You can learn interesting methodology from the polemicists, especially when it comes to selecting a Bible version to back up a doctrine, which, yes, is the wrong way around, and that’s the point.
There are so many Bible versions out there these days that you just have to surf the net, i.e. BibleGateway, or BibleHub, Olive Tree Bible Study, to find a translation that fits your point. If you’re inclined to this methodology, that is.
Of course, the honest and Biblical thing to do would be to stick with a main version, one that is globally accepted as relatively authentic and unbiased, for the majority of your doctrinal study, but use others for context or comparison and to determine Biblical accuracy.
One wouldn’t expect a translation that mainly caters for people with English as a second language to carry the same weight as, say, the widely used New King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, which is regarded as the most accurate translation so far, or even the New International Version, which has its quirks, but is universally trusted.
And there are always the interlinear versions of the original koiné texts, underscored with the English for easy understanding, remembering that English translations are a relatively recent development from around the 16th century.
New translations, which are often based on existing versions, have picked up pace in recent years, in some cases, it appears, to illustrate a denominational doctrinal point that is not reflected in other versions.
Hence the aforementioned New International Version, which holds to a more Calvinistic view, and appeals to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God compared to other versions that speak of His Lordship in affirming His Headship, which is a topic for another time.
Women in ministry
And so to the current discussion on women in ministry, which hit a high spot recently following John MacArthur’s admonition to women to ‘go home.’ Yes, he said it. He preached a subsequent message to qualify his teaching that women should be at home rather than out and about preaching the gospel, and utilised a Bible version that illustrates his doctrinal opinion.
Churchwatcher subsequently produced an article that mimicked MacArthur’s position, using the same version of a Bible translation that backs up their point.
Here’s how churchwatchcentral present the scripture in their continued arguments against women in ministry…
“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.”Churchwatch Central version of 1 Corinthians 14:33-40, ESV
Notice how this is all presented as a single paragraph, suggesting that this is all one thought being put down by the Apostle Paul. First of all the phrase, ‘for God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ is moved from the previous paragraph in the ESV translation into the succeeding paragraph to add emphasis to the following sentence.
Secondly, and crucially for this article, they rely on a translation that removes the full-stop used by other versions after the phrase, ‘as in all the churches of the saints’ and replace it with a comma, linking it, not to the previous teaching on the correct use of the gifts of the Spirit, but to the following admonition about women being silent in the church. A subtle, but important difference in context.
Translations that use this version with a comma after ‘as in all the churches of the saints’ include: English Standard Version (used above by churchwatcher), Berean Study Bible, Berean Literal Bible, Christian Standard Bible, Contemporary English Version, Good News Translation, Holman Christian Standard Version, International Standard Version, NET Bible, New Heart English Bible, Gods Word Translation, American Standard Version, World English Bible. Not really your most important translations.
The ESV is published by the Good News Publishers, Crossway Bibles, and is based on the Revised Standard Version. The Berean Bible has a footnote to indicate that the full-stop could replace the comma, rendering the reading in a different context.
Translations that have the full stop and new paragraph following ‘as in all the churches of the saints’ are: New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, New King James Version, King James Bible, Aramaic Bible in Plain English, New American Standard 1977, Jubilee Bible 2000, King James 2000 Bible, American King James Bible, Douay-Rheims Bible, Darby Bible translation, English Revised Version, Webster’s Bible Translation, Weymouth New Testament, Young’s Literal Translation, Literal Translation of the Holy Bible.
So the most recommended and universally dependable Bibles do not place the comma after the phrase to indicate the following passage, but use a full-stop the link it to the passage before.
For instance, here’s how the New King James Version uses the grammar.
1 Corinthians 14:26-33 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
The New King James Version [NKJV] has this passage as an entire paragraph leading to Paul’s teaching that the gifts of the Spirit, which is the actual context, should be properly utilised in the churches, but then it goes to a separate paragraph for the next segment, thus…
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
It’s almost as if Paul has another thought as he is dictating this letter, and remembers a pattern of behaviour he wants to deal with regarding the conduct of some of the women in the local church at Corinth, admonishing the pastoral team to keep their women in order. After all, this pastoral letter is all about establishing order in the Corinthian church.
In those days, women would be in a separate part of the assembly, and it is understood that some would shout out to their husbands and guardians during the meetings when they should have been respectful and quiet. These were primarily converted Greeks, not used to the ways of the Jewish Christian assemblies. Obviously, the Corinthian church was a very lively and noisy place, and they all needed some training in decorum.
But there’s a grammatical anomaly here to the translations, which should be addressed. If you read the churchwatchcentral ESV translation, you have, ‘As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.’ Now if you read this a few times you will notice that it doesn’t seem grammatically correct to use the word ‘churches’ twice in the same sentence. Surely it would be better written, ‘As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent.’ The phrase fits much better with the previous paragraph.
