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1 Corinthians 14:34-40

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.

34. Mulieres vestrae in Ecclesiis taceant; non enim permissum est ipsis loqui, sed subiectae sint, quemadmodum et Lex dicit.

35. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

35. Si quid autem velint discere, domi maritos suos interrogent: turpe enim est mulieribus in Ecclesia loqui.

36. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

36. An a vobis sermo Dei profectus est, aut ad vos solos pervenit?

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.

37. Si quis videtur sibi propheta esse aut spiritualis, agnoscat, quae scribo vobis, Domini esse mandata.

38. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

38. Si quis autem ignorat, ignoret.

39. Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

39. Itaque, fratres, aemulamini prophetiam, et linguis loqui ne prohibeatis.

40. Let all things be done decently and in order.

40. Porro onmia decenter et ordine fiant.


It appears that the Church of the Corinthians was infected with this fault too, that the talkativeness of women was allowed a place in the sacred assembly, or rather that the fullest liberty was given to it. Hence he forbids them to speak in public, either for the purpose of teaching or of prophesying. This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.

34. Let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. What connection has the object that he has in view with the subjection under which the law places women? “For what is there,” some one will say, “to hinder their being in subjection, and yet at the same time teaching?” I answer, that the office of teaching 877877     “D’enseigner ou de prescher;” — “Of teaching or of preaching.” is a superiority in the Church, and is, consequently, inconsistent with subjection. For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members, should preside 878878     “Eust preeminence et authorite;” — “Should have pre-eminence and authority.” over the entire body! It is therefore an argument from things inconsistent — If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. 879879     “Elle ne pent donc auoir authorire publique de prescher ou enseigner;” — “She cannot, therefore, have public authority to preach or teach.” And unquestionably, 880880     “Entre toutes les nations et peuples;” — “Among all nations and peoples.” wherever even natural propriety has been maintained, women have in all ages been excluded from the public management of affairs. It is the dictate of common sense, that female government is improper and unseemly. Nay more, while originally they had permission given to them at Rome to plead before a court, 881881     “On les souffroit proposer deuant les iuges, et plaider publiquement;” — “They were allowed to make an appearance before the judges, and plead publicly.”’ the effrontery of Caia Afrania 882882     Caia, Afrania was the wife of a senator, Licinius Buccio. The circumstance referred to by Calvin is related by Valerius Maximus, (lib. 8. c. 3. n. 2,) in the following terms: — “Mulicbris verecundiae oblita, suas per se causas agebat, et importunis clamoribus judicibus obstrepebat; non quod advocati ei deessent, sed quia impudentia abundabat. Hinc factum est. ut mulieres perfrictae frontis et matronalis pudoris oblitae, Afraniae per contumeliam dicerentur;” — “Forgetful of the modesty that becomes a femme, she pleaded her own cause in person, and annoyed the judges with a senseless clamouring — not from any want of advocates to take her case in hand, but from excessive impudence. In consequence of this, women that were of bold front, and were forgetful of the modesty that becomes a matron, were, by way of reproach, called Afranias.” — Ed. led to their being interdicted, even from this. Paul’s reasoning, however, is simple — that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman occupies, because, if she teaches, she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.

35. If they wish to learn any thing. That he may not seem, by this means, to shut out women from opportunities of learning, he desires them, if they are in doubt as to anything, to inquire in private, that they may not stir up any disputation in public. When he says, husbands, he does not prohibit them from consulting the Prophets themselves, if necessary. For all husbands are not competent to give an answer in such a case; but, as he is reasoning here as to external polity, he reckons it sufficient to point out what is unseemly, that the Corinthians may guard against it. In the meantime, it is the part of the prudent reader to consider, that the things of which he here treats are intermediate and indifferent, in which there is nothing unlawful, but what is at variance with propriety and edification.

36 Did the word of God come out from you? This is a somewhat sharper reproof, but nothing more than was needful for beating down the haughtiness of the Corinthians. They were, beyond measure, self-complacent. They could not endure that either themselves, or what belonged to them, should be found fault with in anything. He asks, accordingly, whether they are the only Christians in the world; nay, farther, whether they are the first, or are to be the last? “Did the word of God,” says he, “come out from you?” that is, “Did it originate with you?” “Has it ended with you?” that is, “Will it spread no farther?” The design of the admonition is this — that they may not, without having any regard to others, please themselves in their own contrivances or customs. And this is a doctrine of general application; for no Church should be taken up with itself exclusively, to the neglect of others; but on the contrary, they ought all, in their turn, to hold out the right hand to each other, in the way of cherishing mutual fellowship, and accommodating themselves to each other, in so far as a regard to harmony requires. 883883     “Autant qu’il est requis pour nourrir paix et concorde;” — “in so far as it is requisite for maintaining peace and harmony.”

