In my previous post I began to address the question of whether we have the original text of 1 Cor. 14:34-35, where Paul tells women that they must be silent in the churches. I first had to show that the similar passage of 1 Tim. 10-15 is not by Paul, because 1 Timothy itself was not written by Paul.

This is a standard view among scholars, that Paul did not write 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus; I won’t get into the reasons here, but if you look up Timothy or Titus as a word search on the blog you’ll find posts that address the matter.  Apart from that, doesn’t Paul say something similar in his undisputed letters, in the harsh words of 1 Cor 14:34-35?

Indeed, this passage is *so* similar to that of 1 Tim 2:11-15, and so unlike what Paul says elsewhere, that many scholars are convinced that these too are words that Paul himself never wrote, words that were later inserted into the letter of 1 Corinthians by a scribe who wanted to conform Paul’s views to those of the Pastoral epistles.  The parallels are obvious when the two passages are placed side by side:


(1 Tim 2:12-15) (1 Cor. 14:34-36)
1.  Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 1. Women should be silent in the churches.
2.  I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 2. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate,
3. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 3. as the law also says.
4.  Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. 4. If there is anything they desire to know let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

It is to be noted that both passages stress that women are to keep silent in church and not teach men.  This is allegedly something taught by the Law (e.g., in the story of Adam and Eve).  Women are therefore to keep their place — that is, in the home, under the authority of their husbands.

It is not absolutely impossible, of course, that Paul himself wrote the passage that is now found in 1 Corinthians.  But as scholars have long pointed out, Paul elsewhere talks about women leaders in his churches without giving any indication that they are to be silent.  He names a minister in Cenchreae, prophets in Corinth, and one of the chief apostles in Rome (Junia).  Even more significantly, he has already indicated in 1 Corinthians itself that women are it is interesting to observe that these harsh words against women in 1 Cor 14:34-35 interrupt the flow of what Paul has been saying in the context.  Up to v. 34 he has been speaking about "prophecy" and then does so immediately afterwards again in v. 37.  It may be, then, that the verses were not an original part of the text of 1 Corinthians at all but originated as a marginal note that later copyists inserted into the text after v. 33 (others inserted it after v. 40). allowed to speak in church — for example when they pray or prophesy, activities that were almost always performed aloud in antiquity.  How could he allow women to speak in chapter 11 but disallow it in chapter 14?

Moreover, it is interesting to observe that these harsh words against women in 1 Cor 14:34-35 interrupt the flow of what Paul has been saying in the context.  Up to v. 34 he has been speaking about “prophecy” and then does so immediately afterwards again in v. 37.  It may be, then, that the verses were not an original part of the text of 1 Corinthians at all but originated as a marginal note that later copyists inserted into the text after v. 33 (others inserted it after v. 40).  However the verses came to be placed into the text, it does not appear that they were written by Paul.  Who then wrote them?  Evidently someone living later, who was familiar with and sympathetic towards the views of women advanced by the author of the Pastoral epistles.

To sum up: In Paul’s own churches, there may not have been an absolute equality between men and women.  Women were still to cover their heads when praying and prophesying, showing that as females they were still subject to males.  But there was a clear *movement* towards equality that reflected the movement evidenced in the ministry of Jesus himself.  Moreover, Paul’s preference for the celibate life (a view not favored, significantly enough, by the author of the Pastorals), may have helped promote that movement toward equality, in that women who followed his example would not have had husbands to go home *to* in order to ask questions.  Indeed, we know of such women from the second and later centuries, ascetics who preferred the freedom that the single life brought to the restrictive confines of ancient marriage.

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2024-05-24T14:20:57-04:00May 21st, 2024|Paul and His Letters, Women in Early Christianity|

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  1. RD May 21, 2024 at 8:02 am

    From the post:

    “Moreover, it is interesting to observe that these harsh words against women in 1 Cor 14:34-35 interrupt the flow of what Paul has been saying in the context.”

