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Due to a discussion topic that came up on Wednesday, I was asked to lead in class a discussion on “head coverings.” Since 1 Corinthians 11 will naturally turn into a discussion in relation to 1 Corinthians 14 (and it did), I prepared this material for that discussion. I have done work on this before, so what is here presented is an abbreviation of that study.

This is a study on how Paul uses the word speak in 1 Corinthians, primarily focused on 1 Corinthians 14. The word speak in 1 Corinthians 14 is the Greek word laleō (lă lĕ ō). This word is used 34 times in the epistle, 24 times in C-14.

Vines Expository Dictionary says about the word, “the command prohibiting women from speaking in a church gathering, vv. 34, 35, is regarded by some as an injunction against chattering, a meaning which is absent from the use of the verb everywhere else in the N. T.; it is to be understood in the same sense as in vv. 2, 3-6, 9, 11, 13, 18. 19, 21, 23, 27-29, 39” (p. 1080).

Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament says that in the Greek New Testament the word is only used with the meaning speak or talk (vol. 2, pp. 335-36)

Arndt & Gingrich Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says the word means to speak, to express oneself, to proclaim. (p. 463)

With this word, is it just a matter of talking, speaking to another person like a mother would speak to a child in pleasant conversation, without there being any real point to the conversation? It could very much mean that, but it could mean much more than that.

In making a study of this word in 1 Corinthians, I have made use of five translations (identified in bold). Of the many times the word is used, the predominate meaning is in the contextual use of laleō (lă lĕ ō), not as a mother converses with a child (or some other adult), but in the context of Paul (or some other) who teaches.

2:6, 7, 13. The NIV uses the word speak. The ASV uses the word speak. The NKJV uses the word speak. The RSV/ESV uses the word impart. In the context in which Paul uses the word, teaching is in view.

3:1. The NIV uses the word address. The ASV uses the word speak. The NKJV uses the word speak. The ESV/RSV uses the word address. In this context, since Paul is continuing the same thought, the idea is teach; it is possible, however, that without understanding the context of his thought processes, one might interpret the word in less than a teaching capacity, simply speaking without regard to doing any teaching.

9:8. The NIV uses the word say. The ASV uses the word speak. The NKJV uses the word say. The ESV/RSV uses the word say. Paul is not just speaking as if it were a conversation. He is writing/talking/speaking in a teaching mode.

12:3, 30. The NIV uses the words, respectively, speaking/speak. The ASV uses the words, respectively, speaking/speak. The NKJV uses the words, respectively, speaking/speak. The RSV/ESV uses the words, respectively, speaking/speak. In 12:3, one might interpret a private as well as a public setting, but as one continues to read, the public setting is in view, as verses 4 and following clearly indicate. Thus, the setting is teaching. In 12:30, understanding the use of the word in relation to 12:28, the setting is in a teaching context.

13:1, 11. The NIV uses the words speak/talk respectively. The ASV uses the words speak/spake respectively. The NKJV uses the words speak/spoke respectively. The ESV/RSV uses the words speak/spoke respectively. Continuing the previous context, it is clear that speak is used in a teaching capacity, but verse 11 seems not to be in any teaching capacity at all, but a maturation matter.

14:2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 19, 21, 23, 27, 28, 29, 34, 35, 39.  Without highlighting the particular translations, I will stay with the ASV/NKJV. The ASV uses the word speaketh, which means the one speaking is continuing to speak (present active participle).

  • In 14:2, one can’t teach God; so, it is reasonable to understand a private use of the gift, that is, speaking to God for one’s own edification (though how is not explained).
  • In 14:5, Paul wished each saint had the ability to speak in tongues, but only if there was edification. In this narrow context (14:5-6) the word speak can be understood to apply in both a non-teaching and teaching
  • In 14:9, that which is said (spoken) is a matter of imparting information (speaking) that is understood, thus a warning (also 14:11). Through the remainder until 14:19, Paul’s concern is for the Corinthian church be edified, that is, taught.
  • In 14:20-25, Paul shifts from the edification of the church, to the significance of tongues in a proper context. If one is able to speak in a language that is foreign to those present, the only “sign” produced is an incredulous response by those who do not understand. In other words, the gift of tongues (language) is to communicate, that is, teach a people.
  • In 14:26-36, the point of controversy for many, the word laleō needs to be understood in a teaching context, not merely a speaking (conversational) context. There is an assembly wherein teaching is done (14:26). The word “man” in the ASV Is “anyone” in the NKJV. Thus, with a teaching context in view, it is my conviction the Holy Spirit forbids women in the assembly to teach, corresponding to a similar exhortation in 1 Timothy 2, and this includes 1 Corinthians 11:5.

15:34. The word speak is used in the NKJV, ASV. In the NIV, ESV/RSV the word is say. In my view, this word is best understood in Paul’s teaching capacity; in fact, I have a difficult time understanding him saying it in any other way.

Conclusion: It seems to me that Paul used the laleō (speak) as a synonym to the word teach. If that is the case, and I think it is, then what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is related to women teaching in an assembly context, not merely speaking or uttering a sound.