Church Life

Silent Women


1Corinthians 14:34,35  SILENT WOMEN? 

One controversy concerns the role of women in church ministry. One scripture in particular seems to exclude women from any public ministry: 

'Let your women keep SILENT in the churches, 


but they are commanded to be under obedience, 

as THE LAW also SAYS. 

And IF they want to learn something, 

let them ask their own husbands at home, 


(1 Corinthians 14:34,35)


Some would explain this away as a special command to the unruly women at Corinth to straighten-up, rather than a general command to all women everywhere. But if we treat one scripture this way, what is to stop us treating every scripture this way? Surely the New Testament is written for the whole church.

 The subject of the passage is: 'THE WOMEN IN THE CHURCHES (plural)'. This means-'all women.' Moreover the command is based on 'the law' which means it applies to all, rather than just to those in a particular culture or time.

Let us consider what this passage is literally saying. The word for 'silent' does not mean 'quiet' Thus it is not saying that women should have a quiet (meek) spirit. The word translated 'silent' means no word can be spoken! It is saying WOMEN MUST BE (completely) SILENT IN CHURCH. This doesn't just disqualify them from teaching but from testifying, praying, prophesing and moving in the gifts of the Spirit-the latter being the context of these verses (1Cor12:1)

The First Problem with this passage, is that it contradicts Paul's other teaching in this book. 

For he says women may pray and prophesy in church (1Cor11:3-5). 

In 1Corinthians 12, especially in v13-27 he teaches that all members of the church (men and women), are members of the body and thus have a function in the body working in co-ordination with each other, and so we can all be used in the gifts and ministries of the Spirit. 

So, he says: 'if ALL (men and women) prophesy' (1Cor14:24) 

'When you come together, EVERY ONE (men and women) of you has a psalm, has a doctrine, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.' (v26) 

'You may ALL prophesy one by one.' (v31) 

So, why would he say 3 verses later that all women must be silent in church? Is he being doubleminded? So the first problem is that in the middle of encouraging everyone to move out in ministry, he is telling all women to be silent! 

This also contradicts the spirit of the New-Testament with Jesus treating women with honour, with the churches set free from all Jewish traditions (Acts15), with full equality in the church (Gal 3:28) and with the Spirit poured upon all flesh (male and female) to give power for ministry (Acts 1:8, 2:4,16-18)

A Second Problem is the discouragement upon women from even learning: 

'and IF THEY WANT TO LEARN.' The tone of this is condescending to women, that not only should they not speak, it is optional for them to learn the Word (it is even mildly frowned upon as if it were not really their place.) This is clearly in contradiction to the New Testament teaching for women and contrasts with what Paul said in 1Timothy 2:11: 'LET a woman learn.' Here he encourages women to study the Word. Here he speaks against those who would discourage them.

A Third Problem is the AUTHORITY used: 


Which Law is this? There are 4 possibilities:

(1) The Old Testament Scripture. (The Law of Moses) 

It is usually referred to by 'It is written' (1Cor 1:19,31; 3:19,20; 4:6; 9:9; 10:11, 14:21; 15:45,51) 

(2) The Teaching of Jesus (1Cor 7:10). 

(3) The Apostolic Teaching and Tradition 

-that which Paul and others received by revelation from the Lord (1Cor 7:12) Paul received special new revelations to meet the needs of a new situation (the Church Age where many Gentiles were becoming believers on an equal footing with the Jews). For example: 1Cor 2:10-13,16; 4:1,15-17, 7:6,10,12,17,25; 11:1,2,16,17, 23; 14:36,37; 15:1,3 

(4) The Oral Law of the Jews (later written as the Talmud)- the interpretation of Moses' Law by the Scribes and Pharisees. It is followed by the Orthodox Jews to this day as of equal authority to the Bible. They falsely claimed it was passed down from Moses by word of mouth. Jesus clashed with Pharisees over this law. He rejected it and came against it's legalistic spirit (Matt15:3, Mark7:3).

Now when 1Cor 14:34,35 refers to a law of silence for women, 

it couldn't be (1) because there's no such law in the Old-Testament and he would say 'it is written'; neither is it found in the Gospels (2). Neither is it (3) because it is clearly a pre-existing law. Therefore by a process of elimination it must be (4) The Jewish Oral Law (the laws of the Pharisees)

This is confirmed by the phrase: 'As also SAYS the Law.' - a reference to the ORAL law rather than the WRITTEN law (scripture). (see also Matt 5:21,27,31, 33,38,43)

Also,we know this because it agrees completely with the Talmud and applies to Orthodox synagogues today. The service is for men only. Women are discouraged from even learning, but are sometimes allowed to watch from the gallery, for their place is at home not with things too high for them! And it would be shameful for them to speak in a meeting.

