If you’re following our blog and/or podcasts, then you know that we’re doing Q & A sessions after the sermons during our series on biblical manhood and womanhood. A question from this past week was going to be too lengthy to answer on Sunday, so I decided to respond here.
The question was: Some NT passages are seen as constricting for women (I’m specifically thinking of 1 Cor. 14:34-35. Can you explain the context for these verses and how are they applicable to Christian women today?
A good question. A common question. The other NT passage that is also usually seen as constricting is 1 Tim. 2:8-15. I won’t dive into that one too much other than to say that it also needs to be considered when discussing 1 Cor. 14:34-35. So get out your Bible. Or open it up on your compy 2000. We’ll use it.
(Click here to view all passages on BibleGateway.com – Will open in a new window)
The first thing I want to say, not only about this passage but about any passage that we read and study, is that we MUST have context if we’re going to understand what’s going on. To just jerk a verse out and read it is to set ourselves up for confusion and misunderstanding. You recognized this in the question. So, way to be!
Let’s do some observation on who’s involved and why:
- The apostle Paul is writing (1:1)
- A church in Corinth, which Paul planted and is around 3-5 years old is the recipient (1:2)
WHY DID PAUL WRITE?
- He heard there was division in the church (1:10-11)
- He heard there was immorality in the church (5:1)
- He received a letter from them asking him questions about theology and practical application (7:1)
So the result is the letter of 1 Corinthians. If you read the letter you discover that this is an extremely immature church that was cliquish, involved in incest and prostitution, suing one another in court, passive in church discipline, a free for all in worship, and doubting the resurrection of the body. It was a mess. So Paul is responding and correcting a church gone wild.
The passage we’re thinking through (1 Cor. 14) falls into the part of the letter where he is responding to their questions about spiritual gifts and their use in the local church (12:1). Look at what Paul has already said about spiritual gifts:
- They are gifts from the Holy Spirit to exalt Jesus (12:1-3)
- The church needs and has a variety of gifts, yet is united by the same Spirit (12:4-31)
- The use of the gifts is to be done in love (1 Cor. 13)
- Our gifts need to be used with wisdom and intelligence (14:1-25)
Ok, having looked at the broad context of the letter, let’s look at the immediate context of 1 Cor. 14:26-40.
Paul is correcting a misuse of spiritual gifts in the worship gatherings. He describes the free for all that happens when they get together (14:26). The result is confusion and everyone talking at the same time and error being communicated and believed. So Paul corrects that by telling several different people to be silent.
- He tells the church to only permit 2-3 people to speak in tongues. And they are to remain silent while the other spoke. Also others gifted in tongues would have to remain silent during that gathering if they weren’t in the 2 or 3.
- If there is a gathering with no interpreter, then all Christians with the gift of tongues must stay silent.
- The same goes for prophets. Only one prophet at a time could speak. The other was to remain silent.
- What was the result of all of this order and mutual submission to remain silent until appropriate times? Everyone learned and was encouraged. Truth was weighed by those with authority to weigh it. And God’s peace prevailed rather confusion (14:32-33)
It’s important to note here that Paul has just said that the 2-3 prophecies that are spoken in worship are to be weighed by prophets and that those prophecies are subject to the decision of the prophets. So if something is wrong in the prophecy in light of the authority of the Scriptures the prophets can correct it and say that its error.
It’s also important to note that Paul has also written that although a husband is the head of the wife due to creation design (11:3), a woman is allowed to pray and prophesy in worship gatherings (11:4). So a woman is allowed to speak.
So, the relevant context to our question is:
- A husband is the head of the wife because of creation design
- A woman can pray and prophesy in church gatherings and thus speak.
- Silence is appropriate for men and women throughout a gathering
- Prophesies are subject to leaders in the church
Now the verses: 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. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
So in light of the context, we can now read those verses very clearly saying that women are to be silent in this weighing of prophesies. To speak in this way would violate the command that woman aren’t to teach or have authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12). And depending on the situation a wife could potentially be in authority over her husband. Paul not only depends on his own authority but refers to the authority of the Law, the OT. Most likely referring to Gen. 2. He does that in 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Tim. 2:13. If wife has a question or problem with the prophecy they need to discuss that with their husbands who could bring it up in the public gathering.
This fits perfectly with Paul’s correction of this church’s tendency to buck the practices of biblically led churches everywhere and the Scriptures.
So that’s what’s going on there. I know I’ve opened up questions about things like prophecy, tongues, head coverings, etc. But that will have to be for now. Comment away.
Oh, and a lot better mind than myself has a great discussion of this. You can read D.A. Carson here: http://www.cbmw.org/Online-Books/Recovering-Biblical-Manhood-and-Womanhood/Silent-in-the-Churches