Should women be silent in church services?

The women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

-1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Introduction

Do these verses mean that all women are not allowed to speak in church for all time, or is Paul telling some particular women, in a particular circumstance to not speak? Before we begin, let me dismiss one possible argument. And that would be to say that Paul was wrong. I am going to assume that Paul was writing scripture, inspired by God. And I believe that scripture interprets scripture and that a text must be interpreted within it’s context. We want to figure out what the text meant to the original readers and then carefully figure out what the text means for us today by using scripture to interpret scripture.

Paul was writing to a church that practiced or exercised spiritual gifts in their church meetings. Perhaps today’s Christians might say one of these three things:

  1. “Yes, I am familiar with that. I am or have been in a church where the gifts are practiced openly and I can see how there can be problems like what Paul addressed the Corinthians about.”
  2. “No, I am not familiar with this, but have heard about it; either negatively or positively from teachers or people I’ve known.”
  3. “I believe that spiritual gifts were only for the early church, when the Apostles were alive but not for today and that churches that operate in them are out of line; but I do believe that 1 Corinthians is scripture and we can be enriched by studying it.”

“I think many people are guilty of interpreting Bible verses in ways that make the verses agree with what they already believe, or with what they want to believe.”

-Marg Mowczko

We come to the scriptures with our experience and our beliefs that we project onto the text in how we interpret it. We might not understand that there is a context, because we can not imagine or believe in a church with ladies prophesying in the meeting. We might say, “I have never seen that”, or, “I don’t believe in that”, and be dismissive. We might miss the whole context, because it is not our experience. Or, we might dismiss the whole context because we are really biased against the charismatic or Pentecostal, Spirit-filled churches. These are not good descriptive terms though, because all Christians are charismatic and Spirit-filled.

1 Corinthians is addressing outward actions. Notice that Paul is not against the exercise of spiritual gifts in the church, but totally for it. Paul is giving instructions to bring order to disorder. The answer to spiritual gifts like prophecy and tongues in the church is not to forbid them or embrace a teaching that says they were only for the first century, but to practice them, “decently and in order.”

  1. “When you come together”: The context is the gathering of the church: church services.

1 Corinthians 11:17
Now in giving this instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.

1 Corinthians 11:18
For to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

1 Corinthians 11:20
When you come together, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.

1 Corinthians 11:33
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another.

1 Corinthians 14:23
If, therefore, the whole church assembles together and all are speaking in tongues and people who are outsiders or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds?

1 Corinthians 14:26 What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up.

  1. In this context (the church meeting), Paul allows for women to pray and prophesy:

1 Corinthians 11:5-13
Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman doesn’t cover her head, she should have her hair cut off. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her head be covered.

A man should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God. So too, woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman came from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, and all things come from God.

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

  1. At the inauguration of the church, women spoke, along with the men:

Acts 2:11-18

Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the magnificent acts of God in our own tongues.” They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But some sneered and said, “They’re drunk on new wine.”

Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “Fellow Jews and all you residents of Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and pay attention to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning. On the contrary, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

And it will be in the last days, says God,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all people;
then your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will dream dreams.
I will even pour out my Spirit
on my servants in those days, both men and women
and they will prophesy
.

Daughters and women will prophesy in the last days, which is in Acts 2 through today, until the second coming of Christ.

  1. Was Paul’s injunction for women to be silent related the the problems that he was addressing among the Corinthians, regarding their exercising spiritual gifts in the church service?

1 Corinthians 14:26-36
What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, there are to be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.


As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?

The silencing of women here is qualified to an out of hand situation at Corinth, with the weighing of prophecies in the church meeting.

The context here is speaking in the weighing or discussion of prophecies.

Paul has just encouraged women to pray and prophesy, but them commands them to be silent. If scripture interprets scripture, then the injunction to silence is qualified. Under certain circumstances or in a certain part of the church service in Corinth, the women are to hush. But at other times, in the service, and under different circumstances, women are encouraged and allowed to speak to the congregation.

