Gender Based Boundaries for Gathered Congregations: An Interpretive History of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 -- By: J. Carl Laney

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 07:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: Gender Based Boundaries for Gathered Congregations: An Interpretive History of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Author: J. Carl Laney


Gender Based Boundaries for Gathered Congregations:
An Interpretive History of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

J. Carl Laney, Th.D.

Professor of Biblical Literature,
Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon.

Interpreters through the centuries have struggled to know just what Paul meant when he wrote of women “praying and prophesying” in 1 Corinthians 11:5, yet instructed women to “keep silent” and not “to speak” in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. How does one understand these apparently differing Pauline statements? Is there a reasonable solution to this apparent contradiction? Did Paul intend gathered congregations to observe gender based restrictions in the exercise of church ministry? Is there sufficient evidence to regard the text of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 as authentic and thus authoritative for believers? And what did Paul mean by his reference to “the law” in verse 34? Throughout the history of the church, knowledgeable commentators, church leaders and biblical scholars have offered their solutions to these interpretive questions.1

In this article we will examine the interpretive history of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. An historical perspective on the interpretation of this text will help us move closer to resolving the apparent contradiction between 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14 and determine whether Paul intended for there to be gender based ministry boundaries when the church is gathered. After examining some of the key interpretive proposals historically, I will offer my own comments and reflections on this challenging interpretive issue.

The Apostolic Fathers

The early church fathers were familiar with the text found in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35. They quoted and expounded it in their sermons. None of the church fathers I read made any comments regarding the authenticity of the text. It appears that the early church leaders sensed no need to question the Pauline authorship and authenticity of the text.

Tertullian (160–215)

Tertullian, the African apologist and theologian, recognized the validity of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 and quotes the text to confirm the principle of a woman’s silence and subjection in the church. The subject comes up not in a commentary or sermon, but in his discussi...

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