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The TC Argument Regarding the Silenced Women of Corinth

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  • James M. Leonard
    With the publication of Dr. Epp s Junia, we have access in a single volume the latest tc discussion about 1 Cor 14:33b-35. I have written a non-academic paper
    Message 1 of 36 , Jun 24, 2006
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      With the publication of Dr. Epp's Junia, we have access in a single volume the latest tc discussion about 1 Cor 14:33b-35.

      I have written a non-academic paper which attempts to explain the discussion to an educated laity within a certain segment of North American evangelicalism.  I should note that there is some new evidence being claimed for the passage's inauthenticity which Dr. Epp cites since the earlier discussions by Dr. Fee.

      While I've explained the discussion in this paper, I myself am not qualified to evaluate critically the discussion.  I would be very interested in seeing how persuasaive Dr. Epp's argument and analysis of this disputed passage is in the scholarly community.

      I have cut and pasted this 5 page paper to this post.  The graphics are messed up, so if you would like for me to send you an attachment using Miscrosoft Word, e-mail me.

      I must beg some indulgence in overlooking some of its parochial aspects, in that this was written for a faith community rather than for the academic community.

       

       

       

       

      The Silenced Women of Corinth

      A passage found variously in 1 Corinthians 14 reads,

      As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (NIV).

      The passage reduces down to five important points: 

      1.      This dictum is for all the congregations of the saints.  This point makes the passage universally binding for all time.

      2.      Women are to be silent, and not speak.  This is the definite meaning of sigavw (sigao), which is not ambiguous as its synonym hesuchia is (see above concerning 1 Tim 2:11-12).  Paul is not merely telling them to have a quiet demeanor, but not to speak at all at any time in the church.

      3.      In case the previous point is missed, Paul reiterates that women are not allowed to speak.

      4.      Specifically, women may speak in their homes, but not in the congregation.

      5.      Women speaking in church is disgraceful.

      Any attempt to render an interpretation of this passage must deal honestly with all five points.

      The prima facie reading of this text is that women must not participate in the Church's worship life vocally or verbally.  It envisions women sitting quietly at all times when the congregation is gathered.  They are not to pray aloud.  They are not aloud to prophesy.  They are not allowed to speak praises or testify to the goodness of the Lord.  Accordingly, the flow of argument in this chapter is that there is a time for speaking in tongues in the church under the right circumstances, and likewise, there is an appropriate time for prophetic utterances.  But never under any circumstances is it appropriate for a woman to make any vocal contribution in the church.  Such is the vision of women for all the congregations of the saints, for, as the text explains, "it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."

      Because God's Holy Spirit teaches us—all of us—that we must not impose such strictures on women, we really do not have very many churches today which obey this passage.[1]  Our churches do not really know how to understand this passage, and so they do their best to follow the leading of the Spirit, even though their practice is contrary to the outright meaning of the text.  Consequently, we find rather desperate and implausible attempts to explain away the plain meaning of the text.

      Most frequently, it is suggested that the silenced women were actually silenced wives.  However, it helps not at all to translate wives for women, although such a translation is altogether reasonable.  We must remember that married women enjoyed a higher status than single women.  If wives were forbidden to speak in church, how much more were unmarried women!  Forbidding wives to speak would a fortiori prohibit all women from speaking.

      Moreover, this interpretation assumes an old speculative notion that wives sat on one side of the synagogue, and their husbands on the other, and that some bonehead woman would holler to the other side of the building asking her husband for an explanation in the middle of the service.  This imaginative speculation has been rather thoroughly repudiated, for archaeological excavations of synagogues have proven otherwise (the sexes were not separated from one another).  And besides, Christians met in house churches, making the scenario altogether implausible. 

      More problematic with this suggestion is that the point of the passage boils down to be that women must not embarrass their husbands.  This is just insufficient for the sweeping magnitude of the text.  We do not otherwise have any indication that the dignity of the husbands is anywhere at stake in the Corinthian correspondence.  If the passage is authentic, then we must face the possibility that it cannot mean what it says.

      The question then becomes whether Paul really wrote this passage.  In 1987, Gordon Fee surprised the academic and evangelical community when he argued in the prestigious and widely acclaimed New International Commentary on the New Testament (F.F. Bruce, ed.) that the silencing of women in 1 Cor 14:33b-35 was not original, nor Pauline, nor inspired.  The claim was significant as it came not from some far out radical feminist who lacked a zeal for scripture.  Rather, it came from a person whose reputation in both textual criticism and Pauline studies made him the foremost expert in the merged field of Pauline textual criticism, as well as one of the most biblically committed scholar-preachers in North America.[2]

                  Fee's argument was primarily a textual one.  He noticed a textual problem, evaluated various ways to explain the phenomenon, and then decided the best way to explain it was that it must have been a non-Pauline interpolation; it first must have been written into the margin as some scribe's own personal views, and then migrated into the text at two different places in the manuscript tradition.  However, Fee did not stop there.  Rather, his own exegesis of the text and analysis of the flow of argument led him to confirm his explanation.  Here is his discussion.

