by Al Maxey

Issue #499 ------- August 24, 2011
The silliest woman can manage a clever man,
but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool.

Rudyard Kipling {1865-1936}

Male Chauvinism's Proof-Text
Reflective Study of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

In the 1960s there was a phrase used primarily by feminists that depicted the perception of a good many of them at the time -- i.e., "male chauvinist pig." Needless to say, this was clearly not intended to be in any way flattering to those they believed had oppressed them far too long because of their view that they (the men) were superior to women (evidencing this perspective quite freely in their actions and attitudes). The word "chauvinist," by definition, simply means "someone who assertively maintains that his or her kind (usually people of the same nationality) are superior. 'Chauvinism' refers to an extreme and bigoted form of patriotism. Thus, 'male chauvinism' was used as an expression reflecting an attitude of male superiority, or even male entitlement to power, over women." Sadly, there have always been males who believed themselves to be superior to females! Even worse, they believed this "lordship" to be their right and privilege by "divine decree." After all, they declared, they had several biblical texts to prove it (or, so they believed).

Many years ago, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I had a woman approach me, following a class I was teaching on the Corinthian epistles, and in a voice trembling with anger she loudly declared, "I have no use for Paul. He was a male chauvinist pig!" On the other hand, there are some men (who're equally misinformed and mistaken about the apostle Paul's true teaching on the matter) who regard Paul as their "hero" and "champion" in their fight to forever force women "to maintain their station in life." As one might imagine, they are less than pleased with many of the changes being evidenced in an increasing number of congregations where the role of women in the work and worship of the church is being restudied. One of the favorite "proof-texts" to which an appeal is frequently made is 1 Cor. 14:34-35, which, these men insist, "settles the matter once and for all" that women are to be seen but not heard in the assembly of the saints!! Since this passage is brought forward so often in this debate, perhaps it would behoove us to examine it a bit more carefully.

The passage in question (1 Cor. 14:34-35), as just about anyone will admit, is a rather difficult one in many respects!! There are textual problems associated with it, as well as interpretive concerns. The simplistic adage, "It says what it means, and it means what it says," is a "pipe dream" of those who have already determined, to their own satisfaction, Paul's intent, and thus will not tolerate any questioning or challenging of their dogmatic deductions. The reality, however, is that this passage has been debated for centuries, and there are a great many theories as to its meaning and application. Therefore, "it seems clear that we need to be patient with each other as we try to understand Paul's real meaning here" [Dr. A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, via e-Sword]. As B.W. Johnson points out in The People's New Testament, this "is confessedly a difficult passage!" Dr. James Hastings saw it as a "disputed passage!" [Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 691].

One of the primary reasons that this passage has generated such great debate over the years is the manner in which some have chosen to employ it in their attempt to justify the suppression of women within the assemblies of the church! Such views used to be the norm in most churches, but, thank God, these are rapidly dying out. Nevertheless, some still promote such archaic chauvinism. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), in commenting on this passage, declared that "it is man's duty to keep up his superiority," and that "the woman was made subject to the man, and she should keep her station and be content with it" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, via e-Sword]. David Lipscomb insisted that women were to have no active role at all in the assembly of the church; they were to keep their mouths shut ... and "this command applies to every woman in the world" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles: First Corinthians, p. 216]. In fact, Lipscomb observed that this practice of women speaking and teaching "originated in the same hotbed with easy divorce, free love, birth control, repugnance to childbearing and child rearing" [ibid, p. 217]. "Women are not even to ask questions in the public assemblies and thus start discussions and in this way secure opportunity to speak publicly" [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians, p. 618].

The Scriptures were not written within a vacuum. They truly reflect the culture, thinking and customs of the times in which they were penned. The custom of the first century (Jewish, Roman and Greek) was that women were never to confront a man in a public setting! In fact, it was preferred by most men that they speak not at all in a public assembly (whether that assembly be secular or spiritual). For any woman to transgress or violate any of the social customs of her day was considered extremely shameful, and she became a "marked woman" within that society. This was true on several levels, including how she dressed in public as well as how she behaved. The Jews of the first century, just by way of illustration, had a very strict ordinance that "women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions" [Dr. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 6, p. 278]. The famous Rabbi Eliezer opined, "Let the words of the Law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women" [ibid]. Dr. Clarke further observed: "The Jews would not suffer a woman to read in the synagogue; though a servant or even a child had this permission" [ibid, p. 279]. All of this must be kept in mind when seeking to understand what Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 14:34-35. It's a text, therefore, that we must take care to interpret "with special reference to time and circumstances" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 460].

