Having previously  looked 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and discussed its controversial nature as well as its context within the whole biblical view of the public religious role of women, it is now time to turn our attention to the context of the scripture within Jewish tradition, having seen that there is no law in the Bible that forbids the involvement of women in public religious roles, and at least a few examples where this was done for women recognized as judges (Deborah) or prophetesses (Miriam, Huldah, Anna, the daughters of Philip the deacon, etc.). Was there something in traditional Judaism that was immensely hostile to the involvement of women as religious authorities that would have made it possible for Paul to be responding in his plea for ordered religious matters to be making reference to the Talmud?
The siddur, the Jewish prayer book, includes within it three blessings that Jewish males are supposed to give to express their gratitude for not having been born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman . It is likely that Paul was directly referring to this particular blessing in Galatians 3:28, when he wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The biblical blessing directly repudiates the nonbiblical Jewish one. It is also quite likely that this blessing was being skewered in the Gospels when Jesus spoke of the Pharisee’s prayer with himself in Luke 18:9-12: “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Phariseestood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” What we see is that there is a clear biblical tradition–and not only in the New Testament–to be strongly negative of the sorts of biases that encouraged believers to look down on others.
In addition to this, traditional Judaism of the kind that Paul was familiar with also would have included the separation of women within the synagogue  as well as the requirement for services of there being ten Jewish adult men (adult here meaning thirteen years of age or older). It should be noted that Paul himself did not conduct himself according to these rules and regulations. In particular, we have already noted in Acts 16 that when Paul went to Philippi, there were initially no men and therefore no synagogue, and so Paul started the congregation of believers there with a group of women who went out to pray by the riverside. And rather then a requirement of ten men, the Gospels state rather plainly that Christ is present where two or three are gathered together in His name (Matthew 18:20), which marks the smallest acceptable size of a congregation. Most congregations are larger, and some many times larger, but they can be this small given various circumstances. We should note that whatever Jewish restrictions existed with regards to women were not ones that Paul would have been willing to view as binding.
It should be noted as well that the hostility to women within traditional Judaism is not something that comes from the Bible. Indeed, it likely springs from Greek culture, where good women were to be silent and not present when the men hung around to talk about important subjects while being surrounded by servants and hetaerae. The Bible views men and women as complementary and as partners, but the Greeks viewed the male as being considerably superior to the female in ways that directly attacked the dignity of women as well as the morality of the men. It is quite possible that the high cultural cachet of following after the heathen culture of the Greeks made their hostility to womenfolk trendy and perhaps it even accounts in part for the reluctance that many people have to hearing serious opinions delivered by women. And it should be noted that many women don’t like hearing what men have to say (and have coined a word, mansplaining, to refer to it) when it questions their own preconceived notions and prejudices. As human beings in a fallen world we often find that there is division and conflict where it was intended that we should have a multitude of wise counsel coming from different perspectives to help us all overcome our own personal blind spots.
And so we are faced with a conundrum in that 1 Corinthians 13:34-35 on its face appears to confirm, or is at least interpreted to confirm, with the sort of prejudiced hostility to women that was found in contemporary culture and that the Bible was directly hostile to. Given the whole biblical context of the view of women as complementary and spiritually as equals and co-heirs in the Kingdom of God, it is clear that this verse does not mean what we think it means. But we are still left with the question of what it actually does mean. Far from being a clear scripture that explains the biblical view of the place of women within worship, it is a deeply unclear verse that requires a strong sensitivity to context and the strong possibility that the verse is citing the thoughts and opinions of not particularly converted Corinthian men rather than the thoughts of God mediated through the dictation of Paul, especially when earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul had already stated that women could pray publicly (and thus not be “silent” in services) provided that they wore a headcovering that would show a sign of their acceptance of the authority of their husbands as the head of household. Given this lack of clarity, even those who sincerely believe that this verse forbids women speaking are not being unreasonable, especially in those cases where they recognize the Bible’s high degree of respect and regard for women. Nor is it unreasonable when people wonder if this verse was even originally written by Paul given the way that it breaks the flow of a passage that urges all believers to prophesy, which requires public speaking about the Gospel of the Kingdom of God as well as about the meaning and interpretation of the Bible, presumably including both men or women in this wish. Likewise, we are left with the question of what are we to do about it? It is to that question that we will now turn.
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