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189. The Apostle Paul speaks twice, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, concerning the public ministry of women, in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, and 14:29-40. We shall treat of the second utterance, as the simpler, first. Please read these two passages in turn, and note that they occur in the same letter, and if the writer was not interrupted, he wrote the second in the next breath after the first, that is, one could not have been written more than fifteen minutes or a half hour after the other. This point is important. Next note that if St. Paul veiled women he did not silence women, for, according to this interpretation he ordered them to veil only when prophesying or praying, not at other times; so that, if they were silenced they were left unveiled, so far as Scripture teaches. Yet the general idea and teaching is that Paul both veiled and silenced women.

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LESSON 25.

SHALL WOMEN KEEP SILENCE?

189. The Apostle Paul speaks twice, in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, concerning the public ministry of women, in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, and 14:29-40. We shall treat of the second utterance, as the simpler, first. Please read these two passages in turn, and note that they occur in the same letter, and if the writer was not interrupted, he wrote the second in the next breath after the first, that is, one could not have been written more than fifteen minutes or a half hour after the other. This point is important. Next note that if St. Paul veiled women he did not silence women, for, according to this interpretation he ordered them to veil only when prophesying or praying, not at other times; so that, if they were silenced they were left unveiled, so far as Scripture teaches. Yet the general idea and teaching is that Paul both veiled and silenced women.

190. Now turn to the second passage: Fix your attention, for a moment, on verses 31-36. Does it not seem strange that unless Paul means “all,” he should have repeated “all” three times over? It is probable that the women far outnumbered the men in these early churches, held in the homes of the people,[4] for they have usually outnumbered the men throughout Church history even since meetings have been held in public churches. Now if only a small fraction of the attendants (the mature men released from business so that they could be at home meetings), were allowed to prophesy (Paul says nothing about mere Sunday meetings), then why did the Apostle say, “Ye may all prophesy, one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted?”

191. Again, at verse 34 he says, “It is not permitted . . . as also saith the law.” Who did not permit it? Where was it not permitted? The O. T. says absolutely nothing from Genesis to Malachi to forbid women to speak. No “law” can be found anywhere in the Bible forbidding women to speak in public, unless it be this one only utterance here by St. Paul. And besides, we know perfectly that the O. T. permitted women to speak in public (Numbers 27:1-7), and Jesus Christ did also, without rebuke, Luke 8:47, 11:27, 13:13.

192. What is actually known about the situation which occasioned the writing of this Epistle to the Corinthians? We gather from the Epistle itself that the Corinthian Christians had written Paul a letter (7:1) and he is answering it. There were divisions among them (1:11). He had enemies at Corinth, who disputed his right to be called an Apostle (9:1), and criticized him and his companions for leading about a woman with them (9:5) and he declares that “we” have as much right to do it as “the other apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas.” Who was this woman? Doubtless Priscilla, who with Aquila her husband had left Corinth, in company with the Apostle, shortly before (Acts 18:18), the woman whom Paul mentions before her husband. He actually dares to put this woman’s “head” on behind! How that would scandalize the proprieties of modern theology! She was, all are bound to agree, a very able person, and well known to: “all the churches of the Gentiles” (Romans 16:4), and how could that be if she was altogether silenced and veiled? Paul was probably writing this very Epistle in her home at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19). Here we have the proper setting for these words addressed to the Corinthians.

193. Aquila was a Jew of Pontus in Asia Minor, converted to Christ, and his wife probably also a native of Asia Minor (Acts 18:2). Here women were held in great honor, as Professor W.M. Ramsay of Aberdeen University clearly shows in his valuable books, The Church in the Roman Empire, and The Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia. This woman would expect to take her position as on a perfect equality with her husband, and the attempt to do so on her part would at once arouse the ire of the Palestinian Jews who pursued Paul wherever he went, the so called “Judaizers,” bent on winning the Church back to Judaism. We believe this is what stirred up the “woman question” at Corinth, and led to Paul’s two famous utterances in the Epistle.

194. Says Prof. Ramsay: “The honors and influence which belonged to women in the cities of Asia Minor form one of the most remarkable features in the history of the country. In all periods the evidence runs on the same lines. On the border between fable and history we find the Amazons. The best authenticated cases of Mutterrect[5] belong to Asia Minor. Under the Roman Empire we find women magistrates, presidents at games, and loaded with honors. The custom of the country influenced even the Jews, who at least in one case appointed a woman at Smyrna to the position of archisyna-gogus” (“ruler of the synagogue”). Again he says: “Among the Asian Jews, women took an unusually prominent place.” But later, when Priscilla was at Corinth, she was in a totally different atmosphere, as regards the position of woman. Here, all she did would be subject to severe criticism by the “Judaizers,” and by the Jews, who must have hated her for having instructed Apollos so well that he was converting many of their number to Christianity (Acts 18:26,28, and 19:1); and St. Paul could not have given a woman such prominence under any circumstances without angering the Jews, for the latter (of a later date at least, and probably by this time), forbade that women should even learn the Scriptures, much less teach them.

195. For candid scholars admit that, according to the best manuscript authority Acts 18:26 should read as in the R.V.(not as in the A.V.) that is Priscilla and Aquila expounded” unto Apollos the Way of God; and Dean Alford says. “There are certain indications that he himself (Aquila) was rather the ready and zealous patron than the teacher; and this latter work, or a great share of it, seems to have belonged to his wife, Prisca or Priscilla. She is ever named with him, even in Acts 18:26, where the instruction of Apollos is described.” When first met with, and comparative strangers to St. Paul and Luke, the husband is mentioned first, according to usual custom (Acts18:2), but quickly the order changes: after eighteen months’ acquaintance (Acts 18:11) Priscilla is mentioned first (Acts 18:18,26; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19) with a single exception (1 Corinthians 16:19 ).

196. We are not accustomed to look to German sources for broad-minded statements as regards women, therefore we the more readily turn in that direction for a statement as to Priscilla’s position in the Apostolic Church. Prof. Harnack of Berlin says, “In any case she must have been associated with and more distinguished than her husband. That is verified from Acts 18:26 and Rom 16:3, convincingly. For according to the former passage not only Aquila, but she also instructed Apollos. One is allowed to infer from it that she was the chief instructor; otherwise she would scarcely have been mentioned. And in the Roman Epistle Paul calls her and Aquila not the latter only his ‘fellow-laborers in Christ Jesus.’ This expression, not so very frequently employed by Paul, signifies much. By its use Priscilla and Aquila are legitimized official Evangelists and Teachers. Paul adds, moreover the following: ‘Who for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.‘ To what heroic service the first half of this clause refers we unfortunately know not. From the second part it follows that the Christian activity of the couple was genuinely ecumenical work. Why ‘all the churches of the Gentiles’ were obliged to thank Priscilla and Aquila Paul does not say.” Then Dr. Harnack adds in a footnote, quoting the views of Origen and Chrysostom as in accord with his own, “That the thanks of the Gentile churches relate only to the fact that Priscilla and Aquila saved the life of the Apostle is to me not probable.”

(To be continued.)

[4] The meetings of the Corinthian Church were probably held in the house of Gaius (1 Cor. 1:14; Rom. 16:23).

[5] Matriarchy, see pars. 53ff.

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