But here it is asked, whether every Church, according as it has had the precedence of another in the order of time, 884884     “Et est plus ancienne;” — “And is more ancient.” has it also in its power to bind it to observe its institutions. 885885     “A ses ordonnances et manieres de faire;” — “To its ordinances and methods of acting.” For Paul seems to intimate this in what he says. For example, Jerusalem was the mother of all the Churches, inasmuch as the word of the Lord had come out from it Was she then at liberty to assume to herself a superior right, so as to bind all others to follow her? I answer, that Paul here does not employ an argument of universal application, but one that was specially applicable to the Corinthians, as is frequently the case. He had, therefore, an eye to individuals, rather than to the thing itself. Hence it does not necessarily follow, that Churches that are of later origin must be bound to observe, in every point, the institutions of the earlier ones, inasmuch as even Paul himself did not bind himself by this rule, so as to obtrude upon other Churches the customs that were in use at Jerusalem. Let there be nothing of ambition — let there be nothing of obstinacy — let there be nothing of pride and contempt for other Churches — let there be, on the other hand, a desire to edify — let there be moderation and prudence; and in that case, amidst a diversity of observances, there will be nothing that is worthy of reproof.

Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that the haughtiness of the Corinthians is here reproved, who, concerned for themselves exclusively, 886886     “Ne regardans qu’a eux mesmes, et se plaisans en leur facons de faire;” — “Looking only to themselves, and pleasing themselves in their modes of acting.” showed no respect to the Churches of earlier origin, from which they had received the gospel, and did not endeavor to accommodate themselves to other Churches, to which the gospel had flowed out from them. Would to God that there were no Corinth in our times, in respect of this fault, as well as of others! But we see how savage men, who have never tasted the gospel, (Hebrews 6:5,) trouble the Churches of the saints by a tyrannical enforcement of their own laws. 887887     “En voulant d’vne faqon tyrannique contraindre tout le monde a receuoir leurs loix;” — “By endeavoring, in a tyrannical way, to constrain every one to receive their laws.”

37. If any one thinks himself. Mark here the judgment, which he had previously assigned to the Prophets — that they should receive what they recognised as being from God. He does not, however, desire them to inquire as to his doctrine, as though it were a doubtful matter, but to receive it as the sure word of God, inasmuch as they will recognize it as the word of God, if they judge rightly. Farther, it is in virtue of apostolical authority, that he takes it upon himself to prescribe to them the sentence which they ought to pronounce. 888888     “En cest endroit;” — “In this case.”

There is still greater confidence in what he immediately adds — He that is ignorant, let him be ignorant. This, it is true, was allowable for Paul, who was fully assured as to the revelation that he had received from God, and he ought also to have been well known to the Corinthians, so that they should have looked upon him in no other light, than as an Apostle of the Lord. It is not, however, for every one to advance such a claim for himself, or if he does, he will, by his boasting, throw himself open to merited derision, for then only is there ground for such confidence, when what is affirmed with the mouth shows itself in reality. It was with truth that Paul affirmed, that his precepts were those of the Lord. Many will be prepared to pretend the same thing on false grounds. His great object is this — that it may be clearly perceived, that he who does not allow himself to be under control, speaks as from the Holy Spirit, not from his own brain. That man, therefore, who is no other than a pure organ of the Holy Spirit, will have the courage to declare fearlessly with Paul, that those who shall reject his doctrine, are not Prophets or spiritual persons; and this he will do in virtue of a right that belongs to him, in accordance with what we had in the beginning of the Epistle — he that is spiritual, judgeth all things. (1 Corinthians 2:15.)

But it may be asked here, how it is that Paul declares those things to be commandments of the Lord, as to which no statement is to be found in the Scriptures? Besides this, there is also another difficulty that presents itself — that if they are the commandments of the Lord, they are necessary to be observed, and they bind the conscience, and yet they are rites connected with polity, as to the observance of which no such necessity exists. Paul, however, merely says, that he enjoins nothing, but what is in accordance with the will of God. Now God endowed him with wisdom, that he might recommend this order in external things at Corinth, and in other places — not that it might be an inviolable law, like those that relate to the spiritual worship of God, but that it might be a useful directory to all the sons of God, and not by any means to be despised.

