Women in the Church—the Matter of Public Speaking: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34-35 -- By: Kenneth M. Gardoski

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 12:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: Women in the Church—the Matter of Public Speaking: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34-35
Author: Kenneth M. Gardoski


Women in the Church—the Matter of Public Speaking:
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34-35

Kenneth M. Gardoski

Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

First Corinthians 11:2–16 and 14:34–35 are challenging passages to interpret not only within this letter, but compared to the rest of the NT and perhaps all of Scripture.1 What is more, not only are they a handful for interpretation generally, but they also pose a daunting challenge in relation to the issue of women in the church. Taking 11:2–16 at face value, it is hard to miss that Paul is commanding the women of Corinth to wear a head covering when they pray and prophesy in church. But we look around at church and for the most part see row upon row of uncovered female heads. Thus at the very outset a shadow of doubt is cast over this text as to its applicability to the church today. Gordon Fee insists that the passage merely concerns a local cultural tradition and has nothing whatsoever to do with any universal principle of women’s submission to men.2

First Corinthians 14:34–35 is likewise puzzling. At first glance it appears to forbid women to speak in church at all. Again, we look around at church and see women speaking in our services. So what does the passage mean? Craig Keener, very much along the same lines as Gordon Fee above, concludes that Paul’s teaching here is bound to the social context of the day and various principles

of social propriety, “none of [which] prohibit women in very different cultural settings from speaking God’s word.”3

Now it is one thing to acknowledge the interpretive difficulties of a passage and on that basis be careful not to place too much weight on it. This “may be fair enough as a general theological principle.”4 But it is another thing entirely to sweep under the rug of cultural relativity passages of Scripture which give all appearances of offering instruction to the church at large and of backing up that teaching with appeals to the nature of God himself and the order of his original creation. As I hope to demonstrate, 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and 14:34–35 do thi...

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