The Women are NOT to Keep Silent

There is a difference between speaking where the Bible speaks and speaking as the Bible speaks. One can mean simply quoting a passage while the other includes interpreting the passage considering the context, both immediate, remote, and cultural. That is where a lot of well-meaning Christians have gone wrong on the role of women in the assembly. This article will not answer all of your questions, but hopefully it is a start.

The passage in question is 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in .

1 Corinthians 14:34–35

Just reading this passage presents us with a load of questions. Here are a few:

  1. Why is it improper for women to speak in an assembly?
  2. Where does the Law say anything about women remaining silent?
  3. What if a woman doesn’t have a husband?

In answering these questions, I will present two possible interpretations of this text that seem to fit better with the context of 1 Corinthians 14 as you will see.

Improper Speaking?

Why is it improper for women to speak in an assembly?

The answer is simple. It isn’t.

If Paul means women are to never speak within the assembly, then he contradicts what he said earlier in 1 Corinthians.

Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head. But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.

1 Corinthians 11:4–5

Robert Rowland makes this observation is his book “I Permit Not a Woman…” To Remain Shackled,

I was forced to ask honestly, “Were men and women praying and prophesying in the same service?” I could rationalize the women’s role of prayer by saying that they could obey the command while being led in prayer by a man or praying silently, and thus conform to I Corinthians 14:34. However, a woman could not prophesy in silence.

Page 59 – Available for free here: http://rbtim.duckdns.org:314/pdfBooks/IPermit.pdf

While this passage should make us seriously reconsider how we interpret 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, it shouldn’t be all that surprising to us because of an Old Testament prophecy.

It will come about after this That I will pour out My on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

Joel 2:28–29

God gave all classes of people the gift of prophecy in the last days, including women. In fact, in Acts 2, there were women present who received the gift of tongues. Peter said in Acts 11 that Cornelius’s entire household received the gift of tongues as God had poured out on those within the house at the beginning of Acts.

Peter stood up in a group of about one hundred twenty to start selecting a new apostle. This same group had gathered into one place when there was a noise from heaven like a rushing wind. It filled the entire house, and “they all were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4). This fulfilled the prophecy of sons and daughters prophesying.

Moving to 1 Corinthians 14, the entire church was to exercise the gifts God gave them.

Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying.

1 Corinthians 14:5

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

1 Corinthians 14:24–25

The 2020 NASB adds a word for clarification when translating two important words in this chapter: πᾶς (pas) and ἀδελφός (adelphos). It translates pas as all the people and adelphos as brothers and sisters. Here are three major instances:

Therefore if the whole church gathers together and all the people speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are insane? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

1 Corinthians 14:23-25, NASB 2020

What is the outcome then, brothers and sisters? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. All things are to be done for edification.

1 Corinthians 14:26, NASB 2020

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.

1 Corinthians 15:39, NASB 2020

From this, it is apparent that it wasn’t always improper for women to speak, so what is Paul saying in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35?

Just Look in the Law

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. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

1 Corinthians 14:34–35

What does the Law say about women speaking in an assembly?

If you can find it, let me know. After reading the Bible through over the last ninety days, I couldn’t find a single statement that would restrict women in the assembly. Instead, as seen in the above reference from Joel 2, I found the exact opposite.

But let’s check and see!

Miriam was a prophetess and the sister of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 15:20). Moses, Aaron, and Miriam were all sent before the people to bring them out of Egypt (Micah 6:4).

Deborah was also a judge, leader, and prophetess of Israel (Judges 4).

Huldah was a prophetess who the priests consulted in Josiah’s day (2 Kings 22:14).

There are more, but this should do. So, if Paul is speaking of the Law of Moses in 1 Corinthians, he must not have known it very well because the Law allows women to be teachers, if anything!

However, the capital letter in this passage is misleading. The word “Law” should be lowercase. Paul is using the word law to refer to the Jewish oral . Peter did the same thing in Acts 10:28. This is atypical for Paul. That’s because it isn’t him talking.

