Given that at least identifiable fragments of this passage are present in the text of two early papyrus manuscripts, and that it's even present in both the favoured mss of Westcott and Hort--which leave out hundreds of phrases, whole verses, and passages of several verses--it's extremely difficult for anyone to imagine how it could have originally been absent from the text of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. And yet this very notion is a growing belief among textual critics: that a church which had grown and flourished for over a century would gradually accept such a tradition-altering passage into their Bibles.
Anyone who hypothesises that this passage is an interpolation has to account for two things: firstly, how it got into the text following verse 33, and secondly, how it got into the text following verse 40. These are two separate processes, which are typically joined to the single hypothesis that it started out as a marginal note. Depending on when they believe the note was first penned, additional hypotheses will be needed to explain why, when the note left the margin, it found its way into the text of every single surviving copy.
Given the textual and historical evidence, there are at least three possible theories to account for the presence of this passage as interpolated into the text of First Corinthians chapter 14:
1. After having penned First Corinthians, Paul went back over it and added this comment as an explanatory note in the margin--much as do people today who pen letters on lined paper. When Paul's Epistles were collected into a single book, the marginal note was left out, perhaps because the same ground was already covered by 1 Timothy 2:12. This archetype was the source of the hypothesized manuscripts that didn't contain the passage, including those read by the long list of early patristic writers who don't appear to have commented on it. From the autograph, some copies got the note inserted into the text after v. 33, from which descended all but 3 extant Greek copies, and some got the note inserted after v. 40, from which descended most of the Latin copies and GA-915. Any other copies made directly from the autograph have gone extinct, although a slight trace remains in the text of Greek minuscule 88 and the margins of Codex Vaticanus and the Latin Codex Fuldensis.
2. The editor who compiled Paul's epistles into the archetype of the non-Latin manuscripts added the interpolation, probably first as a marginal note to synchronise 1 Corinthians 14 with 1 Timothy 2. Some subsequent copyists moved the marginal note into the text of the manuscript from which descended most copies extant today. Another editor moved it into the text of the archetype of the Latin family of manuscripts, but at a location slightly farther down the page. At least one Greek manuscript, along with one Latin manuscript, was copied from an exemplar that lacked the note in the text: once with the shortened version in the text, the other with it in the margin.
3. The interpolation began as a marginal note in a Latin manuscript, and was subsequently translated into Greek for the Greek side of several different diglots--resulting in the variety of readings. It was separately moved into the text in the Latin stream following v. 40, and in the Greek stream following v. 33. Although widely used by Christians in the late second century, manuscripts without the interpolation were suppressed and eliminated from the transmission stream by church leaders who felt a need to keep women in their place. Part of this process was the destruction of all manuscripts that had the note from the margin but not in the text.
All of these theories have serious problems. The main problem is that of all the controversial passages we've studied--in which some Greek manuscripts contain them and some omit them--we can go back to the patristic writers and see signs of the same controversy raging as far back in history as our oldest collection of the entire New Testament reaches--around the dawn of the 5th century. Any writer who advocated inclusion of one of these passages would nonetheless concede that many scribes left it out. But when we look for a textual discussion of this passage, we find it entirely wanting, though we find at least ten citations of it in the patristic writings, from Origen to Augustine. What we find instead is that every writer either failed to take note of this prohibition, or cited it as being fully authoritative Scripture, whether he was able to easily make sense of it or not.
Tertullian, writing sometime around the turn of the 3rd century, referred to this passage in the context of expounding on First Corinthians 11-14. Although clearly uncomfortable with it, he nonetheless feels duty bound to quote it as Scripture.
