“women should be 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.”
~1 Corinthians 13:34-35
Note to the Leader: What do you think of the Bible verses from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth?
PLEASE READ THIS: If you think this verse is in error, this study is a must. If you think this verse is correct, this study is a must. We should NEVER take Scripture verses literally or out of context. The Apostle Paul is not telling women they cannot speak in churches. Yet, many denominations interpret these verses incorrectly. Rest assured that it is not the intent of this study to demean the role of women in the Christian church. All of the study material presented by Lostpine is based upon the doctrine that women share an “equal role” in the life of Christ’s Church. This study is about making decisions based on literal interpretations of Scripture, incomplete information or self-serving interests. The common error Christians make is jumping to their conclusions too quickly, without sufficient time spent to understand the full context of God’s Word.
The leader should let the group express their opinions and then begin the study. It is a study to expand one’s perspective rather than address the role of women in the church. This study is about “how to study” and not the role of men and women.
If the views of the group are diverse and challenge the writings of Paul, then ask the next question. Otherwise, skip the next question.
Does this mean that the Bible is wrong?
- No. It means that in order to understand God’s Word and His message to us, we need to work a little bit.
First, What do we know about the city named Corinth?
- Corinth was an ancient city of Greece located on the Isthmus of Corinth (see the map). Because of its location close to trade routes and harbors, Corinth enjoyed great prosperity. It also enjoyed a reputation for luxury and its name became proverbial for sexual laxity (Corinthianize means to practice sexual immorality). Corinth contained at least 12 temples. One of the most infamous was the temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, whose worshipers practiced religious prostitution. At one time, over 1,000 sacred prostitutes served the temple. Paul spent about eighteen months in the city prior to writing his first letter to the city church.
Do you think it would be hard to start a church in a city like Corinth? Why?
- There was a lot of competition from other churches.
- The existing culture was very different from the one the Christian church was teaching.
- Prosperity brought on a lot of distractions to the people living there (250,000 free people; 400,000 slaves).
Read 1 Corinthians 7:8 and 1 Timothy 5:14 to your group. Paul gives apposing advice in both cases.
Why would Paul tell the widows of Corinth not to marry while to the widows of Ephesus, he told they should marry?
- This is just one example of Paul’s advice being based on a different situation in a different place.
- Paul understood that the environment in Corinth placed the widows in a risky situation and his advice to them was to avoid it while Ephesus provided a more normal community and Paul was encouraging re-marriage.
Point One: Each Bible study should consider the environment, the circumstances, the surroundings that generated the necessity for God’s Word. We are called to expand our thinking. It would be no different than if you picked up an old letter written to someone. If you do not take the time to know both parties, it is difficult to guess the intent of the message.
Why was Paul writing the letter?
- Paul was responding to a letter from the leaders of the church. (See 1 Corinthians 7:1)
What is the difference between a story/book and a letter like Paul wrote? Length doesn’t count as a difference.
- Stories or books tend to present complete thoughts.
- They ask both the question and propose an answer.
- In the example of Paul’s letter to the church of Corinth, we do not have the questions to guide us, only the answers. The copy of the letter written to Paul is not available to us. Therefore, we have only half of the story.
Note to the Leader: If you have time and desire additional points to bring forward, you may also want to consider 1 Corinthians 11:3-16. In this Scripture, Paul appears to state the subservient position of women to men. He admonishes women for not covering their hair. Here is an excerpt from the commentary of William Barclay:
- “It must always be remembered that this situation arose in Corinth, probably the most licentious city in the world. Paul’s point of view was that in such a situation it was far better to err on the side of being too modest and too strict rather than to do anything which might either give the heathen a chance to criticize the Christians as being too lax or cause of temptation to the Christian themselves.
- It would be quite wrong to make this passage of universal application; it was intensely relevant to the Church of Corinth but it has nothing to do with whether or not women should wear hats in church at the present day. But for all its local significance it has three great permanent truths in it.
- It is always better to err on the side of being too strict than on the side of being too lax.
- Even after he has stressed the subordination of women, Paul goes on to stress even more directly the essential partnership of man and woman.
- Paul finishes the passage with a rebuke of the man who argues for the sake of argument. Whatever the differences that may arise between men, there is no place in the Church for the deliberately contentious man or woman.”
Point Two: When you don’t have the whole story, proceed with caution before forming an opinion. Imaging reading a letter that is an answer to a question. However, you don’t know the question. Confusing? Yes, and that is just what we have here in attempting to understand the Apostle Paul. We know his answer but don’t know the question.
What do you make of Paul’s comments made just prior to our controversial verses?
Have someone in the group read 1 Corinthians 14:26-33
- Paul is speaking to orderly worship. We must imagine that in the church when this newly forming band of Christians were gathered for worship and study, there was disorder. Think of the people, especially the women that would have been attracted to that early church. Paul is stating that one cannot grow in their faith and learn in the presence of chaos.
What would a worship service be like in your church if your evangelism program was successful in recruiting people from the go-go clubs, bars, strip clubs, off the streets, etc. and granted them immediate membership?
- Dress code might be offensive or improper. It could be hard to concentrate on God.
- People without an understanding of our faith would actively engage in our worship experience incorrectly.
