Wednesday, February 06, 2008

1 Corinthians 14:34-35


It is a popular patriarchal and complementarian view that because of the words in 1 Corinthians 14 "let your women be silent", that therefore all women should not utter a word in the assembly. I find this to be a huge stretching of the words in question, the phraseology, and context of the full sentence, the aim of the chapter in question, and a selective omission of the places in Scripture where women did speak in general assembly. This is also an attempt to support the idea that women are not to teach or preach. After all if they cannot utter a word, that effectively prohibits them from teaching or preaching. Taken to the full end it also would prohibit women from singing and taking part in worship.

Objection 1
The Upper Room Prayer Meeting

Acts 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. 13And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
Peter's Sermon; the Coming of the Holy Spirit
Acts 2:1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

It is important to note that both men and women were in assembly together AND that they prayed together with one accord AND that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit speaking with other tongues as the Spirit anointed them in the upper room prayer meeting (Acts 1:12-14/2:1-4). To speak as the Holy Spirit anoints one is not every day speaking. Anointed speaking would be described as exhortation, edification and encouragement as moved by the Holy Spirit. This is also teaching and preaching. If men and women can teach and preach to one another under a heavy anointing, then they can also do so under a "light" anointing. I would call general assemblies with preaching by the elders, leaders, teachers, pastors, etc. "light anointing". I would also call bringing a psalm, a teaching, an exhortation, a prophesy, etc. by the general congregation, a "light" anointing. After all the idea is that one does not preach or teach their own thoughts but the concepts they sense they are directed to do so by God. If God used both men and women in one place, then He will use them in other places.

This noted incident is enough in my mind, to cross off the popular interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:35 to be meaning women are never to utter a word in church assembly.

Objection 2
1 Cor. 11: 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

Chapter eleven is discussing the propriety of wives praying and prophesying in public following the social customs of head coverings. The admonition is for wives to pray and prophesy in attire that will not bring shame, but honor, to their husbands. This is not a discussion of wives doing street corner preaching, but regular praying and preaching (anointed exhortation, comfort and speaking forth the Word) in the assembly which is why there is concern over attire.

Objection 3
The context of 1 Corinthians 14 is one of orderliness. There is no underlying message of who may or may not exercise Spiritual gifts. Rather all are encouraged to participate and edify.

26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

Note the points that have preceded: an admonition on respect in relationships and attire while ministering (11:1-16), respect in communion celebrations (11:17-34), honoring one another’s gifts and ministries (chap. 12), exercising gifts with love of brethren (chap. 13), acknowledging that prophesy is to be desired more than anything (14:1-25), and that there is to be an orderliness in how we exercise our speaking gifts (14:1-25).

Paul has been working at establishing an over all respect and honor as well as a devotion to desiring spiritual gifts. Paul does not wish to dissuade participation but rather encourage respectful participation. Before verse 35, there is not even a remote hint that Paul would not want women to participate in the ministering of the Holy Spirit.

Thus again this is more than enough in my mind to cross off the popular interpretation of 1 Cor. 14:35 to be meaning women are never to utter a word in church assembly.

Objection 4
The Greek word used for "silent" is sigao. My favorite Greek Concordance defines this as "hush", also to keep secret, hold ones peace, and keep close. Vines Complete Expository Dictionary holds a similar definition. Sigao was also used in Luke 9:36, 20:2; Acts 12:17, 15:12; Romans 16:25; 1 Cor. 14:28,30,34.

Luke 9:36When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.
Luke 20: 26But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.
Acts 12: 17But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, "Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren." And he departed and went to another place.
Acts 15: 12Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. 13And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, "Men and brethren, listen to me:
Romans 16: 25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began
1 Corinthians 14: 28But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. ……30But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. …34Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

In none of these places is sigao used to forever muzzle one from speaking, but rather for them to hush or for them to hold their peace for a specific purpose, usually in order to better hear someone else speak. It is a matter of respectful orderliness. It does not even mean they cannot speak again the whole evening, but simply a specific time for a specific purpose. Verse 35 could make sense in addressing disorderly wives to speak their questions at home rather than disturbing the assembly with them and this would seem a possible sensible point to the preceding sentence.

Objection 5
"for they are not permitted to speak". This is a problem. It is really not possible for Paul to have said that himself. He just got through discussing how a woman should dress WHILE speaking in the assemblies (chp. 11:1-16). Then Paul discusses how EVERYONE has gifts for the benefit of the whole (chp. 12). Then goes on to say that EVERYONE should desire to prophesy and seek after the best gifts. Then he goes on to say that EVERYONE should come to the assemblies with something to share giving examples of types of contributions that are SPEAKING!

These are all in the same epistle. The preponderance of evidence that Paul intends for women to speak in the assembly is too great to believe that those words were Paul's. They had to be someone else's that he was quoting in order to counter in the next sentence. According to the original Greek, the next verse should start with a disjunctive particle such as Rubbish!, Not! or similar negative. Instead, many translation have gone with "or", which takes out the intent and force.

In effect Paul is responding to those words meant to silence women from speaking and saying that the idea is rubbish. This goes along perfectly with everything else Paul says about women in his epistles. How could Paul praise a woman minister of Cenchrea, a woman teaching Appolos a renown speaker, female fellow workers in the gospel, and a woman apostle (Romans 16) if it were his intent to stop women from speaking.

This is an important point in understanding this section of Scripture as well as in understanding that we must weave Scripture together properly in order to understand it properly. One section cannot stand out in contradiction to the rest. When that happens, we are interpreting it incorrectly.

