by Al Maxey

Issue #592 ------- October 3, 2013
Obstinacy in sticking to one's opinions is the
surest proof of stupidity. Is there anything so
cocksure, so immovable, so disdainful, so con-
templative, so solemn and serious as an ass.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

Challenging A Corinthian Quotation
Paul's Powerful Refutation of Church Sexism

Frank Gelett Burgess (1866-1951), the great American humorist and illustrator, once astutely observed, "If in the last few years you haven't discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead." Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), the Scottish novelist, poet and essayist, declared, "To hold the same views at forty as we held at twenty is to have been stupefied for a score of years and to take rank, not as a prophet, but as an unteachable brat, well birched and none the wiser." None of us question the fact that there are some universal truths that are absolute. These do not change. On the other hand, each of us have come to convictions about things over the years that we cherish so dearly that they can easily become elevated in our minds to the level of absolute truth. When that happens, we quite often become hardened dogmatists, unwilling to change our perceptions and positions, and unwilling to accept anyone who is unwilling to change their views to comport with ours. In the wake of such rigid religiosity comes feuding, factions and fratricide among spiritual siblings in the Family of God. Refusal to change bespeaks a deep-seated arrogance that will always stand in the way of genuine growth and development. Those unwilling to adapt their convictions and practices when faced with greater light will inevitably become calcified in their convictions, and in time fossilized in their faith. Spiritual survival demands we be willing to embrace responsible change, adapting our positions and practices, no matter how cherished, as we grow in our faith and knowledge of the nature and will of our Father.

Over the years, as many of you who know me well, and/or who have been following my public teachings and writings, know, I have changed my views on a number of things. My view of baptism, for example, has undergone a tremendous transformation over the years, one which I have documented in my book Immersed By One Spirit: Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice. The same is true of my understanding of the Lord's Supper, which is discussed in great depth in my book One Bread, One Body: An Examination of Eucharistic Expectation, Evolution and Extremism (both books are also available on Kindle). I have also completely rejected the traditional teaching on The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny, and have instead changed to embrace what I believe, after many years of intense study, to be a view consistent with Scripture (which I detail in great depth in the two CD set noted here, which consists of my 20 week Sunday morning adult Bible class recorded in MP3 format). In short, I believe I have sufficiently demonstrated over the years a willingness to change, even at great personal risk, in order to be more faithful to God's Word and Will. I assure you, such change is never easy, but it is essential if we are to mature spiritually and grow in faith.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing many Christian denominations today (and this is especially true of Churches of Christ) is the place and function of women in the Family of God (primarily with respect to a public gathering of disciples -- what some would term a "worship service," although that specific phrase never appears in Scripture). The ultra-conservative, fundamentalist (and, thus, largely legalistic) sects of Christendom tend to discourage (if not outright forbid) women having any role in the public gatherings. Although allowed to be seen and to sing, they are to "keep silence" during the remainder of the "worship service." They may not speak, they may not serve, they may not teach. These men take a couple of statements made by Paul in his epistles as their proof-texts that this is a universal truth that is timeless and must be observed everywhere by everyone until the Parousia. David Lipscomb (1831-1917), one of the leaders in our own so-called Restoration Movement, declared emphatically, "No instruction in the New Testament is more ... explicit and universal; and however plausible may be the reasons which are urged for disregarding it, and for suffering women to take an active part in conducting public worship, yet (Paul's) meaning cannot be misunderstood" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, p. 216]. Lipscomb later states: "The truth of the whole matter is that many of the churches are infected more or less with a spirit of modernistic infidelity that does not hesitate to set aside any order of God when it stands in the way of their fancies. The habit of women preaching originated in the same hotbed with easy divorce, free love, birth control, repugnance to childbearing and child rearing" [ibid, p. 217]. In other words, women should stay home, keep their mouths shut, do as they're told by their husbands, and have babies. Frankly, brethren, I am embarrassed and ashamed that such teaching ever came from those in our movement purporting to be spokesmen of God, and am even more embarrassed and ashamed that some are still preaching this nonsense within our movement today (as well as in other denominations). Yes, my view of the place and purpose of women in the church has changed.