The time and circumstances, as well as the customs and traditions, of that day dictated that women must behave in a certain way within society lest they be marked as disruptive and disreputable, thus bringing down shame not only upon themselves, but also upon their husband or father, their family, and even their congregation. The biblical context of Paul's statement, however, was a charge to a congregation of believers in the city of Corinth that had become increasingly conflicted about a number of beliefs and practices, and this was resulting in some degree of disorder within their assemblies. Thus, Paul was not attempting here to establish universal theological precepts pertaining to the role of women in the church, but rather he sought to reestablish peace and unity within a body of believers who had seemingly lost sight of both of these in their pursuit of their own self-serving interests. "The purpose of Paul's words was to promote unity, not to teach about women's role in the church" [Life Application Bible, p. 2085]. "Paul's essential point is that the customary distinctions" between men and women, and how the society of that day perceived those distinctions, "should be observed" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 1095]. Why?! Because to do otherwise, at that place and time, would prove disruptive within the spiritual family, and such a condition was not conducive to spiritual growth and evangelistic outreach. Just a few verses earlier, in dealing with "tongues" in the assembly, Paul wrote that if this gift was not exercised responsibly, some people might come into their place of meeting and "say that you are out of your mind" (1 Cor. 14:23). The shock factor would be even greater if visitors saw the women speaking out, and perhaps even confronting the men, within the public assembly. The cause of Christ could be damaged beyond repair by such a breech of local custom. Again, Paul was not saying the women did NOT have a right to speak (in fact, he implies in 1 Cor. 11:5 that they DO have that right -- IF such is done in such a way as NOT to violate the customs of the day). "In the interests of peace and good order Paul could command the women to be silent, precisely as he could also give orders for a male prophet to be silent if his continued speech was likely to prove unedifying (1 Cor. 14:30)" [Dr. C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 332].

Yes, God created us male and female, and He designed us to be distinct from one another. We each have separate roles to fulfill within our families, our societies, and also within the Family of God. This does NOT, however, make one gender superior and the other inferior!! It does NOT give one gender the right to "lord it over" the other. It is my personal understanding, based upon my study of God's Word, that God desires men to be the spiritual leaders (the shepherds) in the home and in the church. This in no way, however, diminishes either the worth or the work of women in the church!! In the early church there were women prophets (who spoke for God) -- the four daughters of Philip prophesied (Acts 21:9), there were women servant leaders/deacons (Phoebe, for example -- Rom. 16:1 -- see my study of her in Reflections #299), there was even a woman apostle -- Junia (Rom. 16:7) -- whom I discuss in Reflections #201. By the way, "no example of this name in the masculine has ever been attested" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 1095]! Paul would certainly not argue against the doctrine that God designed us to function differently in many ways, and even in the Body of Christ, nor would he argue against the concept that men were to take the spiritual lead. I have dealt with this extensively in Reflections #216, which I would urge the reader to review at this point in our current study.

The fact of the matter is, when it came to proclaiming the good news of His Grace, our God never intended for this to be a "male only club." The first "gospel" (good news) sermon ever preached after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah was by women, who came and found the tomb empty and then went and spoke that good news to the apostles! Joel declared, "Your sons and daughters will prophesy ... on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days" (Joel 2:28). The apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, informed the people that "those days" had arrived (Acts 2:16f). Psalm 68:11 reads, "The Lord gave the command; a great company of women brought the good news." To suggest that God issued some divine "gag order" for women, when the Scriptures say He poured out His Spirit upon them and commissioned them to be His mouthpieces in proclaiming the good news, is an affront to biblical truth! Yes, things must be done "decently and in order," -- yes, certain distinctions between men and women, both physical and spiritual, must be observed -- yes, local customs must not be shamefully transgressed, as this can bring tremendous harm to the cause of Christ. However, to lift a passage from its overall context and utilize it as a proof-text to suppress women in the church two thousand years later, and in a vastly different cultural climate, is absolutely appalling exegesis. Paul's charge in this passage "was to be observed because of the culture of the day, for it was a shameful thing for a woman to speak in the church!! In our culture, it is NOT shameful for a woman to speak in public, provided she can do so and maintain her womanly dignity" [Dr. T.R. Applebury, Studies in First Corinthians, p. 263].

"The gospel of Christ brought a revolution in the status of women. ... They are to be considered as spiritual equals in Christ" [Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 2, p. 1818]. After all, Paul himself wrote (in a passage known as "The Magna Carta of Humanity"), "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). "Though both 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:8f were later used by some in the church to discourage women's public ministry, these passages must be understood in the light of Paul's fundamental teaching in Galatians and of his clear recognition of women as ministerial colleagues, as evidenced in both the Epistles and Acts" [ISBE, vol. 4, p. 1096]. The great reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) declared -- "The discerning reader should come to the decision that the things which Paul is dealing with here are indifferent, neither good nor bad; they are forbidden only because they work against seemliness and edification" [Dr. G.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 333]!! These prohibitions issued by Paul were "due to circumstances that existed in Ephesus, where Timothy was, and in Corinth, and would not apply everywhere!! ... It is also noteworthy that there is no hint of such a prohibition to any other churches except Grecian churches" [B.W. Johnson, The People's NT with Explanatory Notes, vol. 2, p. 119].

