The following is an excerpt from the book, The Ways of God.
The role of women as set forth in the New Testament has often been misapplied or entirely rejected as culturally irrelevant or even misogynistic. In my book, The Ways of God I dedicate a whole section to the role of women in both the Old and New Testaments, in which I seek to demonstrate that, rightly understood and applied, God has been progressively restoring the women’s role in relationship to men to what it was originally designed to be before the fall in Eden. In this section I examine seven primary passages concerning the women’s role in relationship to men in the New Testament which have often been greatly misunderstood.
Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Eph 5:22-33)
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. 24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Eph 5:22-33)
Paul here exhorts the wives to submit to their own husbands just as they would submit to the Lord. In an increasingly feminist and egalitarian society, such a command is normally dismissed offhand as being archaic patriarchy. Many see it as something which would lead to a reversal of all the progress that has been made during the last century towards freeing women from the oppression of abusive dominating males. However, rightly understood and applied, I believe that the marital relationship prescribed in this passage is the way back to the harmonious, complementary relationship which Adam and Eve enjoyed in the beginning before the fall.
As we saw earlier, the fall resulted in a disruption of this harmonious relationship between husband and wife. In Eden, Eve, having been formed from Adam’s side, naturally followed his loving leadership in a harmonious, loving relationship. But with the entrance of sin with its pride and selfish ambition, this harmonious, complementary relationship became a conflictive power struggle which still prevails to this day, just as the Lord told Eve it would. He said to her: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Gen 3:16).
I believe that the New Living Translation expresses well the truth being communicated in this verse when it says: “And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” This is a description of the typical dysfunctional marriage in which either the woman manipulates and controls a cohibited, browbeaten husband, or else a domineering man, taking advantage of his physical strength and established social norms, imposes his will upon his wife without giving due consideration to her needs and desires.
I am convinced that the Ephesians five model is the only way that the marriage relationship can be restored to the harmonious complementary relationship which God intended from the beginning. In this relationship the husband lovingly leads with a self-giving love comparable to Christ’s love for the Church as demonstrated upon the cross - a love which cares for his wife as one would care for his own body. In turn, the wife willingly submits to her husband’s loving leadership.
Many today insist upon an egalitarian marriage in which both equally head up the relationship. However, a two-headed body inevitably leads to conflict and a lack of any real direction. Some say that neither the husband nor the wife should be the head. However, a headless relationship goes nowhere. Any unit without a head, whether it be an army, government, association, corporation, church or marriage, is doomed to failure. God is a God of order. His angels are organized with archangels, principalities and powers who govern over the rest of the angels. Even the devil knew to continue God’s established order with the angels who followed him in the rebellion. Adam and Eve were together given dominion or headship over the earth. There is even headship in the economic relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the trinity (1Cor 11:3). Most of the ills of our society are the result of rebellion against God-ordained leadership, instead of submitting to God and those whom He has designated as authorities in our lives.
Some wives say: “I would submit to my husband if he loved me in the way described in Ephesians five.” Likewise, there are husbands who say: “I would love my wife that way if she were more submissive.” However, in our fallen state there is no perfect relationship and it is almost always one party who alone must initiate change. Sometimes it is the husband who takes the initiative and begins to show unconditional love to his unsubmissive wife, and over time she responds to his love with submission. Quite often it is the wife who, in obedience to the Lord, begins to submit to her husband and he in turn learns to love his wife. The Apostle Peter says:
“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1Peter 3:1-2 NIV)
It is not the husband’s responsibility to obligate his wife to submit to him. That would result in a dictatorship rather than the complementary relationship which God has intended. Neither can a wife make her husband love her by simply telling him he needs to love her. Rather than focusing upon changing our mates, we need to focus upon first changing ourselves. When they consistently see the new you, they will be won over without even a word of criticism on your part.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. (1Tim 2:11-15)
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1Tim 2:11-15)
These instructions, among others which were given to Timothy in order to counter the rise of certain false doctrines and establish order in the church of Ephesus, has been greatly misunderstood and misapplied within the Church over the centuries. As a result, instead of encouraging women to exercise their complimentary gifts in a submissive and edifying manner, the Church in general has sidelined women and stifled their divine giftings which are essential in order for the Church to come to maturity.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, written to the same church at Ephesus some years earlier, he told them that “each one” of them (including women) were given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift for the edification of the body of Christ in order that we all (both men and women) as His body, may attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Then he says:
“but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph 4:15-16)
Nowhere, in all of Scripture is any gift said to be given exclusively to men. Paul exhorts all believers to earnestly desire the gifts – especially the gift of prophecy (1Cor 14:1). It must be kept in mind that prophecy is an utterance gift and is more than simply foretelling future events. It may include a declaration concerning the future, but it simply means to speak forth the rhema (or speaking) word of God as His mouthpiece. The Greek word propheteia is a composite word, made up of pro, “forth” and phemi, “to speak.” Paul forbids women from prophesying in an inappropriate manner, just as he does with women who teach (1Cor 11:5), but he clearly desired that all prophesy - including the women, for the edification of the Church and the conviction of sinners (1Cor 14:24-25).
