Bipolar Paul? (Which View is He Taking?)

I am going to change up my format a little, but here goes for 1 Corinthians. I’m going to go over two passages, and I’ll even mention a connection of what Paul may or may not be referencing.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16(Joel 2:27-29):

I notice here that Paul is taking an interesting approach to ministry. Everyone immediately notices Paul at first putting forward a point of Man over Woman. And it’s somewhat legitimate. Paul is definitely recognizing a status quo position for that time. And in some ways, he is definitely encouraging people to not buck the current system completely. Paul seems to recognize the view of Woman from Man and Woman for Man. However, Paul never likes to make things simple.

Notice in verse 11 that he begins by saying “in the Lord.” Why would Paul say this? Well, he might be recognizing that as far as things of this world are concerned, we should choose our battles and go with the woman acting with social propriety. But his second point seems to say that in the Lord there is no male and female (which is a point that we will revisit in Galatians).

Also, prophecy is always tricky to understand. I’ll go ahead and say that it is not specifically telling about Christ or just sharing general truths of God. It’s not even primarily sharing a message in an unknown tongue (although that can be a gift of the Spirit). Prophecy goes back to the Old Testament. It was a practice going back to the days of Moses. One recurring element about the prophets is that they always would critique what was wrong in their religion and then point to a better way. Sometime they would tell of things to come, call people nasty names, or even make a mockery of what the Israelites practiced when opposing God. They would even stand in front of Kings and tell them that they were not being good people (note that any other person who did this would be killed on the spot and that sometimes prophets were killed for expressing this critique). This is a position of great authority. Maybe Paul’s focus is not so much about putting women in their place as it is giving them a way to use their Christian authority in public. Remember that there were hardly any women if any who were prophets up until that time. This is a major step to allowing women more freedom to express Spiritual Authority (note the second verse I mentioned since it is key to understanding the Jewish hope and what it had to do with prophecy).

And this is where things get crazy…

1 Corinthians 14:33-35:

Sometimes the Scriptures can throw you a curve ball when you’re not expecting it. In this spot, I can’t help but wonder if Paul changed his mind. I’m not going to say one interpretation of this verse is the one to go with. You might read this as Paul saying Women can’t say anything until their husbands have a free moment to explain or that women should just simply submit to the order of the meeting (which is a little more complex than just simply submitting to husbands).

I tend to go with the last one.

I usually try to interpret things in light of certain verses which seem more unique to Christianity rather than something that tries to fit in with the status quo. The way that applies here would seem to be in that Paul is more worried with giving women an outlet to express some form of authority by the Spirit rather than suppressing the Spirit that is trying to work through them. When we see a description beginning with “in the Lord” or “in Christ,” we have to pay attention to what is being said. It might not be as simple as surface reading which tries to take things simple and literal.

Think on these things. Find out for yourself what you think Paul is actually saying.

“There is no…male and female” Galatians 3:28


2 thoughts on “Bipolar Paul? (Which View is He Taking?)

  1. A thoughtful post, Russell. I especially appreciate your idea that Paul was giving women a way to use their new authority in public worship. Imagine how shocking it was for the Messianic Jews who had traditionally considered it shameful — Pharisee language — for a woman to speak in worship? How do you make room for that old guard — the hymns sung from hymnals, in our day — while making room for the new creation reality — in our time, the folks who want praise music on a screen? Those fresh from the old creation reality of female subordinance need a fig leaf (or perhaps a head scarf?) to help them over the abrupt change. We know how hard it is to change worship and how easily one side becomes frustrated and the other offended.

    Another possible tack on I Corinthians 14 which helps me past the sense that Paul abruptly changes his mind in mid-letter is the actual translation of a pesky little “eta,” a single letter “particle” which appears as the first mark at the beginning of 14:36. In other places this “H” is used in tandom to say, either and or, or else neither and nor. However, when Paul uses it, as everyone did, at the very beginning of a thought and directly after a discernable idea or question, it meant, “What!” or “No way!” or our even more slang term, “Not!”

    The “H” appears, as I said, at the first word in 36. If you take a gander at Codex Siniaticus, verses 34 and 35 are separated from text above and below, an unusual thing is parchment-cost conscious ancient writing. Verse 35 ends with an orphan “A,” the last letter of “churches,” followed by the unusual “white space.” Then, on the next line, below the lone alpha is the eta. As I mentioned, Paul uses this devise in several other places, including one other place in I Corinthians. This literary construction had punch much like ours does: make a statement or pose a question, pause and then say, “Not!”

    I have more on this on my synchropost and links behind it to sources: but to sum up my point, if 34 and 35 are a proposal from some folks in Corinth who seek to solve the disorder in Corinthian worship by putting women back behind the synagogue railing, then 34-35 represents their proposal. Paul quotes their proposal back to them and replies (36-38) with, “Not! Who put you in charge of interpreting the law? We have a clear command from Jesus — that women will be accorded full participation in worship and in the offices of worship and anyone who denies that, shall not be given and recognition themselves! Next issue.”

    As far as I know, very few translation committees do not ignore the eta when marking up this text. Most just ignore it. One or two translate the eta as “Or,” and only the old RSV gave it its due, translating it as “What!” (Again, see my post, with links to graphics of the Codex.)

    In my classes I have always played down these problem passages and when I have needed to, I have defended Paul as a conflicted sinner, saved by grace, just like me. However, if, as I have come to believe, mutuality, like the broken wall between Jew and Gentile (along with transformed relations between masters and slaves) were initial signposts of the new creation, then it seems most unlikely that Paul would not have known this. He not only declared it in his first letter; he also lived it in his relations with Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, Lydia, etc. I believe Paul saw the story which became Luke 10 38-42 as a direct commandment, a directive from King Jesus: “Some women shall be called to be rabbis, to sit at the feet of rabbis and learn to teach and prophesy… It shall not be taken away from them!” If Luke who recorded this amazing little story was Paul’s traveling companion in the second half of his ministry, it is most likely Paul was aware of the story and its import.

    What think you, brother?

    • Good musings. To start, “What think you, brother?” made me feel like I was listening to an epic speech from a movie. But I digress.

      One point to add, check out the idea of the Rhetorical “I” in Witherington’s

        What’s In the Word

      . It points to the “I” used as Paul not representing his own view but the view of another in verses 34 and 35, which explains the verses following, which you have mentioned. This rhetorical I would be much like singing “I’m a little teapot short and stout.” You’re not a teapot, of course, but if you were to follow up with an word implying that you were not a teapot, it would be like the issue in chapter 14.

      Thanks for the reply. Don’t see many Greek users here and it’s refreshing.

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