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Is A Woman Commanded To Keep Silent in Church?

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We struggle with many left over concepts that the Protestant Reformation brought along with them out of the Catholic church.  Martin Luther’s education within the Roman Catholic Church still carried the lessons he had been taught from their priests.   One of these lessons is the misunderstanding about 1 Cor. 14:26-30:

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.  27 If 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.  28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.  31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.  32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

34 Let 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. 35 And 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. 

36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

37 If 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.  38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order. (Young’s Literal Translation [YLT])

First, I think both men and women have a tendency to make application where an idea appeals to them, or provides them a happy reason to exert force and control over someone else. And, just perhaps men are extremely eager to take advantage of one instance where they see support in telling a woman to shut up.

This appeal to the individual ego… see God told me I could right here…. overrides all logic and the rest of what the Bible says.  The Bible has to be taken as a whole, and one scripture cannot be used to support a position or belief when other scriptures show differently. 

Second, the pagan societies held women as second class citizens, and at times the RCC did the same, even going so far as some priests teaching during the dark ages that women were last in God’s eyes. 

Tertullian said that women were the devil’s gateway.  In the 3rd century, Origen stated, “What is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh.”   And, in the 4th century, Epiphanius stated, “The devil seeks to vomit out his disorder through women.”

“The male sex is more noble than the female, and for this reason he [Jesus] took human nature in the male sex.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III: 31:4 ad 1) 

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power…” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q92, art. 1, Reply Obj. 1)

The Greco-Roman pagan, misogynist world thinking was taking over the teachings of the Christ and the Apostles, and still is with us today.

The Rabbinical teachings of the Jews coming out of Babylonian captivity rebounded with harsh strictures against women in both assembly and home life, as though by strictly controlling the women, they might avoid any further sins.  I guess they thought the women were the main reason for their sins of idolatry against God.

The rabbis ruled that women had to sit on separate sides of the assembly, that they could not speak in the assembly, that all singing must be solemn chanting, they were not allowed to study the scriptures, and more.  Women were not allowed to speak to men in public, as is still the case in many nations today.

But, Christianity offered women the equality of being co-heirs of the promise, and many women in the early years of the first century held prominent positions and did much for work of the conversions to Christ’s church.

Acts 2:17-18, “And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;  18 and also upon My men-servants, and upon My maid-servants, in those days, I will pour out of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy;

The pouring forth of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost at the establishment of Christ’s church in approximately 31-33 AD fell upon both men and women, as had been prophesied from Joel 2:28, in a very male dominated society.

1 Cor. 14:36, “36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

Rom. 16:1-2, “And I commend you to Phebe our sister — being a ministrant of the assembly that [is] in Cenchrea that ye may receive her in the Lord, as doth become saints, and may assist her in whatever matter she may have need of you — for she also became a leader of many, and of myself. (YLT)

Acts 21:8-9, “and on the morrow Paul and his company having gone forth, we came to Cesarea, and having entered into the house of Philip the evangelist — who is of the seven — we remained with him,  and this one had four daughters, virgins, prophesying. (YLT)

Phil. 4:2-3, “ Euodia I exhort, and Syntyche I exhort, to be of the same mind in the Lord;  and I ask also thee, genuine yoke-fellow, be assisting those women who in the good news did strive along with me, with Clement also, and the others, my fellow-workers, whose names [are] in the book of life.  (YLT)

These women worked alongside Paul, spreading and teaching the good news to others.

Gal. 3:28-29, “ there is not here Jew or Greek, there is not here servant nor freeman, there is not here male and female, for all ye are one in Christ Jesus;  29 and if ye [are] of Christ then of Abraham ye are seed, and according to promise — heirs.”  (YLT)

Men and women are “sons of God.”  Gal. 3:26.  Both men and women in Christ are of the seed of Abraham, and co-heirs of the promise!

1 Cor. 11:5, “ and every woman praying or prophesying with the head uncovered, doth dishonour her own head, for it is one and the same thing with her being shaven,”

The women were praying and prophesying in public, and the issue here was that they were to cover their heads when doing so as the sign of subjection to both their husbands and to Christ.

In fact, a close examination 1 Cor. chap. 11 shows the subject is the conduct and manner of dress IN THE ASSEMBLIES.  So, the women held a role of praying and prophesying in the first century A.D. in the assemblies as a part of those who received the gifts of the Holy Spirit in that day and time!

