Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Exegetical Fallacies in D.A. Carson's "Exegetical Fallacies," Pt. 2: Reconciling 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14

For those who desire to see Pt. 1 of this series, please go to my other blog, The Center for Theological Studies (CTS).

“In this case, however, there is no need for such a procedure of last resort. The passage can be and has been adequately explained in its context. There are ample parallels to this way of looking to the Old Testament for a principle, not a quotation (and the principle in question is doubtless Gen. 2:20b-24, referred to by Paul both in 1 Cor. 11:8-9 and in 1 Tim. 2:13); and the demand for silence on the part of women does not bring on irreconcilable conflict with 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, where under certain conditions women are permitted to pray and prophesy, because the silence of 14:33b-36 is limited by context: women are to keep silent in connection with the evaluation of prophecies, to which the context refers, for otherwise they would be assuming a role of doctrinal authority in the congregation (contra 1 Tim. 2:11-15) (D.A. Carson, “Exegetical Fallacies, Second Edition.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006, pages 40-41).

In the last post, I critiqued Dr. Carson’s idea of a tense fallacy regarding I. Howard Marshall’s interpretation of Hebrews 3. I made it clear there that Carson simply takes the perfect tense, looks to the end of the human life, and concludes that those who are true believers are only those who endure to the end. You may not have caught on to it, but what Carson is saying is, “Only those who endure to the end ever believed to begin with.” The sad part about such a statement is, that if one does not endure to the end, according to Carson, such an individual was “never saved to begin with.” But, if the individual was never saved, then how about you and me? How about those who love God in the present, who serve Him, worship Him, and do His work? If believers in the here and now must endure to even know if they are saved, how can they know they are saved “now”? How can they know if they are saved “today”? See, Dr. Carson’s words sound believable until we start to question the believer’s salvation---then, things turn ugly. But Carson’s question is a good one for those who insist that the apostate “was never saved.” If the apostate can do what he did, how do you and I know that we will not end up like him? To know the end in the here and now takes a special omniscience, one that you and I do not possess whatsoever. Therefore, when we question that the apostate was ever saved, we are questioning if even we ourselves are saved...and I doubt the believer wants to take that treacherous step.
In today’s post, however, I will not discuss the doctrine of apostasy...instead, I will tackle another fallacy of Carson’s: “Appeal to unknown or unlikely meanings.” In the quote above, we find Carson critiquing an assessment of Walter Kaiser Jr.’s regarding the word “nomos” (Grk. “law”) in 1 Corinthians 14:33-36. Kaiser argues that the word “nomos” there refers to rabbinical law. Carson insists that this is highly unlikely, and then goes on to give his own assessment of what “law” Paul may have referred to: “the silence of 14:33b-36 is limited by context: women are to keep silent in connection with the evaluation of prophecies, to which the context refers, for otherwise they would be assuming a role of doctrinal authority in the congregation (contra 1 Tim. 2:11-15).”
In the sentence before the one I just quoted (see quote above at the top of the post), Carson feels the need to reconcile 1 Corinthians 14 with the permission of women to prophecy before the congregation in 1 Corinthians 11. His solution? Women can pray and prophesy (as 1 Cor. 11 allows), but they cannot “evaluate prophecies.”
Now, whenever a solution or remedy is proposed to texts that seem to conflict with one another, the solution always has to be tested against the context. If there is a solution proposed that may sound believable but does not fit the context, then believers must toss the theory out and look for another proposal that will adhere to sound hermeneutics.
Since Dr. Carson has proposed the prohibition of women from prophecy evaluation, it’s now time to check that view against the context of 1 Corinthians (before we can decide whether or not it would even adhere to 1 Timothy 2).
First, let’s note that the background to 1 Corinthians 14:33 is concerned with bringing understanding to the body of Christ (as well as unbelievers). At the beginning of chapter 14, Paul tells the Corinthians that their focus on tongues as a spiritual gift is lopsidedly misguided: that is, they should desire to prophesy above all. Why? Because “he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him...but he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men...edifies the church” (1 Cor. 14:2-4, NKJV).
