Recovering FROM Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Pt. 5

One does not simply disagree with scholars of a certain status.

In previous responses to RBMW, I was replying to people whose status as biblical experts is fairly restricted to their own circle. But within the circle to which Piper, Grudem, and Ortlund belong, there are some whose influence goes beyond, and who are respected by folks of other theological stripes (even when disagreements arise). In this circle of reformed, complementarian evangelicals, perhaps the most highly reputed is D.A. Carson. One does not simply go against Carson. So, just as with my response to Ray Ortlund, I am simply summarizing and leaning on the arguments of other top scholars who have disagreed with Carson (albeit on different grounds; Fee, Hays, Barrett & Payne arguing for interpolation, and Johnson, Thiselton, Witherington, & Keener[1] arguing for an interpretation based on a specific ad hoc situation in Corinth).

I get a sense that Carson was called upon to cover 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in RBMW because a) the text requires a high level of expertise, and Carson had previously published a book (which I admittedly haven’t read) dealing with the Holy Spirit and order in 1 Cor. 12-14 and b) one cannot comment of these passages without dealing with another theological giant- Gordon Fee. So, when Carson writes this chapter, most of his time is spent responding to Fee in an epic theology version of a clash of the Titans. And in this case, I’ll tip my hand right away and say that it seems like Carson comes out on the losing end. Since the publication of RBMW, a 2nd edition Fee’s 1 Corinthians commentary (in the NICNT series, which Fee was the General Editor of) has been published, as has other top notch commentaries on 1 Corinthians by scholars who disagree with Carson on somewhat different grounds than Fee (Hays, Witherington, Thiselton, Johnson, Garland). It’s come to a point where it seems like all commentary on these two verses is done in reference to Fee and Carson.

In short, reviewing Carson is not exactly something to be taken lightly. But there are some critical questions surrounding these two verses that need to answered, and Carson’s response to Fee and others is really unsatisfactory in many respects. His interaction is shallow, his tone is dismissive, and the argument comes up well short of Carson’s reputation. Before addressing Carson’s argument itself, we need to get the “lay of the land” with 1 Corinthians 14:33-40 because Carson is responding to specific issues here- the big one with regard to Fee is a textual issue. Our English translators have to make some very key decisions here, since the Greek manuscripts available pose two key problems: a dislocation of verses 34-35, and the lack of punctuation in koine Greek means sentence breaks are a bit tricky. We have four main options in terms of how we should best translate 14:33-40. Let’s look at all four in what I believe to be the order of probability, starting with the least likely (for the sake of convenience I’ll use the NRSV translation and adapt it to indicate the textual options in terms of ordering and punctuation options, and I’ll work without paragraph breaks).

Option 1:

For God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached? Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order. Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Option 2 (which Carson argues for):

For God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.

Option 3 (most recent English translations):

For God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.

Option 4 (which Fee prefers, as do I):

For God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.* Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?) Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized. So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.

*Marginal gloss, not written by Paul, but by an early copyist, which was inserted into the text either after v. 33 (Eastern manuscripts) or v. 40 (Western manuscripts): Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.*

So there are two key considerations to make note of. First (which Carson notes in his introduction, spending very little time on) does verse 33 contain a sentence break, with the second half of the verse being a sentence continued in verse 34, or is 33 one sentence, with 34 beginning another sentence? So is it “For God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches.” or is it “For God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” Carson favours the former over the latter.(133) But I find that hard to buy. The main reason for taking this position on this problem is because of the second problem with the manuscripts; the placement of verses 34 & 35. In the Western manuscript tradition (which includes several key, older texts, see p. 134) verses 34 & 35 appear after verse 40. Most manuscripts however have 34 & 35 following after 33. So if the second half of 33 and 34 is one sentence, the dislocated text breaks a sentence in half. Since the Greek manuscripts contain no punctuation, it is difficult to discern where one sentence ends and another begins. But given the dislocated text being only 34 & 35 (33b is never dislocated), it seems that, at least in the West, 33 is read as one sentence; “For God is a God not of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”. Paul is appealing to the orderliness of worship insisted upon in other Churches which, it seems, is being undermined in Corinth.

