In his comment about 1 Corinthians 14: 33-35 MacArthur says the principle in force here is universal, not cultural:
women should keep silent in the churches. The principle of women not speaking in church services is universal; this applies to all the churches, not just locally, geographically, or culturally. The context in this verse concerns prophecy, but includes the general theme of the chapter, i.e., tongues. Rather than leading, they are to be submissive as God’s word makes clear (see notes on 11:3–15; Gen. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:11–15). It is not coincidental that many modern churches that have tongues-speaking and claim gifts of healings and miracles also permit women to lead worship, preach, and teach. Women may be gifted teachers, but they are not permitted by God “to speak” in churches. In fact, for them to do so is “shameful,” meaning “disgraceful.” Apparently, certain women were out of order in disruptively asking questions publicly in the chaotic services.I agree more or less with Dr. MacArthur. There is nothing in this passage when read in context that would imply that this was a unique situation to Corinth and that it would not be applied to the church universally for all time. We may not like it, we may have questions about how specifically it should be applied but there is nothing to imply that it says anything other than what it says.
Yet in his comment on 1 Corinthians 11: 5 he has a completely different take and now appeals to the culture of the time, something Paul doesn’t mention at all and in fact Paul actually appeals to the universal themes of gender relations.
uncovered. In the culture of Corinth, a woman’s covered head while ministering or worshiping was a symbol to signify a subordinate relationship to her husband. The apostle is not laying down an absolute law for women to wear veils or coverings in all churches for all time, but is declaring that the symbols of the divinely established male and female roles are to be genuinely honored in every culture. As in the case of meat offered to idols (1 Cor. 8–9), there is nothing spiritual about wearing or not wearing a covering. But manifesting rebellion against God’s order was wrong.Two passages separated by a few manmade chapter numbers that deal with the same basic issue. In one we see an appeal to universal principles. In another we see a dismissal based on cultural norms.
My purpose here is not to debate headcovering (I am for it) or male leadership in the church (also for it). It is instead to look at how easy it is to interpret Scripture based on presuppositions. As a Baptist, Dr. Macarthur is predisposed to male headship. Likewise he is just as predisposed to dismiss headcovering. However I find his interpretation of these two passages to be inconsistently applied. He seems willing to bring culture in when it suits and to dismiss the same when it doesn’t suit his point. He is hardly alone in this and this is not unique. I made the same argument regarding headcovering and the Lords Supper and our inconsistent interpretation.
It is hard to see our own blindspots and predispositions when interpreting the Bible. That is why trying to be consistent is so important. Consistency forces us to treat Scripture the same. Of course we still recognize and interpret based on literary forms, i.e. one would interpret Revelation differently than Acts but especially when in the same basic literary form it is vital to apply consistent principles to how we read and interpret Scripture. Otherwise we find ourselves trying to fit Scripture into our presuppositions instead of testing our presuppositions against the Bible.