Gender: Silencing women (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)


Part 4 in a series on gender. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) Nate and Tim discuss some of the more infuriating ways complementation theology affects Christian women and explore the frustrating passage where Paul seems to tell women to sit down and shut up. But what is Paul really saying? And how could he tell women to be silent while simultaneously encouraging them to preach and prophecy in the church gatherings?


Nate: Welcome back to Almost Heretical and our series on gender and Paul and the Bible and what it actually says about gender roles and this whole debate, I guess. It’s been a debate for a while, unfortunately. We’re talking about that. What number is this? Is this four?

Tim: Yep.

Nate: Part four in our series on gender. So Tim, we’ve talked about lots of different verses so far. Each episode we’re doing another passage. I think last time we did a couple passages. But each of these passages is kind of one of the prominent areas people go to to show one side or the other of, “This is what Paul thinks about or this is what the Bible thinks about gender, gender roles, hierarchy, marriage roles,” all that kind of stuff. And so we’re looking at another one today. Tim, what are we looking at?

Tim: Back in 1 Corinthians, this time chapter 14 and the line, “Women should not speak in the churches.”

Nate: Oh.

Tim: But I’ll have you read, Nate, a longer section, 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. I wish, honestly, we could read all of 1 Corinthians 11-14, because what we’re going to talk about is how we have to read this in the context of Paul’s overall argument to see how this isn’t him saying what it sounds like he’s saying.

Nate: So maybe, you should just pause it right now and go listen to—go read those three chapters, four chapters, and then come back.

Tim: Sure! But we’ll read the second half of chapter 14.

Nate: You didn’t pause it, did you? I know you didn’t. I’m looking at you, you did not pause it—I’m just kidding. Alright, 14 what?

Tim: 26-40

Nate: 14:26-40, Okay. This is the NIV.

26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

Tim: Okay, so Nate, like usual, I want to know your background related to this text, how you’ve heard it used, what you thought it meant, all that kind of stuff.

Nate: Yeah, I don’t know if I have a ton on this. I kind of get it mixed up sometimes with the 1 Timothy 1, which I know we’re going to do, the, “Women should not teach or have authority over a man.” We’re going to do that one—is that next?

Tim: Yeah, that’s going to be our grand finale because that’s kind of the double whopper.

Nate: Gotcha. Okay. So I have some thoughts on that one. This one, I don’t know. Kind of the same type of thing, I guess. It’s just more evidence, how I’ve seen it used and how I’ve used it when I was teaching in the church and protecting the theology of the church, that this is Paul again saying that men are the ones that are supposed to teach, and this is further evidence that women are not supposed to teach in the church. He just says it pretty plainly, pretty clearly. Let’s see. Honestly I feel like I heard this one taught more, growing up pretty conservative in pretty conservative churches—theologically conservative, versus pentecostal and Assembly of God and those things, which I was exposed to later on in some of the nonprofit work that I did and some of the churches that I was a part of later and planted and things like that. I heard this more as a push back against the pentecostal Assembly of God crowd that was speaking in tongues and pretty, some would say in my group, over the top speaking in tongues. This was the whole, “Rein them in, they need an interpreter, someone to actually say what these words are meaning.” It was supposed to rein those people in. So I heard it used a lot more in that sense than I did in the women teaching/speaking in the church standpoint.

Tim: Yeah, gotcha.

Nate: How about you?

Tim: Well, I think 1 Timothy 2 is where most complementarians go as their basis for male headship, that’s the term that gets thrown around. And you and I have shared articles and gotten acquainted with the world of deeper complementarianism than you or I were ever in, with people like Wayne Grudem and John Piper, where there’s basically multiple camps within the complementarian world. One is that basically women can’t be pastors or elders, but they can still potentially teach in some sort of context. Then there are these weird things, and I saw this is my church, where a woman could teach if her husband was on the stage doing it with her.

Nate: Yeah. Yes, I’ve seen that before.

Tim: Or then the thing where a woman can give a sermon, but it’s not called a sermon. She’s said to be, “Operating her prophetic gifting,” right? [laughing] So she does the same thing that the guy does, the male pastor—

Nate: Or she’s, “Just sharing.” I’ve heard that one too, she’s, “Just sharing.”

Tim: Yeah, “Giving her testimony.”

Nate: Exactly.

Tim: Yeah, so women are allowed to talk.

Nate: I actually saw this, I remember the church I was a part of in Southern California before moving to San Francisco and then planting the church and that kind of stuff. I remember one of the pastors that I talk about on the show a bit. He was, he felt like his wife had a gifting to teach to the church, but he was a complementarian, so he was really caught. And you know who I’m talking about, but he was caught in this hard space, because he felt like she could teach, but he knew that wasn’t, he didn’t agree with her teaching or whatever, according to his doctrine and his interpretations of scripture and these verses. So he would literally, I remember him saying one time—this was maybe ten years ago—he was like, “I’m going to be on the stage, I’m just going to sit here, and kind of nod.”

Tim: Just hover.

Nate: And he was like nodding and he gave the intro and he gave the conclusion, and she basically gave the sermon and he was approving of it by standing on the stage and nodding his head. And that fell under, that was okay in this complementarian camp.