This theme is continued in his discussion of speaking in tongues: “I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all; yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (1 Cor. 14:19). The goal of speaking in the church is to edify the body of Christ, to encourage, to push forward into the things of God. How can that be done if the person does not understand the language in which someone is speaking? How can one put something into action that he or she does not understand? Paul uses this logic to argue that speaking in tongues is a good gift and fit for use before God...but it is not to be publicly proclaimed amongst believers, especially when there is no interpreter to bridge communication between the unknown language and confused believers (1 Cor. 14:28).
In verses 29-32, Paul begins to turn the discussion towards prophets and prophecy: “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.” What Paul is doing here is exactly what he is doing in all of chapter 14--- providing instructions on how to maintain order and harmony in the body of Christ. Things are out of place, as the Corinthians themselves desire to speak in tongues and are so doing, despite the presence/absence of an interpreter. Paul is aware that worship serves are becoming places where confusion runs rampant, so he feels the need to address the issues. With the prophets, each is to have his/her turn in prophesying, while each is to judge in turn. Paul’s emphasis on “ALL may learn and ALL may be encouraged” (v.31) is his way of saying, “everyone has a moment to act in church. No one person has to “bull-doze” the others in order to get a moment to prophesy and judge. There is enough room in God’s House (the church) for everyone to be given their opportunity to exercise their gifts.” In essence, “Corinthians, what are you fighting about?”
When we get to the prohibition against women speaking in church, the tendency is to do what Carson does: to claim that women are prohibited from evaluating prophecy, and tie it in with 1 Timothy 2 (which is Carson’s prooftext for everything women can and cannot do. What about the other texts regarding women?). However, the context does not point out that women cannot evaluate prophecy. After all, look at Paul’s words:
“And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).
If this follows with verses 31 and before, then Paul is saying that judging prophecy is to be left to those who are prophets in the house of God. And this contradicts Carson’s idea that women cannot judge prophecy because women themselves are prophets. As Carson himself says in the quote above, “...under certain conditions women are permitted to pray and prophesy” (Carson, “Exegetical Fallacies,” page 40). If women are allowed to pray “and prophesy,” then why would women be automatically forbidden from evaluation prophecy? I’ll set up a syllogism:
Premise #1: Only prophets can judge prophecy.
Premise #2: Some women are prophets.
Conclusion: Therefore, female prophets (prophetesses) cannot judge prophecy.
The conclusion does not follow from the premises. If women are prophets, and prophets are the ones to judge prophecy, then why would women be prohibited from judging prophecy? Carson’s thought here does not follow, considering his own admission that women were allowed to prophesy in the Corinthian congregation. He is only left, in the end, to appeal to 1 Timothy 2 to make his case.
By so arguing, Carson has forgotten the principal rule of hermeneutics: that is, that one must first assessment a statement made in the context in which the statement was written. One cannot make a case to link the prohibition of 1 Corinthians 14:34 with 1 Timothy 2 unless he or she knows what the statement meant to the Corinthian congregation in 1 Corinthians 14 (and the larger context of 1 Corinthians). Then and only then, can Carson appeal to 1 Timothy 2. As is seen here, Carson claims that he is calling Walt Kaiser, Jr. on a fallacy--- but instead, he fumbles and commits one of his own. See? “I told ya” that it’s ironic Carson commits exegetical fallacies in a book written against committing exegetical fallacies...


  1. thank you for your thoughtful explanation. I have always understood the phrase "the spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets" as supporting the notion that a prophet is able to silence themselves or sit down and make room for someone else, and that the spirit of prophecy is not something that overtakes or overruns the person so that they have no control over what they are doing or saying. You seem to be taking it to refer to the evaluation of prophecy. Can you please interact with these two postions?

