First presented at the Institute for Biblical Research, Regional Meeting, Jackson, MS in December, 1990. Originally intended to be a chapter in a Harding University Lectureship book but was never published.






John Mark Hicks

Magnolia Bible College


The number of ordained women among Protestant clergy is growing. Many Protestant denominations now favor the ordination of women. Between eight and ten per cent of the ministers in denominations which sanction the ordination of women are female. Within the total context of Protestant churches, between five and seven per cent of all ministers are female. The most aggressive of the Protestant denominations have been the United Methodist Church, the United Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ. The number of women enrolled in Seminary has grown from ten per cent in 1972 to twenty-six per cent in 1985.[1]


There is little doubt that the role of women in the church is one of the major issues of the 1990s. Some conservative groups and the churches of Christ have been resistant to any change. But the cultural and social pressures are growing. The pressures are not only external, but internal. In a survey conducted among baby-boomers in the churches of Christ, the area where they hoped for the most change was in the role of women. Thirty-three percent also added that they were displeased with the current definition and interpretations of Scripture as they related to the roles of men and women in church leadership.[2] These pressures force us to look again at the text of Scripture in order to re- examine our traditional stances. Have we correctly interpreted these texts? Whether we have or not, re-examination is a must for those who seek to be biblical in their thinking and practice.


The letter of 1 Corinthians is a critical text in the discussion of the role of women in the New Testament church. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34-35 along with 1 Timothy 2:8-15 are the major restrictive texts in the New Testament regarding the public leadership of women. It is within the context of interpreting these texts that the major debate lies. The purpose of this chapter is to survey the various approaches that have been made to the Corinthian texts, particularly 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. It is not my intention to build a systematic, constructive case for a particular understanding of these texts. Rather, my approach is to survey the problem and possible resolutions. The reader is left to his own thinking and searching for ultimate solutions. Sufficient resources are contained in the footnotes to pursue a line of thinking introduced in the text.




The Context


Paul learned about the problems in Corinth from two sources. He had received a letter from them in which they had asked him some specific questions (7:1), and some personal representatives from Corinth had visited him (e.g., Chloe’s household in 1:11; Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus in 16:17). Apparently, Paul responds to the information from Chloe’s household in chapters 1- 6. When answering a specific question in the letter, he introduces a formula to indicate what he is doing (cf. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). For instance, when he answers the question about eating meats, he writes: “Now about food sacrificed to idols” (8:1).


When Paul raises the issue of wearing head-coverings and the problems surrounding the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11 he does not use the “letter formula.” This probably indicates that Paul is responding to something which he had heard from one of the Corinthians who had visited him in Ephesus. The two subjects are linked together by a common phraseology: “I praise you.” Concerning the head-covering, Paul praises them because they have dealt with the problem in a proper manner (11:2-16) though some appeared contentious about it (v.16). Concerning the Lord’s Supper, he rebukes them for mishandling the situation (11:17-34). The issue of head-covering is a complicated one.[3] Corinth was a place of mixed cultures — Roman, Greek and Jewish. The use of a cultural device (whether it be hairstyle or head-covering) would be a point of contention between those of differing cultural backgrounds. However, Paul compliments their handling of the difficulty.


Men are to uncover their head while praying and prophesying so as to honor their head who is Christ (11:4, 7). Women are to cover their head while praying and prophesying so as to honor their head who is man (11:5, 10). The issue is one of honor or dishonor. The proper cultural respect must be paid to one’s head. Man must honor Christ by how he dresses and woman must honor man by how she dresses. The principle of honor and dishonor is rooted in the act of creation itself (11:8, 9) and in the respect to be shown before the angels, God’s providential caretakers and observers of worship (11:10). However, the position of women must not be exploited. She has her rights (11:10), and man is not independent of her (11:11, 12). The point is that because of the way God created humankind as male and female (11:3, 7-8), the woman must be sure that she expresses the proper honor due to her head through the appropriate cultural customs within the ethos in which she lives. Therefore, she must cover her head, and at the same time that gives her the right to pray and prophesy (11:10).


The use and abuse of spiritual gifts was a primary problem in the Corinthian church. The church itself had raised the question in their letter to Paul (12:1). Chapters 12-14 discuss this problem in some detail. In particular, chapter 14 deals with the problem in the context of the public assembly of the church. It envisions a situation where the “whole church comes together” (14:23; cf. v.26) and where unbelievers (visitors) could easily walk into the assembly (14:24). It was neither secret nor private. It was where the body of believers in Corinth gathered to meet for worship and edification (14:26). Paul is concerned about who leads and how the assembly is led in their praise and worship of God.


