Book Reviews, Christian Doctrines, Egalitarianism, theology

“1 Corinthians 14:33B-38, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and the Ordination of Women” by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North, Part 1, in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

“1 Corinthians 14:33B-38, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, and the Ordination of Women” by Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North

Peter Kriewaldt and Geelong North seek to demonstrate that the titular verses show women may not be pastors. While Jesus “elevated the status of women,” they say, it is nevertheless the case that “Jesus entrusted the oversight of the Church to men only…” (45).

The first thing that strikes me in this chapter are the verses selected. Why begin at 14:33and extend only to 38? Why do the authors cut verse 15 of 1 Timothy 2 out of its immediate context with the verses preceding it? Of course, the authors must limit the scope at some point. That’s not a question. But when there is a question of whether verse 33 is a continuous clause and when verse 15 is highly relevant to the interpretation of the rest of the passage, one must wonder why those verses were excised in this exegetical chapter. Readers can’t know. But especially with 1 Timothy 2:15, it is quite clear that it is a continuation of the previous thoughts and should not be cut off. From the outset, Kriewaldt and North miss out on key aspects of interpreting these texts.

1 Corinthians 14:33B-38

Kriewaldt and North acknowledge that we know “that Corinth had a number of cults that included priestesses…” (45). Thus, they argue, Paul’s silencing of women “runs counter to the pagan culture in Corinth. He is not culturally conditioned” (ibid).

Surprisingly, Kriewaldt and North feel confident enough to say “The integrity of this passage is certain. There is no manuscript evidence for the omission of these verses from chapter 14, though some manuscripts place them after v. 40” (46). In this, the authors are simply mistaken. Not only are they wrong to say that the textual integrity is “certain,” but also to say that there is no manuscript evidence for their omission. Certainty, as the word is typically understood, implies the kind of 100% clear textual integrity that rarely exists. But 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 does not have that integrity. Not only do the verses exist in different places (after 1 Corinthians 14:40) in some manuscripts–thus demonstrating that the passage does not have a “certain” place in the text–but as Philip B. Payne and others have demonstrated, there are some serious questions about the textual transmission of this text. As he notes, the fact of the movement of the passage itself is rather alarming for those who wish to claim textual certainty: “Similarly, it is highly unlikely that if the text were originally in Paul’s letter after v. 40, that any later scribe would move that text to follow v. 33. We know it is highly unlikely since no scribe of any surviving manuscript (and there are thousands) of any of Paul’s letters ever did anything like this in any other passage of Paul’s letters.” But apart from the movement in the text, there is the issue of textual markings that indicate textual variants “Codex Vaticanus’s evidence that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is an interpolation is especially important for several reasons. Its distigme (mark of a textual variant) at the end of v. 33 with no corresponding distigme at the end of v. 40 is evidence of a textual variant that was not the Western displacement was written prior to Codex Vaticanus.” So how is it that Kriewaldt and North may claim that the passage is “certain” in its integrity? How may they say that there is “no manuscript evidence for the omission of these verses…”? Simply put, it must be due either to misleading the reader or ignorance of the fact that just such evidence does exist. And if these passages are an interpolation, there is no need to even continue to engage them. Those unconvinced by the textual evidence–which is, again, quite strong–will see below that even when we do take the passage as original to the letter, there is little reason to think it means women may not be pastors.

Kriewaldt and North claim that “Paul says that his commands are followed in all the churches” (46). Though it is true that the passage begins “As in all the congregations of the saints,” but this is not the same as saying his commands are followed in all churches. The language itself seems more passive than that, and some English translations do not have this clause as the beginning of a sentence but rather as the conclusion of 14:33 and the clause preceding it (see examples here). However, the authors of this essay do not make an argument for preferring to cut the verse in half where they do, even though it is clearly germane to their interpretation as follows.

One of the places Kriewaldt and North attempt to drive a point of division between women and authority in the text is by challenging what it means to prophesy. “Prophecy is not preaching; it is speech directly inspired by God… Although instruction and learning are connected with prophecy, it is not an institution that is constantly ready for action…. It is quite different from preaching and official teaching of the apostolic word. Prophecy, then, is open also for women. Scripture refers to a number of women prophets…” (46). It has already been noted, however, that this concession makes it very clear women hold positions of authority higher than those of male teachers (see the argument here, for example). It is interesting, though, that on Kreiwald and North’s own discussion, they admit that women may give “speech directly inspired by God.” What is odd, then, is that they then seem to think that prophecy is less authoritative than the act of teaching or preaching. As if somehow having direct revelation from God (as noted p. 46) is less authoritative than simply expounding upon that same revelation! This seems backwards. If God chooses to use women to directly reveal God’s own word, is it not a strange position that would then say “Ah, but God would not actually let women teach about that word they delivered”? Yet that is what readers are expected to believe, and indeed to affirm as if it were just obvious from the text, for Kreiwaldt and North immediately go on to say that women are to “be silent” when it comes to “prophecy… being weighted and evaluated” (47).