Additionally, we see in Acts 21:9 that Paul recognized Philip the evangelist’s four daughters as prophetesses. Peter also cited Joel 2:28-29 to show that what was taking place on the Day of Pentecost was that which was prophesied, and the prophecy included women:
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17,18 NIV)
Here we see that God, speaking through the prophet Joel, says that both men and women would prophecy. Neither was it something new for a woman to prophesy. In the Old Testament Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, as well as Anna, who declared to all that the baby Jesus was the Savior, were all called prophetesses.
Taking all of this into consideration, we should call into question any interpretation of 1Timothy 2:11-15 which would see it as a blanket statement excluding all women in the body of Christ from ever teaching the written Word of God in the assembly, since he encourages women to prophesy in the assembly and prophesying is not simply expounding upon what God has said, but rather it is a declaring of what God is saying in a given moment. Why would Paul forbid women to teach, saying (as some claim he does) that they are more susceptible to being deceived than men, while at the same time not only allowing, but encouraging women to be God’s mouthpieces, prophesying that which God speaks in their spirit? Is one less susceptible to being deceived while hearing God’s voice in their spirit and prophesying it than seeking to understand and teach the written Word? I think we can all agree that it is more difficult to discern in one’s spirit what God is saying and speak it forth than to interpret and teach the written Word.
Also, we have all been commissioned to preach the good news and make disciples. Are only men commissioned to make disciples? Or are women only allowed to make disciples of women and children? You cannot make disciples without teaching them, so if women cannot teach men then they cannot fully carry out the Great Commission.
The first missionary to evangelize the Indians in the Colombian Amazon Jungle where we are ministering was a woman named Sophia Mueller. She came here by herself and learned each of the tribal tongues, evangelized and discipled thousands of Indians singlehandedly. Although she returned to the United States some 40 years ago, many of the older Indians remember her as the one who led them and their village to the Lord. Was she being disobedient to Paul’s prohibition, or are we misinterpreting Paul’s words in 1Timothy 2:11-15?
“Learn in silence” (1Tim 2:11)
Paul says: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” Are we to understand by this that a woman cannot speak at all in the assembly? No. Paul encouraged both men and women to sing, cite scripture, pray, prophesy and speak in tongues in the assembly. In 1Corinthians 14 we see that Paul even includes teaching as something that each one is permitted to do as long as it was done in an orderly manner so as to edify:
“How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” (1Cor 14:26)
We must remember that they met in home churches, much like our informal home groups, in which all were allowed to participate as long as it was done in an orderly fashion so that all were edified. The teaching mentioned here is not necessarily the formal teaching only given by a teacher or elder. All the brethren were encouraged to cite a psalm, give a prophecy or a teaching where one would share truths discovered from the Scriptures. If their insight was erroneous, a recognized teacher or the elder/pastor might gently correct them, just as they were told to judge the prophecies given during the assembly. Some may suppose that “brethren” restricts this passage to men. However, in the New Testament, when the term “brethren” is used referring to believers, it includes both the men and the women. [i]
Understanding this, it is evident that by “silence” Paul does not mean that the woman is not allowed to speak at all in the assembly. In fact, absolute silence is not the idea expressed by this word. The Greek word, hesuchia is defined in Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words as: “tranquility arising from within, causing no disturbance to others.” [ii] In 2Thessalonians 3:11-12 Paul uses the same word, telling those who are busybodies, doing nothing but meddling in other’s business, to work “with quietness.” This is not a command to total silence but to temperate speech which edifies rather than being disruptive during the teaching session.
The word for total silence without speaking at all is sigáo, which is used twice referring to being silent, as opposed to speaking, in 1Corinthians 14. Once it refers to being silent rather than speaking in tongues without an interpretation, and once where they were told to be silent when another is prophesying. In 14:34 it is used with reference to women in the church as well. However, as I hope to demonstrate later, verses 34 and 35 are most probably an interpolation and therefore shouldn’t be considered a part of the original text. Even if one were to conclude that they are a part of the text, the command cannot be referring to absolute silence on the part of the women during the entire church service, since in 11:5 Paul makes reference to women praying and prophesying in their meetings.
