Summary 1 Corinthians Chapter 14

While going through a chapter in translation and comment, I make mental notes of the sort of things that I believe will be important for the summary. What is the main theme and significance of the chapter? In this case, I was very sure that there would be lengthy discussion about speaking in tongues. After all, that was the thing that Paul seemed to be talking about the most. And this seemed to be the theme almost until the end. But, once there, I realized that the whole chapter had been nothing but a prologue for Verses 33-35. That was the climax, and the pay-off of the chapter, the real theme.

That is when we are told that women should be silent in the assembly. Everything before that had been a precursor, leading up to that. It is, we are told, shameful for a woman to speak during the worship. Shameful. We came across this once before, in 11:16, when we were told it was shameful for a woman to pray with her head uncovered. Pauline apologists have taken the responsibility for the message of Ephesians away from Paul and given it to one of the Deutero-Pauline writers. Ephesians is famous for the passage telling women to submit to their husbands. Paul, however, did not write these words; one of his followers did. Regardless, the thought expressed in Ephesians is not at all dissimilar to what we have gotten, both in Chapter 11 and again here in Chapter 14. Paul has a very traditional view of the role of women, and this role does not include taking a speaking role in worship. That is for the man to do.

So what does this do to my contention that Paul was trying to limit the innovations being introduced into the beliefs and teachings of the Community? Well, on one hand, it may undercut my argument. For if Paul isn’t tryng to squelch new ideas that are expressed–presumably–in tongues, then that puts a real crimp in the flow of my argument. OTOH, this more or less proves my point. Because to have women praying with uncovered heads, or to have them speaking–let alone speaking in tongues or prophesying–in the worship was nothing if not an innovation. As Paul tells us, this was part of the Law. And as an innovation, he is trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

All of this, though, requires that we ask: why did women feel that they could participate? If they didn’t feel they could participate, and so did not, then Paul would not have to forbid this behaviour. That is the nub of this chapter rather than Paul’s attempts to counteract new ideas, such as, perhaps, those of Apollonius, or the ‘other gospel’ that seduced the Galatians.

As for women feeling free to participate, this raises the question of whether Jesus’ message, or part of his message, was about inclusiveness. Now, we all ‘know’ that it was. Right? We know this because it’s intrinsic to the message of the gospels, right? But let’s think back to Mark: where did Jesus talk about his inclusiveness? Well, there’s the part where Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners; there’s also the part at the end of Chapter 3 in which Jesus says that those who do God’s will are his siblings. Aside from these two, there’s the parable of the mustard seed, describing how the kingdom will become big. That implies the inclusion of lots of people. Doesn’t it? And there is the story of the woman outside Tyre, implying the inclusion of non-Jews.

Realistically, however, one really has to acknowledge that, when thinking about Mark’s gospel, ‘inclusiveness’ s not the first or second or third theme that comes to mind. Now, when I was charting out Mark by themes, I did start with a couple of passages that I labeled as indicative of inclusiveness; however, they did not make the final cut. There is no inclusiveness theme in my final analysis; honestly, at this point, I cannot recall the mindset that led me to jettison the theme, but I did because there wasn’t enough evidence, apparently, to convince me there was enough evidence to have it stay. The two stories mentioned above are the only ones that I remember of this potential cluster. Given this, my conclusion is that we cannot state with any conviction that Jesus preached a gospel of universal siblinghood. Or, if he did, it was neither explicit nor prominent. It can be teased out, but that’s the point: it must be teased out. If anyone disagrees, please let me know. If I’ve learned one thing from this study, it’s that interpretation can vary dramatically with different readings.

The thing is, if we are justified in concluding that Jesus did not envision a prominent role for women in his teachings, IOW, that he was a man of his times, just as Paul was, then why did the women believe that they could participate. If Jesus did not have a radical message of egalitarianism, at least not between men and women, then how to explain the behaviour?

There are really only two or three possibilities. In some ways, the simplest is that male/female equality was part of Jesus’ message. If so, we have the source for the behaviour that Paul was trying to squelch. But this would imply that Paul is overriding Jesus in this section. I don’t necessarily believe that Paul would shrink from such an action. In fact, I think it would be something that he would do, since he has indicated that he has done it elsewhere.

Another possibility is that the women believed that a level of equality could be inferred from Paul’s other teaching. Most notably, this would include passages like Galatians 3:28: Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. That sure seems to be a message of inclusiveness. But. Maybe Paul only meant this in a fairly narrow way, that all could believe in Jesus, all could share the faith, all could hope to be saved. But not all could participate fully in the workings of the Community at worship.

The third possibility is that this idea of inclusiveness came from somewhere else. Now, a fair number pagan cults did have female priests. Since Corinth was a pagan city, perhaps the women who joined Paul’s Community had been priestesses of Isis, or Cybele. As such, perhaps, they felt entitled to take a more active role in the worship, only to run into Paul’s determined existence.

In the end, I believe that the most attractive thesis is some combination of #2 and #3. It’s a bit of a wishy-washy position, neither fish nor fowl, but historical causation is rarely all of this and none of that. One imagines that, for Paul, to have women claim a rightful place with the men probably–or certainly–appalled him. That it was a pagan idea probably appalled him even further. That these women may have used his own teaching to justify their position probably sent him ’round the bend. To the point that he considered the behaviour “shamefull”. That is a strong word. Paul felt this very deeply.

My apologies that this took so long to produce. I had to do some serious re-evaluation once I hit the injunction against women. In short, I had to reassess a lot of things, among them Jesus’ message about inclusiveness. And, as always, my conclusions are subject to change without notice. But you will get an explanation.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on July 11, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, General / Overview, Historical Jesus, Paul's Letters, Summary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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