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?
For egalitarians, the book of Judges clearly demonstrates God’s approval of women leaders. Yet many who view women’s leadership as unbiblical dismiss the pattern of God-affirmed female authority in Judges.
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.
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.
Paul makes a few statements that seem to limit women. Did he intend for these to apply to all women, or only to women among the original recipients? Some interpreters argue that Paul considered his words directly applicable, not only to the women of Corinth (in the case of 1 Corinthians) and Ephesus (in the case of 1 Timothy), but to all Christian women in his era (in Philippi, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc.). Such an argument often proceeds as follows: Since Paul himself intended broad ancient application, the next sensible step is to apply his words directly to all Christian women of subsequent generations.
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.
If we want to see women free, we have to challenge the message that passivity is godly. We have to encourage women to boldly exercise their God-given authority. We must image Bible women who took direct action to further God’s vision for the world.
Christians who struggle to believe that God would intentionally appoint a woman to lead often argue that Deborah was chosen because no men stepped up to fill the role of judge. But the text does not support this.