So, in 1Timothy 2:11 Paul is simply saying that women are to learn in a submissive manner without being disruptive or contentious. Actually, Paul first addresses the men, telling them that they should maintain an attitude of worship without being contentious and doubting or calling into question what was being taught. Then, in verse 9, he shifts his attention to the women, saying “in like manner also the women…” Just as Paul sent Titus to Crete to “set in order the things that were lacking” in the churches there (Titus 1:5), Paul is here instructing Timothy as to how he is to correct or set in order that which was deficient in the church of Ephesus.
Ephesus was notorious for the great temple of the goddess Artemis (also known as Diana) which boasted of being the temple of 1,000 prostitutes. The worship of Diana in Corinth and also in Ephesus had many temple prostitutes who were also priestesses. This cultic religion was antithetical to the Christian faith in many ways and contributed to the rise of Christian Gnosticism. One of the most notable beliefs, and also relevant to the passage we are considering, is matriarchism - the teaching that women were superior to men and should dominate them. They taught that the woman was formed first and then the man. They also taught that the man and not the woman was deceived and fell into sin. They were similar to the radical feminists of today, but with their own theology or mythology, like we see with Wicca and other forms of feminist witchcraft, which are antagonistic towards men and Christianity.
Wm. Paul Young, the author of the best-seller “The Shack,” in his novel “Eve” comes close to replicating this ancient feminist theology when he presents Adam as being complicit with the serpent in deceiving Eve. According to him, Adam was cast out of Eden, whereas Eve was allowed to stay. However, Adam kept coming to the wall of fire every day, pleading with her to leave Eden to be with him until finally, out of compassion, she left paradise to be with him. [iii] In his book, and also in his lectures concerning its subject matter, he has a not so subtle way of nuancing the Genesis account with a distinct feminist twist. However, God’s design from the beginning is neither machismo nor feminism: It is neither patriarchal nor matriarchal. Such power-struggles are a consequence of the fall. Neither is God’s ideal egalitarianism without headship. God’s design is a complementary relationship in which the woman submits to the man’s loving leadership.
Knowing the cultural context, we can better understand what Paul is actually saying. In verse 11 he is saying that women who are not accustomed to submitting to men or receiving instruction from them were to learn with a quiet, submissive attitude, rather than challenging everything the teacher had to say, as the women who had formerly been under the feminist theology of the priestesses of Artemis would have naturally tended to do. Any man who has attempted to instruct a modern feminist or a witch could readily identify with this situation.
I do not permit a woman to teach (1Tim 2:12)
In verse 12 Paul says: “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Some take this as having a universal application, rather than being a temporary measure directed towards an existing situation in the churches that Paul was overseeing in order to reestablish order in the congregations affected by these domineering feminists. However, “I do not permit” is in the present tense and could well be translated as: “I am not presently permitting women to teach or have authority over men.” We would expect it to have a universal application if he would have said: “It is not permissible…,” or “women are not to…” But in saying, “I am not at present permitting,” he at least implies that it was merely a temporary corrective measure in order to establish order in churches troubled by unsubmissive inordinate women who were taking control of the teaching session to interject their unbiblical beliefs, thereby deauthorizing the men in positions of authority. If it were an established universal norm, there wouldn’t have even been a need for Paul to prescribe it for Timothy, since he would have already known to enforce it.
That is not to say that this correctional measure is not applicable today. If a pastor today has unsubmissive women in his church who are unwilling to receive instruction and continually seek to undermine his pastoral leadership, he may need to apply the same measures that Paul prescribed to Timothy. However, a pastor who does not allow gifted and willing women to teach, even though they have acquired understanding under his teaching with a quiet and submissive spirit, would be stifling their gifting and quenching the Spirit. The only way for the Great Commission to be fulfilled is to make disciples, teaching them. And as soon as the women have been taught or discipled, they in turn should be released to teach or make disciples of others - otherwise the chain of the Great Commission is broken.
Another important consideration in this verse is the meaning of the expression “have authority.” The word in Greek is authentéo rather than the normal word for having authority (exusiadzo). Strong’s defines authentéo as: “to act of oneself, i.e. (figuratively) dominate.” A virtuous woman may be given a position of authority (exousía) under the headship of her husband or pastor. But recognizing their God given headship over her, she would never independently take upon herself the role which pertains solely to the husband or the pastor. If a woman leads a class under the direction and headship of the pastor, could that be considered dominating or assuming headship? No. What Paul is forbidding here is a woman exercising control over or dominating her husband or pastor.
In verse 13 and 14 Paul explains why it is wrong for a woman to assume the role of headship: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Here we see that man is to be the head of the woman according to divine order because he was formed first. Although equal in essence, God is a God of order, and therefore the woman should not act independently in disregard for her head. He further explains that that was Eve’s mistake. God told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and her conversation with the serpent reveals that Adam had told her that they had been forbidden to eat of that tree. Therefore, when she partook of the forbidden fruit, she not only acted independently of God’s revealed will, but also acted independently of Adam, who was her God-ordained head. As a result, Eve was deceived into eating of the fruit, whereas Adam was not deceived but willfully sinned against God, apparently out of love for Eve. For this reason, and also due to the fact that he was the head, the original sin that passed on to all mankind is attributed to Adam, rather than to Eve (Rom 5:12).