  2. Mike,

    Thank you for writing so graciously! I would be happy to explain this to you as best I can.

    I do think that Paul could very well have be making the statement you wrote about. He could very well be saying that it is within the self-control of prophets to restrain themselves from causing chaos and disorder in the church. I can't rule this statement out. In all honesty, you may be on to something here.

    In the context of this post, I attempted to address D.A. Carson on his own terms. He simply doesn't believe that women can evaluate prophecy. I assume Carson's correctness...and then go on to show that his view makes no sense, because, if he's right, we have a case in Scripture (1 Cor. 11) where women are allowed to prophesy before the congregation...but cannot evaluate prophesy. Within the context of 1 Corinthians 14, the women themselves were out of control, desiring to ask questions about the revelation that was taking place. It is very likely that these women, to whom Paul told not to speak but to be silent, were not prophets...

    And that brings me back to your statement...perhaps Paul was matching up the chaos of the prophets (who were not taking turns) with the women in the congregation (who were talking while prophesy was going on). Perhaps Paul meant to tie the prophets and women together to show how unruly worship services had become in Corinth. Your interpretation cannot be ruled out; nevertheless, just know that my post was not dismissing this idea, but simply entertaining D.A. Carson's proposal and then dismissing it via sound evidence.

    Thanks again for your comment. I'm sure some of my readers may have had questions about this. Please feel free to write and comment again.

  3. Hi Deidre,
    First of all, I want to apologize if my English is not very good. My name is Yolanda, and I am from Spain, so English is not my native language.
    I have read with great interest several of your posts, and I want to thank you very much for everything I have learned so far. I am afraid I don't have as much knowledge as you have, and that is why I would like to ask you something that bothers me. It may be something stupid, but I won't know it until someone tells me!
    When Paul says that women should keep silent, since he goes on and says that they should ask their husbands at home, could it be that he is referring to 'wives' and not to women in general? Because when he says that 'that is what the law says', I think he is referring to wives being submitted to their husbands, since there is no law to my knowledge that forbids a woman from speaking.
    Well, as I said, it may be a stupid cuestion, but I would appreciate it very much if you could answer it.
    Again, thank you very much for sharing so much information and God bless you!

    1. Yolanda,

      Thanks so much for writing me here at Men and Women in the Church. You are welcome to the blog, regardless of language barriers. You are my sister in Christ in Spain; praise the Lord that this post found its way to your reading!

      Your question is anything BUT silly! It is fitting one, indeed. I agree: Paul is talking to wives here, not single women in general. Single women do not have husbands, since they are single (or without a mate).

      Your question, though, brings up a point that is often overlooked on this passage. Many times in the churches of God today, the statements made about married women are automatically applied to single women. This is not the case; in fact, Paul refers to "husbands" here, not "fathers" -- which may have been a more generic way of pointing to male authority figures for both single and married women.

      This argument is one that has some merit, but it does not do justice to Paul's treatment of single vs. married women. Even when you look at 1 Cor. 11 and 14, you will find that the writer refers to married women. We know this because he uses words in 1 Cor. 11 such as "authority on her head," "the woman was made for the man" (which takes the first marriage in Genesis and uses its language here), and so on. In 1 Corinthians 14, it is wives to whom Paul writes -- not unmarried women.

      Churches have not made this distinction (single vs. married), and have done a disservice to single women who are called by God to serve Him as apostles, pastors, teachers, and so on. You are right to make the distinction. Complementarians cannot stand to make this distinction, since, in doing so, they must acknowledge that a subset of the female gender can talk in the assembly. I think that both unmarried and married women can talk publicly, but Paul wanted these women to not disrupt the services going on. As long as a woman is not talking out of turn or disrupting service, she can talk and still fulfill the words of 1 Cor. 14.

      Thanks so much for writing, and I am honored that you would visit the blog. Please feel free to come again. May the Lord bless you and keep you.


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