TALMUDIC QUOTES illustrate this: 

A Jewish Prayer:'Praise God He hasn't created me a gentile, a woman or an ignorant man.' 

'The woman, says the law, is in all things inferior to the man.' 

Only men could speak in public (Beraktoth 4,36; Mishnah Aboth 1,5) 

No woman could give a testimony or conduct business. (Mishnah Shabbath 4,1) 

Women were viewed with disregard and repression, and the Talmud contains many distasteful insults of women's character. They were to be avoided. They were not required to know or fulfil the law and so few were learned. 

One said: 'May the words of the Torah be burned rather than be given to women.' 

In public worship they were segregated and silenced and so had to ask questions of their husbands at home. 

Clearly the writer of 1Cor 14:34,35 reflected this Pharisaical attitude to women and used this Jewish Law to support his views.

So why would Paul say something that stands in contradiction to the immediate context and the rest of the New Testament? Why would he establish this teaching on Jewish Laws that elsewhere, both he and Jesus rejected?

The simple answer is these verses are not Paul's teaching! 

Paul's letters are written in response church situations. 1Corinthians is the most responsive of them all. Paul had received reports about what was going on (1:11, 5:1, 6:1,8), and the church had sent a letter to Paul with many questions (7:1,8,10,12,25; 8:1,4; 12:1; 16:1). There was disunity (1:10-12,3:3). In particular there were 2 groups of people saved from different backgrounds disputing -Jews who tended toward legalism, and Greeks who tended toward license. Paul goes through the issues and questions raised one by one.

Examples of when Paul is clearly responding to what one group has said are 6:15-20 (Greeks); 9:1-11; 11:1-16 (Jews) and 15:12,35,36.

Sometimes he refers what they are saying and then he answers them -e.g.1Cor 4:8: 'You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us.' (this is what some of them had claimed) --'and indeed I wish you did reign, that we might also reign with you.' (Paul's answer -see also 4:10)

Sometimes he even quotes what they say and then answers them. The problem is that there are no punctuation or quote marks in the Greek and the translators often miss them out.

Some examples of this, are when he responds to the 'loose' Greeks as in 6:12,13: 

(You say) 'All things are lawful for me.' 

(I Paul) say: 'but all things are not helpful.' 

(You say) 'All things are lawful for me.' 

(I Paul) say: 'but I will not be brought under the power of any.' 

(You say) 'Food is for the stomach and the stomach for foods.' 

(I Paul) say: 'but God will destroy both it and them.' 

We see the same in 10:23,24. 

In questions about idols Paul challenges those who pride themselves in their knowledge but who do not hold it in love. (8:1-3) 8:4: 'We know that -'an idol is nothing in the world and that there is but one God' (again he quotes their words (their knowledge) before he answers as confirmed in v10,11.

Other examples are when he responds to the 'legalistic Jews', 7:1: 

'Now concerning what you wrote to me, 

(some of you said) 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman.' 

(But I Paul say) 'Nevertheless because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife...'

Now we can understand what is happening in 1Cor 14:34,35. 

Paul is quoting what some Jewish converts to Christ, had written in a letter to Paul, complaining about women being involved in church services. Although they were saved they were used to male-dominated synagogue- worship and so found the equality of women in church life hard to take.

They were saying: 'Paul, these women are prophesying, praying out loud, speaking in tongues. The Oral law says it's shameful for a woman to speak in public. Tell them to shut-up!'

So as Paul is teaching on every member participating in church services, it is the natural place for him to deal with their objection. So he quotes what they say: 'Let your women keep silent in the churches, for it is not permitted for them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as the law also says. 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' (v34,35)

Then he answers them:'What, came the word of God out from you? or came it to you only? If any think himself a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you (not the Talmud) are the commandments of the Lord (the true authority) But if any (choose to be) be ignorant, let him be ignorant.' (v36-38) Paul replies by asserting his apostolic authority above the Talmud.

This also explains why these verses come out of the blue, interrupting the flow of thought, which is picked up again in v39,40: 'Therefore brethren,covet to prophesy and do not forbid to speak with tongues.' 

The placement of v34,35 in the passage as a clear interruption and marked contrast to what Paul is teaching, serves to separate them from Paul's own views.

We conclude that Paul isn't silencing women, rather the opposite!

Those who are too quick to agree with v34,35 have unwittingly submitted to an unchristian pharisaical spirit



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