The meaning of lalein is much discussed on the literature related to this passage, and Kriewaldt and North argue that it means “speak” but specifically “authoritative teaching,” for they insist that it is a “a synonym for authoritative teaching” (47). Indeed, they go so far as to say that lalein “certainly doesn’t mean chattering or strident speaking,” despite the fact that some studies have shown exactly that, and (as noted in the previous link), ancient evidence in a dictionary and elsewhere suggests that is exactly what it means.[1] Such studies would greatly undermine the interpretation the authors give here, but as we have seen throughout the book so far, serious studies by those who disagree are largely ignored or dismissed.

Kriewaldt and North give four reasons that “women are to be silent and are not to speak” (47). First, they claim it is “the ecumenical practice of all the churches” (ibid). As we’ve mentioned, this begs the question regarding where they put the clause about the commands from Paul. The authors don’t actually establish that it was this ecumenical practice; nor do they address serious NT counter-examples (eg. Phoebe, Junia), nor do they do anything to demonstrate that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is actually next to the clause about “all the congregations of the saints” despite their own admission that some manuscripts place it after verse 40! Each of these would be highly relevant to their claim here, but none of these points is addressed beyond the mere dismissal of opposing viewpoints. Second, they claim that the submission of women is due to the “Law” (capital “L,” of course, though no argument is made). This Law, they claim “probably has to do with the whole Pentateuch.” Yet as many interpreters have noted (see discussion of this part of the passage here), there is serious difficulty discerning exactly where this is supposed to be found in the Law. Some have suggested it is actually related to the culture surrounding Corinth, rabbinic teaching, or other extrabiblical sources. Our authors, however, say it is related to Genesis 2:18-25 (ibid). But nothing in Genesis 2 says anything specifically about woman submitting to man. There is nothing there. So how can it be that this is what Paul is referring to? It seems like the reason to suggest this is because it best fits Kreiwaldt and North’s preconceptions of what the text ought to say and refer to, rather than any relevant evidence from the texts themselves. They do go on to say that it is due to “order of creation” (47-48), which is certainly a weak argument. Too often, as here, a bare appeal is made to “order of creation” without any reference for what that is supposed to mean. Indeed, it seems the reader is just supposed to assume that that order of creation is submission of women, but that begs the question. Moreover, if we are serious about the mere order of creation–that is, what comes first in creation–as a grounding for submission, then men everywhere ought to be submitting to all other animals, the heavenly bodies, dirt, the seas, etc.–for according to the order of creation, all of these things were created first. Of course, I don’t actually believe that; but the point is it is incredibly easy to make the malleable term “order of creation” mean whatever one wishes, and much more difficult to ground it in the texts.

The third reason given, after a brief aside in which the authors dismiss “mutual submission” in Ephesians 5, is that “It is disgraceful” for women to speak (49). They argue that the shame is “theological rather than… social” (ibid) such that it is “shameful to God for a woman to assume a teaching role in the church…” (49). But again, given that women are already allowed to present direct revelation from God, it is hard to see why a much less authoritative form of speech would somehow be shameful. The authors once again ignore this intriguing dilemma. They then address briefly 1 Cor. 14:36, which seems a bit of a strange question given Kriewaldt and North’s view. Indeed, it seems more likely that Paul is here showing that he is answering a false teaching that originated in Corinth as he does elsewhere, but the authors of this essay take it to mean that the church must submit to Christ’s word, which is of course what they already told us it is.

The fourth and final reason for women to be silent is “because anyone filled with the Spirit would have to admit that what Paul is saying is really a command of the Lord!” (49). This is a blatant kind of poisoning the well. What Kriewaldt and North say here, seriously, is that anyone who disagrees with their interpretation is not filled with the Spirit! After all, if they were, then they would just accept this interpretation of the text and force women into silence. This kind of questioning the salvation of those with whom one disagrees is unbecoming and nothing more than an attack on fellow believers with whom the authors disagree. It is unfit for a scholarly work.

Thus far, we have seen that Kriewaldt and North essentially assume their position is correct and then turn to question the salvation of those with whom they disagree on whether women ought to be silenced. They fail to deal with the serious textual critical issues related to the placement of the passage at question; they appeal baldly to “order of creation” as if that term is a settled issue, and they fail to account for the cultural context of the Corinthian church.

[1] ‘Phrynichus, the ancient dictionarian, defined the term as “to talk nonsense.” The word is used of gossip, prattling, babbling, animal sounds, and musical instruments. During the classical period, it usually was employed in a contemptuous sense. Debrunner, writing in the Kittel-Friedrich Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, states “Lalein can also be used quite objectively of speech when there is reference to sound rather than meaning.”‘ See “Pandemonium and Silence at Corinth” by Catherine Clark Kroeger.


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Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35– Those wondering about egalitarian interpretations of this same passage can check out this post for brief looks at some of the major interpretations of the passage from an Egalitarian viewpoint.



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

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