About Philip B. Payne Man and Woman, One in Christ Philip B. Payne, and the cover of his latest book, Man and Woman, One in Christ
February 26th
2010
written by phil

Some people try to restrict Paul’s affirmation of women prophesying in 1 Cor 11:2-16 to prophesying  done only outside of assemblies of believers. Six factors demonstrate that 1 Cor 11:2-16 refers to practices in gatherings of believers, namely in the church.

 

First, in 1 Cor 11:16 Paul objects to the manner of praying and prophesying by men and women in Corinth since it is being done in a way that is not practiced in “the churches of God.” If the shameful acts had nothing to do with what is done in church, why would Paul argue against them by saying, “we, the churches of God, have no such custom”? Therefore, it is most natural to understand that Paul is writing about an abuse of head coverings by those praying or prophesying in church. To say that the abuse is limited to actions outside Christian assemblies is inconsistent with Paul’s assertion that this abuse is foreign to the customs of “the churches of God.”

 

Second, Paul identifies the abuse as disgraceful behavior related to something covering the head of men and something not covering the head of women. Whether one’s head is “covered” would only be an issue in public prayer and prophecy, not in private. Since public gatherings of the church are the locus of prophecy everywhere else in Paul’s writings, to say that the abuse is limited to actions outside Christian assemblies is to exclude most obvious application of this passage.

 

Third, Paul regulates praying and prophesying first by men and then by women with no indication of a change in setting. Since there is no question that men prayed and prophesied in church, to limit women’s praying and prophesying to occasions outside of church is to limit arbitrarily and without contextual warrant, the sphere of an activity by women only and not by men, even though they are both addressed without any such distinction as regards the context of praying and prophesying.

 

Fourth, Paul addresses his concerns in both halves of 1 Corinthians 11 to “you” plural, and the “you” he is writing to is “the church in Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2). He introduces 1 Cor 11:2-16 with “I praise you (plural).” He introduces and closes the next paragraph, 1 Cor 11:17-22, which discusses abuses in the Lord’s Supper and is clearly a practice in the church, with “I do not praise you (plural).” Since both address the church regarding shameful actions, it is only natural to understand each as relating to the church. 1 Cor 11:17 specifically refers to “when you come together,” and the reference to “the angels” in 1 Cor 11:10 most naturally refers to the presence of angels in Christian worship.

 

Fifth, 1 Corinthians 14 explicitly addresses the gathered church (ἐκκλησία occurs in 14:4, 5, 12, 19, 23, 28, 33, 34, and 35). It repeatedly speaks of all prophesying in worship services or otherwise encourages all to prophesy:

1 Cor 14:1 calls the Corinthians (not just the Corinthian men) to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.”

1 Cor 14:5 “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy.”

1 Cor 14:23-25  “If, therefore, the whole church assembles… if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, that one is convicted of sin and brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare.”

1 Cor 14:31, 33 “For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged …  in all the congregations of the saints.”

1 Cor 14:39 “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy….” (TNIV, appropriately expressing the breath of application of ἀδελφοί)

Since Paul is addressing the whole church, not just the men in the church, and since the primary focus of his statements is prophecy, which chapter 11 affirms for both women and men, the only natural reading of these references to “all” prophesying includes women in this context. 

Sixth, Paul repeatedly in 1 Corinthians 14 defines the purpose of prophecy as edification of the assembly of believers (the church):

1 Cor 14:2-3 “For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God. … But those who prophesy speak to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and comfort.”

1 Cor 14:4 “Those who speak in a tongue edify themselves, but those who prophesy edify the church.”

1 Cor 14:5 “Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues, unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified.” (cf. also v. 12)

1 Cor 14:31, 33 “For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged… in all the assemblies of the saints.”

Since Paul defines the purpose of “prophesy” as “to edify the church,” its very purpose as defined by Paul identifies it as an activity in the church, namely in gatherings of believers. Since Paul defines the purpose of “prophesy” as “to edify the church,” it would be a distortion of his clear intent to deny that his regulations for women prophesying apply to women prophesying in gatherings of believers.

 

To summarize, the idea that Paul’s affirmation of women prophesying does not apply in church is inconsistent with Paul’s reference in this context (v. 16) to customs of “the churches of God.” Head “covering” would, in any event, only be an issue in public prayer and prophecy, not in private. Furthermore, this passage addresses men and women without any distinction regarding where either may pray and prophesy. It specifically address the church in Corinth, and the reference to “the angels” in 1 Cor 11:10 most naturally refers to the presence of angels in Christian worship. Paul repeatedly affirms that “all” may prophecy in the church (14:5, 24, 31) and encourages “all” to prophecy in assemblies of believers (14:1, 23-25, 31, 39). In light of 11:2-16, the only natural reading of these references to “all” prophesying includes women. Furthermore, Paul repeated defines prophesying as edifying the church in 1 Cor 14:2-3, 4, 5, and 31. For all these reasons, it is evident that Paul’s affirmation of women prophesying does apply in assemblies of believers, namely in the church.

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