What are we to do about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 regarding women needing to keep silent in the churches? The passage certainly has caused quite a stir and no little debate. Well, what we cannot do is simply dismiss it because we do not like what it has to say or try to explain it away since we are uncomfortable with it. It is the Word of God for us as a church. Therefore, we must accept it and obey it. But of course we need to be sure that we understand it. And that is my goal here in this blogpost. To help us make sense of this teaching so that we are able to properly put it into practice. I recently preached on this passage so it allowed me to dive in to restudy the topic yet again. The following is an edited version of my sermon manuscript.
One thing we need to recognize with this command for the women to keep silent in the churches because they are not permitted to speak is that this is not an absolute commandment. It cannot mean that a woman is not allowed to say a word at all in the entire worship service. We would all be in trouble if that was the case. Ladies would not be able to share any prayer requests with us and they could not join in the singing. Things which occur regularly each Lord's Day. But thankfully, that is not what Paul has in mind here. We know that cannot be the case because just a few short chapters ago, back in chapter 11, he taught that a woman was to have her head covered according to the cultural custom whenever she would pray or prophesy. And you cannot publicly pray or prophesy without speaking. To do those things in the context of the Sunday morning gathering requires someone not to be silent. So, this cannot be saying that a woman should never open her mouth to speak anything in worship. It must then be limited to a certain form of speaking which occurs in the church.
For the type of speaking that a woman is not permitted to do, please look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15. My mentor would often say that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible. If you ever find yourself struggling to understand a specific passage of Scripture, just keep reading and you may discover more clarity given about it somewhere else later in the Bible. The Holy Spirit had Paul bring more clarity to this issue in his first letter to young Timothy much later. 1 Timothy 2:11-12 says, A woman must learn in quietness, in all submission. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
We see here that the kind of speaking that Paul says a woman is not to do is to teach or exercise authority over a man. Teaching in a way that would have her perceived as having authority over a man or that would place her in authority over a man. Interestingly enough, in the very next chapter, we find Paul laying out the qualifications of an elder or pastor; a position of authority in the church. And the one skill required of such is that he must be able to teach (3:2). This would prohibit then a woman from serving as a pastor or performing the function of a pastor. And the fact that the pastor must have the ability to teach indicates that his authority is exercised through teaching. Through the teaching of the Word.
Does this mean that a woman cannot teach anyone in the church at all? Absolutely not. The issue is teaching that would place them in authority over any MEN in the congregation. Titus 2 instructs us that older women are to teach the younger women in the church to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be slandered. We need more women in congregations to do this important work. The work of teaching other women. In fact, there are things that a woman can teach other women much more effectively than I could simply because, as a man, I have not had the same experiences, and frankly, never will. And we know that women can teach children because every mother is called to do that. Women can teach other women and children. In fact, they should teach other women and children. But from my understanding of this passage, they are not to teach adult men.
In the earlier days of her ministry, Beth Moore got this. Unfortunately, she has now repudiated such a teaching as well as apparently what she once taught on homosexuality and modesty which are just a few reasons I cannot recommend any of her Bible studies and books. Throw in her bizarre accounts of God supposedly telling her to go on a “play date” with Him and wash a random woman’s hair at the airport, and her teachings can be downright dangerous. But, anyway, she used to begin her women’s conferences with an address to the husbands who had come along with their wives. She would tell them that it was alright for them to stay but she did not desire to have any kind of authority over them. Her message was directed towards the women. At the time, she recognized this teaching of Scripture. Not any more though. And there are those like Elisabeth Elliott in a previous generation and Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth now who only direct their ministry to women. They are cautious not to step into a role of teaching or preaching to men that God has not called them to.
In the context of what was going on in Corinth, this meant that a woman could not evaluate or explain a prophecy that had been given because that would place them in judgment over the men in the congregation, and possibly even their own husbands. That would make them to be in essence in authority over them when they are to submit to their leadership. And if they had any questions about the prophecy, rather than join those in the congregation who had been tasked to sift or judge that prophecy, they are to ask their husbands at home. It very well could be that some of the women in the congregation were stepping up to give an explanation of the prophecy and Paul had heard about it. So, he needs to remind them of what they have been called to do in the church.
we cannot limit this to the situation there at Corinth. The way that this is
worded does not allow us to do so.
It says that The women are to keep silent
in the churches plural. This is not just for the church in Corinth. And the
last statement of v. 33, As in all the
churches of the saints, actually could go with v. 34 indicating that this
should be the practice in every church. (My copy of the Greek text of the letter actually has the sentence of v. 33 ending with peace and this phrase beginning the sentence of v. 34. It actually makes more sense for it to be attached to what follows instead of that which proceeds.)