This twofold explanation given for Paul as to why a woman should not teach or act in a way that would usurp man’s authority in the church is also intended to counter the false teaching of the priestesses of the temple of Diana which taught that the woman was formed first, and that it was the man rather than the woman who was deceived. Much of 1Timothy was directed against false doctrines which were prevalent in Ephesus and it was not directed exclusively against male false teachers. The indefinite pronoun tìs, which is used by Paul to refer to the false teachers, could refer to either men or women.
“…remain in Ephesus that you may charge some (tìs) that they teach no other doctrine, 4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. 5 Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 6 from which some (tìs), having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk.” (1Tim 1:3-6)
Fables or myths, endless genealogies and idle talk would be more descriptive of the teachings of the priestesses than some false doctrine based upon a misinterpretation of the Scriptures. In all probability, they were women in the congregations with little understanding of the Scriptures and heavily influenced by the mysteries of the cult of Diana, who were continually trying to take control of the teaching sessions in order to interject their strange antibiblical beliefs. I have personally encountered this problem more than once with women who have repeatedly interrupted the teaching sessions in order to give voice to their New Age and occult confusion. I personally believe that this is what Paul was opposed to and not that a godly submissive woman should teach sound doctrine in the assembly.
Saved by childbirth (1Tim 2:15)
“Nevertheless she will be saved in (dia, “through”) (the) childbearing (childbirth) if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1Tim 2:15)
There are numerous interpretations given for this verse. One interpretation is that womankind will be saved or delivered from the restriction of not being able to teach in the congregation by having children and teaching them in the home. However, the salvation being referred to here is from Eve’s transgression and resulting death and condemnation which passed on to all womankind – not the prohibition against teaching. Some would counter that death came through man and not the woman. But the main reason that that is true is because if Adam hadn’t sinned, only Eve would have died, and theoretically God could have given him another woman to reproduce offspring in an unfallen state.
I favor the interpretation held by John Calvin and other Reformers who understood this verse as alluding to Genesis 3:15, where God tells the serpent that Eve’s seed, or Christ, would destroy him and by implication bring salvation and a reversal of the fall. The reference to her “seed” also implies the virgin birth, since a “seed” in the sense of “descendant” is normally only applied to the father’s line (2Tim 2:8; Gal 3:29).
The NKJV translation of 1Timothy 2:15, cited above, was apparently translated with a bias for the former interpretation that women are saved by bearing and rearing children since this verse, interpreted more naturally, supports the interpretation that it refers to salvation “through the Childbirth” rather than “in childbearing” as rendered. The word translated “childbearing,” (tecnogonia) according to Strong’s is “childbirth” rather than “childbearing” which would imply a series of births rather than one birth. According to the context and the noun-form it could mean either. However, since tecnogonia is in the singular form and accompanied by the definite article, the more correct rendering would be “the childbirth.” Also, the preposition dia normally means “through” or “by means of” rather than “in” as the NKJV renders it. Therefore, rather than making it out to say: “she will be saved in childbearing,” we should understand it as saying: “she will be saved through the childbirth.” If we were to ask which childbirth will save Eve along with all womankind, which child naturally comes to mind? Jesus, the promised seed of Eve. There are a few translations which follow this more natural rendering, as we see in the International Standard Version:
“Even though she will be saved through the birth of the Child, if they continue in faith, love and holiness, along with good judgment.” (1Tim 2:15 ISV)
Some argue that it cannot refer to Eve being saved through Christ’s death and resurrection, since “saved” is in the future tense. However, Paul is here including all womankind referring to Eve as their representative head. That is why mid-sentence it changed to plural, saying that she will be saved “if they continue in faith, love and holiness with self control.” The translation GOD’S WORD recognized Paul’s presentation of Eve as representative of all women when it reads:
“However, she and all women will be saved through the birth of the Child, if they lead respectable lives in faith, love, and holiness.” (1Tim 2:15 GOD'S WORD)
Paul here is simply making a universal statement – all women (and of course all men as well) will be saved through the birth of the Child, if they continue in the faith (cf. Rom 11:22; 1Cor 15:1-2).
So, as I understand it, 1Timothy 2:11-14 is a temporary measure, only to be applied when circumstances require it. To me, it in no way excludes mature and godly women from ministering and teaching as long as they are submissive under God ordained headship. The same would be applicable to men who teach and minister in the church. If it had been the men who were contradicting and defying established authority, Paul would no doubt have said something similar to them. In fact, he did just that in verse 8. We all have someone who is our head and it is necessary that we all, whether we be men or women, be submitted to our head.