Carson however argues otherwise. He insists that “as in all the churches” refers to the women’s silence, not the view of God as a God of order, which is to be reflected in worship. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters we see evidence that several of the churches he was in contact with allowed women to speak, teach, prophesy, pray, etc. We know (or at least can have a very high degree of confidence that) women were speaking in worship gatherings and providing teaching and leadership in the churches of Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, Cenchreae, and Colossae. In other words, it is not the practice of all the churches to insist women be silent and not speak (though Carson later argues against absolutizing that; this isn’t a ban on all speech but only a certain kind, but we’ll get to that). Since 1 Cor. 14 is predominantly about orderliness in worship, it would make far more sense to me, to read “as in all the churches” to refer to God being recognized as a God of order, not to the submission and silence of women. So, on Carson’s first point, I have to disagree.[2]

Carson’s second section deals with “The Central Question”; that is, were verses 34 & 35 actually written by Paul, or are they an interpolation, that is, sentences spliced into the text by a copyist? Here we have 3 options: 1) Paul wrote them following verse 33 and at some point in the copying process they were moved down 2) They originally appeared after verse 40, and at some point were moved up. 3) They were not in the original text, but written by someone else, most likely in the margin around 33-40 at an early date, and then inserted into the body of the text in two different locations by later copyists. On this third option, Philip Payne’s fairly recent publication[3] presents 50 pages of evidence favouring interpolation, which is obviously too much to summarize here, but it is worth noting that there is manuscript evidence (in Codex Fuldensis and Vatincanus) which could easily be seen as pointing to these verses being known or believed by copyists to be not authentic. Carson’s strength is in the exegesis of the Greek text, not in manuscripts, and much of Payne’s research has been published after Carson (though some was available through academic journal articles).

Carson argues that these two verses are authentic, and belong after 33, not after 40. He argues that the manuscripts which have the two verses moved are the result of a single presumptuous copyist trying to remove the perceived disruption of the flow of Paul’s argument which is caused by 34 & 35 (135), and the Western tradition for location stems from this one copyist. In other words, Carson argues that a copyist must have felt that the passage flows smoother with these verses moved- to which I would have to give hearty agreement in that the verses in question in this location cause a major disruption. 14:26-33 is about orderliness in worship, with 29-32 specifically about prophets bringing a word in an organized fashion (with 33 giving a theological reason for orderliness- God is a god of order not disorder) and orderliness is still in view in 36-40. Thus 34 & 35 seem out of place, unless women speaking is something which is deemed to be disorderly (verse 35 says it is “shameful”, so making that link would have be done explicitly, which Carson doesn’t do). Carson argues against interpolation because no one would insert an interpolation into a location where it would cause this sort of problem. In other words, it looks so out of place that it must be original (135-136). This is a weak argument. Especially since among known interpolations, there is little evidence of actual, significant improvement to the flow. To use the most obvious example, Mark 16:9-20, a known, and accepted interpolation which has caused considerable awkwardness. But Carson maintains that the location after 40 was an attempt to tidy up a problem,[4] but since this is not widely attested, Carson argues, it is unlikely. Apparently the entire Western manuscript tradition placing these verses after verse 40 does not qualify as “widely attested”. It is not impossible, but nevertheless difficult to believe one copyist’s assumptions could lead to such widespread changes in the text which result in such a minimal improvement. After 40 is less disruptive, but only slightly. The transition from orderliness in worship to reflect God’s orderliness in opposition to chaos into the reminder of the Gospel’s content and the power of the resurrection to bring life from death (chapt. 15) makes more sense without a sidenote about women in between. Simply put, the flow of chapter 14 seems more natural, and more like Paul without 34 & 35 appearing at all.[5] This may not, on its own, be decisive, but it is an issue Carson doesn’t adequately address. It’s theoretically possible that Scripture can be awkwardly structured (and at times, it does seem to be so). But his appeal to lectio difficilior potior- the most difficult reading is the most likely (135-136)- against Fee’s argument from “intrinsic probability” is hardly convincing. Is Paul a poor writer? Perhaps he was. He doesn’t have to be a polished writer for his writings to be authoritative Scripture. But surely an author would prefer to have his words of instruction be consistent, and well ordered- especially when trying to convince his audience to be orderly!

