What a Difference a Word Can Make

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:

With thanks to Rembrandt

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 in 1 Cor 6:16 (What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body?) and 1 Cor 6:19 (What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?).

Modern Bibles typically use the word “or” as in “Or do you not know…?” when translating these passages. Which is fine. But why do they leave the particle untranslated in 1 Cor 14:36? An exclamatory “what” or an “or” would help us see that Paul is offering an alternative point of view to the dumb one the Corinthians were proposing.

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.


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28 Comments on What a Difference a Word Can Make

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an emoji Bible? If anyone runs with this, please send royalties. No fire and brimstone emojis please! Lol

  2. I had no idea. Thanks

    What I was getting at (to clarify for anyone) is it would be helpful to see God’s countenance behind a verse of scripture. Often times we see a negative connotation when there is none. It has helped me tremendously to always look at the meaning of any passage knowing first and foremost that God is a graceful, loving Father.

  3. Lisamarie Brand // February 18, 2021 at 10:55 am // Reply

    The Rembrandt picture was the best laugh today. Reading the book. My husband is a bit appalled. I am a recovering Pastor’s wife which tells you that getting unstuck in this area is tough. God has infused me with a tougher Spirit. Blessings to you and your family, Paul.

    • Oh dear. It can be a painful thing when husbands and wives come to the same place at different speeds. Have grace for him and trust Jesus.

      • Lisamarie Brand // February 18, 2021 at 11:05 am //

        You are right. I believe the key or part of the solution that the Holy Spirit is teaching me is: know and believe my true identity in Christ. That is at times a momentary revelation, yet a life long journey. If I “labor to rest” here…in His word about who I truly am IN JESUS, I don’t have to fight with my husband or anyone else. Thanks for reaching out.

  4. Sort of like how the Hebrew & Greek words for grave are interpreted as “hell” in the English language bibles, allowing people to threaten (including young children like I was, resulting in over 50 years of severe mental illnesses) Perfect Love’s pitiable, sentient beings with the terrifying (and totally false) horror of Eternal Conscious Torment! Imagine believing that Perfect Love that NEVER fails will nonetheless subject most of His beloved creatures to ECT!! Why that would make Adam (brought condemnation to ALL) far superior to Jesus (could only save the few)! Maybe the ECT teachers don’t have Romans 5 in their English bibles!

  5. So yes basically in short in a loving response to this post words are important yes absolutely. It would be so easy to blame the church, other believers and even the Lord when we get damaged. seemingly by the church and other believers especially when ones background is non religious or church infused at all. However that is Satan’s evil scheme and not ours to choose if we were more enlightened.However we need to keep asking Holy Spirit to remind us and discern for us that there are demons at church affecting and infecting the atmosphere with the sole purpose to try and destroy,divide,confuse and lie to believers about the Lord to try and make us ineffectual in many ways for many reasons. Look at Luke 1:23.Abba God,Our Lord Jesus Christ and. Holy Spirit are not controlling,abusive,contradictory,cruel,conditional,cruel,confusing bullies as they are portrayed and taught and it takes the Holy Spirit for us in us to expose this evil scheme for us and to expose how Satan is directly or indirectly trying to twist and distort the Lords words to us for us ,from us about the truth and reality of Himand what Jesus did for us at Calvary and why. We have all fallen for Satan’s lying deceptivei,incorrect evil play on Gods words and our own fearing,questioning whether it is God or not we have all fallen for and been damaged by our and believers words confessing it is the word of the Lord when it is not. Satan is so slippery and so convincing and it takes Holy Spirit only to help us see what is going onThank you God in Jesus name for conceiving us again spiritually with your Holy Spirit and for giving us Holy Spirit as a free gift too to help us.

    • richard elson // February 22, 2021 at 2:57 pm // Reply

      Nice one Sally,I think you have pointed to the problem and solution.

      Man misunderstand the true nature and character of God and then live Christian lives that misrepresent him. There’s a variety of reasons this happens and all of them help us to misunderstand our relationship with our Father.
      An obvious first reason is that men like to imagine gods in their own image. . . controlling,abusive,contradictory,cruel,conditional,cruel,confusing bullies as you say.
      Add to this retributive, angry and vengeful, with this image of God, men everywhere conduct themselves in unrestricted self-serving acts, all the time agreeing they are doing God a favour by enforcing his “holiness”, and his “judgement”.