Against Marcion Book 5 Chapter 8:
on the subject of the superiority of love above all these gifts, He even taught the apostle that it was the chief commandment, just as Christ has shown it to be: “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thine heart and soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thine own self.” When he mentions the fact that “it is written in the law,” how that the Creator would speak with other tongues and other lips [v.21], whilst confirming indeed the gift of tongues by such a mention, he yet cannot be thought to have affirmed that the gift was that of another god by his reference to the Creator’s prediction. In precisely the same manner, when enjoining on women silence in the church [v.34a], that they speak not for the mere sake of learning [v.35a] (although that even they have the right of prophesying, he has already shown when he covers the woman that prophesies with a veil [ch. 11]), he goes to the law for his sanction that woman should be under obedience [v.34b]. Now this law, let me say once for all, he ought to have made no other acquaintance with, than to destroy it. But that we may now leave the subject. . .It's apparent that knowledge of this passage coloured his interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:12, to which he appears to allude in chapter 9 of On the Veiling of Virgins:
It is not permitted to the woman to speak in the church, nor to teach, to baptize, to present, nor to pretend to any kind of function reserved to man, to say nothing of the priesthood.In On Baptism 15.17, he joins the prohibitions against speaking out and leading in a single paragraph:
For how credible would it seem, that he who has not permitted a woman even to learn with over-boldness, should give a female the power of teaching and of baptizing! "Let them be silent [v.34a]," he says, "and at home consult their own husbands [v.35a]."Writing a few decades after Tertullian, Cyprian quoted the two passages together in his Testimonies, leaving out the awkward latter parts of verses 34 and 35:
In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: “Let women be silent in the church [v.34a]. But if any wish to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home [v.35a].” Also to Timothy: “Let a woman learn with silence, in all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to be set over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve; and Adam was not seduced, but the woman was seduced [1 Timothy 2:11-14].”Origen, at about the same time, wrote a commentary on this passage, affirming the need for women--even prophetesses--to keep silent in the assembly, contra the Montanists, of whom Tertullian himself was one for part of his career.
Everyone speaks or would be able to speak, if he receives a revelation, except women who should remain silent in the church, the Apostle says [v.34a].Had there been any textual question on the validity of this passage, it would have been very characteristic of him to affirm that it was present in the best manuscripts. He didn't even so much at hint, however, that it was absent from any.
So it really doesn't matter whether the early church leaders were reading this passage after v. 33 of 1 Corinthians 14, or after v. 40. Either way, they read it as Scripture, even if embarrassment over certain of its wording kept them from quoting it in full.
And less we think that the Bibles of any of these patristic writers lacked these embarrassing sections, we have the testimony of a fourth-century Latin known as Ambrosiaster, in his magnum opus Commentaries on Paul:
Because sin began with her, she must wear this sign [ch.11]; as she may not let her head remain uncovered in the church out of reverence for the bishop, so too she should have no power to speak; for the bishop assumes the place of Christ . . . . Now he states that which he passed over, when he commanded that the women should veil themselves in the congregational assembly [ch. 11]; now he shows that she should be silent and reticent. . . . For if the man is the image of God but the woman is not, she is on the basis of the law of nature subordinate to him [v.34b]. How much more must she be subordinate in the church on account of the reverence for him who is the ambassador of him who is also the head of the man: For they are not allowed to speak, but must be silent, even the law says[v. 34b]. What does the law say? "You should turn to your husband, he will rule over you." This is a special law; because of it Sarah called her husband Abraham "Lord," and because of it they should be silent. . . . If she also is one flesh, she should, moreover, be subordinate for two reasons: first because she came from the man, and then because through her sin came. . . . "For it is shameful for women to speak in church [v. 35b]." It is shameful because it is contrary to discipline that in the house of God, who has commanded that they be subordinate to their husbands, they should presume to speak on the law . . . . But as the heretics appear to base their reasoning on the words rather than on the meaning of the law, the words of the apostle strive against the meaning of the apostle; thus, although he commands that woman shall be silent in the church, they on the contrary claim for her an authority of ministry in the church.Again, it isn't apparent where in his copy of 1 Corinthians that this author found the passage in question. Given that he was a Latin, it almost certainly had to be at the end of chapter 14, but he considers it more in the context of chapter 11, or even 1 Timothy 2, than of chapter 14 of First Corinthians.
Ambrose, the 4th-century Bishop of Milan, tied the silence of women into the paradox that news of the resurrection was first given to women to pass on to the apostles:
And if she is also still not a witness of perfect faith, she is nevertheless sent as a messenger to the disciples. Nevertheless she is forbidden to touch Jesus because she had not yet comprehended, as Paul had, that in Jesus the fullness of divinity dwelled incarnate. . . . What does it mean: don’t touch me? Do not lay hands on the greater, but go to my brothers, that is to the more perfect — for he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is brother, sister and mother to me. Because the resurrection can be comprehended only by the more perfect, the prerogative of this faith is also reserved for those who already have a more established position. I therefore do not permit the women to teach in the congregational assembly; they should ask their husbands at home[v.35a]. She is therefore sent to husbands and receives mandatory tasks.One more patristic author must be quoted before we can fix the location of this passage in its exact context: Chrysostom, who wrote a commentary on First Corinthians in the latter part of the 4th century.
