A. Prophecy in the Body of Christ
Much of the letter of 1 Corinthians addresses the gifts of the spirit and among those is the prophetic gift. The gifts of the spirit are divine special abilities that given to enrich, edify, instruct and guide the people of God as they follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gifts go – as the Holy Spirit decides - to all believers. They are diverse with various functions and administrations, but they are all from the same God (1 Cor. 12: 4-14). The gifts Paul mentions are the “word of wisdom” (v.8); “faith” (v.9); “working of miracles” (v.10); “prophesy” (v.10); “discerning of spirits” (v. 10); “diverse tongues” (v.10); “the interpretation of tongues” (v.10). Several of those gifts for the body of Christ, and by extension in worship/church, are verbal skills. It is not beyond the realm of expected use that a “word of wisdom” and “prophecy” may be both written and spoken, but diverse tongues and interpretation are definitely speech based. All together in the New Testament context the word of wisdom, prophecy, tongues, and interpretation of those tongues are based on the understanding that people in the assembly will be speaking. Nowhere is there any indication that the Gifts of the Spirit are specific to males and women are exempt. Indeed Paul’s discussion seems to clearly deny that.
The primary word used in most of the following scriptures is once more the term denoting inspired speech, to exercise the prophetic office, to prophesy, and to foretell events (propheteuo #4395).
1. 1 Cor. 12:7-31, especially v. 12 speaks of the “gift of prophecy.”
2. 1 Cor. 13:9 “we prophesy in part…”
3. 1 Cor. 14:1, notes Paul preferring the gift of prophecy over the others that might be sought and may link to 12:31 where he urged seeking after the best gifts.
4. 1 Cor. 14:3-5 continues his argument by citing the prophetic gift was superior because it edified the entire church. Prophecy, as inspired speech that edifies the body, is seem here as the preferred gift. The one who prophesies speaks to “edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (v.3).
5. 1 Cor. 14:19 “I had rather speak five words…that by my voice I might teach (or instruct) others…” He clearly elevates the role of the spoken word ministries, which by definition, include prophecy and teaching. The word used for teach/instruct means to “to inform, to teach, to instruct” (katecheo #2727). It may be inferred that if prophesy is a preferred gift due to it being clearly understood ( v.4) and, that both men and women share in the Spiritual Gifts as divided out by the Holy Spirit, that woman is expected to be verbally part of the worship service in the same manner men are participating by sharing their Gifts to the Body.
6. After this detailed discussion of the diverse nature of spiritual gifts and value and superiority of the spoken gift of prophecy, comes an abrupt and hard to explain shift. After outlining the manner in which the prophets in the congregation (i.e., the Body of Christ) should function for orderly behavior and after using the same terms for ALL mentions of prophecy or prophetic function or actions, the writer drops a metaphorical hammer. In v. 34 the writer suddenly states: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded [inserted word] to be under obedience, as saith the Law.”
7. The question here in 1 Corinthians 14:34, that consistently goes underexplored is to what ‘Law’ is the writer referring? Most notes in common reference works tend to include Genesis 3:16 “unto the woman he, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow though shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband (or be subject to him) and he shall rule over thee.” Also, Colossians 3:18 [3:16-25] “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.” Yet, these two verses raise additional questions of lasting theological implications concerning the limits of punishment and redemption. The Genesis text is part of the punishment phase of the Garden Fall of Adam and Eve. Due to the fall from Grace, the man and the woman are each punished (the woman in just a single verse and the man in three verses!). The Serpent, as Perpetrator and Deceiver, is cursed or at least this is the explanation for the reason serpents are feared and travel on their bellies. The question then becomes how much of this curse-pronouncement is symbolic and which is actual? The punishment of Adam involved the ground being cursed, it would be hard to dominate and difficult to work and hard to grow anything, all of which bringing him sorrow and sustenance all of his life. There is no mention of him working animals, learning a craft, sailing ships, building cities, conquering others, enslaving people, or leading a business – yet these are all work areas men have flourished in over time. Yet when woman is defined, she is perpetually kept within a narrow framework of being ‘ruled’ by her husband, being under his ‘subjection’. Her punishment was doubly keen in that she would have a longing or “desire” to be with the man who will, for good or bad, have the power, will rule, and will have dominion over her. Woman was caught securely in a difficult situation because she listened to the deceptions of the serpent she ate of the forbidden Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and then offered the same to Adam. It is interesting to note that when God was doing the cursing and punishments the first one addressed was the Serpent cursed above “all cattle and beasts of the field”, and he would crawl on his belly and eat dust (v.14). Of note, God would “put enmity between the serpent and the woman for all time (v.15) and a promise that her seed would “bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (v.15), considered a prophetic reference to the future Messiah. Then the writer outlines the broad image of a different life for the man and the woman outside the Edenic conditions of the Garden. The punishments are the explanations for why women suffer in childbirth, parenting and why, although their men treat them poorly, they still stay with them. They are teaching moments to explain what happens when people willfully do what is wrong. They explain why men labor in making a living by toiling long hours with little reward and why life is a struggle and followed by death. In the New Testament framework of 1 Corinthians this appeal to a ‘Law’ must be explained as it appears inconsistent with other Pauline writings. Note in the version of the King James Bible that the word “commanded” has been inserted and is not found in other translations indicating a translational word choice not indicated by the text. Why would Paul write in Romans 10:4 that “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” or in Galatians 5:18 “..if you be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the Law” or Romans 6:14 “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” How to reconcile all of these to a position based on “saith the Law” in 1 Corinthians 14:34, as well as in Ephesians 5:15-33 and others that make a dramatic statement about the issue of ‘submission’ by women. The only answer is that there is more to these sections than mere permissive statements for husbands to have power over their wives and for wives to be silent in church.