In my Topical Index one will find 14 Reflections articles listed under the heading "Role of Women." I would invite those interested in further study of this topic, and issues related to the function of females in the Family of God, to carefully reflect upon the studies provided there. I believe you will find them extremely eye-opening and enlightening. In this current issue of Reflections, however, I would like to examine an alternate view of a well-known passage in one of Paul's epistles (one often used as a proof-text by legalistic fundamentalists), a view I believe, after some careful reflection, has a great deal of merit. The passage in question is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (although the interpretive key may well be found in our understanding of a grammatical device in the verse just after this particular statement). Typically, verses 34-35 have been lifted and left to stand alone, which may well have led to an erroneous understanding and application of the text. Here are the two verses in question: "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). On the surface, this most certainly seems to be a very clear declarative statement. However, when the statement is viewed contextually we very quickly encounter some serious problems with the traditional perspective (that women, in a public assembly, are to remain absolutely silent -- i.e., take no active part whatsoever).

First of all, with regard to the text itself, there is some question among scholars as to where these two verses should be placed, and if they were even penned by the apostle Paul. Dr. C. K. Barrett, a Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham, declared his belief that these two verses "were not an original part of the epistle, but a marginal note" that was later "inserted by copyists at different points" in the chapter [A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 330]. The Western Text (as well as a number of other ancient manuscripts), for example, places these two verses after vs. 40. This has led Dr. Barrett, and certain other scholars, to suspect that "this may be because we have here the work of a Deutero-Pauline writer" [ibid]. Other scholars believe the verses came from the pen of Paul, but that their positioning within the text is awkward. Thus, "such scribal alterations represent attempts to find a more appropriate location in the context for Paul's directive concerning women" [Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 565]. We can see, therefore, that textual scholars have for centuries struggled with these verses and how they could possibly be consistent with the overall teaching and theology of Paul with respect to the place of women in the public life of the church. These verses, to a great many scholars, seem completely "out of place," both theologically and textually, with what Paul proclaims elsewhere. Again, this has led some to suspect another author, and that these verses were added later by a scribe. Clearly, the passage is troubling on a number of levels.

Most, however, accept the two verses as Pauline, although they remain concerned over how to reconcile them with other statements by Paul. "This, in view of other portions of the Scripture, is confessedly a difficult passage" [Dr. B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament, vol. 2, p. 119]. One such difficulty is spelled out by Dr. Johnson: "It is noteworthy that there is no hint of such a prohibition to any churches except Grecian" [ibid]. Although one might argue his use of the term "Grecian," nevertheless his point is valid: It was only to the church in Corinth and to the young evangelist Timothy (whose father was Greek) that Paul speaks of such a restriction against women (see: 1 Tim. 2:11-12). Why? This is especially puzzling and problematic in light of the fact that in the city of Caesarea, "Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven, had four unmarried daughters who prophesied" (Acts 21:8-9). Would they have done this when "two or more were gathered together in His name"? Most likely, as any prophet or prophetess would need an audience to hear their message from the Lord. Thus, in this way they would be speaking, and even teaching, the disciples of Christ (and there is nothing to suggest anywhere in the text that they only spoke to or taught women). Indeed, in 1 Cor. 11:5, and most feel the context here suggests some form of public gathering of disciples, Paul provides guidance for a woman "who prays or prophesies." Although there is much that could be said about the cultural nature of the directives in the passage (see my following two Reflections on this: #216 and #276), it is difficult to deny that Paul here describes women speaking out in public. They were praying and they were prophesying, and there were other disciples present (both men and women). Therefore, who "can deny that chapter 11 concedes the right of women (suitably clothed) to pray and prophesy in a public meeting of the church!?" [Dr. C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 331]. After all, is this not a fulfillment (as Peter stated in Acts 2:16, cf. vs. 4) of the prophecy in Joel 2:28-29? -- "I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. ... On My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days."

It is a fact that "Christianity emancipated women" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 460], but it is also a fact that this did not happen in a cultural vacuum, nor was that emancipation readily accepted by all. Humans, by nature, tend to promote various distinctions: rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, young and old, etc. However, in this present dispensation of love and grace, such distinctions have been set aside within the Family of God (Gal. 3:28). Many scholars, therefore, believe Paul was seeking to promote some degree of "cultural sensitivity" in the instruction provided in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, advising these saints in these locations not to behave in a culturally disrespectful, and thus in a socially disruptive, manner. I dealt with this particular perspective on these two verses in quite some depth in Reflections #499 ("Male Chauvinism's Proof-Text"), which I would strongly encourage the reader to examine as an important foundation for the present study.

