Session 14 - Women and Silence during the Assembly. (Part 1)
Women should remain silent in the churches. They
are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.
I Corinthians 14:34
- A question about the placement of I Corinthians 14:34, 35 in the
- This passage has received much attention regarding it placement
(for it seems out of place). For example, some scholars believe vs. 34,
35 actually belong after v. 40. Nevertheless, there is no compelling reason
to believe that the verses are not in their proper place.
- Others have interpreted that Paul is actually quoting, in vs. 34,35,
men at Corinth who wish to gain control over the women in the congregation.
They base this argument upon the wording of v. 36. Such an interpretation
would proceed something like, You [the men] say women should
remain silent in the churches. What! Did the word of God originates
with you? Yet this is a stretch as an interpretation
- Still others have suggested that the text was added later and did not
originate with Paul. These interpreters suggest that the flow of the passage
is interrupted by vs. 34 and 35. In addition, some of the words are not
typically Pauline. Yet this argument is difficult to support
because the verses appear in virtually all early manuscripts of the New
- The context of I Corinthians 14:34, 35.
- Chapters 11 14 of I Corinthians address matters related
to the corporate meetings of the public assembly and in most instances
surely refer to the worship services. Chapters 12 14 specifically
address abuses of spiritual manifestations, that is, tongues,
prophecy and the expression by women of their
spiritual gifts in the congregation.
- Paul argues that prophesy is more valuable than tongues (14:22
25). Paul appeals to the cognitive rather than the experiential.
- Tongues may have become a sign for unbelievers (14:22)
but tongues are not the proper sign.
- Rather, if an unbeliever arrives and can understand (hears prophesy),
then that unbeliever will testify that God is really among you.
- Paul then reviews the current status in the Corinthian church (vs.
14:26). We generally use this passage to consider how things should be
in worship, but the passage actually is most literally translated, How
stands the case, brothers? That is, Paul states the current status
- The case is that, when the church comes together, each
has a tongue, a hymn, etc. but they are not being used for edification.
Rather disorder prevails. (14:29 33)
- Paul appeals for order during the public assembly (for God is not a
god of disorder but of peace [v. 33]). The phrase As in all the
congregations of the saints probably best goes with v. 33 rather
than v. 34. This is debated, however. Regardless, the intent of the phrase
is that the Corinthians should adhere to common practices among Christians
- The activities of women during the public assembly, specifically speaking,
are then addressed. (vs. 34, 35) Once again, the Greek words aner and
gyne are used for men (husbands) and women (wives).
- An analysis of I Corinthians 14:34, 35
- The concept of remaining silent is not initially
introduced in relation to women. Paul has instructed those who wish to
speak in a tongue without an interpreter should remain silent (14:28)
and those prophets who wish to speak when another prophet is speaking
should remain silent (14:30).
- In both gatherings in ancient synagogues and in the Greco-Roman world,
women in practice were typically forbidden to speak in public (though
women in synagogues were not forbidden from speaking in principle).
- Women in both the Jewish and Greco-Roman world were encouraged to speak
through their husbands. Not only the arm but the voice of a modest
woman ought to be kept from the public
she should speak either to,
or through, her husband (Plutarchs Conjugal Precepts)
- Yet women almost certainly prayed and prophesied in the Corinthian
church (I Corinthians 11). Though some suggest that women actually prayed
and prophesied in the home only or in small groups of females, this cannot
easily be supported by a reading of chapter 11.
- The more conservative view of this passage suggests that the command
to be silent is universal (that is, it is not limited to a specific situation
in Corinth) but is not general (that is, women could open their mouths
for some activities during the public assemblies). On this view:
- During the first century, God chose to speak through women as well
as men and it was therefore appropriate for a woman to speak or bring
forth a prophetic message in the public assembly (11:5). (Some, however,
believe that the gift of prophecy, if received by a woman, should
never be manifested in the public assembly.)
- On the other hand, it would not be appropriate for a woman to participate
in a discussion among the men who were discerning the prophets
message. (14:27 33, 35)
- Paul appeals to the Law, namely the law of Genesis
2 and/or 3:16 that asserts male spiritual leadership (woman is to
be subject to man).
- This interpretation would favor the translation of aner and gyne
as man and woman rather than husband and wife.
- The distinction between the large assembly and smaller
assemblies of both male and female Christians is not critical to the
understanding of this passage for most Christians worshiped in small
- Nothing prevented a woman from inquiring of any man outside the
assembly, whether it was her husband or someone else (14:35).
- There was a difference between prophesying (passing on Gods
word) and preaching (an exposition of Gods word). Open forum
for discussion of Gods word was for men only during the first
century. Open discussion may have been very common during this period
during the worship service.
