We Christians are very good at drawing bad conclusions from good scriptures.
This happens when we read a verse out of context. Sometimes it can happen because we miss one single word.
Misread the Bible and you’ll end up with all sorts of screwy ideas. You’ll think we cleanse ourselves by confessing sins or that God gives Satan permission to thrash us or sift us. You’ll believe that we can incur God’s divine wrath by doing communion wrong and that he occasionally kills some of us to keep the rest of us in line.
Even a tiny error can lead to a lot of trouble, and there may be no better example than the one I’m about to give you.
The missing “what?”
It is possible to read the Bible without getting confused, but it helps to have a good Bible. No translation is perfect, but sometimes Bible translations are flat out wrong. Allow me to demonstrate.
Got a Bible handy? Open it to 1 Corinthians 14:36 and look at the first word in that verse. It should be “What?” Here’s a pic from the KJV:
The word “What?” is absolutely essential to this passage for it captures Paul’s reaction to the Corinthians’ suggestion that women should stay silent in church.
A little context: The first letter to Corinthians consists of Paul’s answers to their questions. Since women were forbidden by law from speaking in both Greek cities and Jewish synagogues, the Corinthians wondered if women should be allowed to speak in church. In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Paul repeats their question before giving his reply in verse 36:
What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?
Paul’s reaction is one of shock and utter incredulity. He can’t believe what the Corinthians are suggesting. When he read their letter, he probably looked something like this:
Paul’s response to the sexist Corinthians is perfectly captured in the Source New Testament:
Utter rubbish! Did the Word of God come originally from you! Utter rubbish! Were you the only ones that it reached! (1 Cor 14:36)
The cockamamie suggestion that half the church should stay silent riled Paul. You can almost hear him shouting his reply. Or you would if English Bibles quoted him properly.
Many Bibles, such as the ESV, ISV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, and the NLT, dilute Paul’s reaction by omitting his exclamatory “what?” Paul wrote it, but they didn’t translate it. They left it out.
Other translations, such as the AKJV, AMP, ASV, BBE, and the KJV, do have the “what?” (Check it out for yourself.)
To be fair, the original Greek word is hard to translate. It is a disjunctive particle, easily overlooked. But the same word is found at the start of 1 Cor. 11:22 (“What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink?”), and there it is often translated by Bibles that omit it in 1 Cor. 14:36.
I find this puzzling. If Paul’s exclamatory “What?” is recorded in 1 Cor 11:22, why is it left out of 1 Cor. 14:36? It’s the same word in both cases.
Learning from sexist Greeks
The apostle Paul was a man of passion and conviction. If you said something he disagreed with or if you did something stupid like got drunk at communion, he’d let you know what he thought.
The Corinthians are infamous for being less-than-perfect Christians. They said stupid things about women and they got drunk at communion. We should be glad they did because we got some brilliant wisdom from Paul in response to their stupidity.
But we’re the stupid ones if we talk and act like the Corinthians instead of heeding what Paul said to the Corinthians.
For nearly 2000 years, women have been told they can’t speak in church. They can’t teach or testify, and God help them if they want to preach. If a woman really must speak, let her do it with her husband or a male elder standing by, but watch out for lightning bolts. God won’t be pleased!
It’s ridiculous, yet you’d be surprised how many people teach this sexist swill. Why do they do it? Most say women must be silent because it’s in the Bible. (It isn’t.) Others say women must be silent because they don’t have a Biblical view of women. Like the Corinthians, they’ve bought into a Greek worldview wrapped up in religious tradition. They’ve taken a piece of verse out of context and fashioned a great big muzzle for women. It’s disgraceful; the shame of the church.
Let’s be clear: Paul never said women should be silent in church. Not once. In fact, he repeatedly told the Corinthians that women should be encouraged to speak up and participate in church (see 1 Cor. 12:7, 14:5, 26, 31, 39).
So the next time some misguided soul tells you that women should be silent in church, do what Paul did and hit them with a disjunctive particle.