Tim: [groaning] Just this gross, misogynistic, paternalistic hovering over the woman as the male head of authority. Yikes.

Nate: Exactly. And she would look over and kind of get approval and he would nod, and they would continue. It was strange.

Tim: [laughing] That’s my nightmare. Yeah, and you know, in the deeper end of things, it moves beyond the realm of authority in the church or even teaching offices in the church, and it goes to, like in the church family network whatever that I came out of, most of the churches, women couldn’t even be small group leaders, Bible study leaders. That wasn’t even an option. Basically anything that had any sort of leadership function to it, women couldn’t be in. But then it goes to the home, and I actually think this is probably the biggest issue plaguing women in the world, is the way that male dominance in the household is put forth as the ideal, as God’s ordained plan. We already know, I wish I had a hard stat on this, I don’t think anybody has a hard stat, but the number of women who are abused by their husbands around the world is staggering. This has always been the case. But there’s a version of complementarianism that basically says men are supposed to be the head over women in every sphere and especially in the household. It honestly has been used so many times, and you can talk to people who counsel victims of spousal abuse. So much of that happens in households where men think it’s actually their job, their religious duty, to domineer over their wives. I actually just—in a lecture one of the guys I had to take a class with for my Master’s program somehow twisted the text in Ephesians 5 that we looked at to say that the number one responsibility, the number one moral obligation of men, is to be the facilitators ensuring the spiritual growth of their wives. So that was how he read that passage comparing Christ and the church to husbands and wives, was it’s a man’s job to basically treat your wife like a child and to make sure that your wife is being brought up in the way of Jesus.

[transitional music]

Nate: Okay, okay. I have a lot to say here. This isn’t something that I experienced firsthand, but another one of the many sides of Nate Hanson is that I was part of—I was homeschooled, but I wasn’t one of the weird homeschooled person that you’re thinking of in your head when you’re thinking of weird homeschool. But I rubbed shoulders with that group and— [laughing] my garage door’s open while I’m recording this, and I just really hope my neighbors aren’t listening. Okay, so I rubbed shoulder with them, and one of the things in this group, I mean hyper, hyper, hyper-conservative. I taught in pretty conservative in the churches I was planting and was a part of, but this was a whole nother level. This was a whole nother level. I remember things like, the wives couldn’t write checks. They didn’t have control over the checkbook, only the husband was able to write checks. And this came up because I was a part of this group where like—

Tim: No, Nate, you gotta say what it was. Nate, it’s time for a confession. What club were you in?

Nate: [laughing] Okay. I was a part of a homeschool speech and debate club. And the problem there is speech and debate—

Tim: Wait, part of a what club? What kind of club?

Nate: It was a homeschool speech and debate club.

Tim: Can you say that with pride? Can you say that with a little more oomph? [laughing] You sound like you’re falling away from the microphone by the time you get to the word, “speech.”

Nate: [laughing] Well it’s a double whammy, right? Because speech and debate is already nerdy. And then you add homeschool onto that and I don’t even know if that really computes with a lot of people.

Tim: [laughing] Lord, have mercy.

Nate: Anyway, so this group there were dues you had to pay and there’s t-shirts you had to buy and all the typical type of stuff of any club. Anyways, the women couldn’t write the checks and they couldn’t make decisions on, are they going to be at this tournament, they had to consult the men, their husbands, on those questions. Oh the other one was, if they had a question about what the Bible says, they’d have to go to their husbands for the interpretation of the scripture. So I remember the leader of this whole thing, and if I said his name, you would know his name or know someone very close to him, prominent guy, but he would teach that the head of the house, the husband, needs to have Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology book so that he can—this was actually said, “Get Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology so that when your wife comes to you, you can teach her the correct theology,” essentially. [sighing] Okay, I need a break.

Tim: [laughing] This is totally an aside, and we’re going down a deep bunny hole as you would call it, Nate, but if the idea of divine judgment is a true and valid idea, I can’t help but think that any husband who espoused Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology onto their wife or any other person will be first in line to get a slap in the face for, “What in the world were you thinking?” Anyway, you’re right, though. That writing checks or authority to teach the Bible, those are just scratching the tip of the iceberg in terms of examples. But the other thing, too, is that in other forms, this spans beyond church and beyond household. This is the whole world of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the group that put out the Nashville Statement and all that. Is they believe—

Nate: And snuck into the Nashville Statement the lines about gender roles, essentially.

Tim: Yeah, I mean that’s what they exist to do, is to espouse complementarian theology, that there is a God-ordained plan for humanity that men are in charge and women are to submit to male authority, that that is something that is true about humanity and therefore it’s essential to the gospel that the idea gets espoused at the cultural level. So they think that people out in the world who have been misled by the feminist movement, even if they’re not Christians, are missing out on the truth of male authoritarian dominance, basically. So where that leads is all these articles that start basically with the question of, “Can women do… ?” So one of the ones that made headlines a couple months ago was, “Can women teach in seminaries?” Or then, “Can women be police officers?” Because that would be having authority over men in the public. And half of us are out there scratching our heads like, how far down some confused hole to you have to be to ever feel like you should or could ask that question in a public forum on the internet. And then the other half is just like, “Oh, of course, that’s the natural question to ask!” If we believe this, that the Bible is giving us a religious rule for how to restrict female authority in the world, then you basically end up playing this wild game with figuring out where to draw that line. So Wayne Grudem has actually created a list of basically, in his head, every possible task or function a woman could have. I can’t remember if it was in the church or some sort of ministry function.