38. But if any man be ignorant The old translation reads thus: He that knows not this, will be unknown; 889889     Beausobre, when adverting to this reading, says: “La Vulgate porte, il sera ignore, Dieu k meconnoitra; ce qui vent dire, le punira Ce sens est fort bon;” — “The Vulgate renders it: he will be unknownGod will disown him — meaning to say: He will punish him This is a very good meaning.” In one Greek MS. the reading is ἀγνοεῖται, — is unknown Wiclif, (1380) renders it — And if ony man unknowith: he schal be unknown The view taken by Calvin, however, is the more generally approved, and seems to accord better with the general strain of the passage. — Ed but this is a mistake. For Paul had it in view to cut off every handle from contentious persons, who make no end of disputing, and that, under the pretense of inquiring — as if the matter were not yet clear; or at least he intimates in general terms, that he regarded as of no account any one that would call in question what he said. “If any one is ignorant, I do not stop to take notice of his doubts, for the certainty of my doctrine is not at all impaired thereby. Let him go then, whoever he may be. As for you, do not the less on that account give credit to Christ, as speaking by me.” In fine, he intimates, that sceptics, contentious persons, and subtle disputants; 890890     “Les sophistes qui ne font iamais que disputer, sans rien resoudre ou accorder, ne les contentieux, et subtils iaseurs;” — “Sophists who are never but disputing, without coming to any solution or agreement, nor contentious persons, and subtile prattlers.” do not by the questions they raise diminish, in any degree, the authority of sound doctrine, and of that truth as to which believers ought to feel assured, and at the same time he admonishes us, not to allow their doubts to be any hindrance in our way. That elevation of mind, however, which despises all human judgments, ought to be founded on ascertained truth. Hence, as it would be the part of perverse rashness, either to maintain pertinaciously, in opposition to the views of all others, an opinion that has once been taken up, or audaciously to cling to it, while others are in doubt, so, on the other hand, when we have felt assured that it is God that speaks, let us fearlessly break through all human impediments and all difficulties. 891891     “Sans nous en soucier aucunement;” — “Without giving ourselves any concern as to them.”

39. Wherefore, brethren This is the conclusion in connection with the principal question — that prophecy is to be preferred to other gifts, because it is the most useful gift of all, while at the same time other gifts ought not to be despised. We must observe, however, his manner of speaking. For he intimates, that prophecy is worthy of being eagerly and ardently aspired at by all. In the meantime, he exhorts them not to envy others the rarer gift, 892892     “Autres, qui ont le don des langues, qui est vn don plus rare;” — “Others, who have the gift of tongues, which is a rarer gift.” which is not so much to be desired; nay more, to allow them the praise that is due to them, divesting themselves of all envy.

40. All things decently and in order Here we have a more general conclusion, which does not merely include, in short compass, the entire case, but also the different parts. Nay farther, it is a rule by which we must regulate 893893     “This precept is sometimes applied to support the use of rites and ceremonies in the worship of God, not commanded in Scripture. But any one who considers the place which it holds in this discourse, will be sensible that it hath no relation to rites and ceremonies, but to the decent and orderly exercise of the spiritual gifts. Yet by parity of reasoning, it may be extended even to the rites of worship, provided they are left free to be used by every one as he sees them expedient.” — McKnight. “To adduce this text, as a direct argument about any particular external ceremonies used in divine worship, (which always appear decent and orderly to those who invent, impose, or are attached to them, and the contrary to those who dissent from them,) is doubtless wresting it from its proper meaning.” Scott. — Ed. everything, that has to do with external polity. As he had discoursed, in various instances, as to rites, he wished to sum up everything here in a brief summary — that decorum should be observed — that confusion should be avoided. This statement shows, that he did not wish to bind consciences by the foregoing precepts, as if they were in themselves necessary, but only in so far as they were subservient to propriety and peace. Hence we gather (as I have said) a doctrine that is always in force, as to the purpose to which the polity of the Church ought to be directed. The Lord has left external rites in our choice with this view — that we may not think that his worship consists wholly in these things.

In the meantime, he has not allowed us a rambling and unbridled liberty, but has inclosed it (so to speak) with railings, 894894     Cancellos (ut ita loquar) circumdedit. Calvin has here very probably in his eye an expression made use of by Cicero, “Si extra hos cancellos egredi conabor, quos mihi circumdedi;” — “If I shall attempt to go beyond those limits, which I have marked out for myself.” — (Cic. Quint. 10.) — Ed.
or at least has laid a restriction upon the liberty granted by him in such a manner, that it is after all only from his word that we can judge as to what is right. This passage, therefore, when duly considered, will show the difference between the tyrannical edicts of the Pope, which oppress men’s consciences with a dreadful bondage, and the godly regulations of the Church, by which discipline and order are maintained. Nay farther, we may readily infer from this, that the latter are not to be looked upon as human traditions, inasmuch as they are founded upon this general injunction, and have a manifest approval, as it were, from the mouth of Christ himself.

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