    Yes. He seems to be speaking inclusively in the rest of Chapter 14, e.g., in verses 6, 20, 26, and 39:

    “Now, brothers and sisters, ……”

    “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; ……”

    “What should be done then, my brothers and sisters? ……”

    “So, my brothers and sisters, strive to prophesy, ……”

    Then in the midst of all this comes verse 34: BOOM; “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak but should be subordinate,”

    Doesn’t seem to fit.

  2. mozartpc27 May 21, 2024 at 8:27 am

    What an interesting bit of observation I had never heard before!

    Nothing more specific to say but as a once-aspiring scholar who went on to another life but who still knows and understands about what rigorous textual criticism is and looks like, allow me to say that I am in constant awe both of your prodigious output and, more importantly, your incredible generosity with your time. It is a rare thing.

  3. jbhodge May 21, 2024 at 1:54 pm

    My roomate back in 1973 was a jewish convert to christianity who was attending Fuller Seminary in Pasadena Ca. working on his Masters Thesis on this subject. His thesis was that the 1Cor passage was refering to women being separated in the synagogues from the males (husbands) and not permitted to ask questions or express ideas during meetings, and that they would stand up and speak to their husbands across the aisle to have him ask a question or make a statement in their behalf. However, my recent research leads me to believe that this separation of the sexes in the synagogues did not exist during time of Jesus and Paul, but was a later practice began during the early 2nd century with the advent of the Mishna and Jerusalem Talmud. First century Christians met in separate intimate house churches not large gathering places until much much later and depending on where in the empire, when they could be more open.

    Do you think it’s possible or even likely likely that such injection into 1 Cor and the creation of the Pastorals was influenced by the changes in Judism? I think it’s a plausable parallel.

    • BDEhrman May 21, 2024 at 8:18 pm

      Yes, others have argued tht, bu tthe changes of 1 Cor. would have had to be made VERY early in the ms tradition to affect every ms, not later.

    • daniel.calita May 23, 2024 at 1:24 am


      Do you agree with John J Collins on the idea that the one like the son of man from Daniel is the archangel Michael? Please, if possible, explain the answer.

      Thank you

      • BDEhrman May 26, 2024 at 5:05 pm

        No, I think the angel’s interpretatoin of the figure shows it wsa the nation of Israel.
        Just as each of the beasts was a kingdom, so was the one like a son of man that led to their destruction.

  4. RichardFellows May 21, 2024 at 7:15 pm

    Bart, I think you are right about the sequence. My own recent article suggests the following:
    1. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians with Prisca named before Aquila at 16:19.
    2. The Pastorals were written, and were dependent on 1 Cor 16, and named Prisca before Aquila (2 Tim 4:19).
    3. Someone interpolated 1 Cor 14:34-35 and removed Prisca from first place.

    I therefore like your conclusion that 1 Cor 14:34-35 depends on 1 Tim 1:12-15, rather than the other way around.

  5. Zena May 22, 2024 at 12:44 am

    Women could be equal to men, but could not be in authority over men. Speaking in church implies authority. As George Orwell told us, “Some pigs are more equal than others”.

  6. daniel.calita May 22, 2024 at 1:37 am

    Hello, Bart,

    Why is the book of Daniel in the Prophets in the Christian OT, but in the Hebrew Bible it is in the Writings? What difference does it make?

    Thank you!

    • BDEhrman May 26, 2024 at 4:15 pm

      Since it was the final book of the OT to be written (probably in the 160s BCE), it was not considered to belong to the group that was more or lss considered “closed” when it started to circulate.

      • dankoh May 27, 2024 at 4:00 pm

        It’s true that the book “appeared” in the 160s, after the Prophets section was most likely closed. Still, the rabbis would have thought it had been written in the early Persian period as the opening chapters try to claim, which would date it to well within the era of the prophets. Alter, in his introduction, suggests that Daniel’s use of “strictly predictive” prophecy was anomalous to the way the (other) prophets wrote, and that’s why it was put in Writings. That same anomaly, of course, is what made it attractive to Christians as a prophet. I’ve read that the LXX also includes Daniel in the major prophets.