In the Greek world, pagan prophets would operate through question and answer, much like someone who goes to a psychic today. This is not how the spiritual gift of prophesy operates. Weighing of prophecies out loud might have devolved into a question and answer session between prophets or would-be prophets. And we can only speculate that the women were doing this and earned Paul’s rebuke.

  1. Is an interpretive key God’s order?

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, there are to be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If anyone ignores this, he will be ignored. So then, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything is to be done decently and in order.

This section opens with Paul describing the chaos of the Corinthian church services:

What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.

Every person having something to minister is too much, too chaotic. The phrase “What then” means “How then should things be done”, and the context is that he just discussed how chaotic it is when everyone speaks in tongues at the same time, but how being orderly in prophesy can be very beneficial:

If, therefore, the whole church assembles together and all are speaking in tongues and people who are outsiders or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all are prophesying and some unbeliever or outsider comes in, he is convicted by all and is called to account by all. The secrets of his heart will be revealed, and as a result he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, “God is really among you.”

Instead of everyone needing to minister in a variety of ways, Paul gives some instructions about orderliness.

Paul says that “each one” has something to say, when the Corinthians have church.

Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.

Paul says a better way is for only two or three people to speak in tongues and each have a gifted person interpret.

If anyone speaks in a tongue, there are to be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and let someone interpret.

Paul says that if there is no one present with the gift of interpretation, then do not give a message in tongues in church.

But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God.

Paul says two or three, maximum, prophets can speak their words, and the others can evaluate.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate.

Paul says that prophets should control themselves and stop talking and let another prophet speak, if that second person gets a revelation to share.

But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent.

Paul says that all can prophesy one by one and all can be encouraged.

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged.

Paul says that the gift of prophecy is not out of the control of the person, but they can start and stop their gift in orderliness, which comes from God.

And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints

Does the phrase, “As in all the churches of the saints”, belong to the word about, “the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace”, or to the following word about women being silent: “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says.”?

My Bible’s translators, the CSB, as well as the ESV, NASB, NRSV, ISV, and NET, have, “As in all the churches of the saints”, attached to the next word about women’s silence. But, the KJV, NIV, NKJV, and NLT, have, “As in all the churches of the saints”, attached to the former word about prophets and order: “And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”

I believe that the second set (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NLT) makes more sense. Here’s why: Paul says “in all the churches”, then about eight words later says, “in the churches”:

1 Corinthians 14:32-34
New Living Translation
Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.

Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.

1 Corinthians 14:32-34
New International Version
The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.

1 Corinthians 14:32-34
New King James Version
And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.

FF Bruce wrote:

“..the stylistic inelegance of in all the churches and in the churches coming so close together in one sentence,” 


1 Corinthians 14:32-34
Christian Standard Bible
And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says.

1 Corinthians 14:32-34
New American Standard Bible

and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.

1 Corinthians 14:32-34
English Standard Version

and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.

1 Corinthians 14:32-34
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised

And the spirits of 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. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.

Paul says, that in this context, women should be silent and submissive.

Since Paul had included women in the previous verses, his exclusion of women talking must be particular.

Paul says women must submit themselves. This must mean that women were being unsubmissive. Who were they being unsubmissive to?

Paul says that the law says women are to be submissive. What is Paul referring to?

Is Paul talking to women or wives?

Men and women are both called to be submissive to God and to one another.

Male leadership in the church stems from God’s created order.

Everyone can participate in the church meeting, but only the elders can rule and teach. This is something that all believers have to submit to.

All we know is that is a section or part of the church service, women in general, were not being submissive. To God, to others, or to the elders; we can’t be certain.

Paul called the women to silence which tells us that their speech was unsubmissive or out of order.

Certain talk was called into question and rebuked.

If Paul both says that women can pray and prophecy aloud, but also that, “it is disgraceful for women to speak in church”, he must be referring to particular speech; or talking, out of order.

Paul can not be giving a moratorium on women participating in the evaluation of prophecies, because that activity is open to “brothers and sisters”.

Women were saying things or asking questions out loud, too much perhaps; so much so that it got out of control and was unedifying for the whole church gathered.