Let your women keep silent in the churches. (1 Cor 14:34-35)
“Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” (1 Cor 14:34-35)
This passage is problematic in many ways. In the first place, it contradicts what Paul says within the epistle itself. In chapter 11 Paul said that “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” (1Cor 11:5). Such a statement would be superfluous if indeed women were required to remain in total silence in the congregational meetings. Also, Paul, just a few verses earlier, told all, without qualifications, to seek the gift of prophesy (14:1). Then, in verse 26 he says that each one, without any limitation as to sex, education or social status, was to participate with psalms, teachings, tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophesy, in order that all may be edified. For Paul to say in the next breath that women were forbidden to speak in the service would be a contradiction to all that Paul had just told them.
Secondly, it says that they were not permitted to speak but were to be submissive “as the law also says.” Not only is any such statement entirely lacking in the law, but we frequently see God using women as prophetesses in the Old Testament. A prophetess speaks for God. It would therefore be impossible for a woman to be silent and at the same time prophesy. Prophetesses, such as Miriam, Huldah, and Deborah were consulted by the men of Israel when they wanted to know the will of God. Deborah even served as judge over Israel, making decisions for the nation of Israel as the Lord directed her (Judges 4:4-5). If Ester had kept silent, her people would have perished. In Revelation Jesus reproved the woman called Jezebel who was teaching in the church of Thyatira, calling upon her to repent of her fornication, but He did not tell her she needed to repent of teaching (Rev 2:21). Likewise, Paul instructed the older women to be “teachers of good things.” (Titus 2:3). Although it is true that one can teach by example, nevertheless Paul is here obviously referring to teaching with words as well, which requires that women speak. Some suppose that “as the law also says” is making reference to Genesis 3:16, but we have seen that the saying, “your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you,” is not an expression of God’s design but simply stating that man and woman would not enjoy the same harmonious complementary relationship they had before the fall. Also, Paul never appeals to the Old Covenant Law in order to substantiate New Covenant practice. Quite the contrary, Paul always contrasted the Law with grace.
The third problematic statement is where it says that if the women wanted to learn something, they would have to ask their husbands at home. This would have left many women without anyone to learn from if they had questions. Many of them would have been unmarried or widows without a husband to ask. Many more would have had husbands who were either unbelievers or else ignorant concerning spiritual matters. Additionally, in 1Corinthians 7 Paul says that it would be better for virgins to remain single. Today with Google there would be a way around this problem, but if the only way a woman could get answers to spiritual questions was to ask her husband at home and she was unmarried, where would she go for answers?
Fourthly, the reason given as to why the women should remain silent is: “for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” The word translated “shameful” (aischron) is a very debasing term. The root meaning of aischron and its cognates is “shameful, vile, filthy, vulgar or base.” This is out of keeping with Paul’s high regard for women, demonstrated in so many other passages (Rom 16:1-16; Gal 3:28; 1Tim 1:5 cf. 2Tim 3:14-15).
Indicators that verses 34 and 35 are an interpolation
Many noble attempts have been made to try to address these problems with verses 34 and 35, but they all either ignore other portions of Scripture or assume that which is not clearly stated in the context. There are several factors which indicate that these two verses were most probably not originally part of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
1) Manuscript evidence suggests that it is an interpolation.
An interpolation consists of words or phrases which were not initially a part of the original Greek text but were inserted by the scribes who copied it. While they are very rare in the New Testament and do not affect any major Christian doctrine, all textual scholars acknowledge their existence. All copies of the Bible prior to the mid fifteenth century were manuscripts, which means that they were hand-written by scribes who made copies of the older manuscripts before they became illegible. It is inevitable that some spelling errors be made in this process, and since a master scribe would often read the text aloud while several copied at the same time, some notes in the margins of the older manuscripts inadvertently became a part of the text in the new copies.
This, however, should in no way diminish our full confidence in the Greek texts which translators use today to make our translations. While there are some differences in the extant Greek manuscripts, we now have more than 5,700 of them, dating as far back as the second century. Some of them are from the east and some from the west, with more being discovered every year by archeologists. By making a careful comparison of all extant manuscripts, textual scholars assure us that the Greek text we now have in our possession is more than 99% identical to the original manuscripts.
The recent discoveries of older manuscripts have helped textual scholars discover and eliminate some later interpolations or additions to the original text. That is why your newer version of the Bible may not have some of the phrases or verses included in the older versions. For example:
“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matt 17:21 KJV)
- Most recent translations, based upon new manuscript evidence, do not include this verse.
“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:44 KJV)
- Most recent translations, based upon new manuscript evidence, do not include this verse.