You must consider the time period, and that these newly converted Hebrews had suddenly been given new spiritual gifts with which they were learning to contend. They weren’t born with these gifts; they had to learn how to handle them.

If everyone spoke / prophesied at the same time, then there was disorder. If one prophet spoke, the one sitting next to him was to keep still. If those with gifts of tongues (foreign languages) spoke when there was no foreigner attending the assembly, then what use would that be.  If there was no interpreter of that foreign language to tell those in the assembly what the tongue-speaker was saying, then no one would benefit.

Likewise the prophet’s wives were not to interrupt their husbands while speaking in the assembly.  But, moreover, 1 Cor. 14:36 is admonishing the men for their tendency to belittle the women as their male dominated society had been taught to do by their Rabbis.  And, that is why the comment about “as also saith the law” is key.

Why would Paul be putting women under the commandment of the law, while preaching throughout his ministry that all of us have been liberated from the law?  (Rom. 3:28. 6:14, 7:16, 8:2; Gal. 3:11, 13. 4:15, 5:18; etc)  Paul did not quote any scripture in 1 Cor. 14:34-35.  Whenever he quoted scripture he typically provided the reference, or said it is written.  If Paul actually made these statements in 1 Cor. 14:34-35, and there is some question about the authenticity of them, then Paul was quoting back to the men their Rabbinical laws, not God’s law.  (See here for more discussion.)

1 Cor. 14:36, “36 What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

The word of God did not come from men, nor did it come to them only!  Paul could not have been teaching that women should remain silent in church when he had previously discussed the dress and conduct while openly praying and prophesying in chapter 11.  If these verses are not an addition by the RCC, then Paul was chastising the men for their disparity of women.

The problem in 1 Cor. chap. 14 was the orderly conduct in the assemblies with the misuse of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the first century believers.  The whole issue was simply that the wives of the prophets were not to interrupt their husbands during assembly and worship service.

How are we to take this today?  Well, as the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased, as we have the written word of God with us today, it doesn’t really apply to us.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit were for those two generations as Peter told them on the day of Pentecost.

Acts. 2:39, for to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all those afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.’

The gifts of the Holy Spirit were for a time period to aid in the call of the gospel before the writings / record of that word was circulated to the churches.  The gifts were for that generation, they and their children and the gentiles that would be called during that first century A.D.

We have that record today.  We have the teachings of the Apostles and disciples in the New Testament.  We have the Spirit through the word.  They had the Spirit poured out by the laying on of the hands of the apostles after they were baptized. 

That gift of the Holy Spirit taught them the word of God.  They were just having some trouble knowing how best to utilize a new talent God gave them.

Then we have Paul’s instructions to a young Timothy in his first letter to Timothy, written approximately 57 A.D. most probably from Macedonia, as Timothy stayed in Ephesus.  1 Tim. 2: 8-12:

“ I wish, therefore, that men pray in every place, lifting up kind hands, apart from anger and reasoning;  in like manner also the women, in becoming apparel, with modesty and sobriety to adorn themselves, not in braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or garments of great price, 10 but — which becometh women professing godly piety — through good works.  11 Let a woman in quietness learn in all subjection, 12 and a woman I do not suffer to teach, nor to rule a husband, but to be in quietness,”

On the one hand, Paul is instructing that women should pray continually as the men, but in modesty and sobriety, just as the men are to pray continually apart from anger.  But, then he adds that they are not to teach, nor rule a husband, but to be quiet.  Paul was instructing Timothy on the conduct and manner of the assembly.  The admonition was against women teaching and assuming authority over the elders in the assembly. 

If a woman was never to teach, then how would this verse comport with Aquilas and Priscilla teaching Apollos more exactly?  (Acts 18:26)   They took him aside after the synagogue / assembly.

I do not believe that 1 Cor. 14: 34-35 is meant to teach that women are to be absolutely silent in church!   On the other hand, I do not believe the scriptures allow a woman to teach in the assembly, nor to exert authority in the assembly over men. 

However, I do believe the scriptures show that women were deacons, ministrants to the assembly, and workers along with men to teach others outside of the assembly.  I believe that women who know and study the word should participate in bible study, in private correction after the assembly, in ministering to others, and in teaching the gospel of Christ to those we come in contact with in our daily lives.

All scripture is either from Young’s Literal Translation, or the KJV.  All posts are also at 

Further reading:

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