This is the ninth in a series of simulated interviews with the Apostle Paul taken from the position of what he might say if we could transport Paul from the New Testament account through a time tunnel into our present day.
Doug, a strong complementarian will be questioning Paul on 1 Corinthians 14. Paul will be speaking to him about the Sovereignty of God and whether there are restrictions on women in the church. Let’s listen in. (Links to the previous interviews are at the bottom of this post.)
Doug: Paul, I am anxious to talk about 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 today. This is the final passage that convinced me that you did not allow women to teach the bible to the entire congregation. This is also one of the clearest passages there is.
Paul: I am very happy to be able to help you out with this passage. We do need to remember the complete context of this passage so that you will know how to interpret it in line with all that I taught. We are going to work with another box today. Today the box will be the filter that we need to read 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 through.
Doug: Why do we need a filter?
Paul: Because people easily misunderstand me. My writings are very deep and some people think that they can skim the surface, cherry pick out an individual verse apart from its context and run with it. That is why there is so much confusion on my writings. Those who are unstable, are prone to distort what I taught. Look what Peter said about my writings:
2 Peter 3:15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,
2 Peter 3:16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
My writings must be understood in the context that they are written in. I have provided a filter in each complex passage that will define the way the passage is to be read. Are you ready to find the filter?
Doug: Ah…sure. Show me what you define as a filter in this passage.
Paul: The foundation is set in 1 Corinthians 12 and the filter is defined in verses 7, 11 and 18-25. Let’s start by having you read verses 17 and 18 and then verse 11.
1 Corinthians 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
1 Corinthians 12:18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
1 Corinthians 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
Paul, what are we looking at here?
Paul: The first part of the filter is that God is Sovereign and He sets the members of the body wherever He wants and He gives the gifts out to whoever He wills. So let’s mark down:
1. God sets the members
In verse 17 I wrote that “God has placed the members…in the body, just as He desired.” The fact is that God is the one who gifts and God is the one who places. It is all God’s prerogative. Do you have any problem with that?
Doug: I am with you 100% because I believe in the Sovereignty of God.
Paul: Good. Now let’s go to the second part of the filter. It is found in 1 Corinthians 12:21.
1 Corinthians 12:21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
The second part of the filter is the fact that the body to not given permission to deny their own need for each member. So let’s mark down the second part of the filter as:
2. Members cannot deny other members.
The next part of the filter is found in 1 Corinthians 12:22-24
1 Corinthians 12:22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;
1 Corinthians 12:23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable,
1 Corinthians 12:24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,
Doug: What does this part of the filter mean?
Paul: It means that honor is required to be given to those who seem weaker and less honorable in our eyes. I will give you an example of this in just a bit.
So let’s add to our list this point:
3. Greater honor given to those who seemingly lack honor
The next point is the reason that we have need for this filter. It is found in 1 Corinthians 12:25:
1 Corinthians 12:25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
The reason that we need this filter is because we are in need of equal care so that we have no schism or no division in the body. Let’s add this last point to our list:
4. No schism
Now let’s take a look at the filter that we have created from 1 Corinthians 12.
Doug: Well that is a pretty nice looking filter, but how does that apply to 1 Corinthians 14?
Paul: It is the filter through which we must understand all what I wrote about the church and its function. Let’s look at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 14 to see the filter in action. Before first lets provide a name for this filter. The name is found in 1 Corinthians 12:7 –
1 Corinthians 12:7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Everything that God does in body ministry is ultimately for the common good.
Paul: Does this make sense to you so far?
Doug: Yes, pretty much.
Paul: Alright then, let’s see this filter in action.
1 Corinthians 14:12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
How would you see this verse looking through the filter I set up?
Doug: Since your filter is for the common good of the body verse 12 aligns up with that filter since you stated that our zeal for spiritual gifts should be focused on what is for the benefit of the entire body.
Paul: Excellent. Now let’s look at verse 16.
1 Corinthians 14:16 When you give thanks to God in spirit only, how can ordinary people (the ungifted, uneducated) taking part in the meeting say “Amen” to your prayer of thanksgiving? They have no way of knowing what you are saying.
How can we see this verse through the filter?
Doug: It seems to me that honor is given to those who lack the gift so that they do not miss out in the worship. We honor them by making sure they are edified by all.