Craig Keener points out one potential reading of this passage: “According to another view, Paul cites the Corinthians’ view in 14:34–35 and refutes it in 14:36” (Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Print.).

In other words, verses 34-35 is the view some at Corinth had. Paul refutes this view in the following text. Reading the entire unit together clarifies a lot. I’ll include quotations around the part that is the minority view.

“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. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”

Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. Therefore, my [brothers and sisters – NASB 2020], desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.

1 Corinthians 14:34–40

In citing the oral tradition, they try to prohibit married women from asking questions. Paul counters this by appealing to his authority as an apostle. While he maintains that things must be done decently and in order, he affirms the ability of both sexes to prophesy. He had already explained to them how to maintain order in 1 Corinthians 11. The wives, as we will see in the following section, were to keep their head covered, but Paul still allowed them to prophesy.

A similar back and forth occurs earlier in the chapter. Again, I’ll include quotations for your benefit.

“So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe.”

Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.

1 Corinthians 14:22–25

As you can see in the above section, Paul introduces the Corinthian argument before countering with his own. He does the same thing in our passage.

Do Widows and Virgins Keep Silent?

Returning to our passage in 1 Corinthias 14, you will recall how the verse says that the women ought to ask their husbands questions at home. In this passage, as Rowland pointed out in his book cited above, the translators could have just as easily chosen the word “wife” instead of “woman.” He takes a different position on this passage, as you will see, but here are his thoughts:

If the silent rule is to all women, then it is also true that all women would have to wait until they got home to “learn anything”or “ask”questions. But this scripture applied only to wives who had “their own husbands at home.” The rest would not be excluded from speaking, learning and asking questions, based on this command. No one can make the silent rule apply to all women and ignore the balance of the text or the context. The ones who were to be silent were those who had husbands at home and that silence related only to questions.

Page 70: http://rbtim.duckdns.org:314/pdfBooks/IPermit.pdf

And he is correct. Since Paul mentions husbands in this passage, it is only logical to translate the Greek word here as “wife.” We should do the same in 1 Corinthians 11 as well when Paul speaks of man being the head of woman (1 Corinthians 11:3). The entire context of the passage is addressing cultural issues in marriage. As Rowland argued above, the same is true for 1 Corinthians 14. While I appreciate his take on the passage, I read it a different way, as you have seen. You should still read his material regardless of course.

The bottom line is that, even if these are the words of Paul, it doesn’t prohibit speech in general, and it doesn’t prohibit unmarried women from asking questions and talking when the saints gather.

What About First Timothy?

Excellent question. For that, I will direct you to my good friend Dallas’s book on women’s roles in the Christian community. It is available through Amazon, or you can download it for free from his site.

4 Replies to “The Women are NOT to Keep Silent

  1. Great synthesis of scriptural verses; thank you.
    Additionally, one may consider that since Apostle Paul connects this restriction, about women (wives) speaking in the churches, to the Law, there is clearly in the Torah a gender distinction of relevance: the Levitical priesthood. The Priests were exclusively male, and the women sat as a group at a greater distance from their liturgical actions than the men. Moreover, since prophecy did not take place at sacrificial rites, the allowance of women prophets per se would not affect the exclusively male oriented priestly works. Paul may be distinguishing a specific sort of Sunday assembly of a liturgical sort from other kinds of gatherings in which prophecy, or even Tongues, and mixed gender interactions obtained.

  2. Daniel, you make some interesting points. I would also recommend the comments of brother Guy N. Woods as recorded in his book, “Questions and Answers Open Forum Freed-Hardeman College Lectures” 1976. (pp 109-112) The main thrust of his argument is that the assembly of 1 Cor 14 applied only to the First Century, during the time of the manifestations of miraculous Spiritual gifts, hence it would be impossible to have the same type of assembly today. He goes on to discuss 1 Tim 2:11-12 which forbids a woman to exercise authority over a man via preaching. I recommend this book to you and your reader.

  3. your site is set up so professionally and user friendly,its really done with intelligence and excellence,if you weren’t a minister you could definitely be a designer or something,bit of a tech geek lol?

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