While Q & A was encouraged in Jewish and Greek culture, what was frowned upon, was dumb questions. Questions that do not have the foundation of knowing some of the basics of the topic. It is better to just listen, if you don’t know anything. It is better to be tutored one on one or in a small group, than to ask a question in a larger setting, if you are not at all familiar with the basic knowledge of the topic.

Paul’s admonition for wives to ask their husbands questions at home is evidence of the particular moratorium on women’s speech in church, and it is actually a very progressive idea. The cultural notion was that women were inferior or incapable of learning and Paul actually gives a different idea or approach that says women are equally smart and capable of learning, but they by and large need catching up, from coming out of Jewish and pagan cultures where women just were not educated as men were.

The women Paul was calling upon to be silent were married women, who had husbands. This is what the context seems to tell us.

the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Were these women directing questions to other men, other than their own husbands? Paul says to these married women, “stop speaking and wait till you get home and ask your own husband”.

Paul says that these women (particular women, married women) should stay silent because orderly worship is the way of God in all the churches.

What law is Paul appealing to?

the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says.

Is it possible that Paul is referring to Roman law? Probably not.

Jewish tradition? Probably not.

Torah, or the Pentateuch is probably what Paul is referring to here.

Am I saying this from a human perspective? Doesn’t the law also say the same thing?

1 Corinthians 9:8

Is the reference to obeying the law mean Paul has in mind Genesis 3:16?

He said to the woman:
I will intensify your labor pains;
you will bear children with painful effort.
Your desire will be for your husband,
yet he will rule over you.

No.

Paul does not ground his ethics on the fall, but on God’s created order:

1 Corinthians 11:3, 8-12

But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ.

For man did not come from woman, but woman came from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, and all things come from God.

Genesis 2:21-23
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said:

This one, at last, is bone of my bone
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called “woman,”
for she was taken from man.

Many scholars link 1 Corinthians 14:34 (“as the law also says”) to Genesis 3:16 (“Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.”), but I agree with F.F. Bruce and Wayne Grudem, who wrote that the creation order is Paul’s basis here.

The curse of the fall is not the basis for women not speaking in church. Genesis 3:16 gives us the distortion of God’s created order for gender roles. The fall is not the way it just is or has to be, but the result of sin. Christ represents God’s new order that redeems the fall, bringing men and women back to how God created things to be, with husbands leading humbly with kindness, and wives being submissive to their leadership.

What did Paul mean about the law and order? We know that he is talking about order, appealing to God’s created order. Men and women are equally loved and gifted by the Holy Spirit, but God’s order is for men to lead the church and the home.

Another thought is that we do not find a teaching in the whole OT that women should be silent in public. The reference to the law may have been from Paul quoting the faction in Corinth who misunderstood the law or the application of the law. And perhaps Paul’s rebuke in verse 36, “Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?”, is aimed at those he was quoting and not the women. (see point 9 below)

  1. Your women

In the King James, New King James, and some other translations, 1 Corinthians 14:34 says, “your women”:

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. (NKJV)

A number of translations say, “The women” (ESV, RSV, NASB, CSB, CEB, AMP, AMPC) and a few just say “Women” (TLB, NIV, NRSV, NLT), and a couple say “Wives” (VOICE, MSG).

Again, this seems to refer to particular women and not all the women nor all Christian women for all time.

  1. Silence is qualified

The context helps us interpret the text:

1 Corinthians 14:27-34
If anyone speaks in a tongue, there are to be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says.

The word for silent in these three instances in this passage are the same, and means “to hold one’s peace”: stop talking. It does not mean never talk, but to not talk for a time: keep silence. It presupposes that you were talking or have talked and now, “be quiet”. You will or may talk again, but just not now. It’s like when we say to someone, “be quiet”.

When we describe a person as quiet, we don’t mean they never speak, but they don’t speak a lot. It may seem like they never speak, but they are just quiet.

What about “they are not permitted to speak”? Again, if the context interprets the text, then the “permission not granted” means it is qualified to certain people under certain circumstances, at certain times. Why? Because throughout the larger context of chapters 11-14 and the immediate context of this section, all church members are permitted to speak:

1 Corinthians 14:27-34
If anyone speaks in a tongue, there are to be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent.

