Should Women Keep Silent in the Churches?

Some passages in the Bible are difficult, not because they are hard to understand, but because they are difficult to do. Other passages, however, are genuinely difficult to understand. In fact, to really understand certain passages, you need to understand something about the culture and situation of the time, and what the words in question would have meant to the original recipients of the letter, and why.

So it is with the passage in 1 Corinthians 14:34-38:

34 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. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

One of the problems we have today is that we were not there at the time Paul wrote these words, we rely on scholarship and second hand information to a great extent. Of course, we may also believe but we are being enlightened by the Holy Spirit on this subject, but we have to be careful about this – for if we would dare to say that the Holy Spirit teaches in contradiction to the Scriptures, rightly understood, then we have a serious problem in our faith. Having said that, the Holy Spirit will lead us and guide us into all truth. On some issues it takes us longer to be willing to be led by Him than on others.

Was Paul quoting the Corinthians here?

At times in this letter of Paul to the Corinthians, it seems that he quotes their comments or statements and replies to them. For example, he quotes, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food” in 1 Corinthians 6:13. The NIV is probably right here in using quotes (even the NIV translators had to get it right sometime!). This quote was basically a justification for the idea of “Come on, God made our stomachs to enjoy food, and food to be enjoyed, so lets go for it” and probably extending the argument to something like “God made sex fun, so lets enjoy it fully without restraint”, to which Paul replies that God did not make the body for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. A very interesting thought here actually.

But I digress. The point is, Paul sometimes quoted their sayings and questions. Now, one possibility is that Paul was quoting the Corinthians, who were saying that “women should should keep silent in the church”, and Paul was telling them that the word of God did not come only from them. I don’t know for sure if this idea holds water but some suggest it.

Just How Silent Should Women Be?

If women are to be totally silent in church, it means they also should not sing in church. Are there any churches who would take it to that extreme? Does it mean that women should never talk in church? What kind of talking is forbidden? Having fellowship with others? If not that, then what? Public teaching? That is the way most traditionalists teach it.

We also have to contend with the fact that Paul gave instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 about how women should pray or prophesy in the Corinthian church. If women were to be totally silent in the church and not operate in any kind of public way then Paul would be contradicting himself. What is the point of prophesying if no one else can hear you?

I believe there is a Scriptural case for predominantly male leadership in God’s church, but if a woman is operating under the authority of her husband or the leadership of the church she can certainly teach and minister. Priscilla AND Aquila taught Apollos, and instructed him more accurately in the ways of God (Acts 18:26). So we have women teaching men here, and nothing is out of line.

We have to remember that there were very strong prejudices against women’s dignity in the Roman culture, the Greek culture and also in the culture of the Rabbinic Jews. In the culture of the day, women were viewed either as prostitutes or possessions of men. They were not considered to be equal with men, in fact, some Rabbis and Greek philosophers put them more on the level of animals. They were shut of to one side in most public meetings. If the women of the day were left uneducated, through no fault of their own, Paul wanted them to be educated, but not in such a way as to cause public disgrace. He had to take into account the prejudices and norms of his society. That is why he said, “for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” It was shameful because of the cultural norms of the day, and the uneducated state of women in general at the time, and because the outspoken “new women” of Roman times who favored the total emancipation of women from traditional norms were not a group or movement that Paul would have wanted the church to identify with, as they were totally immoral anyway.

Occasionally the Scriptures speak to a situation which is specific to a particular culture and context. We must strive to uphold the eternal principles and also to apply these principles to our culture correctly. For this, every church leader will give an account to God. Paul was not trying to light a bomb under the culture of the day by allowing ignorant women to dominate church meetings with stupid questions or comments. If the women were ignorant, it was a product of the unjust philosophies and practices of the day, but it was still a reality. Paul wanted things to be done decently and in order. I do not believe he was intending to put a timeless ban of all kinds of ministry through the verbal communications on women. God has repeatedly used women to communicate spiritual truth through their mouths under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures are full of it. And we need to see that the way the Lord Jesus treated women very much was a slap in the face to the Judaic customs of the day, in which women were viewed extremely negatively.

Jesus in John 4 chose a Samaritan woman to be his key evangelist for her entire town. God used Deborah and Miriam as prophetesses and leaders in Israel. Certain ladies occupied positions of authority in local churches also see John’s second letter for example. Priscilla instructed a leading Bible teacher of the early church, Apollos. Women were involved in the ministry as deacons, which was not necessarily a role of practical help only.