      First, in his 1987 publication, Fee concedes that all known manuscripts, including versional manuscripts, include the disputed passage.  However, in the manuscript tradition, the passage is located in two different spots in the chapter, begging an explanation:


       

      Traditional Placement in 1 Cor 14 (as found in both Byzantine and Alexandrian mss)

      What then shall we say, brothers?  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.  The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.  33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.  As in all the congregations of the saints,  women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.  Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?  If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command.  If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.  Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.  Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.

      Placement in 1 Cor in Europe Prior to 400 A.D. (as found in the pre-Vulgate Western mss)

      What then shall we say, brothers?  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.  The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.  For God is not a God of disorder but of peace as in all the congregations of the saints.  Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?  If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command.  If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.  Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  40But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.  Women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.  Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.


       

      Fee explains that "the reading which best explains how all others came about is to be preferred as the original."[3]  There are three possible explanations:

      1.      Paul put the words precisely where they are presently found in all our translations, attached to verse 33.  This follows the Alexandrian and Byzantine tradition.  Then someone moved the block passage down to the end of the chapter, after verse 40, which is where the Western tradition has the text.

      2.      The reverse of #1:  Paul put the words at the end of the chapter, after verse 40, as reflected in the Western manuscript tradition.  Then someone moved the block passage up several verses, attaching them to the end of verse 33, which is where the Alexandrian and Byzantine traditions have the text.[4]

      3.      The block passage was not original, but was a "very early marginal gloss that was subsequently placed into the text at two different places."  According to this theory, the motivation for the marginal gloss was to suppress the favorable status Christian women enjoyed during the apostolic era—an altogether historically plausible motivation.

      The external evidence for #1 and #2 are equal.  To be sure, the pre-Vulgate Western text is not attested as widely as the Byzantine and Alexandrian.  However, the manuscripts attesting the Western placement represent the entire Western tradition of the church up to the end of the fourth century, and geographically extend to the Eastern Church.  Fee adds, "All the surviving evidence indicates that this was the only way 1 Corinthians appeared in the Latin Church for at least three hundred years."  Thus, the placement of the block passage at the end of chapter fourteen goes back to a source as equally ancient as the placement of the passage at the end of verse 33.  No doubt, had it not been for the influence of Jerome's Latin Vulgate, or if Jerome had done his translation in Italy or somewhere else in the West, the Western placement would have persisted up to Erasmus' printed Greek New Testament, and perhaps have altered its placement in the KJV!  As Fee explains, "…both readings must theoretically be given equal weight as external evidence for Paul's original text" (1994, 275).

      Since the issue of which placement is original cannot be solved by external evidence, we must turn to transcriptional likelihoods.  Again, the first rule for transcriptional probabilities is Griesbach's first principle:  "that form of the text is more likely the original which best explains the emergence of all the others."

      In this case, Fee details how one might argue that the flow of argument is both equally good and equally bad for either placement!  (He also elaborates on the flow of argument, as it is affected by either placement.)  The fact that either placement was equally good and equally bad contextually would be unlikely if one placement was original and the other not.  Moreover, the net effect of this is that there are good reasons why a marginal gloss could be interpolated into either position! 

      In a different, vein, it is claimed that the block text is a transpositional variant, as if a scribe transposed the seven lines of text from one place to another.  However, transposition is usually a matter of a letter or two, or perhaps a word or two, but not a matter of seven lines.  No other example in the NT can be cited for such a large "transposition," except for the Adulterous Woman pericope which might be said to have been "transposed" from John 8 to various other places in the NT manuscripts.[5]  The "transposition" of the Adulterous Woman pericope to various places in the NT manuscripts is one of the very reasons why biblical scholars almost unanimously reject its originality to John's gospel.  With the very same "transpositional" phenomenon at work here in 1 Cor 14:33b-35, perhaps similar doubts should also be projected onto our passage.

      Further, to "transpose" the block text would produce an entirely different line of argument, with an altogether different interpretation.  In effect, as Fee argues, the scribe would have been playing the role of redactor, and this sort of redaction is unprecedented in the manuscript tradition of the Pauline epistles.

      All these reasons make it difficult to accept either the first or second option, leaving only the third option.  Here, Fee argues that a migrating marginal interpolation makes perfect sense in light of the historic bias against women in the post-Apostolic period.  Here is a graphic depiction of Fee's suggested reading which best explains how the passage came to be located in two locations:


       

      [In the margin]*As in all the congregations of the saints,  women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.  If they want to inquire about anything, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

      *Placement in pre-Vulgate West

       

      **Traditional placement

      What then shall we say, brothers?  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.  The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.  For God is not a God of disorder but of peace**  Did the word of God originate with you?  Or are you the only people it has reached?  If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command.  If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.  Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.  But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.*  Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.


