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.
Recently, CBE lost a dear friend and a most gifted intellectual, John Kohlenberger III, after a thirteen-year battle with cancer. A humble but brilliant scholar, John published over sixty study Bibles and reference books. Serving CBE as a board member and advisor, John contributed to our scholarship, vision, and CBE’s “egalitarian speak” for more than fifteen years. A leader in Bible translation, John’s burning passion was to help people understand God’s word, especially as it addressed gender and power.
In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, Paul is concerned that both men and women should exercise their leadership gifts—with appropriate authority—while presenting themselves in a manner that celebrates the uniqueness of their respective genders.
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.
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.
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.”
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?