- There are no modern day prophets (or prophetesses) so this spiritual
gift is no longer relevant to the discussion (I Corinthians 13:9.
10). Prayer can always be in silence.
- There is no reason a woman cannot sing during the assembly, for
by singing she is not interpreting nor engaging in exposition.
- The injunction must extend beyond exposition, for the principle
of submission to male spiritual leadership is critical (I Timothy
2:11 15). Even if permitted by the men of the congregation,
the appearance of a woman in a position of authority (such as leading
the singing, making announcements or serving at the Lords table)
would violate the rule of male spiritual leadership.
- Wearing of a head covering is not binding (11:5, 6) but keeping
silent in the assembly is binding. If a command is given in a cultural
setting which ceases to exist, then the command ceases to exist. In
contrast, the Law (14:34) does not cease to exist.
- The service of women is through good deeds (I Timothy 5:10).
- The more modern view suggests the command to be silent is local and
relates to specific issues of concern to Paul in Corinth. The general
principle of order can be generalized but not the command for women to
- There existed some form of serious disruptive speech among the
women in Corinth.
- The Greek word laleo which we translate speak always
takes its meaning from the context, e.g. silent meditation in v. 28
and speaking in tongues in vs. 23 and 27 of Chapter 11.
- There is no clear contextual indication of what laleo means in
vs. 34, 35 but the construction suggests that the word means giving
free reign to irresistible impulses, to ask question after
question, therefore creating chaos during the worship.
- The Greek words aner and gyne in 11:34, 35 refer to husbands and
wives for the injunction to remain silent is tied directly to the
injunction to ask their husbands at home (v. 35).
- The Greek word sigao which we translate silence in
vs. 28 and 34 can mean hold your peace and is not universal
but, for example in v. 28, applies to a specific situation. If
there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet.
- Paul does not say be in submission to your own husbands
but be in submission, as the Law says. That Law is a law
of submitting to one another. In other words, the Corinthians have
no right to do their own thing with regard to the verbal
misconduct by tongue-speakers or prophets or by certain questioning
wives (11:37 40). Let what happens everywhere else happen with
you as well.
- The Law cannot refer to the old law, for Paul says
Christ is the end of the law. (Romans 10:4)
- If we no longer insist that women wear head coverings (11:5, 6)
during the assembly, then we should no longer insist that women remain
silent during the assembly.
- What can we learn from I Corinthians 14: 34, 35?
- Paul was probably not addressing a specific heresy in this
passage but rather disruptive behavior during the public assemblies.
- Paul addressed an issue that was inherent in early Christian churches
and is probably inherent today. Namely, Paul focuses upon the freedom
one experiences in Christ and the potential abuses of that freedom (10:23,
- The boundary between a worship service and the public assembly of the
church was not as clear during New Testament times and is not clear today.
Paul is probably speaking of any formal assembly of the church (11:26).
- The major abuse of freedom during the assembly related to spontaneous
outbursts during the assembly, including the misuse of tongues, prophecy
- The injunction to keep silent directed to these wives (women)
must be interpreted within the context of the general tenor of I Corinthians
11 14 (with the love of chapter 13 preeminent). Why does Paul place
the great chapter on love in the Corinthian letter and why in this position?
- The injunction must be considered within the confines of the culture
of the day. This does not mean that we have become a cultural church.
Paul himself clearly speaks to how the Corinthian Christians should deal
with cultural conflicts (10:31 33). During every age, Christians
must express their freedom in Christ within the confines of the prevailing
culture so that they do no provide a stumbling block to others. Even
as I try to please everybody in every way (10:33a) is not weakness
but rather a sign of love (10:33b, 13:4).
- The injunction must also be considered in the context of Pauls
reference to spiritual leadership in general and male spiritual leadership
in particular. (11:7 12). Once again, we must ask ourselves how
the Genesis narratives of creation shape the relationship between men
and women in Christ.
- Osburn CD: The interpretation of I Cor. 14:34 35, in Osburn CD (ed.):
Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity. Volume 1. Joplin, MO, College Press,
1993, pp. 219 242
- Carson DA: Silent in the churches: On the role of women in
I Corinthians 14:33b 36, in Piper J, Gruden W (eds.): Recovering Biblical
Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, Ill.,
Crossway Books, 1991, pp. 140 153.
- Smith L: Male Spiritual Leadership. Nashville, TN, 21st Century Christian,
- Lightfoot, NR: The Role of Women: New Testament Perspectives. Memphis,
TN, Student Association Press, 1978