       

      From here, Fee turns to the internal evidence.  I won't elaborate at this point, except to say that the silencing of the women in such a wide, sweeping, and universal way completely undermines his earlier discussion about method and manner of how women should pray and prophesy in 1 Cor 11, not to mention the previous discussion about how each one should participate in various ways in worship in chapter 14.  We might try to explain the obvious and unmitigated contradictions between those two passages and the silencing of the women in 14:33b-35, but surely everyone will recognize that the easiest resolution to the contradiction is that Paul did not write 14:33b-5.

      This is substantially where Fee's argument stood in 1994.  Basically, Fee had conjectured that the earliest manuscripts did not have the silencing of women in either place.  This was a bold claim to make, since not a single manuscript was known to support his view.  This was a purely rationalized conjecture, based on a hypothesis, without manuscript evidence.

      Much has changed in the last decade.  Fee's hypothesized conjecture now has been found to have manuscript support.  This attests to Fee's brilliance and handling of the text.  He came to his conclusions without physical evidence, but on various re-examinations and discoveries, we find that history has vindicated Fee's claim that early manuscripts—at least some—did not include the passage.  (See P.B. Payne, "MS. 88 as Evidence for a Text without 1 Cor. 14.34-5," NTS 44[1998] 152-58, and idem. Fuldensis, Sigla for Variants in Vaticanus, and 1 Cor 14:34-35 in NTS 41 (1995) 250—251.) 

      This manuscript evidence is found in perhaps the most important Latin codex (Fuldensis, c. 547) and from Codex Vaticanus (B) which is deemed our most reliable complete NT manuscript by the vast majority of text critics.  In both of these manuscripts, there are markings to indicate text critical issues, and these markings show that the scribe was aware of other manuscripts which omitted the verses.  Likewise, the non-Western Greek miniscule ms 88 has been shown to have been copied from a manuscript which did not have the passage in question.  Thus, we have evidence of the text's omission both in an Alexandrian and a pre-Vulgate Western manuscript, and  as well as in the distinctive text of ms 88.

      In the end, I find it remarkable that Fee did his work out of pure conjecture, and that, sure enough, upon closer examination, we have found evidence to substantiate his work. 

      Our discussion then, concludes that this passage which God's Holy Spirit has led us not to interpret according to its prima facie meaning, is actually a passage that Paul was never inspired to write.  On the contrary, an overly zealous scribe after Paul's death must have added it as commentary into the margin of his Bible, and that a patriarchal and sometimes misogynistic church too eagerly incorporated it into its text.  As such, we cannot appeal to this text either to silence women altogether (as it says), nor to keep them out of the pastorate.



      [1] Certainly this is so in North American Protestantism. 

      [2] Fee was not the first to make this claim.  He cites a German scholar, G. Fitzer, 1963, as having done so, while citing a number of others with him, including C.K. Barrett, Hans Conzelmann, and even E. Earle Ellis (with some qualification).

      [3] This is Fee's rendition of Griesbach's first principle of textual criticism (God's Empowering Presence, 272 n.2).

      [4] I'm not sure anyone thinks #2 is a viable option. 

      [5] Instead of the usual placement as John 7:53-8:11, it is also found after John 7:36, 7:44, John 21:24, and Luke 21:38.

    • Dave Smith (REL110, 211,212)
      Friends and scholars, I have seen the posted discussions here and also previously in other publications. I would like to see inquiry made into the character
      Message 36 of 36 , Jul 3, 2006
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        Friends and scholars,

        I have seen the posted discussions here and also previously in other
        publications. I would like to see inquiry made into the character of each
        witness and ask the following questions:

        1) Do any of these witnesses tend to introduce random deletions,
        substitutions, additions, and transpositions?
        2) Do these witnesses tend to be careful transmissions/translations of the
        text or something more akin to targums with midrashim?

        I think most folks realize that both of these questions have been posed to
        the category of the witnesses under consideration in the past, and it takes
        nothing more than a general perusal of a passage such as Luke 23-24 to
        realize that several of the manuscripts cited as proofs of the proposed
        hypothesis do display characteristic random deletions, substitutions, and
        transpositions. The existence of a divergent witness does not mean that it
        is a reliable witness. And even what may be considered unreliable or
        somewhat hostile witnesses, support the existence of the text in question.