The law that talks about women being submissive refers to their husbands, and comes from Genesis 3:16: ‘Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,’ so the context is wives being orderly in the assemblies, asking their husbands questions about the teaching later, so that they learn about what was said at home, but this is not an order from God to send women home, or for women to ‘go home’ as MacArthur chides.
Very simple. It’s all about balance and order, not about diminishing women, who have access to the same study materials as men in the modern era.
Besides, why would Paul contradict himself, when he has already, three chapters earlier, given women instruction on how to prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5) and pray (1 Corinthians 11:13)? Acts 2:16-21 confirms this, also, as does Acts 21:9, which both point out that women can prophesy. Acts 2:16-21 is a fulfilment of the prophecy at Joel 2:28-32.
No, he says that women should ‘learn’ at home. In other words find out the meaning of what was said by asking their husbands after the service. It’s not a blanket ban on prophecy, or prayer, or giving testimony, or even preaching.
Do we have this same issue of disorder today? Well, not really. Families, including husbands and wives, tend to sit together in the majority of assemblies. Very few churches segregate men from women these days. There’s no calling out across the divide. No disorder in this regard.
Back to the gifts
Then, having got this off his chest, Paul immediately goes back to his original teaching on the gifts.
1 Corinthians 14:36-40 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.
Clearly Paul comes back to the gifts. I have presented the paragraphs exactly as in the NKJV. They are set out this way because the context needs to be closely followed and not selectively used as churchwatchcentral have done in their use of the passage.
My backup Bible for translation is the Literal Translation of the Holy Bible, which puts it this way:
‘For God is not of confusion, but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints. Let your women be silent in the assemblies, for it is not allowed to them to speak, but to be in subjection, as also the Law says.’1 Corinthians 14:33-34, Literal Translation of the Holy Bible
Interestingly, the MacArthur Bible is available in different translations, three of which, the New American Standard Bible, the NIV, and the NKJV, place the full-stop after ‘as in all the churches of the saints’ to emphasise the correct use of the gifts of the Spirit, and one, the ESV, which introduces the comma to emphasise women being silent. Maybe he left the other three at home that day.
To summarise this section, in using this version of the passage, John MacArthur and churchwatchcentral have made the emphasis women in the church, when, in fact, the emphasis of the entire chapter, following on from the previous chapters, is on the correct use of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit.
Even the way churchwatchcentral use the ESV changes the way the ESV writers present it, which is thus…
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.1 Corinthians 13:26-40 ESV
Compare this order of paragraphs with the way churchwatchcentral presented the passage. They have taken the sentence ‘for God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ from the ESV setting and placed it into a single paragraph onto which they tag the last paragraph in the ESV version.
But let’s bring in another witness. As mentioned earlier, the most trusted translation is said to be the New American Standard Bible. So how does this version present the passage?
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.1 Corinthians 14:26-40, New American Standard Bible
So the NASB maintains the most likely context of the whole passage. There is not a falsified emphasis on women keeping silent, but the main discussion is the orderly use of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit in the assemblies.
Leaving out the gifts
But there’s another thing that both MacArthur and churchwatcher miss in this, and it’s hugely important. They have been teaching a cessationist false gospel for years, now. So many of their influences and articles deny the current day use of the gifts of the Spirit that it is unmissable that they reject the current day application of the manifestations of the Spirit.
They reject tongues, they reject prophecy, they reject gifts of healings and working of miracles. They reject the gift of discerning of spirits (although they claim discernment, which is another thing altogether, and not a gift but a necessity). They reject special faith. They reject interpretation of tongues, word of knowledge and word of wisdom. They reject the gifts of the Spirit.
Yet this entire passage to which MacArthur and churchwatcher appeal is specifically teaching on the correct use of the gifts in the assemblies. So they lift an aside about the order for women in the church as a doctrinal stance for themselves, and by which to condemn all women who preach the gospel, yet deny the very words of the Apostle Paul when he teaches on the correct use of the gifts of the Spirit.
I watched the video put out by John MacArthur where he spoke about women not speaking in church, and was surprised that he used this passage of scripture in this way. After all, he is a Sola Scriptura kind of guy, isn’t he? Read the previous two chapters and the following two chapters to get the context, and match it up the rest of scripture for accuracy, right? Compare other versions for accuracy? Well, that was what I was taught as basics for doctrinal context.
Now churchwatchcentral have followed in his footsteps and shifted the context of the text in such a way that they have taken away from the Holy Spirit’s primary intent to instruct on operation of the gifts, and used it to create a different impression to the original for the reader, and focused on silencing women.
There is no issue with using scripture to argue a point. Let’s discuss it like adults and see where it takes us. But to mess around with the text to change the context is not on.