Now that prejudices against women have diminished in our western society (and much of it is actually due to the influence of godly 19th century women), we have a situation where it is not reasonable to forbid a woman from making a serious spiritual contribution to a church as a teacher, prophet or evangelist. In my view, women can be pastors also, that is carers of people who tend to their needs. It is the role of the “elder” which requires that a man be “the husband of one wife” which I contend is not really open to women who want to follow God’s pattern. Though many may not agree with me, I believe the Scripture is plain enough that there is an order in the family and in the church and that God has placed some men in a position of greater authority and responsibility for overall leadership. That is probably a topic for another post. What I seek to establish here is that women today should not be forced to shut up in church. We need their ministries very much, and the church is poorer if we discourage women from fulfilling their calling to the fullest possible extent.

What do YOU think?

comments

About Michael Fackerell

The Christian faith is about Jesus. He came to save the lost. About Jesus Christ, Bible teaching, Testimonies, Salvation, Prayer, Faith, Networking.

Comments

  1. davidtaylor says:

    Hi all.

    I posted elsewhere on this subject in spite of searching for it, then stumbled across this thread.

    I think the Bible is clear and that those who think otherwise are following the world instead of God. Just read it while being willing to obey, people! Paul said that this is a command from Jesus, and Jesus said that those who love Him will obey Him.

    Does anyone know of churches in Brisbane other than the Brethren and non-denominational Baptists who obey this, please?

    Thanks,

    David.

  2. 1CORINTHIANS 14:34_35 1TIMOTHY 2:11_15 this 2 gives me confusion,when he ( PAUL )said this is he was guided by the holy spirit? or by his own judgment?

    • lookinforacity says:

      Dear nelsy

      When you ask:
      “Was PAUL guided by the holy spirit? or by his own judgment?”

      It should be understand, if Paul or any of the other writers in the bible, in any way other than by Inspiration of God spoke, taught, or used their own judgment, then the bible would be null and void to us, as the
      (WORD OF GOD).
      If the entire bible is not the Inspired word of God, then none of what has been written can be trusted.
      When ever Paul spoke his own opinion he said so. (example Rom. 9:16)

      2Ti 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

      Hope this answers your question

      JIM

  3. Does that mean that we ought not to have women preachers or
    women tele-evangelists ,…….or women in the choir?

    Or was St Paul’s advice / direction specific to the people of his time ?

    Is it still applicable today ?

    At another point in his letters St Paul says , ‘there is no distinction between male
    and female , Jew and Gentile , ….slave and free man,….”

    Is his advice to be literally taken ?

    What really do we do ?

    Vikki

    • jesseedavis says:

      I only wish to point out that we must be careful in how we come at this issue.

      Here is what I mean: The passage in 1 Corinthians 14, for example, is not saying women cannot say a word, period, end of discussion. Let me just give the surrounding verses and show you what I see.

      26How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
      27If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret.
      28But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
      29Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
      30If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
      31For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
      32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
      33For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
      34Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
      35And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
      36What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
      37If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.
      38But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

      The only thing I want to point out is that it starts on the subject of prophecy and tongues w/ interpretation and then ends with prophecy and tongues. So then, why are we quick to say that Paul went off on a bunny trail when he speaks of women?

      Now, to help clarify a few things.

      Outside the church:
      1 Corinthians 11:5 allows a woman to prophesy, with instruction. Matthew 28:5-7, Mark 16:6-11, Luke 24:5-12, John 20:16-18 tells of Jesus and the angels speaking specifically to the women, instructing them to tell the others of Jesus’ resurrection. Romans 16:1-2,3-4,6-15; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philippians 4:18; 2 Timothy 4:19 all allow for women to minister.

      Within the church:
      1 Corinthians 14:34-35 disallows women to speak in tongues or prophesy in the church. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 disallows women to teach or even question within the church.

      PLEASE READ:
      I want to ask each and every person a few questions.

      Is God and His Word your authority? Or is the way things are and the culture we live in your authority? Every thing around us has it’s pros and cons, however, must we continue looking at all the pros and decide from there whether it is right or wrong?

      Many issues with what the Bible says stems from the way our culture is. If it were 40 or 50 years ago, a woman’s place within the church wouldn’t even be discussed. If it were 30 or 40 years ago, lust, pornography, homosexuality and masturbation wouldn’t even be up for debate. However, now that the culture accepts things, we in the church begin to question the Bible?! What is wrong with this picture?!

      Who, reading this, knows the Old Testament? Do you know it well enough to quote it or list the specific laws? Have you ever taken the time to write it out? Why then do you question the words of Paul who could put to shame EVERYBODY we know of today about anything theological, moral, or philosophical?