        Now as for the several contextual/internal arguments that have been
        presented, pro & con, there exists a great deal of merit, and most seem to
        me a great deal less speculative than some of the textual critical
        arguments. Let me add one internal argument that I did not see, though I may
        have missed that discussion. Taking for granted that the issue is a certain
        1st century Robert's Rules of Order (v.40), let me go further to suggest
        that what St. Paul is addressing is a teaching session, and that is what is
        meant by EN EKKLHSIA, as in 14:19 KTL. It is catechal instruction (KATHCHSW,
        v.19), both here and possible throughout the passage, especially in 34-35.
        This is not the case where women were prophesying or even speaking in
        tougues, but they were asking questions from the floor, possibly stopping
        the prophets in mid-sentence. That is why St. Paul states EI DE TI MAQEIN
        QELOUSIN ... EPERWTATWSAN (v.35). Now I venture to say that few church
        services held in this day, even those presided over by women clergy, allow
        questions from the floor during their sermons. Nor would it be allowed for
        women sitting near the door with their children to call to the front and ask
        either their own husbands or other men for an explanation. St. Paul simply
        states that this sort of questioning should been done EN OIKWi, and from
        each woman's own man/husband (IDIOUS ANDRAS, v. 35). Now, these meetings may
        very well have been in someone's home, but it had become a [legal] assembly
        and the rules of order must apply, such as is the example in Acts 19, where
        a riot broke out because the rules for a public gathering were not followed.
        The hO NOMOS v. 34 is not Torah, but assembly rules. Shouting matches were
        not allowed. The whole rule was to stop the constant chatter (LALEIN, v.34)
        that detracted from the main speaker, whether woman or man.

        It has nothing to do with denying women, on the basis of gender alone, the
        proper excerise of their spiritual gifts. But, on the other hand, some women
        were in breach of the rules for assembly and public order. It just so
        happened that the men were not doing the same; they had other problems. The
        prophets and those who spoke in tongues were under the same guidelines as
        the women to be quiet while others were speaking (v. 28-33). Everyone in the
        assembly was under submission to the others, not just the women. And it may
        also be noted, that though the prophets were subject to all the other
        prophets (v. 27, 32), a woman was not subject to every man. What this
        consists of appears in the various Christian household codes. Christians
        were ultimately all subject to one another. There was no hierarchy, except
        for administrative purposes, and this may be one of those examples.

        Dave Smith
        Hudson, NC

        ----- Original Message -----
        From: "Michael Marlowe" <marlow@...>
        To: <textualcriticism@yahoogroups.com>
        Sent: Monday, July 03, 2006 11:46
        Subject: Re: [textualcriticism] Re: The TC Argument Regarding the Silenced
        Women of Corinth


        > James Leonard wrote:
        > > I would, however, like to quote Dr. Epp as he explains the
        > > impact of the combined literary analysis and text-critical
        > > assessment for the tc argument: "...this combination...has
        > > moved a sizable group of scholars to view the passage on
        > > 'silent women' as a later intrusion ...
        >
        > I think Epp's assertion here has misled you into thinking that most
        scholars
        > who have denied the authenticity of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 have done so on the
        > basis of a "combination" of "literary analysis and text-critical
        > assessment." Despite what Epp says or implies about it, the transposition
        in
        > the existing old Latin MSS can have little relevance to the usual
        > explanation seen in scholarly literature, which is chiefly
        > redaction-critical in nature, not text-critical. The most
        commonly-accepted
        > explanation among secular scholars (and I believe that Ehrman can back me
        up
        > on this) is that these verses were inserted by a very early editor of the
        > "Corpus Paulinum," as a way of incorporating into Paul's remarks about
        > church order in 1 Corinthians the "deutero-Pauline" teaching about the
        role
        > of women that we see in 1 Timothy 2. Most scholars who talk about an
        > anti-feminist tendency in the early chuch see it in the Pastoral epistles,
        > not at some later post-canonical stage of the transmission of Paul's
        > letters; and the concept of an edited "Corpus Paulinum" plays a large part
        > in the explanation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35. Under this view, the verses are
        > thought to have been interpolated by the first editor of the collected
        > letters of Paul (before any Latin version was executed), and we have no
        > access to the unedited originals. The Latin versions are understood to be
        > based upon the (already edited) Corpus Paulinum. The *universal* presence
        of
        > 1 Cor. 14:34-35 in all streams of transmission requires some such
        > explanation, in which the insertion is supposed to have happened in the
        one
        > edition of Paul's letters that was copied by everyone in the generation
        > following Paul. So in a sense the text-critical argument contradicts the
        > usual redaction-critical argument. That is why Conzelmann dismisses the
        > shaky text-critical evidence that you have mentioned, as being wholly
        > irrelevant. But then Fee came along with a rather different argument, in
        > which redaction-criticism of the Corpus Paulinum plays no role, and I do
        not
        > think that many other scholars who regard the verses as being secondary
        > would look upon Fee's argument as adequate. It is missing the whole
        > redaction-critical dimension. Epp's discussion of this matter is also very
        > inadequate if he does not mention the redactional theory.
        >
        > Michael
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > Yahoo! Groups Links
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
        >
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