Nate: Okay wait, wait, wait. I’m pulling this up. Because I know I’ve seen this before. Let’s see if I can find it. Let’s see, I’m guessing it’s going to be this PDF.

Tim: Send me the link. Yeah. Okay, so this one from Grudem. Apparently it’s back from ‘95. It was called, “But What Should Women Do In The Church?”

Nate: Oh, it’s from the! Which is the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. They published it. CBMW News, it’s their newsletter from November 1995.

Tim: Yeah, somebody’s saying it’s no longer on their site, so a few people have—

Nate:, the PDF is hosted by them.

Tim: Oh, really?

Nate: I don’t think it’s linked out from their site, but I found the original. They still have it uploaded to their site.

Tim: Oh, gotcha. Okay. So in this thing. We’ll give you guys all the links for your own devious pleasures. He literally writes out 83 possible ministry functions a woman could have. For instance, Bible teaching to a women’s Sunday School class; writing or editing a study Bible; preaching the Bible at a regional meeting of churches. So he just brainstorms. It be fascinating to watch him in a room with a whiteboard, trying to brainstorm everything a woman could do without actually possibly talking to a single woman in this conversation. 83 things, and the point of this list is he ranks them by authority, and then he says basically every church and every Christian needs to look at this list and draw a line to decide for themselves where the biblical line should be drawn. Because he’s basically saying, “You know what, you’re right. There’s a lot of gray area. It’s hard to know if women should be police officers, or it’s hard to know if women should be, for instance, item 15: choir directors. Is that allowed in this system? You’re right, there’s a lot of gray area here, and it’s hard to know where to draw the line. So here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to rank it all, and then your job in leading churches is to literally take your red pen, draw a line across this list.”

Nate: Right between Church Treasurer and Church Secretary. That’s where I usually—

Tim: [laughing] Or Sunday School Superintendent.

Nate: [laughing] No, I think it’s usually drawn between 19 and 20, Church Treasurer. They’re not going to let them touch the money.

Tim: Totally. Nate and I are laughing. I honestly—we shouldn’t be laughing—I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a woman who’s grown up in this world, where your leaders, spiritual authorities, whatever, actually feel that they have the right and even the obligation to begin sentences that start with, “What can women do?” And then have the nerve to claim that that is equivalent to equality. And we touched on that before; we’ll touch on it some more. That the idea being espoused is a difference in power and authority and what you’re allowed to do, a difference in opportunity doesn’t necessarily equate to a difference in equality. But we all know intrinsically that’s just never been true. Which is why women fought for the right to vote, because if you don’t have a right to make decisions on behalf of your society, you aren’t equal in that society. It’s why now women are still fighting for equal opportunity in jobs and equal pay to go with equal opportunity. And the same goes for the civil rights movement, people of color and other marginalized people. These are just intrinsic ideas that we all know. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in a world as a woman—I’ve been there as a man—as a woman, where you’re being asked to basically pretend that isn’t true and then see it as somehow God’s divine gift that’s on the same level, to these guys, as the gospel. The issues of homosexuality and gender roles for people involved in the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, that is on par with the gospel in levels of importance. So basically, you’re not a true, genuine Christian if you don’t follow these rules. That’s not true of everyone. A lot of people say, “We can agree to disagree.” But what comes up so much at the lay level of people that aren’t doing serious engagement but just have absorbed these ideas and feel like they espouse them, is they literally go and police whether or not churches or conferences or Christian schools or seminaries are crossing the line in allowing women to do too much. So most churches out there, anybody’s who’s been on a church staff or a preaching team knows that even in somewhat egalitarian churches, if you put a woman on stage in any form with a microphone, you’re going to get a couple emails of people saying, “Why don’t you listen to the Bible? You’re going against God’s word. You never should have had that woman speak. You’re disobeying God.” And I just can’t imagine. And there are stories—you can find them all over Twitter, all over the internet—of women who have been given a platform in one church context or some sort of Christian setting where an egalitarian view has been accepted and a woman’s given the role of pastor or is teaching in a conference, and others that aren’t even a part of that church or that setting will go after them and attack them for breaking the so-called biblical mandate.

Nate: Yeah, I gotta read a paragraph from this. So this is Grudem in this newsletter thing, the same newsletter that has the list. He says, “But I must say at once that that is my personal judgement. And in fact at one time I was a member of a church that differed with me at that specific point,” and he’s talking about women leading home group type things, “And that had some women leading home fellowship groups. I differed with that decision, but I found that I could in good conscience continue as an active and supportive member of the church. However, I don’t think that I personally could have participated in good conscience in a fellowship group in which I myself was a member and there was a woman who functioned in that local ‘pastoral’ role with regard to me and my wife.” So basically he’s saying he could still go to the church, even though there were women that were fellowship group leaders or care group leaders or whatever, but he couldn’t have been in one of the groups where a woman was a care group leader. This makes me think of that Piper line when he tries to justify why he can read books by women authors but not actually hear them speaking at an event or something where they’re actually talking directly to him. And his whole thing is that the book separates some of… takes the personhood out of—what does he say? Have you heard this before?

