Women Prophets in Corinthians

Christine Dalessio

Women in the bible were generally regarded as mere wives and mothers. They were subject to the whims of their husbands, and most of the time the law justified the husbands actions. In church, women were forbidden to speak. If they wished to say something, they had to ask their husbands in private. They also had to keep their heads covered as a sign of subservience. There were a few women, however, who broke this stereotype. They were members of the Corinthian church. These women prophesied and had rights that women didn't have in other churches. The book of Corinthians goes into perhaps the most detail about these women.

The Corinth church was probably a charismatic community. Prophecy was commonplace, just as speaking in tongues was. Therefore, it was more common for women to prophesy in that church than in any other.

The first key to the fact that women had a role in the Corinth church is that they are referred to as 'sisters' (Wire 102). Men who have some influence in the church were often called brothers, so by calling women sisters, it is implied that they also had influence. Corinthians 3.1 is an example of this. "And so, brothers and sister, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ."

Women in the Corinth church are also allowed to eat at tables with the men. This was unheard of in other churches. This could show that the women were either guests, or merely women who were exercising their right to eat everything without fear (Wire 104). "The women prophets' behavior at the community's own meal and its meaning to them in particular is not specified in Paul's letter" (Wire 105).

"The self-understanding underlying the women prophets' conduct in eating is reflected in the way Paul tries to persuade the Corinthians about sacrificed meat and the Lord's meal" (Wire 110). This means that the women prophets' ate sacrificial meat as a way of stating that there is only one god. This could be a reason why they were allowed to eat at the tables with the men of the communities.

"For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (Bible, 1 Corinthians 12.13). This statement implicates that women in the Corinthian church were allowed to pray and prophesy along with men. In this argument Paul is also stating that he plans to shape the Corinthians self-understanding, priorities, and behavior (Wire 135).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul drops any reference to male or female. This indicates that both men and women prophesy, as well as use other gifts, like speaking in tongues (Wire 137). In most of the other books of the bible, statements about prophets and other spiritual leaders usually use a gender label, and most of the time, this label is "male."

Further proof that there were women prophets in the Corinthian church are the following lines from 1 Corinthians: "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. (As in all the churches of the saints women should be silent in the churches)" (Bible, 1 Corinthians 14.32-34). Here Paul is warning the prophets not to speak too much. The next sentence is used to reinforce the warning by talking to women, telling them directly to be silent. So, therefore, the first sentence must also be referring to women (Wire 154).

"The women prophets of Corinth are probably not a self-conscious band of three or eight or even fifteen, but are the women at large as the spirit moves them to prophecy. This does not make it a misnomer to call them 'women prophets' rather than 'prophesying women,' since the same freedom of the spirit to speak through many voices it assumed among men and Paul speaks of all with this gift interchangeably as 'prophets' and 'those who prophesy'" (Wire 156). Here Wire is saying that Paul, and others of the Corinthian church accepted the women prophets, much as they would accept a male prophet. It also goes to show that there were many women who felt that God spoke to them, and they weren't afraid to talk about it.

While it may be true that women weren't regarded highly in the Catholic church, it is apparent that God didn't totally disregard them. The charismatic religions, such as Corinthians, allowed women to prophesy. Women had just as much of a right as men did to share in the glory of the Lord.

True, many religions disregard charismatic prophets as true prophets, but they firmly believe that God speaks to them. They love God so much that they believe he speaks to them on a regular basis. Charismatic women prophets were not harming anyone with their prophecies, even though they might have been considered less worthy to speak to God then men were. They were brave women, who loved God enough to risk persecution so that they could speak his word.

Works Cited

The HarperCollins Study Bible. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989.

Wire, Antoinette Clark. The Corinthian Women Prophets: A Reconstruction Through Paul's Rhetoric. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

December 6, 1995
prepared for Intro. to the Old Testament
by Christine Dalessio DalessiC@albsun3.alb.edu