Paul addresses their problem by specifically regulating the use of two spiritual gifts: tongue-speaking and prophesying (14:27-33, 39, 40). Concerning tongue-speakers, he writes that no more than two or three should speak, they should speak one at a time, and all of them should be silent if there is no interpreter (14:27-28). Concerning prophesying, he writes that no more than two or three should speak, the other prophets should evaluate their prophesying, and if one of the prophets should receive a revelation during the assembly, the others should be silent (14:29-33).


In 14:34 Paul regulates the speaking of women. Within the assembly, as in all the congregations of the saints (cf. NIV punctuation), the “women should remain silent.” This regulation is based upon two points. First, it is rooted in the principle of submission. They are not to speak, but they “must be in submission” according to the Law. Second, “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak” in the assembly.


The Problem


It is evident that on the surface there is a major problem of consistency between 11:5 and 14:34. In 11:5 Paul assumes and approves the fact that women do sometimes pray and prophesy. He simply regulates their dress while carrying out those activities. However, in 14:34 Paul forbids women to speak in the assembly. Does Paul forbid in 14:34 what he has previously approved in 11:5? The answer is obviously, “No.” How, then, are we to understand these texts?


The purpose of this chapter is to survey the various options that are available to the interpreter and critically assess their value. This is a tedious and difficult process, and it is fraught with many potholes. This chapter can only tentatively and cautiously approach the difficulty.




There are seven major understandings of 1 Corinthians 14:34- 35. The sheer number of the alternatives indicates that the text must be approached carefully. Each position is stated succintly with a brief response. The reader may consult sources cited in the footnotes to find full statements of the arguments on both sides. Usually each representative of an approach will respond to two or three other alternatives. As a result, I have not always felt the need to document specific responses in the footnotes.


Approach One. Some argue that the text is an interpolation added by an ancient scribe.[4] It is supposed that very early in the textual history of 1 Corinthians that a scribe added a marginal gloss to the text in order to harmonize it with 1 Timothy 2:8-15, and later that marginal gloss was placed in its present position. Some scribes placed the marginal gloss after verse 40. The evidence for this is that the Western manuscript tradition places verses 34 & 35 after verse 40. It is also argued that the verses interrupt the flow of the context, they contradict 11:5, and some phraseology (e.g., “as the Law says”) appears foreign to Paul.


However, there is no textual tradition for the omission of these verses. Every known manuscript contains them. While the Western text moves the verses to the end of the chapter, they do not omit them. Their transposition is best explained by the difficulty of the text itself. Because it does seem to interrupt the context, an early scribe in the Western church moved it to the end of verse 40.[5]


Approach Two. Some argue that Paul is quoting traditionalist opponents in Corinth.[6] In 11:5, 10 Paul approves the action of women praying and prophesying in the assembly. However, this was not acceptable to all the Corinthians, especially the Jewish Christians there. Just as he had done earlier in the letter (cf. punctuation in NIV at 1:12; 6:12, 13; 7:1 [note]; 8:1 [note]), Paul quotes his opponents and responds to them. His response comes in 14:36 and is indicated by a Greek particle which signifies rejection of 14:34-35. This understanding of 14:36 would be: “Nonsense! You men (masculine gender) did not originate the Word of God, and, nonsense! you men (masculine gender) are not the only ones to receive it.” Consequently, Paul rejects the Jewish restrictions and authorizes women to speak in the assembly.


However, there is no explicit indication in the text that verse 36 is addressed only to men. The Greek masculine gender may include women. The Greek particle is disjunctive, but it may be a response to Corinthian independence in the face of the universal practice of the church given in verses 33 & 34. Are the Corinthians the only ones to receive revelation? They are acting contrary to the practice of the whole church itself. Further, this would be the longest quotation from Paul’s opponents in the letter with the shortest response. There is no precedent for a quotation with such detailed argumentation (note all the “for’s”). As Carson argues Paul’s quotations of his opponents are short, “followed by sustained qualification,” and Paul’s response is unambiguous in the context.[7] The argument here does not meet any three of these criteria.


Approach Three. Some argue that the text is a cultural accommodation based upon rabbinic practices in the synagogue or cultural mores.[8] In order to accommodate the sensibilities of Jewish Christians in the congregations, Paul followed the practice of the synagogue by not permitting women to speak. Women did not take an active part in the synagogue. But apparently the reason was not based upon divine prohibition as much as culture and propriety.[9] Paul does not regard speaking by women as sinful, but as “disgraceful” or “shameful”. It is argued that Paul sees the issue in terms of culture much like 11:6 where it is disgraceful for a woman to have her head shaved.