Tim: I don’t think so.

Nate: Oh, geez. He says, basically, the book kind of adds this layer where the person’s not actually—

Tim: It’s like a mediating authority, so he’s not directly…?

Nate: Yeah, yeah.

Tim: That’s just crazy. Can I just say, as a general word of wisdom, look at Jesus’ response to so many of the Jewish leaders and Pharisees in critiquing the way they had interpreted the Old Testament. If you find yourself having to construct an elaborate system of laws to hold your theology in place, you probably are missing the point in some profound way.

Nate: Yeah. Okay, but really quick. I’ve heard before, “But Piper and Grudem, they’re trying to do good things. They’re trying to help people and you’re picking on them. You’re bringing them down when they’re trying to do a bunch of good out there. Can’t you just appreciate the good?” What do you say to that?

Tim: Right. Is it good? It’s good if it bears good fruit. And I would say for white men who want to have a job in ministry or want to feel powerful in the church, then this produces good fruit. For everyone else in society, even for all of the women who have held to a complementarian view, I would say it has not produced good fruit, and I would say it’s actually antithetical to all of Paul’s theology and to the gospel itself, and antithetical to what it is the church was ever supposed to be.

[transitional music]

Tim: We’ll get back to the text here soon. One of my favorite points that Cynthia Long Westfall makes—and she’s coming from the position of being an established biblical scholar. I heard her share a bit of her personal story. She didn’t necessarily feel completely limited. She didn’t come up in a hyper-complementarian church context, but she knows how many women out there would like to be doing more ministry, whether it’s teaching or pastoring or counseling. They want to be more involved, they feel like they have gifts and passions that they want to use and can’t. And Westfall just points out, what’s consistent in Paul’s theology—we’ll get into this in a second—in the biggest letters like Romans and here in 1 Corinthians, is that the only metric to distinguish between any kind of person in the church community in terms of what they can do or should be doing is the Spirit’s decision to give people gifts. And it’s solely the metric of, “What gifts has the Spirit given each person?” that should establish what—

Nate: Okay, but why does he say, “Women should sit, they shouldn’t talk in the church.”?

Tim: Yeah, we’re going to talk about that in a sec. But before I make that point, I want to point out that we say this is a hermeneutical principle. Actually all of these guys, Grudem, Tom Schreiner who we mentioned, they know this principle, they’re just not following it. Which is if we see something clearly, explicitly, plainly taught in Paul’s theology, and then we come to strange passages that seem like they’re saying something but it doesn’t seem to fit, that we need to aim for a cohesive, coherent theology. So one of Paul’s main points—and we’ll see it’s here in 1 Corinthians, especially chapters 12-14—one of the whole points of this thing is that the body of Christ is this mutually dependent group of people where every single person shows up to contribute something positively to the rest of the body. And it’s wrong, it’s ethically wrong, you’re being ineffective as a Christian, if you’re failing to contribute the gifts that the Spirit has given you. So one of Westfall’s points that I just hadn’t thought of it this way, probably because I’m a man and I’ve always had plenty of opportunity in the church, is that what this complementarian theology is doing is actually prohibiting women from listening to Paul and acting as full Christians in the body of Christ in a way that, if women were choosing, or if anybody else were choosing to ignore the way that God has gifted them and to not use it for others in the world but to kind of live their own selfish life, that they would again, in this final judgment, be rebuked for failing to serve others. I just think, if the way we’ve construed this is that people aren’t being allowed to use their gifts to serve the world because men who have power have interpreted Paul and then said, “Therefore you women aren’t allowed to do this. All these things that you want to do and feel called to do are below the line where we’ve drawn the threshold in the church,” then those men, no matter what kind of good they’re trying to do, to me, will be held accountable for every single woman who has not performed their ministry in the church and out in the world because of their theology.

Nate: That’s like the whole idea that teachers are held to a higher standard. If you’re saying, “Only men can be teachers, we’re going to be the ones teaching everything, and we’re actually going to be withholding from the church this whole other half of ideas out there that would be coming from women,” then you are basically going to be judged a lot harsher than you would have been.

Tim: Yeah, totally. Think about it, teachers are said to be held to a higher account, and we’ve talked about this on a past episode. I really appreciate this idea. It can sound harsh at one point or sort of strange and religious. I think it’s an important idea. People who espouse ideas that end up affecting other people’s lives are more responsible and should be held to a higher account for those ideas then most people who are just believing what they’ve been taught. But think about it: if teachers are held to a higher account, how much higher are teachers who insist that they’re the only ones allowed to be teachers going to be held? You have basically secured your position as first in line to receive rebuke in the final judgment. Anyway. Let’s get back to the text. Okay, so we got off on that whole rabbit trail because I basically asked you for your background and how you thought about this text. Separate question—

Nate: I got a big background!

Tim: [laughing] Hey, the fact that it uncovered your homeschool speech and debate days, I say it’s all worth it.