Objection 6
However, the rest of verse 34 is confusing, because clearly women are permitted by Paul to speak, there is no obvious relationship to speaking and being submissive, and there is no Scriptural Law that addresses this issue. It is possible that there is a local cultural law, but would seem unlikely for Paul to cite it. It is possible that he is referencing some local laws relative to the respect of women toward their husbands, of which there were numerous, both by the Greeks and Jews. Honor and Shame in the World of the Bible by V. H. Matthews et al, is supposed to discuss many of these. It is also possible that it is addressing the additional “laws” of the Mishnah created by the Pharisees since they concluded that to hear a woman’s voice read the Law tainted the Law. Heavy misogynism.

There are other possible interpretations being considered by present day theologians. A. C. Thiselton (in his new NIGTC) [1] suggests that the questions could be regarding sifting and weighing the words of the prophets, i.e. judging the prophets. While this is a good possibility, I think one needs to remember that the general congregations are not the ones to judge the words of the prophets either, but the prophets as a group, possibly including other anointed leadership.

Another possible interpretation, and the one I prefer, is that verses 34 and 35 are another’s words likely in a letter from the Corinthians that Paul is quoting and actually repudiating in verse 36. “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?” Paul has quoted others and then responded to them in other places such as he does in 1 Cor. 6:12-13, and proceeds to answer in verse 14.

Fee argues for an interpolation in First Epistle . [2]

The first makes sense since women were coming out of a place of ignorance and most needed to learn more before they could offer informed constructive discussion. The second makes sense if Paul is addressing those who would think only men would ever be capable of discernment since it is the Holy Spirit who inspires and brings truth.

[1] The First Epistle to the Corinthians by Anthony C. Thiselton, pgs. 1156-1160
[2] First Epistle by G. Fee, page 710


It is not speech but abuse of speech that is being addressed here. This includes the speaking of tongues, the prophesying, and the probable disorderly questions. Neither tongues, nor prophesy, nor questions are being forbidden, but simply controlled. Paul is simply calling to order ordinary members of the congregation. Even Paul is willing to control and restrain himself even where he has rights if it means he is able to serve others better.

Serving All Men
1 Cor. 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; ..............

Regardless of all the possibilities; if it is addressing the discussion of discerning the words of the prophets or if Paul is admonishing those who wish to retain a privilege to themselves, it IS addressing disorderly speech in general. This is seen clearly in Pauls concluding statement: 39Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order. IMO if we go beyond that we err.


Further notes:

Those who argue for absolute silence of women in church meetings mostly argue around these points:

1. It specifically addresses “women” so this is something only for women.
2. The word silent means absolute speechlessness therefore all women should not utter a word in the assembly which rules out teaching, preaching, etc.
3. It makes mention of “the Law”, so this is not only for any particular incident or for a limited time frame.
4. As is reasonable for women who are in submission to their husbands, wives need to ask questions of their own husbands instead of disturbing the church service.
5. Because it says that it is shameful for a woman to speak in church this further cements the restriction.

Those who argue against absolute silence of women in church services mostly argue around these points:

1. context rules out absolute silence ; the context is orderliness not gender preferences
2. Greek meaning of sigao is closer to “hush” rather than absolute forever silence.
3. Other Scriptures in the same time frame have Paul promoting women speaking and in ministry, so he cannot do both at the same time since they contradict one another
4. The upper room experience has both men and women speaking in tongues together and prophesying before each other.
5. In context Paul just got finished admonishing EVERYone to bring something to give/share at the meeting and admonished everyone about how to operate in tongues and prophesy before the congregation.
6. Since the verse says to ask husbands at home, the prohibition for orderliness likely was about wives loudly asking husbands questions, thus they should ask them at home, rather then disturb the flow of the moving of the Spirit
7. There is no Scriptural Law in the Torah that prohibits women from speaking. If Paul were to be referencing a local law, that does not make it a universal restriction. And it is unlikely that Paul would do so. In fact the only known “law” against women speaking in spiritual matters is from the Jewish Talmud, the oral traditions of the Prarisees, which has no universal binding on Scriptural admonitions.
8. Some argue that the restriction is not against every kind of speaking but only the sifting, weighing, and judging of the prophetic words given.
9. There are a few scholars who are arguing for it to be an interpolation and have good scientific reasons for concluding this. One being that verses 34-35 are in different places in different manuscripts (not connected with verse 33). Another reason being that this section does not flow with the rest of the chapter upsetting the context by interrupting the theme of prophecy, spoiling the flow of thought. (Gordon Fee supports this) Another reason being that a professor of paleography examined certain manuscripts with a high powered magnifying glass and demonstrated that the words had been inserted and not part of the original writing of the manuscripts.
10. There are also a growing number of scholars supporting verses 34-35 being a quote from the Corinthians in a letter to Paul which he is refuting. The disjunctive particle in verse 36 seems a good indication that this is correct.

Not sure if I covered everything, but that is the gist of it.


I also found this quote:

Out of respect to the congregation, a woman should not herself read in the law. It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men. The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness.

this if from Mishna sotah 3.4;B sotah 20a.

J. Lee Grady said this about it:
"It should be noted that the Jewish Talmud is a collection of comments by rabbis who disagree, and the statement here about the "obscenity" of teaching women the law of God is challenged. However, many scholars of early Jewish thought believe the quote here represents the prevalent opinion of rabbis in the first century. Women were not allowed to study the Torah or to become disciples of rabbis."

In my opinion this is likely where the comment in verses 34-35 came from, from the Talmudic law. But Paul could not have agreed with it since he promoted women in ministry, honored and acknowledged their service in the Lord. It is likely though that there were Jewish Christians who still still held such a restrictive view.


Rachel said...

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if that's okay.
Every blessing

believer333 said...

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grace and peace ...