Paul: That is right! Those who are uneducated and not gifted in the area of tongues must be considered so that they are not left out. What other part of the filter works here?
Doug: It would be #4 that there is to be no schism in the body.
Paul: Good job! You are doing very well in applying the filter. The use of the spiritual gifts is for the common good. Since speaking in tongues without an interpreter would not edify those who do not understand the tongues, the focus is to be on edifying everyone not just a few. Okay here is a verse that might be a little harder for you to see through the filter and make an application.
1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
Doug: This one seems to be against the Sovereignty of God. It says that we all can purse the gifts especially the gift of prophesy. Wouldn’t this make prophesy as a gift subject to those who desire it instead of what God wills? Looks like you have a problem with this one.
Paul: No problem at all. Verse 11 says:
1 Corinthians 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
The Holy Spirit gives the gifts as He wills, but it is His will that everyone desires to prophesy. We may not all be gifted the same but we all are allowed to speak and share what we do have. So here we still have God setting the members in the body, but all are allowed to be heard. There is no division between the haves and the have nots. Verses 23 and 24 show that the entire church may prophesy. What is the result of allowing all to prophesy? Look at verse 31:
1 Corinthians 14:31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;
Doug: It says that all can prophesy “so that” all will have the opportunity to learn and all have the opportunity to be exhorted.
Paul: Absolutely! And which part of the filter can we see this one through?
Doug: #4 There is to be no schism or no division in the body. All can prophesy, all can learn and all can be exhorted.
Paul: One last example for you and then we will go into the hard passage. How do you read verses 29 and 30 together with verse 31 with the filter that I set up?
1 Corinthians 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.
1 Corinthians 14:30 If a revelation is made to another person who is seated, the first person should be silent.
1 Corinthians 14:31 For everyone can prophesy in turn, so that everyone can be instructed and everyone can be encouraged.
Here we have a person who is “first” speaking yet they are to be silent and give the floor to another one who is seated.
Doug: I am not really sure how this one fits in.
Paul: Here is a clue – the “first one” yields to another who is exercising their gift.
Doug: Okay, let me take a crack at this one. One member even if he is the prominent one (first one) speaking is to honor the one who is sitting down and who does not have the honor of first place. I could see that one through #3 Greater honor is given to those who lack honor. The one who has the honor of speaking first can give up their rights in order to give honor to one who is sitting amongst the body. I can also see #2 Members cannot deny other members the use of their gifts.
Paul: I am amazed at how quickly you are catching on. What I was speaking about in this passage is true body ministry. Those in a place of honor will allow others to speak. They will not deny the use of the gifts of others members so that everyone will have an opportunity to be encouraged and everyone will be ministered to. No one will say that the gift that someone else has is not needed by them. In fact we are told that no member of the body can say “I do not need you” to another member of the body.
Doug: I got another one. We can also see #4 No schism or division in the body of Christ. The body is not divided into those who are allowed to speak and those who are not allowed to speak.
Paul: You have it down pat. Now it is time to view 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 through this filter.
1 Corinthians 14:34 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.
1 Corinthians 14:35 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.
How are these two verses seen through the filter?
Doug: You changed everything with these verses. They don’t fit.
Paul: Tell me in what way they don’t fit.
Doug: Well in #1 you said that God is the one who sets the members in the body and God is the one who said that all can desire to prophesy but now you are saying that women are not allowed to speak. Then you also said in #2 that members cannot deny other members that they are needed or that they can use their gifts, but you are definitely denying women from using their gifts. Also in #3 there isn’t any honor at all given to women. They are told that they are to learn at home and they aren’t even given an opportunity to learn let alone speak. The last one #4 says that there isn’t to be a schism in the body, but there definitely is a division when you have ones who are allowed to speak and ones who are forbidden to speak. Yet I have to hold fast to the Bible and understand that women are to be silent in the church since that is clearly what you said. I can’t make it fit the filter, but it is there in black and white and I must obey.
Paul: Doesn’t it seem odd to you that everything up to this point fits through the filter except these two verse? Doesn’t it seem odd to you that you are rejecting all the verses freeing women to minister in their gifts, in order to hold tightly to these two verse?
Doug: But I absolutely cannot reject scripture. I must hold to all of it because rejecting these verses would make me a liberal.
Paul: Am I a liberal?
Doug: How could you be, you are the Apostle Paul.
Paul: But I rejected this two verses.