      The solution you point to. . .”being led by the Spirit of God” is effectively rejected because of the assumption that the bible doesn’t need to be discerned or divided into “inspirations filtered through the heart of Man”, or “inspired by the God”.

      Before Jesus was manifest in the flesh, men could be confused about; the source of scripture(mens ego?); its application(whether spiritual or physical) and therefore the true nature of God.

      Bible literalism was and is a tool to fulfil man’s self-serving heart.
      Satans first shots at confusing Jesus were at the bible literalism level.

      Our Fathers advice from the mount of Transfiguration, is “here is Moses and Elijah, and here is my son Jesus, HEAR HIM. . .and yet we balance the writings of Moses and the prophets as if equal with the life and words of Jesus.

      • YES, totally Richard and isn’t it “funny” that the One thing Person that we need that Jesus gave to us after He ascended is the One thing Person = Our Only Helper( while we are in this world )Holy Spirit , has been so downplayed,misrepresented,mistaught,feared,overlooked too. The one and only Power, Enablergiven to us to help us to see straight and to be victorious here for Abba God in Jesus name and His reputation has been hijacked,twisted and distorted so us believers find it so hard to trust and rely on Him as God intentioned for us to do as our only source of enlightenment,help,teaching etc We have been taught to directly and indirectly mistrust His leadership and role for us and that is another evil scheme to try and stop us from relying on the only source of power God has given us and even the awareness that this is what is happening can only come from Holy Spirit too for Him to get us to see what is happening.The only thing we have,need is Holy Spirit.We need to be encouraged too to learn to grow in confidence with Him to avoid deceitful flesh and satanic orientated teaching and opinionsWe are not good or trustworthy discerners only Holy Spirit is.WE SO NEED HIM.

  6. I will love to follow you on this because the teaching of not letting woman speak in church is just wrong. The problem I’m running to is I can’t find that “what” word in the original greek which explains why so much of those translations omitted it. The context also suggests that Paul is saying that women should keep silent in church. Maybe he just wants them to follow the laws of the land who knows. But it is definitely a tough read and I see why people come to that conclusion from reading this passage.

    • The disjunctive particle translated as “What” in the KJV and other translations can be seen in any Interlinear translation or in the Blue Letter Bible. If you think the context is that Paul is forbidding women from speaking, I encourage you to widen your lens. He has spent much of his letter to the Corinthians encouraging women to speak – why would he suddenly do a 180? – and much of his letter responding to Corinthian questions. He also spent his entire ministry preaching freedom from the law, such as the one the Corinthians were alluding to in 1 Cor 14:34. Given this context, it is inconceivable that Paul was against half the body of Christ participating in church life. It would be as though the Apostle of Grace had said we all need to be circumcised with knives to be saved. It just doesn’t fit.

  7. All are equaled at the cross of Son Christ, This be how Father of Son sees us all today, Forgiven, whether sin again or not, By Son for all it is finished that part John 19:30
    The risen Christ is where new life is installed in us from Father to us once anyone believes, even if not see it yet.
    Just do not deny God in this gift given us, even as God said Job would not deny God, to satan
    And Job did not, so will you? As Christ in his death once for all took away all Sin that brought death, done once for all. We are Equaled, yet not all are saved, until belief between God and themselves
    Thanks for the Post about all are Equal

  8. Thank You Abba God in Jesus name for Ephesians one and Ephesians 3. 14: 21. After being advised I Thank Him constantly that He has and is doing what these verses say in us for We need His Holy Spirit constantly to enable us to recognise the difference between the good,reality word – of God and the bad,fake,false word of f”flesh” and evil and to choose the right,accept the right word. We are rubbish at this by ourselves and even get deceived and confused and insecure sometimes even with Holy Spirits help so I thank God for His grace in this while we learn to get more used to and better aquatinted and more trusting of and with Holy Spirit and for Gods gift of not only Jesus but Holy Spirit too.We need Holy Spirit to discern for us “ real” and “ unreal” words and the origins of them because as this post states a word does and can make all the difference between life and victory and damage,destruction ,death.With the best will and desire we are incapable of doing this and it has taken Holy Spirit a while to to get me to see and accept this that I need Him and His help in and for all things and why.