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak [v.34a]; but let them be in subjection, as also says the law [v.34b].”“For it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church [v.35b].”
Having abated the disturbance both from the tongues and from the prophesyings; and having made a law to prevent confusion, that they who speak with tongues should do this in turn, and that they who prophesy should be silent when another begins; he next in course proceeds to the disorder which arose from the women, cutting off their unseasonable boldness of speech: and that very opportunely. For if to them that have the gifts it is not permitted to speak inconsiderately, nor when they will, and this, though they be moved by the Spirit; much less to those women who prate idly and to no purpose. Therefore he represses their babbling with much authority, and taking the law along with him, thus he sews up their mouths; not simply exhorting here or giving counsel, but even laying his commands on them vehemently, by the recitation of an ancient law on that subject. For having said, “Let your women keep silence in the churches;” and “it is not permitted unto them to speak, but let them be in subjection;” he added, “as also says the law.” And where does the law say this? “Your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Do you see the wisdom of Paul, what kind of testimony he adduced, one that not only enjoins on them silence, but silence too with fear; and with as great fear as that wherewith a maid servant ought to keep herself quiet. Wherefore also having himself said, “it is not permitted unto them to speak,” he added not, “but to be silent,” but instead of “to be silent,” he set down what is more, to wit, “them being in subjection.” And if this be so in respect of husbands, much more in respect of teachers, and fathers, and the general assembly of the Church. “But if they are not even to speak,” says one, “nor ask a question, to what end are they to be present?” That they may hear what they ought; but the points which are questioned let them learn at home from their husbands. Wherefore also he added,
“And if they would learn any thing, let them ask their own husbands at home [v.35a].”
Thus, “not only, as it seems, are they not allowed to speak,” says he, “at random, but not even to ask any question in the church.” Now if they ought not to ask questions, much more is their speaking at pleasure contrary to law. And what may be the cause of his setting them under so great subjection? Because the woman is in some sort a weaker being and easily carried away and light minded. Here you see why he set over them their husbands as teachers, for the benefit of both. For so he both rendered the women orderly, and the husbands he made anxious, as having to deliver to their wives very exactly what they heard.
Further, because they supposed this to be an ornament to them, I mean their speaking in public; again he brings round the discourse to the opposite point, saying,
That is, first he made this out from the law of God, then from common reason and our received custom; even when he was discoursing with the women about long hair, he said, “Does not even nature herself teach you?” And everywhere you may find this to be his manner, not only from the divine Scriptures, but also from the common custom, to put them to shame.We can see a bit of progression, first of commenting on Paul's poor choice of words, then admitting the difficulty of the passage but nonetheless accepting it as Scripture, and finally preaching it without reservation in its entire context. All this before the end of the fourth century--and the manuscripts we have that cast doubt on this passage are from the fourth, sixth, and eleventh centuries. Were this passage still in the process of dominating the transmission stream from the second to the fourth centuries, it is inconceivable that no one commenting on the difficulty of applying it would bring up the question of the alleged spurious nature of the passage. Even in repeated disputes with heretics on the topic of women's role in the church, the textual question never even came up. There is every indication that at this passage, the heretics' Bibles read the same as those of the orthodox. So, from Church History we get
2. But besides these things, he also shames them by consideration of what all agreed on, and what was every where prescribed; which topic also here he has set down, saying,
“What? Was it from you that the word of God went forth? Or came it unto you alone [v.36]?”
Thus he brings in the other Churches also as holding this law, both abating the disturbance by consideration of the novelty of the thing, and by the general voice making his saying acceptable. Wherefore also elsewhere he said, “Who shall put you in remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in all the Churches.” And again, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace, as in all the Churches of the saints.” And here, “What? Was it from you that the word of God went forth? Or came it unto you alone?” i.e., “neither first, nor alone are you believers, but the whole world. ”Which also writing to the Colossians he said, “even as it is bearing fruit and increasing in all the world,” speaking of the Gospel.”
. . .
Do you see by how many arguments he put them to shame? He introduced the law, he signified the shamefulness of the thing, he brought forward the other Churches.
ANSWER #2: NO, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is NOT an interpolation, because several outstanding patristic writers of the second to fourth centuries, including one who made extensive textual comments on other passages, quoted it as indisputably authoritative Scripture.