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1 Corinthians 14:34,35

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Romans 16:1

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.

One verse states the role of a woman in the church is passive, submissive. The second states phoebe is a "deacon".

1 Timothy 3 implies a deacon is a male (with reference to the fact that he must have one wife).

What do these three verses say about the position of Women in the congregation?

Other references welcome. Biblical answers only, please.

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  • There were also female prophetesses, too (e.g. Acts 21:9).
    – mojo
    Mar 3 '15 at 6:40
  • Probably because of unsuitability to the site. Answering this question would require a very thorough treatment and rely on some subjective valuation.
    – mojo
    Mar 3 '15 at 12:45
  • I simply cannot accept how many of these questions end up being arbitrarily knocked down as "opinion based". Either the majority of stuff on this site is opinion based, or it is acceptable to get bible based answers (ie, opinions, in many cases) since rarely can anything really be proven or disproven as being opinion.
    – user9485
    Mar 3 '15 at 22:17
  • I think the goal of the "off topic" rules is to prevent protracted arguments that diminish the value of the Q&A content. I agree that a lot of what I see labeled as "opinion based" seems like it could provide a very reasonable discussion. I don't have as much experience here as others, so I'll defer to them as to whether or not "opinion" questions tend to work out well.
    – mojo
    Mar 3 '15 at 22:29
  • In the case of this question, it seems like a good answer could very well take a long time to develop. I suspect there have been whole books written about this topic. The format of this site doesn't lend itself to really long answers.
    – mojo
    Mar 3 '15 at 22:30
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What do these three verses say about the position of Women in the congregation?

Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:

servant = diakonos = one who does errands or serves.

1 Timothy 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

In context I see the "diakonos" (servants) as the other leaders in the church under the biscopos or overseer. Here diakonos is used in a way that associates it with leadership as opposed to anyone who serves someone else.

The reference to Phoebe as a servant or deacon I see not as the occupant of a organizational position but as a description of the work she does ministering to others.

1 Corinthians 14:34-34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

The context of 1 Corinthians chapter fourteen is one of chaos in the church. Specifically spiritual gifts were being used carelessly and were in need of correction. Paul uses this subject at the end of the chapter to also address the disruption caused by women speaking in church.

Most people today see red when they hear these verses. However, there are a number of points that can be missed if we focus only on feminist outrage.

Today these verses sound strange not only for political reasons, but that today not only women, but everyone is silent in the church. One might make a case that in the early church teaching was by question and answer instead of the more common lecture format of today.

Women were required to ask their husbands at home not only to reduce the commotion in the church, but to stop the husbands from sloughing off their responsibility to be teachers in the home. This is more of an admonition against men than women.

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1 Corinthians 14:34,35

Bart D. Ehrman, in Forged, page 245, suggests that the apostle Paul was not really the author of this passage, meaning that it could be a later interpolation inserted into his epistle. First of all, he says that immediately before these verses, Paul is talking about prophecy in the church, then immediately afterwards he is once again talking about prophecy. This passage on women interrupts the flow of the argument.

Ehrman finds it hard to believe that Paul would tell women that they could not speak in church, here in 1 Corinthians 14, when just three chapters earlier he indicated that they could do so. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul urges women who pray and prophesy in church to do so only with veils on their heads. If they were allowed to speak in chapter 11, he asks how they could be told not to speak in chapter 14.

Romans 16:1

It would be convenient to regard Romans 16:1 as confirming that Paul treated women as equals, and supporting 1 Corinthians 11. It is, nevertheless, inconvenient that this too may have been part of an interpolation, although for different reasons than 1 Corinthians 14:34,35. As long as any doubt exists as to the provenance of Romans 16:1, it can not be regarded as reliable evidence that the church treated women as equal to men during Paul's time.

1 Timothy 3

This implies a deacon is a male (with reference to the fact that he must have one wife). On the face of it, this conflicts with the report that Phoebe was a deacon. But once again, this does not give us any insight into Paul's thinking.

Bart D. Ehrman says the Epistles to Timothy were pseudepigrapha, written long after the death of Paul, containing ideas and words that Paul never used. In Forged, page 98, Ehrman refers to an important study of the pastoral letters written by the British scholar A. N. Harrison in 1921, in which he gave numerous statistics about the word usage in these writings. One of his most cited set of numbers is that there are 848 different words used in the pastoral letters. Of that number 306, or more than one third, do not occur in any of the other Pauline letters of the New Testament. That is an inordinately high number, especially as about two thirds of these 306 words were used by Christian authors living in the second century. That suggests that this author is using a vocabulary that was becoming more common after the days of Paul, and that he lived after Paul.

Conclusion

  1. First Corinthians chapter 11 suggests that Paul welcomed women who spoke in church.
  2. Romans 16:1 describes Phoebe as a deacon, which certainly suggests that women were permitted to speak, but there is some uncertainty as to whether this verse (and those which follow) were part of Paul's letter. In favour of it is that, even if Paul did not write this verse, the real author believed that a female deacon would not be regarded as unusual. It therefore stands as potential evidence that there were female deacons in the early church.
  3. First Corinthians 14:34,35 contradicts the evidence of 1 Corinthians 11 and Romans 16:1, but Ehrman presents a credible case that these verses were added by an anonymous interpolator in a later period of Christian history.
  4. First Timothy chapter 3 seems to rule out that Phoebe was a deacon, with the overall suggestion that women were to be submissive in church. This is widely acknowledged as written in the second century and therefore does little to inform us on the position in the first decades of the church.

On balance, women were probably active and vocal in the church while Paul was alive.

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    Interesting, but simply saying that it was an interpolation isn't really a Biblical answer. Bart D. Ehrman has very different views about the Bible and Christianity. I would warn Christians to be very careful while reading this kind of stuffs. I'm not saying Ehrman is wrong but since textual criticism is a sensitive subject, we should be careful.
    – Mawia
    Mar 3 '15 at 12:32
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    Chalking up the apparent "interpolation" to a writer who is not Paul is a typical knee-jerk reaction of many, many liberal Bible commentators who assume the Bible is not the miraculous product of divine intervention and inspiration of God's Holy Spirit. In other words, that reaction is at its heart anti-supernatural, and moreover it dishonors God. The worst part about it, to me, is its "fleshly" approach to Scripture, which elevates textual criticism above faith in a God who is fully capable of revealing (and did reveal) his will and word to fallible and all-too-human men. Minus one from me. Mar 3 '15 at 16:28
  • Moreover, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that behind this textual faultfinding is more than a little projection of PC (politically correct) leanings and assumptions, birthed in the 20th and 21st centuries, onto the text. IOW, there is a knee-jerk assumption that since Paul's non-PC stifling of women is wrong, prima facie, then it behooves us to explain why it's wrong. Eschewing an attempt to understand what local (i.e., first century) factors may have influenced Paul's "startling"--to us in the 21st century--directive to Christian women in Corinth, is what I call "Job 12:2" thinking! Mar 3 '15 at 16:47