. ^ Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 114, 116.
  22. ^ Rom. 2:23–24 and 3:9–20 are not exceptions, since they introduce Old Testament citations with “as it is written.” The surrounding commentary about the law does not refer to the citation. In the first, breaking the law proved true what Isaiah wrote. In the second, having the law did not prevent the universal sinfulness stated in the psalm.
  23. ^ Detailed more fully in Christopher D. Stanley, Paul and the Language of Scripture: Citation Technique in the Pauline Epistles and Contemporary Literature, Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series 69 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 197–205.
  24. ^ Fee, First Corinthians, 707.
  25. ^ Talbert, Reading Corinthians, 111, 114.
  26. ^ Fee, First Corinthians, 700n7.
  27. ^ For evidence suggestive of earlier manuscripts that omitted the verses, see Payne, Man and Woman, 232–50. All three manuscripts discussed include the verses, but mark them unusually. Both an early interpolation and obscured quotation cues can explain these irregularities.
  28. ^ Odell-Scott, “Defense of an Egalitarian Interpretation,” 101–02.
  29. ^ Payne, Man and Woman, 219.
  30. ^ See Payne, Man and Woman, 256–57 and Allison, “Let the Women Be Silent,” 37–39 for details, though interpreted differently.
  31. ^ Compare Gal. 3:28. Since baptism language surrounds all three versions of the statement (the third is Col. 3:11), it may have been a baptismal formula; see Wayne A. Meeks, “The Image of the Androgyne: Some Uses of a Symbol in Earliest Christianity,” History of Religions 13, no. 3 (February 1974): 180–81. If so, Paul’s quote of the beginning of the formula would inevitably bring the rest to mind even if he left off the clause they found most offensive.
  32. ^ Compare Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19. In Acts 18:2, the two names are not part of the same clause.
  33. ^ “It looks as though Paul were laboring to express the male and female roles in almost precisely the same language,” Meeks, “Image of the Androgyne,” 199. While Paul may elevate the single lifestyle over marriage, he does not elevate man over woman.
  34. ^ The earliest to do so are Tertullian and perhaps Origen, though the citations attributed to Origen are only found in catenae, collections of quotes and paraphrases by a third party that are organized around various themes.
  35. ^ Payne, Man and Woman, 251–52.
  36. ^ See Payne, Man and Woman, 250–51.
  37. ^ Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles, 112.