“Learning in the Assemblies: I Corinthians 14:34–35” (Ch 9) by Craig S. Keener -- By: David P. Nelson

Journal: Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood
Volume: JBMW 10:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: “Learning in the Assemblies: I Corinthians 14:34–35” (Ch 9) by Craig S. Keener
Author: David P. Nelson


“Learning in the Assemblies:
I Corinthians 14:34–35” (Ch 9) by Craig S. Keener

David P. Nelson

Senior Associate Dean
Associate Professor of Christian Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina

Craig Keener, in “Learning in the Assemblies: 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, ” attempts to explain the meaning of Paul’s instruction for women to “remain silent” from an egalitarian perspective. Keener admits that the passage is difficult and that it has been read “from various angles” by scholars (171).

He is convinced that “most likely the passage addresses disruptive questions in an environment where silence was expected of new learners—which most women were.” The prohibition “also addresses a broader social context in which women were expected not to speak much with men to whom they were not related, as a matter or propriety.” By issuing such restrictions for pedagogical and cultural reasons, “Paul thus upholds church order and avoids appearances of social impropriety; he also supports learning before speaking.” Keener concludes: “None of these principles prohibit women in very different cultural settings from speaking God’s word” (171).

I will argue here that Keener is correct to recognize the relationship between church order and Paul’s statements in 1 Cor 14:34–35. Likewise, Keener is correct that Paul surely does not advocate the complete silence of women in the assembly. I will also argue, however, that Keener misunderstands both why Paul offers this prohibition and how one should understand the significance of the prohibition in relation to various cultural settings. That is, Keener is mistaken both about the apostle’s reasoning and his intention.

Keener’s reading of 1 Cor 14:34–35 suffers logical, hermeneutical, and theological problems. After discussing flaws at these three levels, I will suggest a better way of understanding Paul’s reasoning and intention.

The Logical Problem

Keener begins his essay by noting that “very few churches today take I Corinthians 14:34–35 to mean all that it could possibly mean” (161). By this he means that a “face-value reading” of the

text implies “silence as a sign of women’s subordination” (161). Having dismissed such a possible reading out of hand, he concludes, “Thus almost everyone has a problem with pressing this text literally, and interpreters...

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