Rhetorical Questions

#9 in response to

Rhetorical Questions

[ “Is this command that the women should be silent a directive from Paul for the church, or is it a custom that Paul is really condemning as improper for the body of Christ? Is Paul commending and promoting this practice, or is he refuting and rejecting it?

This question arises from the two rhetorical questions that follow the injunction to silence.

“What? did the word of God originate with you?

What! are you the only people it has reached?” (1 Cor. 14:34-36)

“Paul often uses rhetorical questions. It’s a familiar teaching technique. . . .

Paul uses this technique to demonstrate the falseness of an idea. The rhetorical question reinforces the rejection of the idea under discussion. The answers to the rhetorical questions are obvious. . . .

These rhetorical questions are often used with a small Greek word[1] that expresses disassociation or rejection. Paul introduces both of his questions following the silence injunction with this word. . . .

Below I have given some examples of Paul’s use of this technique of

  • rhetorical questions,
  • introduced by the Greek disjunctive particle,
  • and followed by a summary of the truth . . .

All of these examples are from the book of 1 Corinthians.

  • Paul rejects and refutes the practice of believers idolizing various Christian leaders and thus causing division in the church. . . . (1 Cor. l:12–13, 17)
  • Paul rejects and refutes the practice of believers solving their quarrels by suing each other in civil courts. . . . (1 Cor. 6:1–3, 7–9, 11)
  • Paul rejects and refutes the idea that sexual sin hurts no one: what you do with your own body is your own business, nobody else’s.[2] . . . (1 Cor. 6:15–20)
  • Paul rejects and refutes the idea that it is wrong for him to receive support or money for his work for the gospel. . . . (1 Cor. 9:3–12)
  • Paul rejects and refutes the practice of eating meat offered to idols or participating in idol feasts. . . . (1 Cor. 10:20–22)
  • Paul rejects and refutes the practice of making the Lord’s supper a selfish pleasure feast. . . . (1 Cor. 11:20–22) . . . (1 Cor. 11:26–34)
  • Paul rejects and refutes the idea that women must be silent in the church because their participation is disgraceful. . . . (1 Cor. 14:33–40)

The two rhetorical questions which follow the idea that women should be silent verge on the sarcastic. “Did the word of God originate with you? Are you the only people it has reached?” Today we might have said, “Do you have some special revelation from God? Are you the only people God speaks to?”

The obvious answer is “No!” The word of God did not originate with the Corinthians. The Corinthians were not the only people to receive God’s Word. Far from it. God’s revelation comes to all believers, and it is the same revelation for all believers. The Corinthians had only recently received the gospel. Paul makes it clear in the following verses 37–38 that the Corinthians are the learners here and should humbly accept what Paul is teaching. . . .

  • The nature of the rhetorical questions Paul asks the Corinthians in verse 36,
  • the obvious answer to these questions,
  • Paul’s remarks to those who consider themselves to be spiritually gifted,
  • and his summary statement

all build to show Paul’s rejection of the idea that comes before the questions. “]

(from The Full Rights of Sons, Chapter 13 – Must She be Silent, 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 )

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[1] ἢ (ē). I first read of this Greek word in Beyond Sex Roles by Gilbert Bilezikian (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, l985), l51.

[2] It is interesting to note that some translators disagree about when to use quotation marks to indicate that Paul is quoting an idea from another source. In 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23, Paul quotes a saying that was evidently commonly known to the Corinthians. Paul then goes on to modify and clarify its meaning as applied to the Christian life. Yet the translators disagree as to whether this idea should be written in quotation marks or not. The NIV puts the phrase “Everything is permissible” inside quotation marks to show clearly that Paul is quoting someone else. But the KJV and the NASB do not use quotation marks for this phrase.

The original Greek language evidently does not make it explicitly clear, through some sort of punctuation as in English, when Paul is quoting another source. Consequently, it must be deduced from the context whether Paul is quoting an external idea he himself did not originate or stating his own idea.

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