Doug: What do you mean?
Paul: Throughout 1 Corinthians I had been dealing with questions and problems brought to my attention by Chloe’s people.
1 Corinthians 1:11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you.
In 1 Corinthians I was addressing the contentious items, quarrels and questions brought to me. I was answering their letter.
1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, …
There were questions about the married and unmarried, questions about divorce, questions about things offered to idols, questions about spiritual gifts and about the way that collections should be taken up for the church in Jerusalem. There was also a quarrel brought to me about the position of women in the congregation. Those who wanted to forbid women from speaking were appealing to the Jewish oral law of the Pharisees who restricted women from public speaking and who also restricted women from public learning. In 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 I quoted exactly what was being said in this dispute and which had been brought to me in order for me to settle the dispute.
After I quoted the words of those who wanted to split the church into two groups – those who had permission to speak and those who were forbidden to speak (a dividing line drawn by gender) I really lost my cool. I said what??!!
1 Corinthians 14:36 Did the word of God go out from you, or (what??!!) did it come to you only?
The expression that I used is not often translated in your English Bibles, and sometimes it is just translated as “or”, but it has a strong meaning in the Greek. It is a marker of a disjunctive particle which separates opposites which are mutually exclusive. In this passage it is set up as a negative answer joining rhetorical or parallel questions to preceding statements (Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. (2000). Vol. 4: Analytical lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker’s Greek New Testament library (188). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.)
You see these men were acting as if the word of God first went out through men alone. But that isn’t true. In fact the very first message of the gospel, the resurrection of Christ came through women. God commissioned the women to give the gospel to the men. Women were not forbidden to bring the word of God to the men instead they were picked to be the very first apostles of the resurrection. And who is the Word of God brought to? Only men? I am seeing red again as I answer these Pharisees who wish to elevate men and exclude women. What they are saying is what the oral law of the Pharisees says, but God did not bring the gospel to only the men. The women are instructed to learn right alongside the men. You see, brother Doug, I was disputing the claims of these egotistical men who wanted to claim that the gospel belonged only in the hands of men. These men were dividing the church of the living God and bringing a schism into its midst. They were trying to hold back the women of God and stop them from ministering. They said that they did not need the women! They said that the word of God is properly only brought out to the men and from the men. Those were ignorant, unstable and prideful men! Now don’t get me started or I may really speak my mind!
Brother, Doug, look at the next thing I wrote:
1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks [that he] is a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge what I write to you, that they are commandments of [the] Lord.
The “law” that is quoted in verse 34 is not found in the scriptures, because it is merely a private law of man. But I countered with the things of God that are found in the scriptures. Those who claim to be spiritual and those who claim that they are a prophet need to recognize that the things I had written throughout chapters 12 and 14 are the Lord’s commandments. And all of the things that I wrote match the filter that I gave you.
Do you see that Doug? Everything I wrote shows the Sovereignty of God and his plan to set the members in the body of Christ as He chooses as well as He gifts those who desire to edify the body.
1 Corinthians 14:5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy…
Do you see that this is for “all” not just “some”?
Everything I wrote shows that one member cannot stand as the gate keeper holding back another member from ministering to the body. Everyone is needed and everyone should serve as they are gifted. We are also told to honor those who are not in a position of honor. Lift them up. Let them speak. Give them honor even before the vocal ones who have first place. And lastly everything I wrote makes it clear that there is to be no division, no schism in the church.
I am going to leave you with this one last scripture.
1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
Brother Doug, it is God who has appointed all of these gifted people in the church. If he has appointed and gifted women as teachers are you going to say that you have no need of them? Are you going to deny that the church as a whole needs them? Are you going to separate out the women teachers and place them in a corner to minister to each other or are you going to let the Holy Spirit have His way operating in the way that He has chosen and gifted?
Doug: I feel cut to the heart and convicted.
Paul: Go in peace and think about what I have said. I must take my leave and I do not know if I will ever be allowed to travel down this time tunnel again. I trust that God will reveal all things to you so that you no longer have a prejudice against your sisters in Christ. Remember there are to be no divisions, no schisms and the members are to have equal care for each other.
(The first interview with the Apostle Paul and Doug is located here. The second interview is here. The third interview is here. The fourth interview is here. The fifth interview is here. The sixth interview is here. The seventh interview is here. The eighth interview is here.)