As noted above, the two primary perspectives of this passage (by those who accept it as being genuinely Pauline) are: (1) Paul is "laying down the law" to all Christians everywhere for all time, indicating that women are never, ever to speak out or take part in a public assembly, which is the minority position, or (2) Paul is advising cultural awareness and sensitivity, which is the majority position. It has recently come to my attention, although this view is by no means of recent origin, that there is a third position, one which, frankly, I believe has much to commend it. It is this understanding of the passage that I would like to share with you for your consideration, and I would welcome your feedback on it, for "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). This particular interpretation, by the way, may be examined in some depth in the book "Ten Lies The Church Tells Women" by J. Lee Grady [pages 61-64], for those who may be interested in acquiring it for further study.

As most of you probably know only too well, but it may bear mentioning again here: there was no proper punctuation (the likes of which we are accustomed to in English) in the Greek text of the New Covenant writings. This absence of punctuation has posed numerous problems for both translators and interpreters for centuries. "However, just because there were no punctuation marks, per se, in the original, does not mean the function of punctuation was not performed in the original. ... That function is there, but it is dispersed through many Greek forms. ... Basically, the question is: What are some of the mechanisms ancient Koine Greek used to 'punctuate' the biblical text?" [Mike Sangrey, from his article "Translating Punctuation When There Is No Punctuation To Translate" on the blog site Better Bibles, May 1, 2011]. Thus, when one becomes familiar with such grammatical forms, one is better equipped to perceive proper punctuation, which then helps facilitate proper interpretation of the passage. "Greek writers used these grammatical markers to perform the basic function of what would later become modern punctuation. These are extremely important to understand in order to accurately uncover the meaning of a text" ["Did The Original Greek Texts Have Punctuation?", from the blog site Greeking Out, May 2, 2011].

For example, how do we know when a NT writer is inserting a quote from another source into his text? After all, there were no quotation marks. Well, there are a number of ways. The most obvious, of course, is when he states he is quoting another source. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, said, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16), and he then quotes a portion of Joel's prophecy. There are many places where a statement is preceded by "Thus saith the Lord," and a statement from the Lord then follows. These are the easy ones. However, there are other ways the Greeks indicated a quotation. One such method is the use of the Greek letter "eta" (which is the seventh letter of the Greek alphabet), which may be employed as a disjunctive conjunction "before a sentence contrary to the one just preceding" [Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 275]. Thus, it is used "to distinguish things or thoughts which either mutually exclude each other, or one of which can take the place of the other" [ibid]. As an example of this, Dr. Thayer cites 1 Cor. 14:36 in which this Greek letter is used twice with this purpose in mind. If this, in fact, is what the apostle Paul was doing, and Dr. Thayer (one of the most respected of all NT Greek scholars) seems to suggest it is indeed a grammatically valid possibility (as does Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. in his article "Shared Leadership" in Christianity Today, Oct. 3, 1986), then this would strongly indicate that the statement appearing just prior to vs. 36 (which would be our difficult text: 1 Cor. 14:34-35) was a quote from some other source, and therefore was NOT a theological position statement by Paul himself.

Is there anything contextually about this epistle by Paul that would lend credence to this view? Well, in point of fact, there is. This entire epistle seems to have been largely occasioned by reports brought to him by "some from Chloe's household" (1 Cor. 1:11) about problems there, as well as a letter (no longer extant) sent to Paul by the church there; a letter in which they brought several matters before him, seeking counsel. Paul seems to take these up beginning in 1 Cor. 7:1 -- "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote." Many biblical scholars believe much of the remainder of the epistle deals with the particulars of this letter to Paul from the brethren at Corinth. Thus, it would be only natural, and even expected, that one would find quotes from that letter in his response (which response is known to us today as First Corinthians). "Paul's seemingly restrictive words about women in chapter 14 take on a different light when we consider that he was very likely quoting a letter from church leaders who were imposing on the young Corinthian congregation a harsh, anti-woman position" [Grady, p. 62]. Remember, rabbinical tradition, as well as the societal and cultural norms of the Greeks at that time, was strongly opposed to women "taking on" men in any way in a public forum. Thus, Paul may well be restating (quoting) the position of the leaders in Corinth (which was to silence women), and then rebuking them in verse 36 by saying, "Hey! Who died and made you God?!"

