Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Calvin on women prophesying

The Bayly blog has done a great job of putting together Calvin's commentary on 1 Corinthians 11 and headcoverings. I especially recommend that you read the comments here and here. Tim Bayly writes,
    Still, I must admit I've been wholly unsuccessful in getting anyone to read Calvin's doctrine of headcoverings, despite repeated attempts. So now, here is a compilation of Calvin's doctrine considerably shortened from what was put into the prior post. I do hope you'll all take the time to read this condensed version. There's really no substitude for Calvin's explanation of Scripture in any place, let alone one of the most controverted texts and themes in all of Scripture.... (sic)
While you can read a longer selection here, I found the following passages particularly interesting, not to mention problematic. (Calvin's Commentaries)
    Every woman praying or prophesying. Here we have the second proposition — that women ought to have their heads covered when they pray or prophesy; otherwise they dishonor their head. For as the man honors his head by showing his liberty, so the woman, by showing her subjection. Hence, on the other hand, if the woman uncovers her head, she shakes off subjection — involving contempt of her husband.

    It may seem, however, to be superfluous for Paul to forbid the woman to prophesy with her head uncovered, while elsewhere he wholly prohibits women from speaking in the Church. (1Timothy 2:12.) It would not, therefore, be allowable for them to prophesy even with a covering upon their head, and hence it follows that it is to no purpose that he argues here as to a covering.

    It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1Corinthians 14.

    In this reply there is nothing amiss, though at the same time it might suit sufficiently well to say, that the Apostle requires women to show their modesty — not merely in a place in which the whole Church is assembled, but also in any more dignified assembly, either of matrons or of men, such as are sometimes convened in private houses.
I have no interest in vilifying Calvin but we have to be realistic about the fallible nature of exegesis and its limitations in communicating the wisdom of God to humanity. The good thing about Calvin, from my perspective, is that he brought a high level of literacy to the population of Geneva and I have benefitted personally from that heritage.


DL said...

I take Calvin to be saying something like this: "In this text, the apostle points out that if one is going to murder, it shouldn't be with an axe. But the apostle will later forbid murdering altogether. It's really not total nonsense for the apostle to write this way, even though it sounds like it."

Donald Johnson said...

Thank goodness I am not a Calvinist. Does this mean Calvinists believe such things?

believer333 said...

This is pretty amazing.....

"Hence, as regards spiritual connection in the sight of God, and inwardly in the conscience, Christ is the head of the man and of the woman without any distinction, because, as to that, there is no regard paid to male or female; but as regards external arrangement and political decorum, the man follows Christ and the woman the man, so that they are not upon the same footing, but, on the contrary, this inequality exists."

Huge contradiction here. Doubt the Bayley brothers will see it though. In one breath Calvin claims woman is directly in the sight of God and inwardly she is connected to Him directly. Yet, he then says that in 'real life arrangements' the woman lives inequally following the man in everything. Thus her inward connection to God doesn't matter in the economy of life for she must follow her husband and not God's impressions upon her inward person.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


You have a way with words. That is what Calvin seems to be saying. At some point we have to deal with the fact that, as written, the text sometimes lacks clarity or at least, straightforwardness.

Don & B333,

I doubt that all Calvinists have read all of Calvin. :-)

Paul said...

I think the real issue for all is did Paul knowingly write his instructions for all cultures and all ages or do we decide what is appropriate for our times?

Lin said...

But we have women praying and prophesying in other NT venues.

Calvin's exegsis is tortured and has Paul, Inspired by the HOly Spirit, contradicting himself by assuming women are prophesying and not telling them it is wrong, covered or uncovered.

Darby, seriously? In other words:
Don't murder but if you do it is worse if you use an ax?

Kristen said...

Lin said: "In other words:
Don't murder but if you do it is worse if you use an ax?"

That would indeed appear to be equivalent to what Calvin says Paul meant: "Women, don't prophesy or even speak-- but if you do, it is worse if your head is uncovered."

Amazing that the learned Calvin couldn't see the obvious flaws in thinking Paul was actually saying this.

Janelle said...