However, this understanding of “the Law” is unknown in Paul. “Law” here has the definite article; it is “the Law”. In 14:21, the only other reference to “Law” in the chapter, Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11, 12 and refers to the fact that “it is written in the Law.” It is difficult to believe that Paul would have referred to a rabbinic tradition with such definiteness and authority in order to reject a practice he had just approved in chapter 11. Further, “shameful” does not necessarily imply sinfulness, but neither does it necessarily exclude it. Paul’s reference to the Law is not in support of the silence of women, but in reference to their submission. The Old Testament, according to 1 Peter 3:5, 6, does teach submission. It is that principle which Paul applies to the Corinthian situation.


Approach Four. Some argue that Paul prohibits the babbling and disorderly conduct of women who were interrupting and disturbing the service. Catherine Kroeger has argued that the constant shouting and wailing of women known to be part of some of the Greco-Roman cults was the problem in Corinth.[10] The influence of pagan cults in the Corinthian church indicates that this is a potential problem. Where complete silence is enjoined, and where an assembly is gathered where no meaningless noise is permitted (14:9, 11-13, 28), Paul’s prohibition against the babblings of women makes sense. In addition, it is argued that the Greek term for “speak” (laleo), may simply refer to unintelligible speech or babbling.


However, the contextual usage of the verb laleo indicates that meaningful speech is in view. While it may refer to babbling in some contexts, this is not its normal meaning. There is no indication that the women were being disruptive to the assembly except in the asking of questions. It is simply assumed that there are babbling women. Further, why prohibit all women from speaking if it is only the babbling of a few women who are the problem? Even more, the prohibition is in line with what is practiced in all the congregations of the saints. Are we to believe that cultic babbling was a problem in other congregations as well? Any explanation which limits the prohibition to the Corinthian church is suspect since Paul apparently draws upon the universal practice of the church for his argument.


Approach Five. Some argue that the text specifically relates to the wives of the prophets.[11] Since the term “women” may be translated “wives,” it is argued that Paul is regulating the role of the prophet’s wives. Verse 35 may indicate that the wives were interrupting their husband’s prophecies by asking questions. They are specifically told to wait till they get home to ask those questions.


However, this relativizes Paul’s injunction to a narrow concern. Is it true that “in all the congregations of the saints” the prophet’s wives cannot ask questions in the assembly? May single women ask questions? The argument rests upon the assumption that Paul is forbidding disorderly speaking.


Approach Six. Some argue that Paul prohibits all public speaking by women where they exercise leadership over the assembly (including both inspired and uninspired speech).[12] Some would extend the prohibition to total silence on the part of the women so that they could not even ask any question during the assembly, say “Amen” at the appropriate time, or make any sound. It is argued that the term laleo refers to public leadership in the assembly throughout the context of chapter 14, and that Paul is prohibiting female leadership in the public assembly of the church. This leadership includes leading singing, leading in prayer, reading Scripture and exercising any spiritual gift in the assembly.


The most obvious difficulty with this interpretation is Paul’s discussion in chapter 11. Does Paul condemn in 14:34 what he approved in 11:5? This seems to set up an explicit contradiction in Paul. The value of this approach to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 will depend on how well it can be reconciled with 1 Corinthians 11.


Approach Seven. Some argue that Paul is explicitly prohibiting women from participating in the judging of the prophets.[13] It is argued that the context is specific. He is regulating the use of tongue-speaking and prophesying. Indeed, verse 39 uses a closure device that involves tongue-speaking and prophesying specifically. This indicates that those two activities were Paul’s main concern. The issue of women must be subordinated to either one or both of those issues. Verses 34-35, it is argued, relate to his regulation of prophesying. There are two parts to the prophetic task in these verses: (1) the prophesying itself (v. 29a); and (2) the judging or evaluation of what other prophets said (v. 29b). He regulates the prophesying itself in verses 30-33, but in verses 34-35 he regulates the judging of the prophets. Women are permitted to prophesy as they are empowered by the Spirit, but they are not permitted to evaluate the prophecies of others since this would involve them in a teaching function within in the church. Women are not permitted to teach men in an authoritative context or manner (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12). Women are not to ask questions during this time because it might be perceived as judging.


However, verse 34 is considerably removed from the topic of “judging” in verse 29. Verse 33a might be considered a closure for the topic of tongue-speaking and prophecy, and verse 33b might be considered a new topic sentence. Further, this seems to limit the verb laleo in a way that is inconsistent with the rest of the chapter.




Proffered Resolutions


Any of the interpretative options for 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 which permit women to pray and prophesy will resolve the tension between chapters 11 and 14. In fact, only Approach Six prohibits women from leading the assembly through prayer and prophecy. It appears to me that Approach Six is the best alternative if a satisfactory explanation can be given to the apparent contradiction between 11:5 and 14:35. The potential resolutions are offered here, and the principles for their criticism are set forth in the next section.


