Women Be Silent in Church! …Uhm, Did Paul Actually Write 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36?

What I want to discuss here is controversial.  Additionally, what I want to address is not novel.  Here is the thought I’d like to ‘think aloud,’ so to speak, in the provocative world of the blogosphere: Is 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 original?

I should say up front that my focus is not on Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism per se.  There are Egalitarians and Complementarians who take 1 Cor 14.33b-36 to be original, yet each have different interpretations about what ‘keeping silent in church’ is all about.  Additionally, there are loads of Egalitarians who suspect that the text is unoriginal, that is, that it was inserted by an early interpreter of Paul or a scribe copying the letter.  I’m not sure if there are too many Complementarians who reject the originality of this text, but I’d like to find out if any of you know.  Here is a quick summary of both the external and internal evidence regarding 1 Cor 14.33b-36.

The manuscript evidence favors its originality.  It is represented in some very important manuscript traditions (P46, א, A, B, and others), yet there are some manuscripts which place vv.33b-36 as we know them a few verses later — after 1 Cor 14.40 (D, F, G, and others).

Although the external evidence could suggest its originality, the internal evidence favors its unoriginality.  In 1 Cor 14.33b-36 the speaking of women in church is described as “shameful.”  Instead, they are to be “silent.”  If women want to learn they need to ask their husbands at home.  Yet, just prior to this Paul mentions the prayer and prophecy of women (1 Cor 11.5), which is certainly in the context of corporate gathering (v.16).  Additionally, the flow of 1 Cor 14.1-33a into 33b-36 is quite abrupt.  Why is Paul going on about silent women just now?  However, if you proceed from 14.33a to vv.37-40 there is a consistent train of thought regarding prophecy (something Paul has already said that women can do!).  Lastly, 1 Cor 14.33b-36 says that women should keep silent and be subordinate “as the Law says” ….and where exactly does the Law say that?  I’d be glad to know.

In light of the internal evidence and other reasons, several people find 1 Cor 14.33b-36 to be unoriginal.  Yet, what are we to make of the external evidence noted above, especially if the most important witnesses contain these verses? I have two thoughts on the matter.  1) It is possible that the text originated as a marginal note that was later added to the text since Paul is addressing “issues of orderly worship.”  A later scribe may have felt it necessary to add this note.  This would explain why there are two strands of tradition – one placing the text after v.33 and the other placing the text after v.40.  2) The earliest manuscript that contains these verses is P46 which is dated to the year 200 AD by Metzger and Ehrman (The Text of the New Testament, 4th ed., p.54).  Given this date, the scenario depicted in point #1 is quite plausible as the marginal note could have been incorporated into the text at an early stage.

This blog has presented some posts on issues related to men and women in ministry in the past.  For the most part, our posts have been critical of various strands within the Biblical Manhood movement (see my post where I critique the over-emphasis on “manliness“; cf. Ryan’s 6 part critique of the use of sociological data by Driscoll and Mohler:  #1,  #2,  #3,  #4,  #5,  #6 and see Caleb’s critique regarding the nature of cultural influence).  At present I would assume that the majority of our regular readers would identify as Complementarian – though I could be wrong.  The question I’d like to pose to those who self-identify as Complementarian is: do you feel like your version of Complementarianism needs 1 Cor 14.33b-36 to be original?  What would happen to your understanding of the role of men and women in ministry if that text was legitimately unoriginal?  I’d love you hear any thoughts addressing those questions.  Also, if you’re an Egalitarian and believe that this text is original I’d love to hear your interpretation of it.  I’m eager to explore ideas and hear from you all now.