Nate: One year. One year.

Tim: Okay. So I want to ask you another question. The two verses that are the most troubling or scary, “Women should remain silent in the churches. The are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” Okay, that’s why we’re here, but I had you read some text on the beginning and end of that. What, to you, what is Paul’s bigger conversation here? What is the context of those passages?

Nate: It seems like order. He says it at the beginning; he says it at the end. He cares about there being order; he doesn’t want people speaking out of turn, or too many people speaking at one time, or people speaking when it’s not helping everybody. So if you’re just going to be standing up and saying random words, make sure someone’s there to interpret those random words, because it needs to be for the good of the whole group. So order, and then for the good of the whole group. That’s what I’ve always gotten from this.

Tim: Totally, and if you have a study Bible, the NIV will even say, above verse 26 it has a heading that says, “Good Order in Worship.” Or then the heading above chapter 14 verse 1 says, “Intelligibility in Worship.” So you remember, the first episode we did on 1 Corinthians 11 was the first half of 1 Corinthians 11 that was dealing with what I would contest is an ethical issue with the way the church is arranging itself over who gets authority to decide whether women wear veils or not, who gets authority over women’s bodies. Well then the second half of chapter 11 is dealing with an ethical issue in the church in the way they’re treating one another, which I think gives even further credence to our interpretation of the first half of chapter 11. Specifically, it’s an issue related to power and privilege in the church. Do you remember? It’s the situation where they’re taking the Lord’s Supper—i.e., they’re having a meal together—but Paul says,

18 In the first place, I heard that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.

Tim: And he basically goes on to rebuke that the rich people show up early, have their own meal with a bunch of wine in this extravagant thing, leaving all the poor people to fend for themselves, and he’s basically saying this is completely unequitable. So down in verse 33 he says, “So then, my brothers, and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.” The point is this is another issue of those with power and privilege in the community using it to the detriment of the others. And he’s saying, just as he upheld marginalized women and gave them authority in the community, he’s trying to uphold the marginalized people in this group who aren’t even getting invited to the dinner that the whole church is based around.

Nate: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, Tim, Tim. But why does he tell women not to talk and sit down?

Tim: Okay, I say all that. So listen, he’s systematically addressing issues going on with when they gather. So my point is, in chapter 11, he address two issues. The issue of veiling, or who gets to decide who veils, and the issue of unjust meals, and he address these ethical issues. And then he moves on in chapter 12-14 as one continuous dialogue on how the church is to understand and construe its identity as it relates to what people do and how they all function when they come together. And all of that to Paul is laced with the giftings of the Holy Spirit. So the context is, and this is where in chapter 12 you get into this whole unity of the body and it’s where you get into the issue of tongues. So what I want to say is that “Order in Worship” is a pretty good heading for these three chapters, but there’s a part that I don’t think people pay enough attention to, which is why Paul wants order. He explicitly mentions several times within these chapters that it’s so that if a non-believing, non-Christian person joins your gathering, which it’s in a house around a meal. This is much more like having your neighbors over for dinner than it is what we think of when we think of church. But it’s to be this intentional time, Paul uses the word edification, of serving one another. The whole reason, if you remember, he juxtaposes speaking in tongues with prophecy, and he says it’s better to prophesy. He says, “I speak tongues more than all of y’all, and I wish everyone spoke tongues, but I don’t care a lick about that as much as I do about prophecy because the point of prophecy is that people can hear it and understand it and actually be affected by it.” You can exhort someone with some teaching or bit of wisdom. And if you’re speaking in tongues and a stranger walks in and doesn’t understand what the heck you’re talking about, and—this is the other point he brings up with tongues, which you already mentioned—everyone is talking at the same time, if there’s this crazy disorder, people are going to think you’re all a bunch of wackos and they’re going to walk out. On Jesus. On the church. His whole underlying point in this entire concern for order, and again, I think this is going to be really important here in a minute—

Nate: Is this like when you tell your weird uncle not to be too weird at this Thanksgiving because you’re bringing a date? Is it like that?

Tim: [laughing] Yes, and it’s so bad you eventually have to lay down a rule. So the whole context is Paul wants to give them instructions to basically tell them to pull their crap together so that this thing might actually be appealing to the people that are supposed to be joining you. Paul wants more people to become Christians, but he’s basically saying, “If someone were to walk in to your little gathering, right now what they’re going to see is you treating women like crap; treating poor people like crap; selfishly getting drunk and having a fancy dinner while the low, marginalized people are still marginalized and oppressed within your community. And then the whole point of you being there, which is supposed to be to build each other up, teach each other things, share wisdom, exhort one another, worship, all that, is basically just a bunch of nonsense.” It’s just a bunch of unintelligible nonsense because—and again, there’s this issue of power and division—they’re fighting over which people and which gifts should be granted higher status in the church. So even what they’re doing, it’s like, you know the guy who would show up to the corporate prayer meeting, and you know his prayer is not a prayer? It’s like his little chance to give a sermon.

Nate: Yup.

Tim: [laughing] And like to let the whole room how spiritual and how Christian he is?

Nate: We might be thinking of the same person, but yeah, okay.

Tim: [laughing] Sometimes I feel like that was just everyone around me. I think it’s kind of akin to that, where the point is that people are trying to elevate themselves in status. So power runs all the way through here. And if you don’t believe me, we don’t have time for it, but there’s this whole section that proceeds these chapters where Paul talks repeatedly about his rights and how he gives up his rights, and that word, “rights,” is just exousia—it’s just power. So he talks about how he has power and he gives it up, and then he goes into all these chapters on how the church needs to stop its practices of abusing power and give up its power. So big picture, Paul wants there to be order in the church because he wants people to actually find the church a really compelling place to be. If strangers show up; if someone invites their neighbor; if someone invites their fellow servant; he wants it to be an incredibly compelling and appealing place. And so speaking in tongues in this kind of disorderly way would break that; treating people terribly would break that; and I think what he’s saying explicitly is that whatever he’s talking about here in terms of women talking in church would also constitute that.

[transitional music]

Tim: Okay, so let’s look at the context. Starting back up where we read, 26. It’s about speaking in tongues. And then he basically institutes this rule, “Hey, if there’s no interpreter, basically be quiet.” He doesn’t say speaking in tongues is bad, he says, “Everyone should speak in tongues.” Or not ‘everyone should’—”I wish everyone could speak in tongues. I want you guys to all have all the gifts. But if there’s no one to interpret it and it’s just going to be nonsense that doesn’t help anyone, hey, be quiet.” So he literally says keep quiet in the church. It’s the same line that he says to women down below. And then he says, “Hey, if you all have things you want to share, which you will,” because literally he opened the line with, “When we come together each of you has a hymn or a word of instruction or a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everyone’s coming to contribute.” Everyone. Not men. Everyone is assumed by Paul that they’re going to bring their gifts and contribute. And he actually just finished saying that prophecy is the most important thing. Prophecy, meaning to get up, stand and exhort people in an authoritative way, is something he wants everyone to be able to do. And then he finishes this section, below the thing on women, by saying, “Therefore,” and the NIV rightly translates adelphoi as a term meaning brothers and sisters, meaning everyone, all people, “Men and women, be eager to prophesy and do not forbid speaking in tongues.” And then, “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” So again, he goes through here. He lays down a rule: if there’s no interpreter, be quiet. It’s not going to be helpful. If multiple people have something they want to say, take turns. It’s not going to be helpful if everybody’s talking at the same time. Then women similarly shouldn’t speak. So my point, and Westfall and others would agree here: before we can even understand why Paul would say this to this church for whatever issue they were dealing with, first we have to understand that this is sandwiched in between two passages where Paul is explicitly telling women they should prophesy in the church and to teach, that they’ll get a word of instruction or a hymn, a song. And that is coming in the bigger context that’s similar to Romans 12 and Ephesians 2 and Ephesians 4 of Paul saying the whole point of gathering together as a church is for every single one of you on an equal playing field in an equal opportunity community to contribute your gifts to teach, preach, prophesy, speak in tongues, interpret tongues, all these different things, all these different gifts. They’re never constricted, they’re never limited, they’re never given an exception whatsoever. There’s now neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. There are no distinguishing lines between how to use those gifts. So we should just have a big glaring question: if you have four chapters of Paul saying, basically, “I want all of you guys to love each other better by everyone using your gifts to contribute one to the other,” and, “Hey, it’s not okay, as we use this body metaphor, for all of you to be the ear and just let one of you be the mouth. That’s not how a body works.” The point is everyone serves an equal function, an equally valuable function within the community, not because one person is going to do all the talking and everyone else is going to sit around and listen, or fifty percent of the people in the body are just ears who have to sit around and listen. Everyone is supposed to contribute. And he specifically brings up in that section on the body and different members, that in the church, he uses—you can use your imagination on this what body parts he’s thinking of—he says those body parts that the world considers less admirable, in the church we consider them with higher honor and dignity. It’s almost as if he’s alluding back to the women, who he had to liberate in order to veil themselves, and saying, “Those people who socially,” and same with the poor people who weren’t even invited to the dinner, “Who you want to say are lesser parts of the body, in this community, by nature, those people are equal members, and their ability to bring some sort of authoritative teaching or word or opinion or whatever they have, to the church is on the same par as everyone else’s.” Therefore Paul can tell the entire church, men and women, to prophesy. So let’s try to sift through the weeds, then. What the heck is Paul talking about? First thing, let’s point out, we mentioned Tom Schreiner in the last episode. Probably will coming up as well because he’s been the captain lately in evangelical complementarian theology. And he pulls two moves here that honestly kind of shocked me. The first one is he makes up a definition for prophecy so that it eliminates this contradiction, and he says, to me against all of the other evidence and just common sense, that prophecy just means a momentary, random revelation from God that basically comes to you in a moment and then you just spit out. So basically it’s bypassing your brain. He’s saying prophecy isn’t teaching. It’s not planned. It has nothing to do with what a person actually thinks is true or their opinions. It’s like God just uses you for this momentary regurgitation of some sort of divine revelation. It seems to me to go against the entire logic of Paul’s thing, where he’s saying, “Speaking in tongues is fine and worthwhile if you’re speaking in a language that someone else in the room needs to hear that language. But if you’re not then it has no use, because the whole point is to communicate effectively to other people, and that’s why I want you to prophesy.” The idea that it’s just this random zapping that you then pass forward—basically, his way of construing this is if that’s what it is, then therefore it doesn’t use women’s brains, and therefore we can still say women shouldn’t use their brains to teach or have any sort of authoritative opinion over men. That this is basically, they’re like this empty vessel that are contributing nothing and God is sort of using them in this lightning flash.

Nate: Whew. Wow.

Tim: Okay, so that’s the first one. The second one is there’s this really interesting point where it says, “They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” Now, this is a pretty rare thing here in Paul. He refers to the law quite a bit, and it usually means the Torah, the Old Testament. So for instance, in the beginning of chapter 14, verse 21 it says, “In the law it is written,” and then he quotes this line about tongues from Isaiah. But what Schreiner wants to say is that Paul is actually referencing Genesis 1, 2, and 3 here, and he’s point to, we talked about how there’s this idea that there’s this divine creation mandate. That God created Adam and then Eve to be his complementary, submissive helper. And even though it’s just a story, and the story never says that, and Paul never says that about the story, and no one else in the Bible ever draws that idea from that story, Schreiner actually thinks that when Paul says, “As the law says,” he means that Genesis 2 is teaching that women are supposed to be in submission to men, and therefore this idea is rooted in creation.

Nate: Yikes.

Tim: I think that’s crazy. I think that’s totally crazy. Where you see women submitting to men in Genesis 1, 2, and 3 is in the description of the fall in Genesis 3:16, where it talks about the terrible curse-like consequences upon women as a result of this worldwide hostility, that men are going to rule over women. So what, to me, Genesis attributes to the fall—this perverse nature of men to abuse and domineer women—

Nate: He’s attributing to creation.

Tim: Exactly. And that is where—

Nate: Wow.

Tim: I just want to put my head into a wall. It’s not just like there’s room to disagree here. These are completely opposing views. The complementarian idea that men are in charge, women are supposed to submit, to me and to many others, those that would use the term egalitarian, is the thing that is the result of the fall that Jesus died to redeem us from. And like we pointed out last time, the hostility between Jew and Gentile has been reconciled, but it took the church a while to figure that out. The horrible dominance and hostility and violence taking place between free people or slave masters and slaves in society took a long time for us to undo. We’re still undoing the consequences of it. But then we want to say, actually, male dominance over women—which is an analogy to slave masters and slaves—that’s actually something God ordained in creation. Even though we first see that idea presented as one of the first curses that’s going to plague women as a result of the fall.

[transitional music]

Tim: Okay, so my view, I think best guess is that when Paul says, “As the law says,” he’s actually referring to Greco-Roman cultural norm, cultural expectation, and actually the explicit laws in Roman practice related to male dominance and the subservience especially of non-free women. We talked about how one of the explicit laws was the female prostitutes and slaves were prohibited from wearing veils. There were actual cultural Roman laws mandating male dominance and female submission. So I think what Paul’s saying is that, “When you guys get together, I want new people to be able to come in who aren’t Christians, see what you’re doing, be really compelled by it, and then hear from God by all of you contributing your gifts and prophesying and teaching one another. And there are multiple ways you can screw that up so that that’s not what happens. And one of the ways that people will not be compelled, especially if men come in, is if they see women acting in a way that is so counter to the cultural norms, that is so unconventional that they basically can’t handle it, and actually potentially have the entire community arrested or executed.” But I think there are two decent possibilities for what Paul is actually addressing. Again, if you want more detail, I think Westfall’s got some of the best work out here. But it’s basically two things: one is that you remember the context of church is literally just meeting someone’s house and having a meal and then sitting around and sharing and talking. So first possible reason why Paul has to tell the women to be quiet is because women, who were the caretakers of the house, and specifically there would have been one woman who was the wife of the head of that house who would have had a bunch of other women, either her servants or other free women who were helping her out, who were basically hosting and were running back and forth between the kitchen and the rest of the household, cleaning, cooking, all that, who basically aren’t really participating in the get-together. They’re sort of trying to but hosting, and essentially would have been having their own social dialogue while they’re doing that. Okay one option is that’s what’s in Paul’s mind that was an issue, is basically the women who were doing all the work to sustain this gathering should be quiet so that those who are sitting around the living room can actually do the thing Paul wants to happen, which is to have people prophesy.

Nate: Oh, so not addressing the people that are a part of the thing. People that are in the kitchen, be quiet.

Tim: Possibly. That’s option one. Option two—and it could be a combination of these.

Nate: That one’s a tough one for me, but yeah, okay, let me hear the second one.

