My journey towards egalitarianism began with a search for two things: practicality and consistency. I struggled to reconcile them in the biblical interpretation process, and often felt that one was at odds with the other, particularly in 1 Corinthians 14.
Lawyers investigate human behavior like scientists investigate the natural world, looking for the explanation that best fits all the available data. What happens when we apply that approach to 1 Corinthians 14:34–35?
Craig Keener's 1-2 Corinthians is a wonderfully engaging and easily read commentary on Paul's letters to the Corinthians. It is tightly packed with documented information from ancient sources on the historical/social/cultural setting of Corinth in Paul's time. This information enables the reader to understand more clearly the intentions behind Paul's letters to the Corinthians, underlining how the cultural emphasis on rhetoric in Paul's time shaped his writings.
Many of us were raised in churches that taught that women should be silent in the church because of the teachings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:34. When we read the passage, sure enough, we see the following words on the pages of the Bible, “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak…” "If women want to inquire about something,” Paul continues in verse 35, “they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
Some people believe that 1 Corinthians 7 means that husbands are entitled to sex and wives have an obligation to supply it. But the text, properly interpreted, doesn't support that argument. In fact, it opposes it.
Alan Johnson is emeritus professor of New Testament and Christian ethics at Wheaton College and Graduate School. His work on 1 Corinthians is particularly engaging. His reference notes and bibliography provide an entry into further study if desired, all while maintaining an appealing readable style. He deftly bridges the two horizons of the Greco-Roman culture and American culture.
The challenging complexity of the ministry of Bible translation should spark humility, among translators themselves and among those who critique them. I pledge to keep such humility in mind as I describe four types of shortcomings that can be found in Bible translations, using 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 as a test case.