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[See part one and part two. We are looking at 3 ways to harmonize the 3 “conflicting” passages in the Pauline epistles about women.]

Finally we get to a third way of harmonizing these passages. We all need to admit that none of us have a “slam dunk” solution. Sometimes you must carefully consider all the options, and rule out those with too many problems. It’s not that one option is “perfect” but it best connects the dots and makes the most coherent picture. I am opposed to option 1, can tolerate option 2, but option 3 works the best for me. On that note, some of my defense of option 3 is actually found in the critique of the first two positions. If you are only joining us now, please do read the previous posts.

This third view sees 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 as normative. Both women and men can freely pray and prophesy in the church service, as long as certain cultural customs are maintained (to be elaborated on below). This would be consistent with other texts that use inclusive language for participation in the church services, as well as be consistent with examples of women in ministry in the New Testament.

First Timothy 2:11-12 is viewed in its context as a letter to a church beset with false teaching with which women were involved. The statement that women should learn in silence and not be permitted to teach was for this particular church and not a universal prohibition. The women in Ephesus appeared in need of remedial instruction and the false teaching needed to be stopped. Please see this link where the 1 Timothy passage is elaborated upon.

The final passage of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 can be interpreted or harmonized in one of two ways. One way is to see these verses as an interpolation. Respected scholars such as Gordon Fee, FF Bruce, Wayne Meeks, and Philip B. Payne are convinced that it is an interpolation. As one reads along in 1 Corinthians 14, these verses seem like a startling intrusion that do not fit with the general flow of the text. This passage also seem at odds with verses on the inclusive nature of participation in the church meetings, and Paul’s commendation of women as co-workers in ministry. More importantly, scholars who have studied ancient manuscript evidence note that early western textual tradition has verses 34 and 35 in different locations and this, along with other textual evidence, points to interpolation.[1] Do see the footnote for more explanation. Interpolation seems to nicely solve the many problems this text causes.

However, other respected scholars such as Craig Keener disagree. Keener’s viewpoint is that these verses are limiting women from disrupting the service by asking irrelevant or elementary questions. Due to the fact that women in that time period lacked the education of men, were experiencing new found freedom in Christ, and the house churches had an informal nature – it would make sense that women needed to be reminded not to disrupt the services with their questions. (It is significant that Paul also encouraged women to learn in the 1 Timothy passage!) Either interpolation or this explanation would harmonize with the viewpoint that women along with men should have full freedom to use their gifts in the church.

A brief reference must be made on the remaining verses in the 1 Corinthians 11 passage. A detailed analysis of what is meant by head covering would be another post altogether, but the passage states women can pray and prophesy as long as their heads are covered (with a similar note for men to have their heads un-covered). The point seems to be that while men and women can freely use their gifts in the church, cultural customs or manners should still be maintained. The passage climaxes (and brings clarity) in verses 11-12 with a focus on the equality of man and woman, and the primacy of God. Men and women are interdependent. Yes, man was the original source of the woman, but the woman then became the source of men! Ultimately, both man and woman should ascribe rulership only to God. Authority of man over woman is a result of the Fall and belongs in the fallen world (Gen. 3:16) and not in the church. The church should reflect the interdependence of men and women as unique image bearers, as they freely use the gifts bestowed upon them by God.

Concluding Thoughts

It must be admitted that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is difficult to interpret no matter what your perspective on the role of women in ministry. This should further remind us that conclusions should be drawn from normative texts, and not from obscure and difficult ones.

In addition, no matter what conclusions you come to on these passages, everyone has to take some interpretive liberties. No one can say that they are simply taking these verses literally! For example, that women be silent. Not even the strict option 1 takes this to mean that women must literally be completely silent! Even they let women sing in the church service, or share a few words before playing a violin special. Right? The pet peeve I’m addressing here is this: Some say that they interpret the verses in their “plain literal sense” and accuse others of playing interpretive gymnastics. This is not accurate…everyone is taking some interpretive liberties!

A degree of humility should be exercised by those on all sides of this debate, especially considering the interpretation challenges in these verses. However, it seems strange that a couple of disputed passages have been so elevated, imposed on other texts, and used to restrict half the Body of Christ. I believe that women and men should be able to fully participate in the church based on their gifting and not restricted by their gender.

[1] P. Barton Payne spends about 50 pages in his extensive book presenting evidence for interpolation. I’ve read the book, but thanks to Allison that so very nicely summarizes Payne’s discoveries. From Allison: Payne is a text-critical scholar. This is a highly specialized and less common vocation. These guys don’t only just know the original language, they can identify different styles of this writing from different time periods and tell you what kind of ink was used. They analyze the old copies themselves and compare them with other copies. The work of these text-critical scholars has made us confident that the New Testament has been reliably copied and passed on. They do the hard work of confirming our New Testament and making sure we do not accept as Scripture what is not Scripture (like handling snakes as a test of faith which is bracketed in Mark 16).

One of Payne’s Unique Contributions

How has Payne contributed uniquely through his area of study? Here is just one of these major contributions as I understand it: Most text-critical scholars publishing on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 have already said it was added later (the reasons are similar to other passages we know are added later). Payne found even more evidence. He found a special marker (“distigme-obelos” which is two dots and a long bar) marking the point where everyone else knows there are additions in the oldest surviving Greek Bible (Codex Vaticanus B). Every time this mark has appeared it has told us there is a multi-word block of text that was added later and is not original. The added text marked by these symbols has already been put in brackets by our English Bibles, but we now have 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to consider as well. Payne’s original research also provides evidence that these markers date to the original production of Codex Vaticanus… [See Allisons’ post for more.]


Bilezikian, Gilbert. Beyond Sex Roles, What the Bible says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Clowney, Edmund C. The Church. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 1995.

George, Janet. Still Side by Side, a Concise Explanation of Biblical Equality. Minneapolis: Christians for Biblical Equality, 2009.

Grudem, Wayne. “But what should Women do in the Church? Normally available at cbmw.org but site temporarily being revamped. Try here http://www.galaxie.com/article/8896, or http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/family_and_culture/christian%20manhood%20and%20womanhood/articles/grudem_wayne_but_what_should_women_do_in_the_church.htm

Johnson, Alan F., ed. How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership, Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women. http://www.walterckaiserjr.com/women.html

Keener, Craig S. Paul, Women & Wives – Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990.

McKnight, Scot. The Blue Parakeet, Rethinking how you Read the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Payne, Philip B. Man and Woman, One in Christ, an Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Pierce, Ronald W., Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, eds. Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2005.

Scorgie, Glen G. The Journey Back to Eden, Restoring the Creator’s Design for Women and Men. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.