“For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” (Mark 9:49 KJV)
“Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49 NIV)
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1 KJV)
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1 NIV)
These are some examples where more recent scholarship, with earlier and more reliable manuscript evidence available to them, have been able to determine that these phrases were not a part of the original text but were interpolations. Mark 16:9-20 is perhaps one of the longest passages which many consider to be an interpolation since several earlier manuscripts do not contain it. Nevertheless, since there are reasonably good arguments for its validity, all translations include it, although most indicate in the footnote that some earlier manuscripts do not contain it. The NET Bible entitles it: “The Longer Ending of Mark.”
While 1Corinthians 14:34,35, which we are considering, appears in all the Greek manuscripts we presently have, there is reasonable evidence that it was an early interpolation, inserted into the text prior to 175 AD., which is the date of the earliest copy of 1Corinthians which we have available to us. The reason why an increasing number of scholars have concluded that verses 34 and 35 are an interpolation is because it doesn’t appear in the same location in all the manuscripts. [iv] Several manuscripts place verses 34 and 35 at the end of the chapter after verse 40, while one sixth century manuscript at verse 33 refers the reader to a footnote which only includes verses 36-40. [v]
This gives us reason to believe that it was an early insertion, possibly from a note in the margin by the owner of the old manuscript being read for copying by the master scribe, as though it were a part of the main body of the old manuscript, which the scribes simply copied as it was being read to them. Many church fathers, rather than holding to the New Testament view of women as presented by Jesus and Paul, reflected the same contempt for women as did much of the rest of the Greco-Roman world at the time. The Greek philosopher Plutarch of Athens said that a woman should feel shame at being heard in public just as she would if she were being stripped naked. [vi] Origin (AD 184 to AD 254), reflects the attitude of his time and culture when he said: “Men should not sit and listen to women…even if she says admirable or even holy things they are of no consequence since they come out of a woman’s mouth.” [vii] In like manner, Saint Augustine (AD 354 to AD 430), whose theology has been carefully followed by most theologians until well after the Reformation, said: “What difference does it make whether it comes from the wife or the mother? In any case it comes from Eve, the temptress, of whom we should be aware of in any woman… I do not see what use the woman would be to the man if it were not for her function of bearing children.” [viii]
Considering the contempt that most men had towards women at that time, it would not be surprising if a cleric, who lacked reverence for God’s Word, would insert the contents of verses 34 and 35 in a side-note of his copy of 1Corinthians in order to include it in his liturgical readings to the congregation. Then later, when his old manuscript was transcribed, the scribe either unwittingly or intentionally included the note in the main text of the new copy.
2) Contextual evidence for concluding that verses 34 and 35 are an interpolation.
However, there is another major reason for concluding that verses 34 and 35 were not originally a part of Paul’s epistle. It is placed right in the middle of Paul’s instructions concerning the exercise of the gift of prophecy, thereby interrupting the flow of what Paul was saying. Verse 36 corresponds to what Paul was saying in verse 33 but seems out of place following verse 35, as can be seen:
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor 14:29-40)
Verse 36 logically follows verse 32 rather than verse 35 since it would have been the prophets and not the women who might be tempted to think that they were the only ones receiving revelation from God, discounting all prophetic utterances of others who prophesied and refusing to submit his/her prophetic revelations to the judgment (or scrutiny) of the rest. Also, verse 36 cannot be directed specifically to the women in verses 34 and 35 since in the phrase “to you only” in verse 36, the adjective “only” (monos) is masculine, indicating that in 36 Paul is either speaking to men or to the congregation in general, rather than to women. This is probably one of the reasons why several manuscripts place verses 34 and 35 at the end of the chapter after verse 40.
3) Linguistic evidence indicates that verses 34 and 35 are an interpolation.
A final consideration which indicates that verses 34 and 35 were probably not originally a part of 1Corinthians is that, according to some linguistic experts, the vocabulary used in these two verses is not characteristic of the Apostle Paul. [ix]
So, we have seen that, not only are these verses very difficult – if not impossible to adequately interpret in a manner consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture concerning women, but also manuscript variations make it likely that it was an early interpolation. Also, it breaks Paul’s train of thought, which was concerning the orderly operation of the gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophesy - only to resume where he left off in verse 36. And finally, the vocabulary is not typical of the Apostol Paul.
While all Scripture in its original form was verbally inspired by God, the thousands of extant copies must be carefully scrutinized, eliminating all orthographic errors and interpolations in order to assure that we have a precise, accurate representation of the original text. I realize that not all will agree with the arguments presented here, but they will be left with the option of either ignoring these verses or being left with the daunting task of seeking an interpretation which neither reads too much into the text nor undermines the role of women as seen in the Scriptures and in the very epistle of 1Corinthians itself.
If a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. (1Cor 11:2-16)
“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. 6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man. 9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man. 10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. 12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God. 13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.” (1Cor 11:2-16)
The conflicting interpretations of this passage has, in my opinion, occasioned much unnecessary division within the body of Christ. Some ignore it all together and are censured by those who insist that we should apply it. Those who attempt to apply it are divided over whether the covering is something artificial, such as a veil or hat, or simply long hair. Some say that it was something strictly cultural, whereas others insist it is a universal biblical requirement, without trying to understand the scriptural motive for prescribing such a measure.
The way some mindlessly apply this dress-code reminds me of those who insist that women only wear long dresses, forbidding entirely their use of pants or shorts - even women’s pants, based upon the prohibition in Deuteronomy:
“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God.” (Deut 22:5)
Obviously, this is a prohibition of transvestism or cross-dressing and has nothing to do with pants, dresses or shorts. It is only referring to those who want to be of the opposite sex and dress accordingly. If a man were to put on a woman’s pants or blouse, he could be considered a cross-dresser. On the other hand, if a woman were to dress in a Scottish dress for men, she could potentially be viewed as a transvestite. If a man today were to dress like a man dressed 2,000 years ago, he would probably be considered a transvestite.
What is an abomination before God is rejecting one’s God-given sexuality, and not a woman who simply happens to put on a t-shirt and a pair of Levi’s in order to ride a motorcycle or paint a house. This thoughtless misapplication of dress-codes only serves to divide churches, humiliate women and create man-made hurdles one must leap over in order to become a Christian (cf. Matt 23:13).
I have seen this same thoughtless and harmful application of this passage in 1Corinthians 11:2-16. I have even been in churches where women ushers stand at the door in order to hand out head cloths to any woman who happens to enter without a veil. But rather that it being a symbol of submission to her husband, in our time and culture, it is degrading and humiliating to the women when they are obligated to subject themselves to something so out of place in our time and culture.
They insist that it is a dress-code required of all women universally rather than merely something cultural which no longer applies. However, just as with the prohibition against cross-dressing, we must understand why the covering is being prescribed in order to know how to apply it in our time. In biblical times women often wore pants, especially in colder regions, whereas men normally didn’t. Therefore, the prohibition against cross-dressing would not be applied the same today as when the law was given to Israel.
In the same manner, the enduring underlying principle in 1Corinthians 11 is stated in verse three: “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” We have already seen that, according to God’s design, the wives are called upon to be submissive to their head, the husband, as unto the Lord (Eph 5:22-23). Therefore, anything which would dishonor her husband or defy his headship would be in violation of Paul’s injunction in this passage. However, due to the fact that customs and cultural norms for women’s dress have changed considerably in the last 2,000 years, what would now be dishonoring to one’s head is quite different from what it was at that time. Even today, what would be dishonoring to one’s head in a Muslim country would be for their wife to appear in public without her head and face covered. The same is not true of western countries. In the west it would be dishonoring to the husband if the wife were to refuse to receive his last name, to dress in a sexually provocative way in public or dress like a man. What is universal and enduring is the husband’s headship over the wife – not the way in which the woman must present herself in public in order to avoid dishonoring her husband. With this in mind, we can turn our attention to Paul’s instructions, in an attempt to understand how women were to demonstrate submission, honoring their head in that particular cultural setting.
Verse 4 says: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.” This is easier for us to understand since, even today, it is often considered a sign of disrespect towards God for a man to pray with his head covered. Although Aaron, the High Priest, wore a turban with a golden crown with the words “Holiness to the Lord” inscribed upon his forehead (Ex 28:37) and his sons wore bonnets (Ex 29:9), their priestly attire was exclusive of the Aaronic priests while ministering in the temple. Jewish men worshiped in the synagogues without a head covering until the third century, and some speculate that they only began this practice in order to differentiate themselves from the Christian men who worshipped with the head uncovered.
The confusion has to do with what Paul says concerning the woman’s covering. What does Paul mean when he speaks of a woman either having her head covered or else shaving it? (vv.5,6). And if an artificial veil is the covering Paul is referring to, then why does Paul later say that the hair is given to the woman for a covering? (v.15).
Those who argue that Paul is referring to an artificial covering, such as a veil, rather than the woman’s hair serving as a covering, rightly point out that the covering was not necessary all the time, according to Paul, but only had to be used when a woman was praying or prophesying. However, long hair is not something which can be put on or taken off, and therefore “covered” or “uncovered” cannot be referring to long vs. short hair. But those who insist that only a woman’s hair is needed rightly point out that they are ignoring the verse which says that the woman’s hair is given to her for a covering.
I believe that this impasse is due to our lack of understanding of the customs and practices of that time and region. I believe that, building upon what we can reconstruct from the limited information available to us concerning the customs of the Greco-Roman culture of that time, we can see that Paul was actually saying that the hair, properly arranged, eliminated the need for the women to wear an artificial veil.
