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Corinth, Women, and Rhetoric

Might some of the confusion over the role of women in 1 Corinthians stem from a failure to identify when Paul is actually quoting someone else’s opinion? My CHR 150 class addressed some of this last week when we discussed Paul’s teachings about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Scot McKnight goes even deeper as he describes some of Lucy Peppiatt’s conclusions in her new book, Women and Worship at Corinth. Interesting!

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Every Church Has Its Thing

Why isn’t the thing love?

If I study my Bible every day and have private devotions, but have not love, I am nothing. If I tithe to the church, and support good charities, but have not love, I gain nothing. If I pray day and night, and join the choir, and worship every time the church opens her doors, but have not love, it is nothing. If I teach Sunday school, and serve as a church officer, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Thanks, Weekend Fisher, for asking such good questions

What Did Paul Really Say about Slavery?

Some readers may be interested in this paper by Scott Bartchy (linked by Ben Witherington):

“Paul Did Not Teach ‘Stay in Slavery’: The Mistranslation of κλῆσις in 1 Corinthians,” A Paper presented to the Combined Session of the African-American Hermeneutics and Paul and Politics Sections of the Society of Biblical Literature, 22 November 2008, in Boston, MA

(H/T: Ben Witherington)

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Is an Interpolation

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. (1 Cor 14:34-35)

According to a study now available at Evangelical Textual Criticism, Paul did not write those words. They were added some time later by a different hand.

The theory that these words are a scribal interpolation into the Pauline text is one of four possible interpretations of these verses. The second is that these words are genuinely from Paul, but they are a quotation of of his opponents (since when does Paul appeal to what “the law also says”?). Beginning verse 36, “Or did the word of God originate with you?” Paul challenges this argument. (That first Greek particle can also be translated as an expression of surprise introducing Paul’s counter argument. The Amplified Bible actually takes this approach and translates [paraphrasing from memory], “What? did the word of God originate with you?”)

A third possibility is that these are Paul’s words, but they are written with reference not to women preaching or speaking at all, but with unruly speech—such as might have been expected in a cultural milieu where half of the congregation (the men) had been socialized about acceptable behavior in the city assembly or listening to a teacher at the gymnasium but the other half (the women) had previously been banned from these venues. Thus, in order to participate in Christian worship, the women now needed a “crash course” in the proper etiquette for a public speech or debate.

Finally, it could be that Paul intended by these words to forbid any sound coming out of any woman’s mouth at any time during Christian worship. How a woman is supposed to “pray” or “prophesy” in the Christian assembly under those restrictions (1 Cor 11:5, 13) is a mystery to me.

Spiritual Gifts 5

So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. (1 Cor 14:12)

First Corinthians 12-14 is a passage about how Christians who speak in tongues and Christians who don’t speak in tongues can still worship together as members of the same church. No wonder there are so many controversies about its interpretation!

Love is central to Paul’s instructions to this divided church. It is the “more excellent way” (12:31) that makes it possible for believers to accept each other, making allowances for their differences. From the perspective of love, obsessing over who has what gifts is a pointless exercise. What matters is that everyone exercises their gift in such a way that love shines through.

Spiritual Gifts 4

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noising gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13:1)

First Corinthians 13 is sometimes seen as an intrusion into the flow of Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts, which begins in chapter 12 and is continued in chapter 14. Indeed, a convincing case can be made that the “love chapter” shows more rhetorical polish than its neighboring chapters, suggesting that it originated somewhere else (though probably still written by Paul) and eventually found its way into the Bible at that spot.

Even so, it should be noted that this would not be the first time Paul used prior materials to make his point. The most obvious example is the christological hymn in Philippians 2:5-11, which speaks pointedly to the attitude of servanthood the Apostle hoped to instill in the Philippian believers.

These thirteen verses may well be a hymn in praise of love composed at a different time, for a different purpose. That doesn’t keep it from being a vital part of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians. Having laid the theological foundation for understanding spiritual gifts (ch. 12), Paul went on to offer practical advice about how the gifts should be manifested in worship (ch. 14). But first he had to establish the principle by which the gifts are to be used. Love is the goal. Without it, even the most impressive spiritual manifestations count for nothing.

Spiritual Gifts 3

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says, “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:3)

First Corinthians 12 marks the beginning of Paul’s extended discussion of the place of spiritual gifts in the church. It is apparent that, as with several other issues, this was a topic over which the Corinthian believers were bitterly divided. Some in the church had become overly enthusiastic about those gifts that appeared more “spectacular” or “supernatural” to the point of denigrating the more mundane gifts of the rest.

Paul urged the Corinthians to find unity in Christ despite the amazing diversity of gifts that were apparent among them. Comparing the church to a body, he spelled out in great detail how ever member was necessary for the healthy functioning of the whole. In the church, certain gifts are preeminent (apostles, prophets, and teachers, v. 28), but every gift is important. Furthermore, no Christian should be expected to manifest them all.