      Even greater than Paul, who was just a man, is the Holy Spirit. For all of you who think you know better then Paul, do you know better than the very Spirit of truth?! It is the Spirit of God that inspired the words of Paul that are in question. Is it not written, “all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come?” and again “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

      Father, let Your Words penetrate through all of our knowledge, all of our experiences, that we may pay attention to what you have timelessly instructed us to do. Humble us, break our hearts, let us fall on our faces, that You may be the one that stands us up, that exalts us. Father, I pray for Your guidance. In Jesus’ name.

  4. Timothy Luke says:

    In this conversation, let us avoid strife over gender. Paul did indeed write, “let the women keep silent.” This is in fact the “silencing of women.” It is the silencing of women in a certain time and place. What are we to make of it? The devil would say Paul was a sexist. Male Pride would say, “yeah, tell ’em to shut their pie hole!” Female Pride would say, “how dare I be bridled by that MAN’s chauvinist thought that happened to somehow make its way into the Bible!”

    Paul was NOT a chauvinist. Paul had a deep respect for women. He is the one who tells men to lay down their lives for their wives, as Christ laid down his life for the church. What more could a woman want him to say? The problem is often we start reacting to how one another respond to the word, and then we are fighting against ATTITUDES that are not IN the Word, as though they were in the Word.

    There is a time for women to keep silent in the church. There is a reason for it. It is a good reason, and it is borne of love, not misogyny. Many Godly women have taken this set of verses and have applied it in meekness and fear. There is a strength and a testimony in their witness and they are certainly heard and revered in their own spheres. Will we belittle their contributions to society?

    I will share a little secret with you. How many of you have read one of my wife’s articles, or blogs, or posts here? Yet, I tell you I value her opinion and discernment greatly and you have indeed heard her voice through my writings! Have I imposed a gag order on her? Not at all. But even “silent” women have a voice! If there is compassion and understanding found in me, you can credit my wife for a good measure of it.

    In all of this, let us not impute chauvinist attitudes to men, or women. Let us weigh the Word without impugning one another. This is a fun conversation to have, but in all things, men and women of God, we are to answer to God for how we apply these things – so let us not judge one another or let ourselves get offended at one another as we sift these things.

    Jesus died for all. Let us be filled with finding our place and not worried about putting one another in his or her place. I see this conversation has the seeds in it for division, now or years down the road, so I am putting this out there for our consideration. I LOVE YOU ALL!!!

    PS – as a man, I am to remain silent on some things too you know! There is a place in ministry where women are the ones to whom it is given to minister and the men are to be silent…. think about it!

    • lookinforacity says:

      OK Guys

      Let’s take it slowly, everything has gotten off track, go back to my first post on this subject.
      Re-read it, then let your comments, rebuttals, and arguments be known. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could resolve this dilemma in scripture, even when the rest of Christendom hasn’t?
      Doesn’t everyone want to know the “TRUTH” in this matter?
      Joh 8:32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. YEAH GOD!:>)
      Remember, when you have a rebuttal, let it be scripture that does the speaking.

      JIM

      • jesseedavis says:

        Amen Jim! It is rare to see a conversation taken back to the beginning in order to straighten it all out. Usually things just keep going and going and going until finally everything is distorted and everyone’s mad at each other and divided. Thank you Jim! I really do love to see this and I pray that others will follow…

  5. warrior daughter says:

    Since women are seen as the lesser value of the man by some let us also uphold this….No pastor, deacon or elder may be divorced even if they were the ones who did not want the divorce….(I am not talking about those who divorce because they want another)…Why should anyone listen to them since they are divorced?????

    To keep a woman silent when she is being used by God is limiting/grieving the Holy Spirit and likewise to keep a person who is called by God who is divorced not to be allowed to use their giftings also is limiting/grieving the Holy spirit….

  6. jesseedavis says:

    Over the summer at camp, this conversation came up and what was interesting was a few things that came out and a few things that have come to mind since then.

    Just a quick thing that we all need to keep in mind. Cultural equality and Biblical equality are two different things. Just as it is within the Godhead, men and women are fully equal, but they have different roles to play. Culture tries to flip things around or emphasize/exaggerate things and distort the original design.

  7. lookinforacity says:

    Hi Tanya

    OK, I have a question regarding a piece of scripture, so teach me. :>)
    Please (interpret) this for me, as comprehensively as you can, remembering that the most important rule in interpretation is context.
    Galatians 3:22-29.

    JIM

    • Jim,

      Sorry to disappoint you, but the last thing I intend to do here is to teach you or worse argue.