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says.

Everyone gets to “play”, but orderly. If all can prophesy, but two or three should speak and others should evaluate. And “the women”, or “your women”, or the ambiguous ‘women”; that has to mean certain women should be silent. It means, “quiet down”.

The rest of chapter 14 gives us further evidence that this is about order in the church, and God’s created order between husbands a wives:

1 Corinthians 14:34-40

the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If anyone ignores this, he will be ignored. So then, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything is to be done decently and in order.

The word for submit (“but are to submit themselves”) is the same word as in the word about prophets controlling their speech/utterances: “the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets.”

This is about order and self-control. Certain women are called out to be quiet.

We do not know exactly what was going on with the women or wives that Paul was calling out to quiet down. Were they just talking too much and it was unedifying? Or were they contradicting or challenging their husbands or the elders?

Question and answer or open evaluation of prophecies is a good thing. Evaluation of prophecies is called for here by Apostle Paul. But do any churches that have prophecies in the service or prophetic people as speakers ever get evaluations in the service? I have only seen it rarely.

I also now realize that as the leader or elder of a meeting, that it may become my role to tell people to be quiet. I have led groups where I should have told certain persons to be quiet and did not, to the detriment of the whole group. This is a function of leadership.

The person who talks (whispers but it is audible) to the person next to them, while someone else is sharing. Or the person to takes cell phone calls in the meeting. These situations call for a gentle admonition to silence.

NT prophecy or prophetic ministry is not like going to a psychic or occult practitioner, where you dialogue with the person and ask questions back and forth. A prophecy is something revealed to the prophet, from God. You neither ask a prophet a leading question and prophets do not engage in dialogue with the recipient as part of giving and receiving the prophetic word. Evaluation and clarification are careful activities. Prophets are fallible, broken people just like all believers and can easily add to something God has not given them, for many reasons.

In the occult, there is this idea that we can tap into revelation and get something. That is not how God works. We can and should desire prophecies, but God controls the flow and content.

In Corinth, which was in the pagan, occult world, the church had to be taught that prophetic ministry in the church was to be different that the pagan false prophets or oracles in the Greco/Roman world.

And the letter to the Corinthians is a correction for problems they were having. “The women” or “Your women” should remain silent, is a correction to a problem, not a reminder or command for how it always is or should be. The silence is qualified.

The silence, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak;”, concerns the evaluation of prophecies. Prophecies are judged by the others (v. 29). The others might be the whole congregation or the other prophets. Something was happening on the other side of Paul’s letter, that he was giving advice or correction to. These particular women were needing Paul to tell them to be silent. Were they openly disagreeing with their husbands or were they usurping the authority of the elders, or were they just over-talking, out of order and becoming unedifying for the church? We don’t know. But we can deduce from the context that this was a qualified silencing. He was perhaps bringing control to something that was out of control, like applying the brakes to a runaway vehicle.

The greater context of Paul’s letter is unity and mutual edification. Some things or some ways of speech are unedifying and create disunity. These were problems at Corinth that Paul was addressing. A good guess might be that there was a lot of chaotic interrupting going on in the Corinthian church meetings, by these particular women.

  1. A word about prophets
    Generally, NT and OT prophets are different. NT prophets are not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord”. They are not expected to be 100% accurate. Paul says, “we prophesy in part”. And this is what the evaluation is for. Judging (evaluating) NT prophecies is not the same as judging OT prophets as to their ‘falseness’. A NT prophet’s words should be weighed and evaluated as to what is from God and what might be from the person’s imagination.

Jesus does talk about false prophets rising up in the NT era. These are mentioned in tandem with false Christs and false teachers. John and Peter mention false prophets in one verse each. A person who exercises the gift of prophecy that 1 Corinthians is describing could very well prophesy falsely, and that is what the evaluation of the body of other prophets is for. A person would seem to earn the label of false prophet, who’s prophesies are unchecked, not evaluated by their peers, and they lead people astray.