It is important that we realize that this is not Paul’s opinion that he is giving here with this. He does not write this because he is some kind of misogynist chauvinist who devalues women. Some have accused him of such. No, in fact, this teaching actually predates Paul. You will notice that this is just as the Law also says. The Law is Paul’s shorthand for the entire OT. We know this to be the case because when he quoted Isaiah 28:11 earlier in v. 21, he stated that In the Law it is written. The OT Scripture teaches this and Paul is just calling on the church in Corinth to follow such teaching in their worship services.
As to where in the OT this is found, don’t go looking in Exodus or Leviticus. That’s not where Paul is thinking. He is actually going farther back than that. To the testimony of God’s very creation of man and woman in Genesis 2. This is where the parallel of 1 Timothy 2 helps us yet again. When you jump back there, we find the reason Paul gave the instruction about women not being permitted to teach or exercise authority over a man in v. 13. For it was Adam who was first formed, and then Eve. It is based on the order of creation and God’s good design in that. Why is God’s making of Adam and Eve significant? Because God made man first to serve as the head of the family and the woman afterwards to be the man’s helper. To serve alongside of him under his leadership. Contrary to our culture today, there is a distinction between the two genders by design and some things that God has called men to do that He hasn’t called women as well as certain things He has called women to do that He hasn’t men. One of these things that men have been specifically called to do is to lead in their homes and in the church. As I pointed out earlier, a leading that is done through teaching. I would argue that a major problem in both the home and the church today is that there is an absence of men leading so the women are feeling the need to step in to fill in the gap left by the men. But such should not be the case. It is not the very way God has intended.
There are a number of responses that these verses elicit in people. Some think it appears unfair for women not to be allowed to teach and lead in the church, at least over men. I answer that it is no more unfair than God designing for women to bear and birth children and not men. That is the specific role God has crafted most women for. Billy Graham's wife, Ruth, once said that she thought that men excell women in various areas from music, politics, writing, and athletics [we currently are witnessing that with the young man who is masquerading as a girl breaking all of these swimming records in the girls category] but women make the best wives and the best mothers. Much better than any man ever could! I’ll acknowledge that most men don’t take issue with this as women often do to what God has not given them to do. But then again, Genesis 3:16 indicates that this would be the case. That women will have the desire to overtake the authority of their husbands though God has designed for him to be the head over them.
This teaching may seem old-fashioned and out of place in today’s world. But I think that that just goes to show us how much we have allowed the culture to mold and shape us and not the Scriptures. Whenever we may find the church to be in agreement with the culture, we need to pause and evaluate it. Because the two are seldom in agreement. The way of Christ is different from the way of the world. I am convinced that the feminist movement with its emphasis that women should be able to do whatever men can is responsible for us being so open to women fulfilling roles that God has intended specifically for men. Hence, why virtually no church or denomination had a woman pastor over 50 years ago but now few denominations can be found who haven’t compromised to the spirit of the age we could say.
And let me be clear that this teaching in NO WAY limits women to use the gifts that God has graciously given them in the ministry of the church. One of my pet peeves is when someone claims that this position is against women serving in ministry in the church. The only way that would be true is if you limit ministry only to what goes on behind the pulpit which 1 Corinthians 12 will not allow us to do. Every member in the congregation is involved in ministry. We are to minister to one another with the specific gifts that the Spirit has given us. No one is less important or less needed in a fellowship because he or she is not the pastor or preaching behind the pulpit. The only difference between me and the other members of the congregation is that God has called me to serve as their pastor and has called them in a different capacity.
And if all of us were pastors, preachers, or teachers, all the work of ministry which God has for us to do would never get done. We would surely be hurting at Mt. Joy without all of the faithful ladies serving in so many various ways and areas. And there is a plethora of ways to serve that do not involve teaching or having authority over men. So, don’t let it ever be said that a woman does not have a place to serve in ministry simply because God has not designed for her to serve in leadership as a pastor, preacher, or teacher over men.
I see no way of getting around the clear teaching of Scripture on this topic. Paul didn't stutter in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 or in 1 Timothy 2:12-15. And what he teaches in these passages is consistent with the prescriptions and patterns throughout Scripture regarding gender roles. In the end, it comes down to whether we desire to follow Scripture or the spirit of the age. Whether we accept what God has said and called both men and women respectively to do in the home and in the church or reject it due to us being uncomfortable with it.
Love in Christ,