Resolution One. Some argue that the meeting described in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is not a mixed assembly.[14] Since 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 forbids the public leadership of women over men (in mixed assemblies), 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 must describe a situation where women prayed and prophesied without men present.


Resolution Two. Some argue that 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 depicts a private, informal meeting whereas 1 Corinthians 14 depicts a public, open meeting of the whole church.[15] In this understanding, Paul would permit the exercise of spiritual gifts and leadership roles for women in private meetings, but in the public assembly of the church these activities are prohibited because of the nature of public leadership.


Resolution Three. Some argue that Paul does not condone the public praying and prophesying of women in 1 Corinthians 11 even though he mentions it. While Paul is dealing with the mixed, public assembly of the church, he only deals with one issue at a time. In chapter 11 he concentrates on the issue of head- covering, but in chapter 14 addresses the issue of speaking. This parallels the way Paul handled the controversy over the eating of meats sacrificed to idols in chapters 8 and 10. Just as he seemingly permits the eating of those meats in chapter 8, he explicitly forbids it in chapter 10. In same way, just as he seemingly permits the praying and prophesying of women in the assembly in chapter 11, he explicitly forbids it in chapter 14.[16]


Resolution Four. Some argue that Paul implicitly forbids women from praying and prophesying since they would have to remove the head-covering to do so.[17] It would be inconsistent for women to lead the public assembly while covered since they would be exercising authority and symbolizing submission at one and the same time. Thus, when Paul forbids them to pray and prophesy uncovered, he implicitly forbids them to pray and prophesy at all.


Key Principles for Interpreting the Texts


The resolution of the apparent contradiction between 14:34 and 11:5 is difficult. None of the four resolutions discussed above are completely satisfactory. Are we left at an impasse? Is there no viable understanding of these texts? The purpose of this section is to lay down four key interpretative principles by which these texts should be understood and the above “resolutions” might be critiqued.


First, any interpretation which is based upon the premise that Paul does not authorize women to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11 is misguided. It must be admitted that there is no hint of disapproval in what Paul says. In fact, Paul heads this section with a note of praise about how the Corinthians had conducted themselves on the issue of head-covering. The praise that Paul offers indicates approval of the practices cited.


In addition, 1 Corinthians 11:10 provides sufficient ground for this interpretative key. This is a difficult text for two reasons: (1) its reference to the angels is ambiguous; and (2) its reference to “authority” (“sign of authority”, NIV) is perplexing. The second issue is the important one for the present. Verse 10 stands in contrast to verse 7. According to the verse 7, “a man ought not to cover his (physical) head”. Verse 10, using the same language, says, “the woman ought to have authority over (or, ‘on’) her (physical) head.” Clearly, the text is referring to that fact that the man is to be uncovered while praying and prophesying and the woman is to be covered while praying and prophesying. Yet, when he refers to the male, Paul uses the term “cover,” but when he refers to the female, Paul uses the term “authority.”


The exact phrase is “has authority.” Many interpret this in a passive sense, that is, while wearing the covering, she wears the sign of her husband’s authority. She “has authority” in the sense that she honors her husband through the covering. But this cannot be read into the term “authority.” The text is an active voice — it is the woman who possesses or has the authority. “Authority” is not the term that is used in reference to male/female relationships elsewhere in the New Testament. Rather, the key to understanding this is found in the use of the phrase elsewhere in 1 Corinthians itself. In every other instance the phrase “has authority” refers to the right of the individual to exercise his/her prerogative. For example, “Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us?” (1 Cor. 9:4,5). The phrase is used five times in 1 Corinthians 9:1-12. It refers to the right of the apostle to exercise his options. In same way, the same phrase in 1 Corinthians 11:10 means that the woman who is covered has the right to pray and prophesy in the assembly.[18]


Consequently, any interpretation which ignores the right of women to pray and prophesy in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is misguided. The parallel drawn between this and the eating of meats is mistaken at this point (as well as others).[19] Paul does not simply leave his view unstated in chapter 11, and then states in chapter 14. Rather, he explicitly approves the activities of the women in chapter 11. This point nullifies attempts to resolve the difficulty through Resolutions Three and Four.