Dutch Sheets recently wrote this about the gift of prophecy:

One of the most harmful misconceptions regarding the prophetic is the belief that if a word doesn’t come to pass, it is a false prophecy. In other words, some people believe that if prophetic words, dreams, and visions are truly from God, they are guaranteed to come to pass. Actually, however, most prophecy is no more guaranteed than are promises in Scripture. Biblical promises are always conditional offers. Just because Jesus did not qualify every promise He made, did not mean there were no qualifying conditions. He said, “Ask and you will receive,” (Matthew 7:7). Yet millions of people have asked Him for things and did NOT receive them. Was Jesus lying? Of course not. He simply did not qualify this and other promises because it was to be assumed that all of His promises were conditioned/governed by all of Scripture. For example, if you have unforgiveness in your heart, your prayers won’t be answered. It would be foolish to think that every promise or offer made by God must be accompanied by all of its qualifying principles.

Personal prophecy, dreams, and visions are likewise conditional. Usually, they are informing us of what God is “offering” or “desires” to do. He shares this with us in order that we might cooperate with Him through prayers, faith, and obedience.

9. What if 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a quote, from Corinthian church factions, Paul is answering?

Quote marks and other writing features like paragraphs and capitalization are not in the Greek manuscripts. Each Bible translation has to guess about these. And their guesses sometimes give an interpretation to a text that might have not been the intent of the author.

An example of this is how chapter 7 starts with the sentence, “It is not good for man to touch a woman.” You could misunderstand that this is a command from Paul and by extension, God.

Actually it is a statement from a letter from the Corinthians to Paul. This is easy to know, because Paul precedes the quote by saying so. But, in chapter 14, Paul does not do this, but perhaps just quotes what they said, in the midst of his teaching or problem solving.

Let’s look at 14:31-38, the three verses before 34 & 35, and the three after; and make the silencing statement a quote:

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints.

“The women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If anyone ignores this, he will be ignored.

1 Corinthians 14:31-38

A couple of notes: The word “Or” at the beginning of verse 36 is not always translated that way. The ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, and NRSV agree with the CSB and have “Or”. But the KJV, AMPC, and RSV instead have “What?”, with the question mark added.

Marg Mowczko points out that the Greek word monous, translated “only” in verse 36 is “grammatically masculine. According to Greek grammar, this adjective cannot refer only to women.

We have the choice of either Paul silencing women, but then rebuking the men; or quoting the men who wanted to silence the women and then rebuking these men.

Some very reputable scholars believe that the two silencing of women verses were added by scribes. They call this an interpolation. Verses 34 and 35 seem like an intrusion into the flow of what Paul is saying here. This is worth mentioning. Strangely, these two verses were after our verse 40, in some early manuscripts. Scholars have been left with a puzzle to solve and what some did is throw out verses 34 and 35 as inauthentic.

I think it is interesting that when you do remove these two verses, the flow of what Paul is saying makes more sense:

What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, there are to be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person is to keep silent in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are subject to the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Or did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. If anyone ignores this, he will be ignored. So then, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything is to be done decently and in order.

1 Corinthians 14:26-33, 36-40

Are these Paul’s words and 34-35 are the a Corinthian church faction’s statement?

The women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

If this is a quote, it helps us make sense of the part that says “as the law also says.” The faction may be misunderstanding the OT law or bringing in Roman law.

10. Solving the seeming incongruity of the silencing women verses

I have argued that the best explanation for the silencing of women is probably found in the context of chapters 11-14.  Women are allowed and encouraged to speak, but under certain circumstances or on certain occasions, “the” women, and the word here for women can mean “wives”, should be silent; and that seems to be during the weighing of prophecies.

Here are some other comments or opinions on what is going on here:

  1. William Barclay (1907-1978), believed that Paul embraced 1st century gender roles where women were not allowed to participate in learning experiences along side men. 
  2. George Campbell Morgan (1863-1945), wrote that, “Paul’s prohibition as necessary in view of conditions unique in Corinth”.
  3. C.K. Barnett (1917-2011), believed Paul did not write these verses (34-35), but that some well meaning person added them to espouse order over freedom.
  4. Gordon Fee (b. 1934), argues that the silencing verses are inauthentic, because in some manuscripts (Western witnesses), these verses are placed after verse 40.
  5. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), believed that women should not speak in official church meetings and the meetings where they could speak were different.