  9. Yess!I got pink glasses with Grace of God .Person who is Inlove with Jesus,reads bible through these lenses!!!Get Grace,STAY in Geace! 🙂

  10. Jerry Nendel // March 1, 2021 at 2:34 pm // Reply

    Amen. So glad you taught this. The new translators are not translating but telling us what they think are the thoughts behind the words. The words God used are so important because they convey His thoughts. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the same mind of Christ that Paul had when he penned those words.

  11. lawshk2099gmailcom // March 4, 2021 at 9:16 pm // Reply

    Thanks for the posting. Lawrence

  12. Kevin Grenier // March 7, 2021 at 1:57 pm // Reply

    Hey Paul, what’s your source for this: “Since women were forbidden by law from speaking in both Greek cities and Jewish synagogues,” (if you can remember).

    • Quite a lot of research goes into these short claims. If you are interested in digging deeper, you can find detailed notes and supporting references listed in the back of my book The Silent Queen.

  13. Yes,yes,yes a thousand times over

  14. i don’t understand some of you people. Paul doubles down on the subject and tells the woman to keep their mouths shut until they get home . LOL !! 1Co 14:35
    And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

    • That’s a common misperception. Again and again Paul encouraged women to speak, teach, and prophesy in church. Read the passage in context and it’s clear that the suggestion that women should stay silent in the assemblies, like Greek and Jewish women, came from the Corinthians. This is why Paul vigorously refutes the idea and finishes the chapter by encouraging them all to speak (prophesy, speak in tongues) in church.

  15. Dear Paul, I have great respect for your ministry of proclaiming the gospel of grace – thanks a lot! Regarding this particular article I humbly would like to point out, that the „what?“ in 1 Cor 14,36 and the „what?“ in 1 Cor 11,22 are two different words, and they both have nothing to do with the direct translation of the greek disjunctive particle you are referring to. I have sent you a Facebook message with a picture and an explanation so that you can easily verify it by yourself. Blessings, Kandid

    • Hi Kandid, thank you for calling me out on this. You are right, of course. The problem with reading several Bibles in two languages at the same time, is it’s easy to lose your place. I should have compared 1 Cor 14:36 with 1 Cor 6:16 and 19 which all have the same word translated as “What” in the KJV. I will change the reference in the article to avoid further confusion.

      In any case, I don’t think my error changes the point I was trying to make, which is that many translations omit the disjunctive particle in 1 Cor 14:36. Thanks again.

  16. Dear Paul, thanks for your response and your willingness to take opinions of other people into consideration. I really don’t want to bother you, but if I am right, changing the reference will not be enough to avoid further confusion. The problem is not the reference, but the wrong assumption, that the „what?“, the „disjunctive particle“ and the translation „utter rubbish“ are the same… trying to make your point with this article by referring to the KJV-„what?“ in 1 Cor 14:36 as „utter rubbish“ doesn’t seem to be a wise thing to do as it can be disproved very easily. Having said that, I want to emphasize once more, that I appreciate your ministry and the vast majority of your articles very much! Blessings, Kandid

    • No one is saying “utter rubbish” is an accurate translation of that particle, but it is a neat paraphrase that captures Paul’s incredulity. And we can be sure of his incredulity because of what he says in verses 36 to 39.

      Even if the “women are to keep silent” verse was the only scripture in the Bible, we would have enough reason to doubt these words were from Paul because it quotes a law that is found nowhere in scripture. The law is extra-biblical, and so is the injunction. It is not from God or Paul, but is part of that long and evil tradition of man that says women must stay silent.

  17. Paul this interpretation fits so nicely with the current trends of the day. It perfectly gels with woke ideology which denies differences between men and women and different roles for them. I don’t think you are summarizing Paul’s or the Bible’s teaching on this subject well. It is not somehow more gracious to believe everyone has the same roles in church, or that there must be equality in all areas.

    • I have no interest in modern trends and a great interest in the values of the kingdom. It is not possible to summarize the Bible’s teaching on women in one short article. If you would like to discuss what the scriptures say about women in the church, maybe start here.

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