A trail on 1 Corinthians 14:34

Let us compare the handed down text of 1 Corinthians 14:31-40 with my reconstruction of the ausgangstext translated to English King James style, and a suggestion for how to render it in a modern bible!

v. KJV Reconstruction Suggestion
31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all congregations of the saints.
34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
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.
36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.
40 Let all things be done decently and in order. Let all things be done decently and in order. Let all things be done decently and in order.
41 [Let the women keep silence in congregation: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
42 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in congregation.]

The verses 34-35 exist in all manuscripts, however in the Book of Armagh (ca year 808) and in Codex Claromontanus (mid 5th century), they appear at the end of chapter 14. These two are also supported by Ambrosiaster’s commentary. How do I know?

A grant from the European Union enabled Brill to release for free a digital copy of a collation of Old Latin witnesses to Paul’s letters. You can download it here.

The word that KJV translated “church” is Greek 蔚魏魏位畏蟽喂伪. Liddel & Scott’s dictionary says:

An assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly: at Athens, the ordinary assemblies were called 魏蠉蟻喂伪喂 峒愇何何晃废兾蔽, four in each 蟺蟻蠀谓蟿伪谓蔚委伪 […]

The word 蔚魏魏位畏蟽喂伪 can mean church, but doesn’t necessarily refer to a Christian congregation, so translating it with ‘church’ in 1 Cor 14:34 involves some unnecessary speculation.

At the end of the verse we read: “… as also saith the law.” When “the law” is mentioned in Paul’s letters it is usually understood to mean the Mosaic law. However, in this case it becomes farfetched to try to find something in the Mosaic law that forbids women from speaking in assemblies. It would also be anachronistic to try anhave this bronze-age law collection talk about Christian churches.

The Greek-English lexicon BDAG provides some pointers that may be relevant. Under headword 位伪位苇蠅, it mentions in connection with 1 Corinthians 14:34, Plutharch’s Moralia 142 D, which reads:

韦峤次 峒ㄎ晃滴壩 峤 蠁蔚喂未委伪蟼 峒埾喯佄课次勎肺 峒愊慰委畏蟽蔚 蠂蔚位蠋谓畏谓 蟺伪蟿慰峥ο兾蔽,
慰峒拔何肯呄佄毕 蟽蠉渭尾慰位慰谓 蟿伪峥栂 纬蠀谓伪喂尉峤 魏伪峤 蟽喂蠅蟺峥喯.
螖蔚峥 纬峤跋 峒 蟺蟻峤赶 蟿峤肝 峒偽轿聪佄 位伪位蔚峥栁 峒 未喂峤 蟿慰峥 峒谓未蟻慰蟼,
渭峤 未蠀蟽蠂蔚蟻伪委谓慰蠀蟽伪谓 蔚峒 未喂 峒位位慰蟿蟻委伪蟼 纬位蠋蟽蟽畏蟼 峤ハ兿蔚蟻 伪峤愇晃废勧酱蟼 蠁胃苇纬纬蔚蟿伪喂 蟽蔚渭谓蠈蟿蔚蟻慰谓.
鈥 Moralia 142 D.

They also reference Inscriptiones Graecae 1369, so let’s quote it as well:

螒 螕 螞 螒 违 巍 螣 违 螜 螘 巍 螘 螒 桅 螘 螜 螖 螣 危 韦 巍 螒 韦 螚
螘 韦 螘 螣 螝 螞 螘 螣 违 危 螒 螜 螛 螒 螞 螜 螖 螣 违 螛 违 螕 螒 韦 螚 巍
… normalised …
峒埼澄晃毕嵪佄肯 峒蔽佄 桅蔚喂未慰蟽蟿蟻维蟿畏
峒樝勎滴课何晃肯呄 螒喂胃伪位委未慰蠀 胃蠀纬维蟿畏蟻.

It is considered bad practice to omit a portion of text from a bible if that text is in all manuscripts, even if we believe it is not original. In this case, verses 34-35 may have been original in their position at the end of chapter 14, or they may originate in the very first letter that Paul sent to the Corinthians, for he had addressed them previously (1 Cor 5:9). If so, it becomes easy to understand why Paul doesn’t provide us with context to his advice or specify which law he refers to, since his first letter wasn’t intended to circulate as scripture.

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