        It does make at least a theoretical difference in that, while all the Tanakh is considered authoritative, the Prophets have more authority than the Writings and any conflict would be resolved in the favor of the Prophets. (And the Torah overrides both.)

  7. IcyPhantom360 May 22, 2024 at 12:58 pm

    Hello Professor Ehrman, I have a question. I heard somewhere (I don’t remember where I got this from) that Paul was a binitarian subordinationist. Is this true? Or is it that some scholars hold this view and others don’t? Also, did you write any books or know of other books where I can learn more about early church fathers from a non biased scholar?

    • BDEhrman May 26, 2024 at 4:46 pm

      Well, Paul would not have known what that meant, but he certaily thought that Christ was a divine being and that he was put at an equal level with God at the resurrectoion but was nonetheless subordinate to God. I discuss this and related issues in my book How Jesus Became God.

  8. Zena May 24, 2024 at 1:36 am

    I misquoted. Correct is “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”

  9. alexperez012 May 28, 2024 at 11:06 pm

    It would seem that the comments about women in Corinthians seem to reflect the influences of the Jewish religion during that period. As time passed, Christianity seemed to be more inclusive and allowed women to have more involvement in Christianity and not be as restrictive as the Jewish methodology.

  10. kangasns May 30, 2024 at 2:43 am

    Are you familiar with the “quotation-refutation device hypothesis” as a non-interpolation possibility? The idea is that 1Cor 33b-35 is Paul quoting the men of the church in Corinth, then rebuking them in 36-38. So it’s not Paul’s words, but it WAS in Paul’s original letter, hence us not knowing of any earlier manuscripts without 34-35, and scribes’ confusion over where they should go, because they don’t fit.

    In that framing, 36 seems sarcastic. I don’t know Greek, but I read that the ἢ’s in 36 can set up an either-or structure. The quote would have been a reference to local/Roman law, which the men prefer, and then Paul says something like “Did the word of God originate with you, or are you men the only ones who have received it?” in 36.

    If Paul was writing before quotation marks had been invented, I think it’s plausible that neither we nor earlier scribes recognized ALL of the quotations in Paul’s letters. Maybe quotes are separate from the flow of a chiasmus?

    • BDEhrman June 1, 2024 at 9:51 pm

      Yes, it’s cited for various passages in Paul’s writings to make sense of what he says, esp. 1 Cor. 6,e.g. (“It is good not to touch a woman”); normally the quotation is readily identified from Paul’s interpretation of it, though, and that doesn’t work well in this case.

  11. jmaclean May 31, 2024 at 1:56 pm

    Hello Professor Bart – in regards to your insertion theory on 1st Cor. 14, isn’t it true that our oldest copy has verse 14 in it?


    • BDEhrman June 1, 2024 at 10:08 pm

      You mean vv. 34-35? Yes, all the copies do. That’s why if it was not originally there it would be called an “interpolation” instead of a textual variant. An interpolation is a suspected addition to the text found in all surviving copies (not just in the New Tesatament but in ancient literature generally) (there are plenty of places that it happens — all over the place, in fact, in such writings as Homer, Virgil, etc.)

  12. John.Feldmann June 3, 2024 at 4:46 pm

    Why do you write that the female head covering was an expression of feminine submissiveness before men? I always thought it was because in the Ancient Near East a woman’s long hair was considered to be something sexual and therefore this was merely a cultural practice of modesty. I even remember reading a long time ago a journal article on St. Paul—linking it to the Greek medical practice of the time—that long hair on a female was thought to draw semen into the body in the act of copulation, so that the woman’s hair was considered to be a part of her sexuality.

    • BDEhrman June 7, 2024 at 5:57 am

      Paul talks about it as a demonstration that the man is the head of the woman and so the woman is to wear a vail. Read the passage: it’s pretty clearly in large part about women having to be submissive.

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