- Some might attempt to become active as officers, misleading people and misinterpreting the Gospel.
What does Paul tell us about disorder?
Read 1 Corinthians 14:33. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
- Paul views disorder as something that must be removed from the church.
Could the women of Corinth have been disruptive in the early church and could the early church leaders of the church of Corinth been asking Paul for advice?
- Very much so. While we don’t know for sure, the circumstances surrounding the issue require us to keep an open mind about the subject.
Point Three: Before interpreting a section of Scripture, search before and after the verses in question to understand the ’s purpose and perspective. Try to answer this question:
Why was this message being conveyed?
How could we further prove that Paul did not mean for this to be a blanket statement and a condemnation against all women?
- Look for more proof that the church had a problem.
- Look elsewhere to see how Paul worked with other women in the early church.
Note to the Leader: The following material was obtained by searching Encyclopedia.com. Using the Internet to supplement materials is an excellent way to expand the knowledge you pass onto your class and make the study time more interesting. Here is an example of additional information found on the Internet.
Saint Clement the First
Died in A.D. 97?, a pope (A.D. 88?-97?), martyr. Highly esteemed in his day, he may have known Saints PETER and PAUL. Some until the 4th century considered his letter to the Corinthians canonical (reducing something to its simplest form) and is notable for the authority Clement assumes. He was the first Christian writer to use the phoenix as an allegory (a symbolic representation) of the Resurrection.
The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians – CHAPTER III.–THE SAD STATE OF THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH AFTER SEDITION AROSE IN IT FROM ENVY AND EMULATION.
Every kind of honor and happiness was bestowed upon you, and then was fulfilled that which is written, “My beloved did eat and drink, and was enlarged and became fat, and kicked.” Hence flowed emulation and envy, strife and sedition, persecution and disorder, war and captivity. So the worthless rose up against the honored, those of no reputation against such as were renowned, the foolish against the wise, the young against those advanced in years. For this reason righteousness and peace are now far departed from you, inasmuch as every one abandons the fear of God, and is become blind in His faith, neither walks in the ordinances of His appointment, nor acts a part becoming a Christian, but walks after his own wicked lusts, resuming the practice of an unrighteous and ungodly envy, by which death itself entered into the world.
Reading another letter (not part of the Bible) but part of our historical archives from someone close to the problem (St. Clement), What conclusion can you draw?
- There was chaos in the Christian church of Corinth, especially associated with envy, lust and leading lives not consistent with the Gospel’s message.
- Paul passes these basic principles to the Corinth leaders:
- The teaching and preaching of the Word takes precedence over everything else;
- The church must be built up;
- The must be nothing that would hurt the testimony before unbelievers;
- There must always be self-control;
- Everything must be done “decently and in order,” following the Word of God;
- Women (in the church of Corinth) were not to exercise authority over men;
- There must be understanding before there can be blessings.
Point Four: Seek as much other information as you can; both from within Scripture, and from trusted sources such as accepted doctrinal writings. This point speaks to the reason why formal Bible studies are so important. Working with a study leader and supporting study material, the growth and understanding one receives is maximized.
From Paul’s letter to Timothy, read 1 Timothy 2:9-11. Does this sound more or less strict than what you read in 1 Corinthians?
- Timothy was caring for the church in Ephesus. Paul again passes on some advice to Timothy. The statement is much more reasonable. However, even with this additional letter, we cannot draw a broad conclusion that this must apply to all women in all churches for all times. Again there were problems in the church in Ephesus that Timothy needed some advice on.
Have someone in the group read Romans 16:1-4
Is there an example of where Paul modeled the a different opinion of women in the church?
- Go back to the Greek. Paul uses the word diaconate when describing Phoebe making her a deaconess and giving her the honor of carrying his letter to the Roman church with her. We also meet Priscilla and Aquila again (Acts 18:2 – 28; 1 Corinthians 16:19; and 2 Timothy 4:19). Both had met Paul in Corinth, and now, were building a church in their house back in Rome. Nine women are mentioned in this chapter, all in a loving way for their involvement in Christ’s church.
Point Five: Seek elsewhere in the Bible. God’s Word is consistent. It is our understanding that is inconsistent. Remember Paul’s words, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” By taking a topic and using more than one example in Scripture, you avoid the risk of making a “literal translation.”
Point Six: What if Paul really never said this and someone such as a later Scribe, added the statements to serve a special interest group.
Are these verses consistent with other statements made in 1 Corinthians?
Have someone read 1 Corinthians 11:5
- Paul is in direct contradiction here where he states women “do teach and prophesy.” To prophesy means to tell others about God and Christ. There are modern day theologians who believe these verses were added later. Their opinions are based on the broken flow, the contradictory statements not only in the Letters to Corinth but elsewhere in Scriptures.
Note to the Leader: The Scriptures quoted here are but a small portion of how God instructs men and women to work together and to understand their roles in His kingdom. They were chosen to illustrate how easy it is to jump to improper conclusions and to suggest just a few ways one might approach Bible study. This study also establishes that Paul’s ministry had many women who were part of the early church.
Bible Truth Being Taught
God created men and women to share His world and to share Christ’s work.
To share respect between the sexes and work together in peace. There is enough work for all of us to do.