Some interpreters have argued that Paul himself considered his words limiting women directly applicable not only to the women of Corinth (in the case of 1 Cor. 14) and Ephesus (in the case of 1 Tim. 2), but to all women in his era. If Paul intended such broad ancient application, as the argument goes, it is appropriate to take the next step and apply his words directly to women of other generations as well.
One key text for accomplishing such a move is 1 Corinthians 11:16, which has been used to teach that Paul himself applied his restrictions on women throughout his ministry, not only among the Corinthian recipients. Accurate translation of this passage, however, disallows such an interpretation.
The immediate context of this verse comprises a curious and difficult passage about praying and prophesying, headship and head coverings. In short, men should pray and prophesy with their heads uncovered; women should do the same but with heads covered. Verse 16 offers the concluding comment, “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16, NIV). The apparent meaning of the NIV is that Paul’s words about headship and head coverings represent universal practice and should therefore be heeded all the more. This interpretation depends on translating the adjective toioutos as “other” in the phrase “we have no other practice.” Few translations, however, read “other” here; most English translations (going all the way back to Wycliffe and Tyndale!) instead read “such.” (Unfortunately, TNIV has maintained the NIV’s use of “other.”) Furthermore, NIV translates only one of the other fifty-six occurrences of toioutos as “other,” and no Greek-English lexicon offers “other” as a suitable translation of toioutos.
The difference between “such” and “other” is easily overlooked. The two words, however, can function in opposite ways. Two examples, both from Paul’s letters, will demonstrate the difference. In both examples changing “such” to “other” would radically alter the meaning of the passage.
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who dosuch things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32, NIV, italics added).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23, NIV, italics added).
But how could Paul promote a practice and then insist there is “no such practice”? In 1 Corinthians 11:16, the practice in question is not the whole of the preceding passage; the practice is specified in the very same verse—contentiousness! Paul knows not everyone will agree with his instructions. In the face of inevitable disagreement, he warns against contentious disagreement—a valuable lesson for similar situations today. It seems the KJV had it right: “But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Paul is not claiming that “the churches of God” unanimously limit women; rather, they unanimously shun contentiousness. As we communicate egalitarian teachings today, let us keep this apostolic guideline in mind and do so without a contentious spirit.