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Columns Pondering with God's Word

Women’s voices at the global synod


Recently, Pope Francis stated that the lay and religious women present at the “universal Church” stage of the Global Synod will be voting; in other words women will have a voice in that Church assembly. Many women and men have greeted this as a welcome development in Church decision making, while others are vocally opposed to hearing women’s voices and/or honoring their votes. These opponents cite St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians which reads, in part, “women should be silent in the churches” (14:30)

Catholics may not be familiar with this verse since it is not in the Sunday Lectionary selections. The passage reads: “As in all the churches of the holy ones, women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the church. Did the word of God go forth from you? Or has it come to you alone? (14:33-35) .

A study of the passage yields difficulties with these verses. There are manuscript problems with the placement of the passage. This bolsters the argument that this was not Paul’s thinking, but a later addition. Moreover, a ruling against women speaking in community assemblies contradicted Paul himself who earlier in the letter stated that women must cover their heads when they prophesy (11:7), that is speak. Also, when fact-checking the argument “even as the law says,” one finds that no such law existed.

A compelling counter-argument comes from a closer look at the translation of the Greek text.   Importantly, I included “(omission)” in the text above. This represents a Greek letter used in oral and written argumentation to negate what came before. Moreover, “you alone” is masculine, and earlier in this letter Paul cited slogans and then refuted them. All of this leads to the conclusion that Paul or another was countering slogans from someone or a group within the community. One can easily imagine a group of Christians (men?) arguing, slinging out one slogan after another.

Paul asked those seeking to silence the women, “Are you the only ones to whom the word of God has come?” Finally, what is translated as “churches” is the Greek for “assemblies” so one can apply this argument to the coming Global Synod as well. The decision of Pope Francis echoes the decision of St. Paul.