Second, any interpretation which separates the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 from the assembly of 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is flawed. Resolutions One and Two attempt to alleviate the tension by resorting to a “Ladies’ Only” meeting or by relegating the meeting in chapter 11 to a private assembly. If the case for connecting the assembly which involved the Lord’s Supper in 11:17- 34 with the assembly in 11:2-16 can be established, then neither of these resolutions would be viable. In the context of 1 Corinthians, the placement of the discussion of the head-coverings and the Lord’s Supper is topical. Neither of these subjects were contained in the letter the Corinthians had written, and both arose from Paul’s visitors from Corinth. In 11:2 Paul praises them for keeping the “traditions” and then in 11:17, 23 refuses to praise them for not keeping a particular tradition well. The use of the term “traditions” in 11:2 and 11:23 connects the two sections together under a single topic. After discussing why Christians should avoid pagan worship (10:14-22), Paul turns his attention to Christian worship (11:2- 14:40). The parallel structures of 11:2-16 and 11:17-34 indicate that they are talking about the same assembly. There is no break in the thought or context. Indeed, the similar phraseology of “praise over traditions kept or not kept” links the two together. In addition, the word “assembly” or “church” in 1 Corinthians 11:16 links the assembly in 11:2-16 with the gathering of the church (assembly) in 11:17-34.


Further, 11:2-16 assumes: (1) a public assembly; and (2) a mixed assembly. Both of these are indicated by the nature of the problem. It focuses on male/female relationships (mixed nature) in the context of praying and prophesying (worship). Prophesying, as Carson notes, is something that happens “through believers in the context of the church where prophecy may be evaluated” (14:23-29).[20] It is intended for the gathered church; it is not a private experience (unlike tongues may be), but a public one. Further, 11:16 deems the entire discussion a “church” (assembly!) concern, and not merely a private one. The church in Ephesus (from where Paul was writing) apparently followed the same practices as Paul was recommending to the Corinthians. This universalizing of a practice, like that in 14:33-34, indicates that he is talking about the assembly.


The main topic of discussion indicates that the assembly was mixed, public one. The issue of head-covering immediately becomes nonsensical when the meeting is regarded as private or unmixed (women only). Why do women need to wear the head-covering when no men are present, or when they are in the privacy of their homes? The issue of head-covering has to do with public decorum and public appearance. To remove the “public” aspect of the discussion is to remove the problem altogether. As Carson states, “the restriction (about head-covering, JMH) is coherent only in a public setting.”[21]


The postulation of a “Ladies’ Bible Class” for prophetesses is a good example of Biblical gymnastics. Acts 2:17 states clearly that women will prophesy in the kingdom of God, and Acts 21:9 specifies that Philip’s four daughters were prophetesses. Further, it is clear that prophetesses could exercise their function when men were present. This was certainly the case with Anna (Luke 2:36-38). It is unnecessary to postulate an assembly with an unmixed audience when Scripture points us to the functioning of a prophetess in the Temple itself as well as prophetesses in ancient Israel (e.g., Miriam, Huldah, Deborah).


Third, any interpretation which interprets the “praying and prophesying” of 1 Corinthians 11 in a different sense than that used in 1 Corinthians 14 is flawed. Some have argued that “praying” in 1 Corinthians 14 is inaudible, but this certainly cannot be the case with “prophesying.” Prophesying is an audible activity which leads and edifies an assembly. When “praying and prophesying” is used in chapter 11, it anticipates Paul’s discussion in chapter 14. Prayer in chapter 11 may be identified with the speaking in tongues in 14:14-15, but it is probably broader. As such prayer in chapter 11 ought to be considered audible since one thing it anticipates is praying in tongues before the assembled church (14:17). However, the key term for Paul is prohesying, and that is for the express benefit of the assembled church (14:4-5, 22). The use of these terms also binds the two contexts together.


Fourth, any interpretation which results in 1 Corinthians 14 forbidding what is permitted in 1 Corinthians 11 is flawed. It is not reasonable to supposed that Paul flatly contradicts himself with such a short space on such a significant question. As much as Approach Six appears to be most reasonable (though not without its own contextual problems), it should be rejected because it cannot find a reasonable solution to the tension between chapters 11 and 14. It seems to prohibit in chapter 14 what Paul permits in chapter 11. However, if it is clear that Paul permits women to audibly pray and prophesy in the public, mixed assemblies of the church, what is it that Paul is prohibiting in chapter 14? Of the approaches discussed in this chapter, it is probably best to understand the text along the lines of Approach Seven. Yet, it too is not without its difficulties.




Paul authorizes women to “pray and prophesy” in the mixed, public assemblies of the church. Since 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 11:17-34 are discussing the same assembly, it is apparent that Paul is giving his approval to a situation where men and women “pray and prophesy” together. It is the assembly where the Lord’s Supper could be observed. It is an assembly where men and women are both present. It is an assembly where men and women both “prayed and prophesied.”