Further, the inconsistency between 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Cor. 14 do indeed pose a very serious problem. Fee is absolutely right on this, in spite of Carson’s objections (136). So what about 1 Cor. 11:5 where Paul admonishes women to continue to prophesy and pray in the assembly? How does that fit with 14:34-35? The topic of prophecy is first introduced in 1 Corinthians in chapter 11, in which Paul commends women that they may indeed (are even encouraged to) prophesy in the assembly, so long as they follow accepted customs of decorum and orderliness, specifically as it pertains distinctive hair styles for women. In other words, the silencing of women from speaking in 14:34 comes into direct conflict with Paul’s statements in chapter 11. Women in the Corinthian church were prophesying and praying aloud, and we also know from Paul’s other letters, and the Book of Acts that they were teaching, and this is not viewed as a disruption of proper order. Carson tries to smooth this over in his final section by arguing that the speaking mentioned in 14:34 is not all speaking, but specifically refers to the weighing of prophecy mentioned in 14:29. However, I find that hard to swallow. It sounds like creative reading to make pieces fit. Ben Witherington III, Craig Keener, Anthony Thiselton, Alan Johnson, and others have all argued that interpolation is doubtful, but still call for the full inclusion of women in ministry by similarly restricting “speak” in 14:34 to a specific type of speech. But they argue that the speech in question is disruptive question asking- which would violate orderly worship[6]. Since order is explained in v. 33 and question asking is clearly noted in v. 35, this would be more likely than finding the restriction on speech in verse 29 and elsewhere in 1 Cor. and beyond as Carson does. If “speak” is to be understood as less than absolute, the immediately adjacent verses would be where we would expect to find the clarification. Verse 34 says “they are not permitted to speak” and the nearest reference to specific type of speech is question asking in v. 35. Surely Paul would see how a prohibition on speech could and likely would be understood, especially given the patriarchal society in which he lived. He would know he is leaving this vulnerable to being read as a complete ban on all speech. Payne has argued for interpolation and stated that if this is not interpolation, then it most likely should be understood as complete prohibition, and has shown that the ban was in the early church frequently understood as absolute[7]. Verse 34 by itself looks like a blanket prohibition. 33-35 taken together opens up more options for interpretation. Even though I think interpolation is the most likely, I would still affirm that the arguments presented by Witherington, Keener, Johnson, and Thiselton are still far more likely to be correct than Carson’s.

Carson’s appeal to 1 Timothy 2 in this context is a bit of a stretch, since that text specifies teaching, and does not use the word “speak” (we’ll get to that text when I respond to Douglas Moo). Before we appeal to another book within the canon of Scripture, we have to read 1 Cor. on it’s own terms. Teaching is not the issue being addressed in 1 Corinthians 14; prophecy, tongues, and order are, whereas almost all of 1 Timothy is written with regard to the topic of teaching.[8] As far as Paul is concerned, prophecy is certainly open to both genders (1 Cor. 11:5) and I would argue teaching is also. Thus, Paul permits speaking by women in chapter 11 and, if 14:34-35 isn’t an interpolation, Paul bans speaking by women (at least in some respect) in 14:34. Carson’s attempt to harmonize and explain by pointing to 14:29 and 1 Tim. 2 comes up far short.

The final issue on the argument regarding interpolation is the pesky issue of the appearance of these verses as “unpauline”. In other words, these verses don’t seem to fit how Paul writes. We don’t have space to unpack it all, but one thing does need to be highlighted, and that is the statement “as the law also says.” This is a problem on two fronts: 1) the Law says no such thing and 2) Paul seldom refers back to the Old Testament in this way. Carson attempts to argue that Paul has in mind Genesis 2:20-24. But, as I stated in my response to Ray Ortlund, Genesis 2 in no way, shape, or form places women in a position of submission or silence. Quite the opposite in fact. This claim is also problematic because when Paul refers to Genesis, he does so as “Scripture” (graphe) not “Law” (nomos).[9] So, here we have three options: 1) Paul has a larger canon than we do and appeals to this other text as part of the Law; perhaps the same unknown text which Josephus quotes as Scripture [10] 2) Paul has wrongly attributed something to Scripture which isn’t there (which of course creates some problems for how we understand Paul’s letters as Scripture) or 3) Paul did not actually believe or write this, but this was inserted by someone else later- someone who, like Josephus, believes Scripture demands women be subordinate to men, when it in fact does not. And of course, given Paul’s disposition towards the Law in Galatians and Romans (see esp. Rom. 6:14), appealing to the Law as an external rule to be imposed on Christians- even if such a command were there to be found in the Law- would seem very odd indeed.

So, while these points may be inconclusive on their own, taken together, the manuscript problems (unexplained dislocation, and Scribal markings indicating a potential corruption of the text), the flow of the text, the internal contradiction between chapters 11 & 14 (and problems between chapt. 14 and other Pauline texts affirming women in leadership roles), and the problematic appeal to the Law, form a very strong argument for interpolation. While I would certainly never be dogmatic on this, I think it is most likely that 14:34-35 is an interpolation. I don’t believe these two verses fit with the Paul I see at work in Galatians, in Philippians, in Romans, and in the rest of the Corinthians correspondence and even Ephesians (a favourite text for complementarian exegetes). While many may object that arguments like this threaten the authority and inerrancy of the text by challenging the authenticity of these two verses, I would respond that a) interpolations in the New Testament are many, and well established (e.g. John 7:53-8:11, Mark 16:9-20, 1 John 5:7-8) and b) even The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy insists that the texts of Scripture are inerrant in the originals (see Article X). My argument is that these verses are likely not original. Carson has dismissed the interpolation argument, but has not satisfactorily explained why we should accept this text as authentic.

Carson’s third section moves away from Fee’s argument for interpolation to other “Unsatisfying Interpretations”. I tend to agree with most of Carson’s responses here. He addresses 7 different attempts to explain the text by people who do not accept the interpolation thesis. Since I find most of these arguments weak and I agree with Carson on several (but not all) fronts, we’ll save some time and space and move on to his final section, in which he gives a proposal for understanding this text.

Carson argues (142-144) that 14:34-35 deals in more detail what is mentioned above in 14:29, the weighing of prophecy, and draws on previous comments about headship in chapter 11. This is problematic, because the headship argument in 11 in no way restricts women’s participation, but actually does the opposite- women may participate as women. Women can follow norms of feminine hairstyles and fully participate. The problem isn’t women’s participation, but women using their new found freedom in Christ in ways which cause the church to be viewed scornfully or shamefully by the surrounding culture. According to chapter 11 women speaking was not shameful, unless they were doing so in a way which presents themselves as being of loose morals, thus undermining their message and bringing contempt on the church.[11]

By arguing that Paul has Genesis 2 in mind in chapter 11 and therefore doesn’t have to refer to it again is a real stretch. Especially since the most immediate preceding Scripture reference before 14:34 is Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 28:11-12 in 14:21. Carson admits that Genesis 2 says nothing specifically about silence, “but it does suggest that because man was made first and woman was made for man, some kind of pattern has been laid down regarding the role the two play”(143). Once again, I maintain that this is absolute malarkey, but specifically as it applies to 1 Corinthians 14, it’s reckless and baseless cross referencing. Genesis 2 doesn’t say what Carson says it does, and 1 Cor. 14:34 doesn’t refer to this text explicitly, and if it does so implicitly (I don’t believe it does), Genesis 2 has been misinterpreted and wrongly applied. So if Paul wrote these verses, and did so in light of Genesis 2, he is guilty of a rather significant exegetical error.[12] This would have very serious ramifications for our doctrine of Scripture, and especially for our readings of Paul’s letters generally and 1 Corinthians especially as reliable sources of revelation.

Carson continues, saying that because wives are to submit to their husbands, according to Genesis 2 (again, Genesis 2 says no such thing), then having women weighing prophecy would put men who prophesy under their wives when then husband prophesied. The silencing of women in the church would thus be not absolute, but pragmatic- the result of wives being subordinate to their husbands. This runs into problems because it requires us to render “women” in verse 34 as wives (which is technically valid- the Greek word is the same, and so whether the author means “woman” or “wife” is determined by context) however, in this case, that doesn’t seem to fit, and also requires us to read “speak” as specifically weighing a prophetic word in light of apostolic teaching- in other words, a woman weighing her man’s speech would violate the leader-subordinate role of the home by placing her in authority over him. Though this may seem like a coherent argument, nothing in these two verses seems to support us reading the restriction on speech to mean simply speech with reference to weighing of prophecy.

I don’t find Carson’s interpretation convincing for 3 reasons:

1) If that is what is at play here, Paul would have chosen his words better (especially as we affirm the inspiration of the text). The word for speak is a very generic word, which without further limitations would include all forms of speech. Why not repeat the word used for weighing prophecy (diakrinetosan meaning to assess, judge, or evaluate)? If women are allowed to speak in a general sense, but not in the sense of giving evaluation, Paul would use the latter not the former.

2) There is no link made between weighing of prophecy in verse 29 and the prohibition against women speaking in verse 34 other than the fact that the word for speak happens to be in both verses (albeit in different forms from the same root, lalo). However, in verse 29, the speaking refers to the one doing the prophesying, not the others doing the weighing. Since we know women are part of those who prophesy (11:5), the women do speak (at the very least in the sense of prophesying), so a prohibition against speech in 14:34, if paired with 14:29, would result in the removal of women from those who are permitted to prophesy, resulting in a definite contradiction.

3) The weighing of prophecy mentioned in verse 29 is done by “the others” (Greek hoi alloi) which is not gender specific. If Paul wanted this role limited to men, why use a generic term like this? “The others” who do the weighing is likely open to female participants.

In conclusion, while Carson’s commitment to having a text with integrity, which is in harmony both within itself, and other biblical texts, is admirable, in this case, it’s unjustified. The fact is 1 Cor. 14:34-35 presents us with a serious problem, and Carson’s proposal simply doesn’t alleviate the difficulty. Interpolation is far more reasonable in this case, as is the proposal that the speaking prohibited in women interrupting with questions (since a specific direction to ask questions outside the assembly is in verse 35). While no extant manuscript excludes these verses entirely, Payne’s 50 pages of evidence builds a very strong case, which should give us caution against dogmatism regarding authenticity, and frees us from feeling obligated to defend these verses. Ironically, Carson suggests advocates of interpolation, like Fee, resort to great “energy and ingenuity expended to rescue Paul from himself” (133). It seems that Carson is using some creative reading to remove the obvious problem. This text sticks out like a sore thumb and Carson tries to use its problems as a means to defend its authenticity. As noted above, some of the known New Testament interpolations do not clarify or smooth out rough spots in the text, but make matters worse. In this case, I think we have two better options than Carson’s interpretation.

***

Notes:

[1] Richard B. Hays. First Corinthians (Int.). Louisville: WJK, 1997. C.K. Barrett. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (2nd Edition). (London: A & C Black, 1971). Philip B. Payne. Man and Woman, One in Christ. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). Alan F. Johnson. 1 Corinthians. (IVPNTC). (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2004). Anthony C. Thiselton. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (NIGTC). (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), Ben Witherington III. “Joanna: the Untold Story” (lecture). Baylor ISR, Women and the Bible: A Historical Perspective. Sept. 16, 2013, Craig S. Keener. Paul, Women & Wives. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992).

[2] For a concise summary, see Johnson, 1 Corinthians, 269-270 & Hays, First Corinthians, 243-245.

[3] Payne, Man and Woman, 217-267.

[4]Carson states “The role of women is then nicely tucked between two major topics”(135). But this would, I think, be an argument in favour of verses 34 & 35 coming after 40 originally.

[5] Richard Hays argues for interpolation mainly on this ground. He concedes that the manuscript evidence favours authenticity, however, the flow and logic of the argument make this reading very difficult to maintain. Hays. First Corinthians, 245-249. See also The Moral Vision of the New Testament. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1994), 52-56.

[6] Witherington argues that men are not specified as the object of submission, and it can be read as submission to teaching, required of all people, but possibly not being observed by the women of Corinth (see lecture cited above). See also Johnson, 1 Corinthians, 274-276; Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1157-1158, & Keener, Paul, Women & Wives, 70ff.

[7] Payne, Man and Woman, 217-227.

[8] See Gordon Fee, “Reflections on the Church Order in the Pastoral Epistles” Listening to the Spirit in the Text. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 147-162.

[9] Paul uses “Law” (Greek nomos) to refer to Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and once to refer to Isaiah (in 1 Cor. 14:21). Paul uses “Scripture” (Greek graphe) when speaking of Genesis (see Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:8 & 16, 4:30)

[10] Against Apion, 2.24.201. “for saith the Scripture, ‘A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.’ Let her therefore, be obedient to him”.

[11] See Payne, Man and Woman, 109-215.

[12] In his commentary on 1 & 2 Timothy, Luke Timothy Johnson accepts the possibility that Paul’s argument in 1 Timothy 2, which does refer to Genesis 2 & 3, is making this error. The First and Second Epistle to Timothy (AB). (New Haven: Yale, 2001), 203-211.

This entry was posted in Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Complementarianism, egalitarianism, ethics, gender, New Testament, Paul, practical theology, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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