The Social Matrix of Women’s Speech at Corinth The Context and Meaning of the Command to Silence in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 -- By: Terence Paige

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:2 (NA 2002)
Article: The Social Matrix of Women’s Speech at Corinth The Context and Meaning of the Command to Silence in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36
Author: Terence Paige


The Social Matrix of Women’s Speech
at Corinth
The Context and Meaning of the Command to Silence
in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36

Terence Paige

Houghton College

A reexamination of Greek and Roman culture highlights women’s positive role in religion, as Paul also grants, as well as the nuanced but guarded interactions between the sexes. Paul’s injunction to women in 1 Cor 14:34—35 was meant to prevent casual interaction between married women and non-family men in the context of worship, not to prevent sacral speech. This behavior was seen as sexually aggressive, bringing shame on these women and the church in society’s eyes.

Key Words: anthropology, Corinth, Greek religion, Roman religion, paganism, Paul, priestess, prophecy, shame, speech, women

Introduction: The Problem And Previous Solutions

Paul appears to give conflicting views on the public role of women in worship assemblies in 1 Corinthians, allowing that they may pray or prophesy in 11:5 and 13 and condemning their speaking in 14:33b-36. Could these have been written to the same audience? If so, what did Paul—and his first readers—have in mind?

Previous solutions fall mostly into five groups:

1. Eliminating 11:5 by claiming it is only a hypothetical possibility, whereas 14:34-35 represents Paul’s real opinion: women ought not to talk (usually interpreted as leading) at all.1 A

Author’s note: I am grateful to the Social-Scientific Criticism section of SBL, as well as the Constructs of Ancient History section, for the opportunity to present and discuss portions of this research in 1997.

variant of this makes 11:5 refer not to an “official” meeting but merely a “home” meeting, in an amazing feat of anachronism.2

2. Eliminating 14:34-35 by claiming it is a non-Pauline interpolation. This was first proposed by J. Weiss, later followed by C. K. Barrett and G. Fee, among others, and recently defended by P. Payne.3 This proposal deserves more attention than I can give in this article (since I wish to focus on a new solution rather than extensively refuting old ones). There are manuscripts that show a transposition (placing vv. 34-35 after v. 40) but no manuscripts that actually omit the passage or indicate it as suspect. While Payne believes he has found evidence to prove the latter, his case has been seriously damaged by C. Niccum, who points out er...

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