In verse 34 we find a reference to "the Law," which supposedly declares that women "are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission." Yes, we can find reference to divine instruction about submission, but under the New Covenant we are all "to submit to one another" (Eph. 5:21), and this advice comes in connection with husband/wife relationships, as well as male/female relationships within the church. Submission, under a covenant of love and grace, is not a one way street: it is mutual. As for women being forbidden to speak in a public assembly, or forbidden to speak for God in the presence of the opposite sex, where is that law?! It may well have been a Grecian or rabbinical law, but it was not one of God's laws. Indeed, God declared He would pour out His Spirit upon both men and women, and they would both speak for Him. Thus, in this quote cited by Paul, which states the position of the church leaders in Corinth, we are presented with human legislation rather than divine instruction. Thus, in the very next verse, following this quotation, Paul lashes out at them. "No rebuke was too strong for the pretensions of these Corinthians" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 460]. The defiant tone of 1 Cor. 14:36 now makes sense. He takes this tone because he is confronting a legalistic limitation upon women that was, in reality, lifted "in Christ Jesus."

Noted theologian Kenneth S. Kantzer observed, "In 1 Corinthians 14 we are caught in an intricate interplay between quotations from a missing letter from the Corinthians and Paul's solutions to problems the letter had raised. The verse is clearly not repeating a law of Scripture and cannot be taken as a universal command for women to be silent in church. That interpretation would flatly contradict what the apostle had just said three chapters earlier" [from the article "Proceed With Care," in Christianity Today, Oct. 3, 1986]. "How ironic that we have actually been using a statement written by a group of first-century legalists to shackle Christian women who are called to liberty in the Holy Spirit. Whom do we want to follow: the apostle Paul, who invited women to preach, pray and prophesy in the assembly, or the legalists, who believed it was 'obscene' for women to speak in public?" [Grady, p. 64].

As I said before, I believe there is much in this interpretation that makes very good sense, and it certainly seems to reconcile what some have regarded to be contradictions in Paul's theology on the role of women in the church. Whether one agrees with this perspective or not, I think we can all at least agree that there is room for legitimate diversity of understanding with regard to this passage and how it fits in Paul's overall theology. One of the most respected NT Greek scholars of all time agrees, and I will leave you with his words of wise counsel on this passage: "Women do most of the teaching in our Sunday Schools today. It is not easy to draw the line. The daughters of Philip were prophetesses. 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, e-Sword].

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Readers' Reflections

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

My sister-in-law forwarded me your article titled "Perturbation of a Patternist: A Review of a View by Hugh" (Issue #577). I was very intrigued, and also pleasantly surprised, that this was written by a Church of Christ pulpit minister and elder. I actually married into a Church of Christ family ten years ago, and it was a culture shock to say the least! I was raised in what people would call an evangelical or charismatic non-denominational church that had an extreme "no pattern" worship service style. There was definitely a freedom to worship in a no-holds-barred kind of way that was often borderline crazy -- speaking in tongues, people passing out, lots of yelling and waving of flags, dancing, blowing of rams' horns, and live worship bands that could rival some of the best modern rock bands out there. It was an intense experience every Sunday. Then I was introduced to a Church of Christ worship service, which is the complete polar opposite of what I was used to. It was so structured that it felt rehearsed, with everything being done exactly the same way every time.

Over the past ten years, however, I have done a lot of study for myself about what it means to be a Christian, as well as how we are to worship, and the more I read and study the more I have concluded that it is modeling Christ that is pleasing to God. I have learned that if we love as Christ loved, and live as Christ lived, we will be saved. I have witnessed within my own congregation the divisive nature of patternistic theology. In fact, we have lost many families due to this clouded view of worship and Christianity. Legalism has been the hardest thing for me to deal with in Churches of Christ. I guess I said all of this to say that even though the church I grew up in isn't somewhere I would feel comfortable worshipping now with my wife and children, they nevertheless ARE on to something with regard to their freedom in Christ expressed in their worship, and I pray that their hearts will always be in the right place every time they meet to worship.

Bro. Maxey, I appreciate the stand you take within our own "church," and wanted to thank you for being a positive voice against the legalism and divisiveness of the patternistic mindset. I can tell that you are passionate about this, yet you take this stand with love. My prayers are with you and the church there in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I grew up in Hobbs, New Mexico, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn that you are located in my home state. Thanks again for the work you are doing. Oh yeah -- my original reason for this email to you was to ask that you place me on your mailing list for your Reflections. Thanks, and God bless you.