From what I have been able to reconstruct concerning the customs of that time, respectable women of that time never left the privacy of their homes with their hair hanging down. If for some reason they needed to leave the house without their hair undone, they would cover their head with a veil.
In that culture, normally the only women who wore their hair down without covering it were the prostitutes. However, especially in centers for the worship of the goddess Diana like Corinth and Ephesus, there was a movement similar to our modern women’s liberation movement. Women were deliberately doing things against the established customs in order to show their independence from men. Apparently, one of the things they were doing to defy man’s headship was to let their hair hang loose in public, which was dishonoring to the husband who, according to God’s design, is the head of the woman. This would have been somewhat similar to the practice of many of the women’s liberation movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s of throwing away their bras.
That is why Paul said: “For this reason, the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on (epi, “upon”) her head, because of the angels.” (v.10). For the woman to let her hair hang down in public was a symbol of autonomy. It conveyed the message that she was subject to no one, including her husband. In contrast, a woman who honored her husband as her head continued in the tradition, having a symbol of authority upon her head. If her hair was properly done up it was a sign to all that she was submissive to her head. If she let her hair down it was a symbol of rebellion against established norms. If she didn’t have time to properly arrange her hair before going to the meeting, she should wear a veil, and the veil should remain in place during the service – especially when she was praying or prophesying, since communion with God is hindered if one is not submitted under His established order.
Paul gives two reasons as to why the woman should have the proper symbol of authority upon her head. First, because it is dishonoring to the husband who is the woman’s head. Secondly, Paul says that it was needed because of the angels. We often forget that the angels continually minister to us and are present with us in our worship services, praising God along with us. God’s angels are all under authority and they are certainly affected when we pray, prophecy or worship with our lips, while our hearts are in rebellion against God’s established authority. Also, Satan’s angels and the demons notice when we are not under God’s umbrella of authority, and a lack of submission on our part gives place to the devil in our lives, our homes and our churches.
When Paul said that a woman who refuses to have a covering dishonors her head as if her head were shaven, he was apparently referring to the Jewish custom of shaving the heads of women caught in adultery, since Roman law forbade stoning them. For them to let their hair hang down in public settings without a veil was as dishonoring to the husband as it would be if her head were shaved for being unfaithful to him.
How are we to apply Paul’s instructions to the women in the Church today? By imposing upon women head coverings or long hair? No. The principle of headship is and enduring part of God’s kingdom, but not wearing a veil, or letting one’s hair hang down, is no longer symbolic of autonomy for the woman – that is, unless some ill-informed husband or pastor makes it an issue. As godly men, we should seek an understanding of God’s ways, instead of mindlessly imposing some dress-code from a bygone era upon our women.
The issue Paul was confronting was women’s defiance of man’s God-given authority. The women of that time symbolically demonstrated their independence by breaking with an established custom: appearing in public with their hair down and unveiled. It was a custom of that time which Paul called upon women to respect. He makes that clear in the conclusion of the matter when he said: “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.” (v.16). Here he makes it clear that the issue of covering was the disregard for a custom. Customs change. He said, “Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” (v.13). When they looked around them, they would have responded by saying: “No it isn’t proper.” But today, unless we live in Iran or Saudi Arabia, we would look around us and say, “In my judgment it isn’t improper in our culture for a woman to pray or do anything else for that matter, without having her hair done-up or veiled.”
To impose the observance of this ancient custom upon women in the church today would only serve to humiliate women and provoke them to rebel, rather than lovingly submitting as to the Lord. Today a woman would do something quite different if she wished to demonstrate her autonomy. She may dishonor her husband by a hairstyle, tattoo or clothing which would be seen today as a symbol of rebellion. Women know in their hearts whether they are dressing to honor their husbands or to shame them, and so does the husband and all the rest.
[i] Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
[ii] Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
[iii] Wm. Paul Young. Eve. Simon & Shuster Inc. 2015. Chapters 16-18
[iv] Some Authors defending this view are: Gordon D. Fee. The Epistle to the Corinthians New International Commentary
on the New Testament.
Philip Barton Payne. Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters.
Anthony Thiselton, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the First Corinthians
Some other scholars holding this view are: Alan F. Johnson, Raymond F. Collins, Simon Kistemaker, Richard Horsley,
[v] Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th Revised Edition, edited by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger in cooperation with the Institute for New Testament Textual Research, Münster/Westphalia, © 1993 by Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart.
[vi] C. K. Barrett, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1968), p.331).
[vii] Origin. Fragments of 1Corinthians
[viii] Augustine, Literal Commentary on Genesis IX.5
[ix] Gordon Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 1987), p. 702.