Constable’s notes 

Conclusion

I think that if we take this saying as being Paul’s and not a quote he’s answering or an insertion, that it is a prohibition of inappropriate speech and not all speech.  The thrust of Paul’s answer to the Corinthians is talking about mutual edification and a broader implementation of spiritual gifts instead of an over emphasis on one gift like tongues.  Paul talks about love for others being more important than manifesting gifts.  To be edifying there must be order.  Two of the interpretive keys to chapters 11-14 are, “when you come together” and “let all things be done, decently and in order”.  It’s common sense that if people are either talking at the same time, one-upping, or quarreling; that this could be unedifying and needs to stop or come into order.

How do we apply these verses today?  Is this a command or instruction for all time that women can not talk in the church meeting?  The context does not give us that conclusion, but that under certain conditions or circumstances, women, and is it the disruptive women or all women, meaning is there a principle here that it is disruptive people who happen to be women, are to pipe down?:  Were they just talking too much?  Were they usurping male elder authority?  Were they contradicting their husbands?  Or were they vocalizing a spiritual gift in an unbridled fashion?  We don’t know, but from the context of Paul’s whole argument or corrective teaching we can know that the reason for the silencing was to bring order and facilitate mutual edification. 

__________________________________

Bibliography

Books:

Brauch, Manfred; Hard Sayings of Paul (Hard Sayings of The Bible)

Bruce, F. F.; TNCBC I & II Corinthians

Grudem, Wayne; Systematic Theology

Gundry, Stanley; Two Views on Women in Ministry

Williams, Don; The Apostle Paul and Women in the Church

Witherington, Ben; Conflict & Community in Corinth

Writings on-line:

Bushnell, Katherine; God’s Word to Women

Sheets, Dutch; Give Him 15, Sept. 20, 2022

Mowczko, Margaret; Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Constable, Thomas; Notes on 1 Corinthians

Footnotes

Footnotes:

1. William Barclay (1907-1978), one of the most popular Bible teachers of the 20th century, was a universalist, pacifist, believed in evolution, doubted the inspiration of scripture, and held critical and skeptical views the virgin birth of Christ, and miracles.  His popular set of commentaries sold 1 1/2 million copies! –wikipedia entry.

2. George Campbell Morgan (1863-1945),  evangelist, preacher, Bible teacher, and author of over 80 books, was pastor of Westminster Chapel in London from 1904 to 1919, pausing for 14 years to teach at Biola in Los Angeles, and returning to the Chapel from 1933 to 1943 when he handed over the pastorate to the renowned Martyn Lloyd-Jones, after having shared it with him and mentored him for some years previous. –wikipedia entry

3. C.K. Barnett (1917-2011), “described as standing alongside C. H. Dodd as “the greatest British New Testament scholar of the 20th century” and “the greatest UK commentator on New Testament writings since J. B. Lightfoot“. –wikipedia entry 

4. Gordon Fee (b. 1934), Pentecostal theologian and author of a 1000 page commentary on 1 Corinthians, considered “top tier” or “the best”, egalitarian, opposed to prosperity theology, and he disagrees with the classical Pentecostal teaching that baptism in the Holy Spirit is after and separate to conversion, but that in the early church, Pentecostal experience was an expected part of conversion for empowerment to live in Christ, evangelize, bear spiritual fruit, and function in spiritual gifts. –wikipedia entry.

5. Harry Ironside (1876-1951), Bible teacher, preacher, theologian, pastor, and author who pastored Moody Church in Chicago from 1929 to 1948; and “one of the most prolific Christian writers of the 20th Century and published more than 100 books, booklets and pamphlets”, second only to Scofield in popularizing dispensationalism, called “the Archbishop of fundamentalism”.  –wikipedia entry


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