Paul prohibits women from involving themselves in the teaching functions of the mixed, public assemblies of the church. Paul does prohibit something significant in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. It is a universal rule among the churches. It is rooted in the principle of submission that is taught in the Old Testament. It is probably best to understand his prohibition in the light of the evaluating or judging the prophets. Women are not to take upon themselves a teaching role in the mixed, public assemblies of the church gathered for worship.


What is the contemporary application? There are basically two options if the above two paragraphs are accepted.


First, the Corinthian letter yields a picture of mixed, public assemblies where women as well as men prayed and prophesied without violating the biblical principle of submission. They were only prohibited from taking on independent teaching functions in the assembly. This would be in harmony with the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:11, 12. Thus, this application draws a distinction between the nature of authority exercised through praying and prophesying and the nature of authority exercised through teaching (the kind of teaching described in Paul’s epistles to Timothy and Titus).[22]


However, this application is problematic because it assumes that prophesying was less an authoritative function than teaching. Women may prophesy to a mixed assembly, but they cannot teach a mixed assembly. The studies of Grudem and Carson may help this difficulty but their conclusions have not yet been tested fully. They argue that the prophets of the New Testament were not the same as the authoritative revealers of the Old Testament. The apostles are the only appropriate parallels to the Old Testament prophets. New Testament prophecy, understood in the social and religious context of the Greco-Roman world, refers to human representations of divine impressions. Thus, Old Testament prophets and apostles spoke the very word of God, but New Testament prophets were not on that level. They spoke with less authority than an apostle; their words needed to be judged or evaluated; and they did not always speak by revelation. The distinction that Grudem draws between prophesying and teaching is the distinction of office. The office of elder has the duty of authoritative teaching (as well as the evangelist), and a woman may not hold that office.


Second, the Corinthian letter expects women to fully participate in the praying and prophesying of the church where they are specifically empowered by the Spirit. The Spirit, through the sovereign work of God, gave the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues (nature of prayer in chapter 11) to some women who exercised them in the  mixed, public assembly of the church without condemnation. Yet, when they were not under the direct empowerment of the Spirit, they were to remain silent. Since there is no promise of miraculous ability for the modern church as there was in the New Testament (i.e., there are no prophets today), women are not to take on leadership roles in the mixed, public assembly of the church. In other words, prophetesses and praying under the direct leadership of the Spirit were the exception to the rule in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.[23]


However, this application is also problematic because it assumes that God, through direct empowerment, could violate the principle of submission which he instituted in the created order (1 Cor.11:3). If leading a prayer is a function of authority (i.e., the one being led is in submission to the leader), then when God empowered women to lead men in prayer, he empowered women to function in authority over men. He violated the headship of man. If, on the other hand, leading in prayer is not a function of authority or the function of prophecy in Corinth is not a function of authority, then there is no problem. Perhaps it is best to understand that when a woman leads a man in prayer that act does not violate his headship and then when a woman shares a testimony about her relationship with God (analogous to New Testament prophecy), Paul has shown us in 1 Corinthians 11 that it is possible for a woman to lead a man in prayer and prophesy, and at the same time show him the honor due to his headship through the head covering. This approach combined with a renewed understanding of the role of teaching in the epistles to Timothy and Titus can help us rethink Approach Six. Maybe this is where we need to begin re-examining our thinking and practices, but we must do so within the total context of Scripture.


At the same time no study of “women’s issues” would be complete without understanding the function, role and meaning of other key texts of Scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and Galatians 3:28. How do they bear upon our understanding of the Corinthian texts? Conclusions based upon 1 Corinthians 11 & 14 alone must remain tentative until tested against the teaching of the rest of Scripture. This study is only a beginning.







[1] Statistics cited from Bonnidell Clouse, “Afterword,” in Women in Ministry: Four Views, ed. Bonnidell & Robert G. Clouse (Downer’s Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1989), pp. 232-233.

[2] “Thirty-Something in the Pews: What Every Church Should Know About Baby Boom Christians, A Questionnaire,” The Southern Cross Company and Thomas H. Norton, Statesboro, Georgia, 1989.

[3] See Richard Oster’s article in this lectureship book for a good discussion based upon his recent article in “When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Context of  1 Corinthians 11.4,” New Testament Studies, 34 (1988) 481-505. Cf. also Cynthia Thompson, “Hairstyles, Head- Coverings and St. Paul,” Biblical Archaeologist 51 (1988) 99- 115). In the following discussion I will briefly summarize the standpoint from which I approach the text without attempting a detailed explanation of my reasons.

