Origen on 1 Corinthians 14.33-35 (part 1: the Montanists)

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origenPhilip Payne ended his 2008 New Testament Studies article, ‘1 Tim 2.12 and the Use of ουδε to Combine Two Elements to Express a Single Idea’, with the remarkable claim that 1 Timothy 2.12 ‘simply prohibits women from assuming for themselves authority to teach men.’ In an update, ‘Οὐδὲ Combining Two Elements to Convey a Single Idea and 1 Timothy 2.12: Further Insights’, published last year in ‘Missing Voices’ (Christians for Biblical Equality, 2014) 24-34, he upped the ante somewhat by putting forward the same idea, apparently in all seriousness, in the form of a translation in quotation marks. Payne’s 2014 article begins:

The following study argues that in the ongoing crisis of false teaching in Ephesus, Paul writes, “I am not permitting a woman to seize authority to teach a man.” (Payne, 2014, 24)

The Greek text of the whole verse reads:

διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός, ἀλλ’ εἶναι ἐν ἡσυχίᾳ.

which should be translated along the lines of:

I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in quietness.

As is well known, the exact meaning of αὑθεντεῖν is less than certain, so alternative renderings of this word are possible, but the basic structure of the sentence is certain, or should be.

Even though Payne’s entire theory is based upon an analysis of Paul’s use of οὐδέ as a coordinating conjunction, he abandons coordinate construction in his translation, and seems to make διδάσκειν an infinitive complement of αὐθεντεῖν. It will be noted that the negative conjunction οὐδέ, which is supposedly the main focus of his study, does not have an English equivalent in his translation at all.

One of the most remarkable things about Payne’s NTS study on οὐδέ in 1 Timothy 2.12 is that he never gives a dictionary definition of the word. All the Greek lexicons agree that the word means ‘nor’, or ‘and not’, and all the Greek grammars agree that when used as a coordinating conjunction, οὐδέ simply adds one negative to a previous one. Paul does not allow women to teach, and he does not allow them to exercise authority over men. It’s that simple.

According to Philip Payne, on the other hand, Paul did allow women to teach in the church of Jesus Christ, and he did allow them to exercise authority over men. What he did not allow, according to Payne, was the specific act of a woman seizing authority to teach a man. The mind boggles somewhat as to the kind of circumstances Paul was supposedly envisaging. Were women coming to the front and throwing men out of the seat of teaching, and taking over? Is this a plausible scenario? No matter, I want to deal in this series of posts with Origen, who cited 1 Timothy 2.12 in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14.34-35. In his 2014 Missing Voices article, Payne writes:

The earliest known commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12, Origen’s, treats it as a single prohibition. After quoting 2:12, Origen describes it as “concerning woman not becoming a ruler over man in speaking” ( περὶ τοῦ μὴ τὴν γυναῖκα ἡγεμόνα γίνεσθαι τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ ἀνδρός ). Origen’s use of “to become” ( γίνεσθαι ) implies entry into a position of authority over man. Origen in this context affirms Priscilla, Maximilla, the four daughters of Philip, Deborah, Miriam, Hulda and Anna, suggesting that he accepted teaching by women that was authorized.

Are these things true, or not? The only way to find out is to read what Origen wrote, in Greek, in the third century. The text was published by Claude Jenkins in 1909 as ‘Origen on 1 Corinthians, IV’, Journal of Theological Studies 10 (1909) 29-51, and can be viewed here, with the section on 14.34-5 on pages 41-2. There at least four translations of the passage, in whole or part, into English:

Judith L. Kovacs, 1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s, 2005) 239-240;

Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, tr. from the French by Jean Laporte and Mary Louise Hall (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1976) 28;

J Kevin Coyle, ‘The Fathers on Women and Women’s Ordination’ in Women in Early Christianity (ed. David M Scholer; New York: Garland, 1993) 139-40;

Thomas Oden & Gerald Bray, 1-2 Corinthians, in Series: Ancient Christian commentary on Scripture (Chicago: Fitzroy, 1999) 146.

Origen begins by quoting 1 Corinthians 14.34-35. The text is identical to the Hodges/Farstad Majority Text, apart from a moveable νῦ (nu), and apart from beginning the first sentence at the beginning of verse 34, rather than including the end of verse 33:

Αἱ γυναῖκες ὑμῶν ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν, οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὑποτάσσεσθαι, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει. εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν, ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν, αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστι γυναιξὶ ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ λαλεῖν.

Let your women keep silent in the assemblies, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, as the law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for women to speak in an assembly.

Origen comments:

Ὡς γὰρ πάντων λεγόντων καὶ δυναμένων λέγειν, ἐὰν ἀποκάλυψις αὐτοῖς γένηται, φησὶν Αἱ γυναῖκες ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν.

Realizing that all were speaking and had permission to speak if a revelation came to them (1 Cor 14:30), Paul says, The women should keep silence in the churches. [Kovacs]

The ‘realizing’ is added by Kovacs, but I think this is probably the right interpretation. Origen seems to be saying that since the ministry is not limited to a few in the assembly of the saints, Paul saw a need to confine the permission to speak to the men only. That this is what he meant will become more certain as we proceed:

ταύτης δὲ τῆς ἐντολῆς οὐκ ἦσαν οἱ τῶν γυναικῶν μαθηταί, οἱ μαθητευθέντες Πρισκίλλῃ καὶ Μαξιμίλλῃ, οὐ Χριστοῦ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς τῆς νύμφης.

Now the disciples of the women, who had become pupils of Priscilla and Maximilla, not of Christ the bridegroom (see Eph 5:31-32), did not heed this commandment. [Kovacs]

Origen speaks of men who were disciples (μαθηταί) of ‘the women’, referring presumably to Priscilla and Maximilla by whom they were discipled (μαθητευθέντες). Priscilla and Maximilla are known to us as the leaders, along with Montanus, of what we call the Montanist movement, of which one of the leading characteristics was prophetic utterance from the mouths of these three, as well as others.

Origen says of these men, firstly, that they ‘were not of this commandment’ (ταύτης δὲ τῆς ἐντολῆς οὐκ ἦσαν) of Paul, in other words that they did not heed it. He is saying that their church practice was contrary to the apostolic tradition. Secondly, and even more seriously, he says that they were disciples of these two women, and not of Christ, the Bridegroom (ὁ ἀνὴρ τῆς νύμφης), with the implication that Priscilla and Maximilla drew men to themselves and away from the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Whether or not Origen is correct in what he says is not at issue here. My impression is that the Montanist movement started well, but went astray later.)

So now let us return to Philip Payne’s statement, quoted above, that Origen here ‘affirms’ Priscilla and Maximilla. Is this true? He made the same claim in his 2008 article in the (peer-reviewed) Journal of New Testament Studies (at p. 246): ‘Origen in this context affirms Priscilla, Maximilla….’ But no, it is not true, so far as I can see. Origen effectively denounced them in the strongest possible terms, as women who led men away from obedience and service to Jesus.


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