From a Missionary in the Philippines:

I just finished reading Neil Griffin's "Distinguishing Differences" (Reflections #591). It grieves me that these differences are magnified among us, especially since, at one time, I was party to this. I was willing to change, however. I've done a lot of study on the practices of the establishment Churches of Christ, and have discovered that many of these practices are tradition, with no scriptural backing at all. This is perpetuated because, as a friend who is an elder in another congregation says, the "brethren in the pews" are lazy and won't do their own study; they simply want to be served "pabulum from the pulpit." It is also because too many preachers don't bother to do much study, but are "job seekers" who preach popular lessons that don't require the people to open their Bibles. What is worse: we have taken these traditional practices and used them to form doctrinal divisions (as Bro. Griffin described in his article). The result: each division/faction is convinced that "WE are the only true church." I'm thankful that you are willing to THINK, even if some of our "big name preachers" refuse to do so!

From a Reader in Alabama:

One of the most misused and abused, and oft quoted, passages of Scripture around these parts among the Churches of Christ is Gal. 1:8 -- "But though WE, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which WE have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (KJV). Around here the "we" is used to indicate exclusively those preachers who come from a particular "acceptable" college. In some congregations around here, the "we" is changed to "I" -- meaning the approved preacher of that particular congregation. No wonder there is so much division. If it wasn't so sad, it would almost be comical to see split after split resulting in new congregations popping up all around, with each getting smaller and smaller in number. I guess this is good for preachers seeking employment, though!! This has to stop, as many people are now leaving Churches of Christ because of this foolishness! Thank you, Bro. Maxey, for standing up and bravely exposing this for what it really is!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Only someone trapped in their own arrogance could disagree with the thoughts expressed by Neal Griffin in his article which appeared in your last Reflections. Thank you, Neal ... and thank you, Al, for sharing them with us.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Thank you, Al, for the great work you are doing, and a special thanks for printing the lesson by Neal Griffin in your most recent Reflections. It literally brought tears to my eyes to realize just how hard-headed and cold-hearted so many of our brethren are that they would rather condemn another brother or sister than to admit that they themselves just might be wrong about something. If only they would just accept what Jesus says instead of twisting the Bible to back up their traditional beliefs. What pains me more is realizing that I was born into that legalism, and that it took so many years for me to find freedom!

From a Reader in Nigeria, Africa:

I'm a freshman in a theological institution in Nigeria. While searching for material on the Old Testament book of Habakkuk this morning, I came across your web site. What you wrote in your Study of Habakkuk was very useful and instructive. Thank you, and God bless you.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Billy Graham was preaching the same Bible doctrine as you in the 1950's. One of my favorite Billy Graham quotes is: "I believe the true church of Christ consists of ALL believers!"

From a Reader in California:

As Christians, we know who is saved by their confession of Christ Jesus and the way they live their lives. Unless we are God, however, there is no way to know who is not saved. That is for Him, and Him alone, to decide. For any man to declare, "You are not a Christian because you don't see things the way I do, or do things the way I do," is the epitome of arrogance!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, please remind me of when your study of Galatians will be available for purchase. I am really looking forward to it. May our amazing Father keep blessing you. He is so good!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Dear Bro. Neal Griffin, Today I read your article "Distinguishing Differences" posted by Al Maxey in his Reflections. My heart rejoiced and was encouraged by your hard-hitting, truthful and loving article. Your article challenges me to look inward and to live more in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I grew up in the Church of Christ denomination in Florence, Alabama, and I graduated from Freed-Hardeman College almost 30 years ago. Like yourself, I have been on a journey to grace away from legalism for several years now. Thank you for your Spirit-inspired article and for allowing Al Maxey to share it in his Reflections. May God continue to bless your writing ministry.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, Thank You for printing this excellent article by Neal Griffin. I know Neal personally, and I can testify that, unlike many others (mostly preachers) who perceive the horrendous error revealed in the divisions that exist between believers and remain in that environment, Neal has fled that division by leaving the particular denomination to which he had belonged for most of his life, and he has now embraced the unity that lies in Jesus, rather than in the tenets or traditions of any human religious institution. In fact, I am looking forward to gathering at his home this coming Sunday morning for fellowship with other believers (which will be unlike any that could be found in a religious institution).

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