This last point raises the issue of Paul's statement at the end of 1 Cor. 14:33 --- "as in all the churches of the saints." The "chauvinist" position is that this statement is linked with what follows it -- i.e., that women are to be silent and not speak in the assembly. Thus, they maintain, this is a "hard and fast law" that applies to ALL the assemblies of the saints wherever and whenever they might be found. They claim that this has forever removed the "cultural" consideration in our interpretation of the text. Unfortunately for them, this phrase can just as easily, and just as correctly (grammatically), be link to the statement that precedes it --- i.e., that God does not favor disorder in the assembly, but peace (something He desires in ALL the assemblies of the saints). The view of many commentators, such as those who compiled the Pulpit Commentary, is that this phrase should be linked with what precedes it, rather than what follows [vol. 19, p. 460]. The majority of the translations and versions of the Bible favor this view as well, although a number take the opposing view. Notice the two views as seen in some of the major translations and versions:

Women Remain Silent

  1. New International Version -- As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches.
  2. Holman Christian Standard Bible -- As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches.
  3. English Standard Version -- As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.
  4. New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition -- According to the rule observed in all the assemblies of believers, women should keep silent in such gatherings.
  5. New English Bible -- As in all congregations of God's people, women should not address the meeting.
  6. American Standard Version -- As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches.
  7. Revised Standard Version -- As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches.

God of Order & Peace

  1. King James Version -- For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
  2. New King James Version -- For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
  3. New American Standard Bible -- For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
  4. Darby Translation -- For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints.
  5. Douay-Rheims, 1899 American Edition -- For God is not the God of dissension, but of peace: as also I teach in all the churches of the saints.
  6. New Living Translation -- For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God's holy people.
  7. Young's Literal Translation -- For God is not [a God] of tumult, but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints.
  8. Williams' NT in the Language of the People -- For God is not a God of disorder but of order, as it is in all the churches of God's people.
  9. Lamsa's Translation from the Aramaic of the Peshitta -- For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, and He is in all the churches of the saints.
  10. The Living Bible -- God is not one who likes things to be disorderly and upset. He likes harmony, and He finds it in all the other churches.
  11. The Message -- God doesn't stir us up into confusion; He brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches -- no exceptions.

Therefore, in light of this great diversity of opinion among scholars, we obviously can't be too dogmatic about one view over the other. Either is possible, although I think the overall context certainly favors the view that the phrase should be linked with what precedes it, rather than with what follows it. Another textual problem is that there is some manuscript evidence that these two verses (1 Cor. 14:34-35) "were not an original part of the epistle, but a marginal note (based on 1 Tim. 2:11f) inserted by copyists at different points" [Dr. C.K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 330]. That leads to the fact that these two verses are not even consistently placed in the same location within the chapter. "Several witnesses, chiefly Western, transpose verses 34-35 to follow verse 40" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 565]. Other manuscripts link it to verse 36. Still others believe it shouldn't be there at all: that Paul didn't write it. Again, in light of such textual uncertainty, one should never base a major doctrine of the church (and certainly not one that becomes a condition of either salvation or fellowship) on such a tenuous text. Frankly, the legalists need to look elsewhere for their chauvinistic proof-text. They haven't found it here!!

Special CD Offers

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution & Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)
Also Available on KINDLE

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Kenya, Africa:

Dear Bro. Al, Your Reflections article this week has overwhelmingly blessed me!! Thank you so very much for addressing every area of my concerns about which I wrote you. In fact, I feel humbled and challenged with your boldness in handling issues. May God wipe out all the traces of sectarianism and legalism that may still be seen and felt in me!! I think that I have been sharpened more than any other individual by your writings. Again, thanks so very much!!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Now that was different! Well done!! I thought I was enjoying this issue of Reflections until I got down to your response to the Canadian reader. WOW!! Your response to this individual was a one minute overview of the entire Gospel. I'm cutting your words out and putting them in my Bible so that I can just read it to somebody if they ever have a question as to what the Good News really is. I'm guessing that those words didn't just come from your own head -- I think they were truly downloaded from above. I seriously believe that God is working through you in a mighty way!! Thanks for sharing it with us! Oh, by the way -- I liked the honest response to the preacher concerning the new attendee's baptism. LOL. I'd be willing to bet that he spit out his coffee the first time he read it. I hope it sank in!! Yes indeed, we all need the "smack upside the head" once in a while. I'm thinking that's why God decided it was good that man not be alone!! Blessings, my brother. You made my morning!!

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, Greetings in the Lord. I have followed your Reflections for several years, and I really appreciate your work. It has helped me to be a better minister! Thank you!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Brother Maxey, I am in total agreement with your thoughts on divorce and remarriage. Your book Down, But Not Out was great!! Thank you!!

From a Reader in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa:

Brother Al, I want you to know that I cherish your Reflections very much!! I have been reading them online. I am 41 years old and was born to Church of Christ parents. In your writings you address my previous and current struggles with the traditional teachings of my Church of Christ background. I am writing to give you my email address so that you can include me on your mailing list for Reflections. Currently I am a director of a Christian school here in Nairobi.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Brother Al, We really enjoy your Reflections articles! I know that you take a lot of heat from some people over them, but your writings give many of us something to think about. Keep up the good work!!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Maxey, Please add me to your distribution list for your Reflections. I'm familiar with you through Jay Guinn and Todd Deavers. Being a minister in a more contemporary congregation (a "black sheep" Church of Christ --- or a "liberal" church, as we are called), I need all the help I can get combating legalism and keeping up with the craziness of our brotherhood.

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: