Who dared to contradict Paul?

Who dared to contradict Paul?

Many people have a big problem with Paul because they think that he was sexist.  I would like to change that point of view by looking carefully at the text so that we can fully appreciate Paul for who he was, not the false impression that we have of Paul.  Under God’s inspiration Paul refuted faulty tradition and that faulty tradition included sexism that was prevalent during his day.  Let’s have a look how Paul did that.

In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul responded to a letter written to him by the Corinthians.  In 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul says:

1 Corinthians 7:1  Now concerning the things about which you wrote….

Paul then quotes from the letter written to him and every time he quotes the letter, Paul contradicts the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 7:1….(Corinthians) it is good for a man not to touch a woman

1 Corinthians 7:2 (Paul) But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife and each woman is to have her own husband.

1 Corinthians 10:23 (Corinthians) All things are lawful  (Paul) but not all things are profitable.  (Corinthians) All things are lawful (Paul) but not all things edify.

1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 (Corinthians) The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper (filthy) for a woman to speak in church.

1 Corinthians 14:36 (Paul) (What!?!) was it from you that the word of God went forth? (What!?!) has it come to you only?

In verse 36 Paul starts each statement with the Greek word “n” which isn’t always evident in the translations as some completely ignore this word.  It is a term used to show that the question implies a negative answer – a negation of something that has just proceeded it.  It would be the equivalent of stating a false statement and then saying “Bunk!” or “Horse feathers!” or “You have got to be kidding!”  So what Paul is doing here is negating what was just quoted.  Since Paul cannot negate himself, it is evident that the quote from verses 34 & 35 is a quote from the Corinthian letter to Paul.

Paul is not the one who is silencing women in this passage.  It is the Corinthians who were trying to silence women.  Paul had already released women to pray and prophesy (chapter 11) and to prophesy and speak in tongues (chapter 14).  Paul did not silence women.  Paul is not the one who is sexist but the one who refuted sexism!

Touché Paul, good job!

So we note that in the book of 1 Corinthians there are times that Paul quotes the faulty tradition of the Corinthians, and he then he refutes their faulty tradition with a negation.  In several instances after the faulty tradition, Paul says “but….” and then Paul gives the correction.  Additionally Paul says “what!!…” and by that specific Greek word, he shows dismay at the outrageous claims of the Corinthians who have been more than likely influenced by the Judaizers who could not allow women to speak in the assembly because of the “law” against a woman’s (filthy) voice being heard in public.

Paul was not sexist, it was some of the Corinthians who were!

20 thoughts on “Who dared to contradict Paul?

  1. Yet we must be careful since not every instance of “but” or “however” in scripture infers a quote.

    In the case of 1 Cor. 11, there is a “but”, it’s just separated by Paul’s response first of all confirming that society calls a woman with uncovered head “disgraceful”. Let me try to illustrate by highlighting the beginnings of the sentences:

    11:4 Every man… (fact stated about men not covering)
    11:5 YET every woman… (fact stated about women covering)
    11:6 FOR if a woman… (the dilemma stated)
    11:7 FOR man INDEED should not cover, YET the woman… (Paul agrees with men not covering, but introduces an overlooked fact: that woman is also the glory of another and should therefore not cover; this is his objection to what has been stated)
    11:8 FOR man not from woman (i.e., “while this is true”)
    11:9 FOR ALSO woman for man (i.e., “and this is true”)
    11:10 THEREFORE woman has authority (i.e. “however this other thing is true as well”)
    11:11 HOWEVER neither/nor… (i.e., “in spite of all that”)
    11:12 Judge for yourselves; this is trivial!

    In other words, Paul agrees with the situation as stated (“indeed”), but then introduces an overlooked fact that actually increases the complexity of the problem. And in doing so he shows that forcing women to cover their heads is “bowing to culture” as the saying goes!

  2. Yes, not every “but” refers to a quote.  However when a “but” introduces a contradiction to what comes before, we can then entertain that what is contradicted is not Paul’s words but the words of another.  In my DVD set I quote from a well-known commentary to this effect…that when the words spoken are against what Paul has taught elsewhere and they are contradicted by Paul, we can understand that they are from the Corinthian letter to Paul.

    The words in 1 Cor. 11 fits quite well with Paul stating a prohibition, then the cultural position of women’s head covering and then he ties it all in with how God sees men and women and head coverings.  In the end he tells us that there is no custom of head coverings (or even length of one’s hair!) in all the churches.  It is not a Christian custom, but cultural custom that doesn’t fit in with Christianity.

    Amen, Paul!  That’s why we do not have to wear hats today.  It is why you can go into church after church and see no universal custom of head coverings.

    Faulty fads (customs) are also laid to rest by Paul in 1 Cor. 14 and so women today are allowed to have their voices heard in the assembly and no one stops them from singing or reading God’s word or giving an announcement.  If we all laid the faulty customs to rest, we would have no problems allowing a woman to use her God-given gifts for the benefit of the body of Christ.

  3. The eta is one of those cases where the accent marks make the difference, but the earlier manuscripts do not have them.  I do think this makes the most sense that Paul is repudiating sexism, but it is possible I am wrong on 1 Cor 11 and 1 Cor 14.

    One thing that is NOT discussed much is the double statement about men NOT covering their heads, so this is true regardless of how one understands the passage, yet is neglected in teaching.  It might be thought that Paul IS sexist in denying men a choice that he gives women!  This is not true either, but one needs to see the cultural meaning and why it contradicted the gospel.

  4. The issue of men’s head covering is that it did not have a double meaning.  There was one cultural meaning alone and that meaning shamed Christ.  It is rare to find this meaning discussed as you said.

    The issue of forbidding men to cover was not sexist because the only reason for covering during prayer and prophesying was because of the shame of their sin.  Since Christ died to take away our shame, anything that put the emphasis on a continuing shame was demeaning to Christ.  If our cultural traditions demean Christ, then they have to go, no doubt about that.

    On the other hand, the meaning of the head covering was two-fold for women.  Not only did the covering indicate a shame for sin, but it also indicated a covering over of personal shame because the hair of a married woman was considered to be a private area.  Just as her intimate private parts would cause shame to her husband if she was publicly exposed, so too would her uncovering of her hair cause him public shame.  If she uncovered, she would shame her husband.  If she kept covered for the sake of the cultural mandate to cover one’s sin while approaching God, then she shamed Christ who died to take away her shame.  It was a precarious dilemma for the married woman especially if her husband was not yet a Christian and was still holding to the cultural view of shame.

    Understanding culture and cultural shame is a necessity to understand 1 Cor. 11 and understanding the cultural laws of the Jews is important to understand 1 Cor. 14.  These indeed are two of the very difficult passages for our time as our culture views shame, head covering and women’s voices very differently than the people living in Paul’s day.

  5. Yes, put in context, one can see that these rules do not apply today, as the meaning for these things have changed.  In application, there might be other things in a culture that DO apply and similar thinking would then apply.

  6. Although I agree with your take on Corinthains (well, I’m, not so sure about Chapter 7), I don’t think using “but” to universally claim that a quote has just been made is really gramatically sound. My understanding is that there are other gramatical clues to identify a quote and those should be considered first and foremost. Those clues do exist, from what I’ve read, in 1 Cor 11 and 14. I do not know if anyone has explored them outside of those two passages.

  7. I think I found the clue in 1st Cor 14:33. First, some background. This from http://www.mythfolklore.net/bibgreek/alphabet/tips_punctuation.htm

    “About quotations. In the absence of quotation marks, there are some editorial conventions that can help you to recognize a quotation. First, a quotation inside a sentence may begin with a capital letter, just like in English. Notice also that there is an acute accent, instead of a grave accent, on the word immediately preceding the beginning of the quotation.”1

    With that in mind, we need to look at verse 33 to see the beginning of the quotation. At the end of verse 33 we have this clause:

    “as in all the churches of the saints” (NASB)

    Most translations have that as a clause ending the sentence in verse 33. But if we looked at a fully accented text, which you can do here, you will see that the omega in hos (“as”) is capitalized2.  The quote actually begins with this phrase and continues through verse 35. So, the entire quote from the Corinthians is:

    “As in all the churches of the saints, the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”

    And of course, Paul’s refutation of that nonsense follows.

    So to reiterate, I think we need more grammatical clues than the occurance of “but” to identify where Paul is quoting and where he is himself speaking.
    1. Biblical Greek Online. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
    2. A caveat: the accented Greek text I reference does not state its source. I am assuming they are using a published standard Greek text but can not state that for a fact. Still, there is no evidence that they have an agenda regarding 1 Corinthians 14:33 so I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the capitalization I note.

  8. The problem is that the original Greek ms. were written in all capitals, so we don’t have that to go on. Same issue with accents; there were few if any– see Scripture4All

    This issue came to light with the treatment of Junia. They could make her a man just by adding an accent.

  9. Yes, the issue of capitals doesn’t work because of the way the originals were written in all caps.  It is also my understanding that the accents were also not in the oldest manuscripts so that would appear to be a later addition, although helpful, it doesn’t appear to be inspired.


    I agree with you in that I am not saying that the term “but” means that a quotation is referenced.  It is only when “but” presents a contrary view to what was just presented that we can consider that Paul is referencing a quote.  This is where 1 Corinthians 10:23 is shown to be presenting a contrary view.  The ESV, NET, NIV, NRSV are some of the versions that put quotation marks in this verse as referencing a quotation of the Corinthians.  The Montgomery Centenary Translation of the New Testament also has quotation marks around verses 34 & 35 including the ending of verse 33.

    In my DVD I bring up a quotation of Sir William Ramsay who says “We should be ready to suspect Paul is making a quotation from the letter addressed to him by the Corinthians whenever he alludes to their knowledge or when any statement stands in marked contrast either with the immediate context or with Paul’s known views.”

    This also appears to be the case in 1 Cor. 7:1 where the ESV and the NET bible also put the quotation marks indicating that Paul is referencing a position quoted from the Corinthians.  Again we see the word “but” in 1 Cor. 7:2, but again “but” means nothing aside for the fact that verse 2 appears to contradict a position quoted in verse 1.

    In 1 Cor. 14 the quotation is not marked with a “but”.  It is marked with the Greek word “n”.  It also is a strong indication that Paul is refuting the position just quoted in verses 34 & 35.  Again, in my DVD I go through all of the documentation proving that it is impossible for verses 34 & 35 to be Paul’s position since the inspired wording of verse 36 is grammatically set up as a refutation.  What is verse 36 refuting? It cannot be that Paul is refuting some imaginery reaction to verses 34 & 35 that he thinks that Corinthians would give when they read Paul’s words.  The documentation I give shows that the inspired wording must set verse 36 as a marked contrast to what had just been quoted.  This is also a very important reason why verse 36 must be kept in its position.  Some manuscripts have this verse at the very end of the chapter but this cannot be.  Verse 36 is very carefully worded as a refutation and if is removed from its position, there is nothing to refute.

    As far as 1 Cor. 11 I am not convinced at all that there is a quotation in the passage.  I see no marked contrast in the passage and no carefully worded refutation of a position.  I have exegeted this passage in my DVD to show that it can be demonstrated that the entire passage is Paul’s words in answer to questions about women, headcoverings and hair and Paul uses this as an opportunity to preach our dependence on each other and that God is the ultimate source of all things so that neither male nor female is lifted up as being more important than the other.

    Paul also points to customs that can be respected but should not override our loyalty to Christ and the honor due him.  Any custom that dishonors Christ must be abandoned and any custom that separates believers also should not be held onto.

  10. I did some further digging and the accented online text is based on NA-26 which does have accents, other punctuation, and upper and lower case. I do not believe the editors of these texts inserted such details at their own discretion. In other words, what textual basis we do have for punctuation, accents, breath marks, and capitalization  (the minuscules), even though it is more recent, is frankly, all we have.

    The question is – do we discard this wealth of detail simply because it is of more recent origin or do we trust God has preserved this detail for us so that we can further study and understand His word beyond what a uncial manuscript is able to provide for us? Or conversely, do we contend that the whole of the majority text is some ploy of the enemy to make us less reliant on “the true” uncial text (also not autographs, also prone to error and influence)? Certainly none of the Nestle-Aland editors believe in such a dismissal, or they would have simply compilled their Greek addition as another uncial resource. So, I am inclined to at least show some deference to the use of details in our Greek standards and am quite happy that we don’t have to rely exclusively on the cryptic and difficult uncial variant of manuscript to discern God’s word.

  11. I am certain that the accents and punctuation of the later versions can be helpful. I just do not believe that they are necessary to understand the text.  The grammar of 1 Cor. 14:36 is specific enough to allow us to understand that verses 34 & 35 are a quotation that Paul is refuting.  Is part of verse 33 part of that quotation?  Many are convinced that it is.  I think it probably is too but I am not convinced that it makes a difference either way.  Not yet, anyway.  Having an accent in verse 33 that would further identify that the quotation started there is also helpful but without it the quotation is identified already because of the way that verse 36 is written.

    I have not studied the versions with the accents, so what I say about them should not be taken as anything more than just my own opinion.  I do not know for sure if these same accented manuscripts made Junia into a male name.  If that is true, then the accents should be treated as a human addition that can be very helpful but may also skew the text into an interpretation instead of a translation.  A person’s interpretation put into the text is not helpful in my opinion.  I believe this is why 1 Cor. 11 has been so difficult to understand for so long.  When one adds “a symbol of” in 1 Cor. 11:10 when the words are not there in the original and the added words change the meaning of the text, it is clear that interpretation needs to be left out of the business of translation so that difficult passages can be wrestled with, without an unfair influence of the translator regarding the meaning of scripture.

    So as regards to an accented text, would it be helpful?  Absolutely, I am sure it would.  Is it necessary to understand the meaning of the passage?  I don’t think it is necessary.  God has left a witness to us with the inspired words and the inspired grammar in an inspired context.  That I know for sure.  The other I will consider and appreciate and I can even value it.  I am not convinced it is more than that at this point.

    I do appreciate God’s Holy Spirit who is the most important factor in understanding God’s inspired words.  His work in our hearts to open the word is very important and I do not take that work lightly.  But still we are to struggle with the text and to study to show ourselves approved unto God a workman that does not need to be ashamed.  I trust that all of us are on the path way to be that kind of workman.

  12. “I did some further digging and the accented online text is based on NA-26 which does have accents, other punctuation, and upper and lower case. I do not believe the editors of these texts inserted such details at their own discretion.”

    Actually, they did.  They thought they were correct in their interpretations and did so with integrity, but the facts are that when the original manuscripts were written in 50’s – 60’s AD, it was in all caps, no accent marks, no punctuation of any sort.  Thus, when those are added in, it is at the discretion of the translators.

  13. It is important to know that NA27/UBS4 does include human interpretation in its presentation, including accent marks, punctuation and formatting.

  14. trio – the oldest uncials are from 400ad. The very oldest manuscripts are papyrus fragments and they are not in the format of uncials as they were meant for reading in the assemblies. They have punctuaion, and sometimes accents and breath marks. Many of the minuscules that were used by the Nestle-Aland editors contained many details including accents, punctuation, and capitalization, so the editors didn’t make educated guesses on much. That isn’t to say they never filled in the blanks, but they did have a lot of ancient documents to guide them.

    One of the papyri, p123, has the complete text of 1 Cor 14 and dates around 350. I am trying to find an image of it to see if it was punctuated.

  15. Oops – my bad. p123 has fragments of 1Cor 14:31-34 (what a coincidence) but were all in caps, although images show that the words are separated….never mind.

  16. I found the book where I had first been exposed to this concept of Paul quoting the Corinthians. The book is 10 Lies the Church Tells Women by J. Lee Grady. In a section titled “The Secret to Interpreting 1 Corinthians 14”, he says:

    “There are several reasons scholars believe that verses 34 and 35 of this passage are quotes from the letter Paul is answering. The most important clue is that the Greek symbol “n” (with a grave accent) is used at the beginning of verse 36 to signal to the reader that the preceding statement is quoted.”

    Just what you have said all along Cheryl!
    For reference, his references to research from which he draws that conclusion are: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “Shared Leadership,” Christianity Today, October 3, 1986, 124; Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Baker Book House Co., Broadman Press, 1977), 275.
    The reference for my quote above is: J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, A Strang Company, 2006), 71.

  17. I haven’t read the 10 Lies book but it is good to see that the Greek matches what I have been saying.  In my DVD I quote Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon and also the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament edited by Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider.  Thayer’s says this about the “n” that it is “before a sentence contrary to the one just preceeding, to indicate that if one be denied or refuted, the other must stand” and Thayer’s lists 1 Cor. 14:36 as an example of this.  The Exegetical Dictionary says that the “n” is “used frequently to introduce rhetorical questions to which a negative answer is expected” and it lists 1 Cor. 14:36 as such an example of this.

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Greek construction has Paul refuting was has just proceeded verse 36 and the only way this could be logical is that Paul is not refuting himself but a quote from the Corinthians.

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