[4] The best statement of the case is found in Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), pp. 699-708; but see also F.X. Cleary, “Women in the New Testament: St. Paul and the Early Pauline Tradition,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 10 (1980), pp. 78- 82; D.J. Doughty, “Women and Liberation in the Churches of Paul and the Pauline Tradition,” DrewGateway 50 (1979), pp. 1-21; W.O. Walker, “The ‘Theology of Women’s Place’ and the ‘Paulinist’ Tradition,” Semeia 28 (1983), pp. 101-12; G.W. Trompf, “On Attitudes Toward Women in Paul and Paulinist Literature: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and Context,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980), pp. 196-215; and Hans Conzelmann, First Corinthians: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Hermeneia Series (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974).

[5] See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (London: United Bible Society, 1971), p. 565; G. Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles: A Disquistion upon the Pauline Corpus (London: British Academy, 1953), p. 17; and E. Earle Ellis, “The Silenced Wives of Corinth (1 Cor. 14:34-35),” in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis:  Studies in Honor of Bruce M. Metzger, ed. Eldon J. Epp and Gordon D. Fee (Oxford: Claredon, 1981), pp. 213-30.

[6] Probably the best case is stated by Gilbert Bilezekian, Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), pp. 144- 53, 245-50; but see also Neil M. Flanagan, “Did Paul Put Down Women in 1 Cor. 14:34-36?,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 11 (1981), 10-12; Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward an Exegetical Theology:  Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), pp. 76-77, 118-119; D.W. Odell-Scott, “Let Women Speak in Church: An Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:33b- 36,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 13 (1983), 90-93 and “In Defense of an Egalitarian Interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:34-36: A Reply to Murphy-O’Connor’s Critique,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 17 (1987), 100-103; Robert W. Allison, “Let Women Be Silent in the Churches (1 Cor. 14:33b-36): What Did Paul Really Say, and What Did It Mean?,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (1988), 27- 60; and Chris R. Bullard, “May Women Ever Address the Assembly?: A Second Look at 1 Cor. 14:33-36,” Image (July 1989), 27+; (August 1989), 25+.

[7] D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), p. 55. See also Carson’s response to this view in his small work Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984, pp. 38-40

[8] Ralph P. Martin, The Spirit and the Congregation: Studies in 1 Corinthians 12-15 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), p. 87; Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 114; and Walter L. Liefeld, “Women, Submission and Ministry in 1 Corinthians,” in Women, Authority & the Bible, edited by Alvera Mickelsen (Downer’s Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1986), pp. 151-152).

[9] Geogre F. Moore, Judaism (Cambridge: University Press, 1932), II, p. 131. Cf. Megillah 2.4: “All are eligible to read the Scroll excepting one that is deaf or an imbecile or a minor” (from Herbert Danby, The Mishnah [Oxford: University Press, 1933], p.203). Women, in fact, could not have an official service without ten men present. Cf. Megillah 4.3. However, according to Mary J. Evans, Woman in the Bible (Downer’s Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 35, there are examples of “women giving extempore prayer.”

[10] Catherine Kroeger, “The Apostle Paul and the Greco-Roman Cults of Women,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987), pp. 29-30 and with Richard Kroeger, “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth,” Reformed Journal 28 (June 1978), pp. 11-15; see also J. Keir Howard, “Neither Male nor Female: An Examination of the Status of Women in the New Testament,” Evangelical Quarterly 55 (1983), pp. 31-42; Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We’re Meant to Be (Waco: Word, 1974), p. 68; and P. Feine, J. Behm, and W. Kummel, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. A. J. Mattill, Jr. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968), p. 203.

[11] Cf. Ellis, “Silenced Wives;” N.J. Hommes, “Let Women Be Silent in the Church: A Message Concerning the Worship Service and the Decorum to be Observed by Women,” Calvin Theological Journal 4 (1969), pp. 13ff; Guy N. Woods, Questions and Answers: Open Forum, Freed-Hardeman College Lectures (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman College, 1976), p. 106.

[12] Probably the best statement of the case is H. Wayne House, “The Speaking of Women and the Prohibition of the Law,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 (1988), p. 309; see also Robert D. Culver, “Let Your Women Keep Silence,” in Women in Ministry, p. 33; Neil Lightfoot, The Role of Women: New Testament Perspectives (Memphis: Student Association Press, 1978), p. 31; G.G. Blum, “The Office of Woman in the New Testament,” The Churchman 85 (1971), pp. 176ff; George W. Knight, III, The Role Relationship of Men & Women: New Testament Teaching, 2nd ed (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), p. 25; Jim McGuiggan, The Book of 1 Corinthians (Lubbock, TX: Montex Publishing Co., 1984), pp. 221-240; Howard Winters, Commentary on First Corinthians: Practical and Explanatory (Greenville, SC: Carolian Christian, 1987), pp. 199-202; and John Mark Hicks, “Worship in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40: The Injunction of Silence,” Image 5 (August 1989), pp. 24+.