Tim: Yeah, I think so, too. I think it’s a stretch, but it’s possible that there are pieces of that that are here. Option two is what I find more likely. Women were by and large barred from any sort of teaching in the Greco-Roman world. There were situations, like in the synagogue, that Jewish culture actually was quite subversive in this in allowing some women to participate. But for instance, Jesus and Paul both had formal education, Jewish education, theological education. It’d be like going to seminary. And just like has been true in many generations of the western church, women were completely barred from that institution. So it’s highly likely that what you have is a situation where a bunch of people have come together, Jews and Gentiles, and men in that room have been granted and afforded the luxury of going and being educated in Old Testament, most likely for most of their lives if they’re Jewish. If they’re Gentile, they actually still have opportunities to go enjoy that teaching. The women by and large had none of that opportunity. And Westfall did some commentary on what you see in teaching settings, where you have large discrepancies in social status, and what you find is low status members who haven’t ever been habituated to structured classroom type settings or institutional learning or formal gatherings at all basically don’t know the rules and the norms, and are constantly interrupting with what would be juvenile, menial questions. And because they’re behind in their learning, they’re constantly interrupting or talking amongst themselves rather than allowing the conversation to be pushed forward. So Paul does what would be the only logical and appropriate and even legal remedy for that situation. Who are they going to learn from? They’re not allowed to go to the schools. They’re certainly not going to be allowed to go sit with someone else’s husband, because that’s not appropriate in the culture. The only real appropriate way for them to catch up is to go sit with their own husband who’s been able to go to those schools and learn those questions. So to me, what’s the most compelling way to read this, and where most of the evidence would point, is he’s basically saying, “Don’t interrupt. Stop talking during church. Stop talking while everyone else is participating in this thing; you’re interrupting. And you’re doing so in a way that’s making this entire community look like it’s so breaking the sexist, patriarchal social norms that this could get us all in trouble.”

Nate: [sighing] Yeah. That doesn’t make Paul look very good in my opinion. It doesn’t seem very—it seems like he’s more subversive in some of the other passages we’ve read, subverting the cultural norms of the day, and this one seems like he’s cool to go along with it as long as “good” theology’s being taught.

Tim: Yeah, I totally hear you, but that’s what I say—the next line, or two lines down, he says, “Be eager to prophesy.” So whatever this means, nowhere does he say, “Women, don’t prophesy.” Nowhere does he say, “Women, don’t teach.” Nowhere does he say, “Women, don’t offer authoritative opinions or instruction or songs.” Nowhere does he say, “Women, don’t stand up and be the center of this whole crowd.” So whatever he’s referring to in terms of talking, it has nothing to do with being in a subordinate position within this community. In whatever way he’s referencing submission and this cultural expectation to be in a position of submission, he’s also saying that the way women who feel empowered in any given moment, whether because they understand what’s happening, or they were educated, or they just have something that God has put on their heart to say regardless of any education background, they’re to say it with full confidence, full authority. They’re to stand up and own that platform, and no one is to take that away from them.

Nate: Yeah, this is a bit of a rough one, I feel like, just because that seems—and we don’t have time to get into all of it—that seems like he’s giving quite a bit as far as saying, “Yeah, women should teach, do whatever.” But then it seems weird to say, “But don’t talk.” And I know you were saying—I don’t know. It just seems like maybe a little bit of a contradiction. And maybe I can see why someone would redefine, then, what prophesying must mean, if Paul’s also saying they shouldn’t be talking.

Tim: Yeah, I hear you. I think it’s strange. That’s why I just go, when in doubt, if it feels like there’s a contradiction, take the very obvious point that Paul is making. Which is that everyone in the church fully shares the same power and authority to teach, lead, preach, offer their opinion, all of that, in the community. So if we’re going to draw anything from 1 Corinthians and make it a rule or policy or norm for the church today, it’s that. It can’t be this piece about women remaining silent.

Nate: Yeah. I think that’s the best argument here. He must not have meant that, because that’s not what he says anywhere else with his large swaths on the church and on roles in the church and that kind of stuff. Alright, well that’s all the time we’ve got for this week, but join us next time as we jump into the last passage, right?

Tim: Yeah, I think so. We might touch on 1 Peter, but 1 Timothy 2 is the crux. So that’ll be next time.

Nate: Alright, cool. We’ll pick up the series next time, continuing to talk about women, the church, roles in the church. And like I’ve said, I said it last episode, we think this is so incredibly important. This is more important than just something we’re going to grab beers over and chat, “We disagree on this and we see things differently.” Because so many people are being hurt by this, mostly women, but men included because the whole church is suffering because we’re only hearing, and we’re only being led by, and we’re only being influenced, and we’re only hearing biblical interpretations from half of the body of Christ. And you could say, “Well, they’re able to give input and be active members of the church, be deacons, deaconesses.” But I’m saying there’s something completely different here we’re talking about when women are fully included in helping us determine what the Bible even is saying, when you look back at the shaping of the ESV or something like that, and leading churches and pastoring people, pastoring men. We need this in the church, and we’re saying enough is enough. And we’re hoping to give the Bible back to you and show that Paul was never meaning for this to be done with what he was saying. So anyways, come on back, we’ve got more to go. Share an episode with a friend, and we will see you next time.

Tim: Peace.

[closing music]

Nate: Well, howdy. If you’re still listening at this point, we would love to hear from you. We would love to hear your story and how this show has impacted you, or questions you have, or just really anything about your journey in the church and with theology and with doctrine and all this kind of stuff. Things you’ve felt and experienced. We would love to hear those. We would be so honored to get to read those, and we read every single email that comes in to us. You can email us at or just head over to and you can find ways to connect with us there. Alright. Look forward to hearing from you.

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