      Also, why would I interpret? Or rather, what do you imply by your “interpretation”? I can’t remember any quote from the Bible that teaches me to do this? Can you remind me please?
      Not seldom can we now hear ministers who get so involved with their interpretation and go so much further above that which is written, that they end up ‘as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal’, just saying words, without grace, not seasoned with salt, and power …

      Tanya

      • lookinforacity says:

        Hi Tanya

        Have I expressed anger in my posts in regard to the subject at hand?
        I can only speak for myself, that I don’t intend to engage in an argument.
        But hearing that you cannot, then consider our conversation at an end.
        One last thing for you to think about. In relation to your post about Gal.3:27,28.

        1Co 7:20-24
        20.) Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
        21.) Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
        22.) For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.
        23.) Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
        24.) Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

        The accepting of Jesus as Savior by a slave did not automatically “FREE” him from his master, any more than you saying it gave women “EQUALITY”?
        Nothing changes, except we become a new creation in Jesus Christ, we are “ALL” freed from sin.

        JIM

    • Timothy Luke says:

      I’m having fun watching this debate. When it comes to this site’s official position on it however, please refer back to Michael’s article and enjoy iron sharpening iron, in love!

  8. warrior daughter says:

    Hmmm…Another quagmire …….

    How many churches were started by women who listened to God ‘s calling ????

    How many people have listened to a woman’s sermon or teaching or testimony and gave their heart to the Lord??? None can answer this question except God…..

    A AOG church in my town had it’s beginnings because a woman listened to the Lord and held meetings in an old shed by the railroad tracks…At first the congregation was mostly women but it started to draw in men ……The shed became crowded and they moved to another building and then to a church and then they built a church….The woman’s preaching drew people off the streets and men who were drunk gave their hearts to the Lord….Men were called to be pastors ….A deaf woman was healed and the stories go on and on….This happened in the 40’s and those who are still around cry when they relate these stories…. They have witnessed and know the power of God…..

    One must remember that in Bible times women were not esteemed as much as men and the nation of Israel was kinder to their women then the other nations around them ..

    The answer is not the gender of the person but the heart of the person that God will use….

    • lookinforacity says:

      Hi Warrior Daughter

      you say:
      “The answer is not the gender of the person but the heart of the person that God will use….”

      You are 100% right.

      Look at Esther, God will use whom ever He will, whenever He wants, in order to fulfill His purpose. But the position held by Esther, didn’t elevate the female gender to a higher position of authority did it?

      Mary Magdalene followed Jesus during His Ministry, but after the story of the resurrection, there isn’t any mention of her. It seems as though if there was any woman in a position that should have
      gained leadership, she is the one.

      The story about Apollos, Acts 18:24-26 speaks about a man that appears to be zealous about the things of God, but not out of knowledge, it isn’t as though he had already attained the position he would be known for in the future, Aquila, and Priscilla did teach him, but anything we could say about them after that, would be speculation on our part.
      What they did, doesn’t mean we can automatically give that authority to teach to women.

      These are only a few of the examples of God using women in the Bible, they are all temporary in their nature, and duration. But there isn’t one where it states that the position of authority for women in general changed in relation to men, is there?

      JIM

  9.  ***

  10. lookinforacity says:

    Hi Michael

    The following scripture goes a little more in depth on the subject, as to why women should be silent.
    This is also a scripture that rarely becomes part of the conversation when this subject is broached.
    It seems as though Paul is saying, it is more of a question of authority. His reasons don’t come anywhere close to cultural beliefs, or customs.

    1Tim. 2:11-14
    11.) Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
    12.) But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
    13.) For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
    14.) And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

    I personally believe there are exceptions to this rule of being silent, ie, (that women can Prophesy, because that is a Gift of the Holy Spirit,) Prophesy is God speaking, and we all know that God can talk through an ass if he wants to, 2 Pet. 2:16 or He can make the stones cry out. Luke 19:40
    Being a Prophet, is “not” an “office” to be attained within a church.

    When Moses received the pattern of worship from God, the setting up of the offices, were women included at that time? It was not societal, or cultural, it was what GOD said.
    When the Apostles set up the Church, they went by the same pattern, set by GOD. Is God prejudice?

    Just one question:
    Did Paul write to the any of the churches, out of his own knowledge, understanding, or prejudice, was he influenced by society, culture, or the traditions of his time, or was he inspired by God when ever he wrote?
    If what Paul taught, is because of the influence of the society, or the culture of his time, then that raises the question of whether or not scripture is the inspired word of God, making 2 Tim. 3:16 of none effect.

    2Ti 3:16
    16.) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

    JIM

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