[13] The best presentation of this argument is found in Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington, D.C.: University of America Press, 1982), pp. 239-255, “Prophecy — Yes, But Teaching — No: Paul’s Consistent Advocacy of Women’s Participation Without Governing Authority,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987), pp. 11-24 and The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Westchester, Ill: Crossway Books, 1988), pp. 217-225; see also James B. Hurley, Man and Women in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pp. 188-193; James Moffatt, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, MNTC (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938), pp. 232-33; F.F. Bruce, I and II Corinthians, NCB (Greenwood, SC: Attic Press, 1971), p. 135; D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit, pp. 121-131; James G. Sigountos and Myron Shank, “Public Roles for Women in the Pauline Church: A Reappraisal of the Evidence,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26 (1983), pp. 284- 85; and F. LaGard Smith, Men of Strength for Women of God: Has the Time Come for Shared Spiritual Leadership? (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1989), pp. 251-52. Susan Foh, “A Male Leadership View: The Head of the Woman is the Man,” in Women in Ministry, p. 85 and Women & the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminisms (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1979), p. 121 believes that Paul prohibits the interrupting of the preaching during the assembly by asking questions because this would appear to be participating in the act of dialogic preaching and teaching.

[14] McGuiggan, pp. 231ff and B.B. James, “In What Sort of Assembly May a Woman Pray or Prophesy (11:5; 14:34-35),” in Studies in 1 Corinthians, ed. by Dub McClish (Denton, TX: Pearl Street Church of Christ, 1982), pp. 361-62.

[15] Hermann Olshausen, A Commentary on Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1984), sv. 1 Cor. 11:5; John W. Robbins, Scripture Twisting in the Seminaries. Part I: Feminism (Jefferson, MD: The Trinity Foundation, 1985); F. W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955)k, pp. 251-52; Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Cater, 1857), p. 305; and Gordon Clark, “The Ordination of Women,” The Trinity Review 17 (1981), pp. 3-4. Some regard 1 Corinthians 11 as a closed, private meeting in which the Lord’s Supper is observed, but 1 Corinthians 14 as a public, open meeting including unbelievers; cf. Russell C. Prohl, Woman in the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957) and Gerald L. Almlie, “Woman’s Church and Communion Participation: Apostolic Practice or Innovative Twist?”, Christian Brethren Review 33 (1982), pp. 41-55.

[16] James McKnight, The Apostolic Epistles (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprinted 1969), II, pp. 121-23; R. St. John Parry, The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Cambridge: University Press, 1916), pp. 158-59; John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), p. 231; Blum, p. 178; Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, I Corinthians, ICC, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1914), pp. 324-25; John Mark Hicks and Bruce L. Morton, Woman’s Role in the Church (Shreveport, LA: Lambert Book House, 1978), pp. 66-68; Lightfoot, p. 35and J.J. Lias, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Cambridge: University Press, 1882), p. 107.

[17] Hicks and Morton, pp. 64-66; Noel Weeks, “On Silence and Head-Covering,” Westminster Theological Journal 35 (1972), pp. 21-27; and Rubel Shelly, “Women in Positions of Authority,” Gospel Advocate 119 (1977), 561, 596, 615 & The Imperfect Church (Nashville: 20th Century Christian, 1983), p. 95.

[18] Cf. Liefeld, pp. 145-46 and Morna D. Hooker, “Authority on Her Head: An Examination of 1 Cor 11:10,” New Testament Studies 10 (1963/64), pp. 410-16. See also W.R. Ramsay, The Cities of Paul (New York: Hooder & Stoughton, 1907), p. 203, who writes that a passive sense to “authority” in 1 Corinthians 11:10 is a “preposterous idea which a Greek scholar would laugh at anywhere except in the New Testament, where (as they seem to think) Greek words may mean anything that commentators choose.”

[19]  An excellent study of the relationship between chapters 8 and 10 is Bruce N. Fisk, “Eathing Meat Offered to Idols: Corinthian Behavior and Pauline Response in 1 Corinthians 8-10 (A Response to Gordon Fee), Trinity Journal 10 (1989), 49-70.

[20] Carson, Showing the Spirit, 123.

[21] Carson, Showing the Spirit, p. 123.

[22] See Grudem, “Prophecy — Yes, But Teaching — No” and Carson, Showing the Spirit.

[23] Jean Danielou, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church. 2nd ed. Translated by G. Simon (Leighton Buzzard: The Faith Press, 1974), p. 10; Macknight, III, p. 34; F. LaGard Smith, pp. 245-46; and Lightfoot, p. 35. House argues that the direct leadership of the Spirit is not the only issue. He believes that praying is not an issue of authority, and consequently is not prohibited by 14:34-35 (p. 310).