Why women should not be "silent in the churches"
GOD wants all of us to speak his word, He tells us very clearly throughout scripture that we can, will, and should speak His word.
“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy…
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
Acts 2:17-18/Joel 2:28-29
However, there are some important questions about the women of our church that need to be answered. Were there regulations to when or where women could prophesy? Does God only want his women to prophesy outside of church doors? These are very important questions to answer, because the vast majority of Christian’s today believe that women should either refrain from preaching all together, or hold a very limited role in the church. These misconceptions are often tied to a few verses and accepted as God’s will, but with a closer look we will see that God’s word says just the opposite.
Let’s start by looking at 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35 a passage that is commonly presented as a direct statement of the apostle Paul.
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
The first time I heard this passage it was presented to me as the very reason women should never preach, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that it contradicts so much of what Paul says throughout his writings. This was, after all, the same Paul who told us:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Fortunately for us, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 doesn’t represent something Paul was teaching, it represents something he was teaching against. Paul was simply quoting the people of Corinth as he had done many times before.
The reason most of us assume these to be Paul’s own words is because they’re not identified with quotation marks in our English bibles. The problem here is that Paul’s system of writing didn’t have quotation marks. This left the responsibility of identifying quotes solely on our translators. Unfortunately, our translators can make mistakes, which is why different bible versions vary in their identification of quotes. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:1, the New International Version (NIV) uses quotations to identify something the Corinthians had written to Paul about:
Now for the matters you wrote about:
“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” (NIV)
In the NIV, it is clear that Paul is quoting the people of Corinth; however, some translations such as the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) leave out the quotations, making the statement Paul’s own words.
“Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” (NKJV)
In this example we can see how missing a quote changes the meaning of a passage.
If we know that our translators can miss quotes, then we need to approach every passage with caution. In the case of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 we have a verse that is often isolated and taken out of its original context. If we look at the entirety of 1 Corinthians it’s fairly easy to see why Paul was writing to the Corinthians. Paul’s letter was aimed primarily at responding to specific issues that had been brought to his attention by “some from Chloe’s household”. We know that Paul had received a letter from Corinth, because he mentions it in Chapter 7. This letter was apparently riddled with false teachings and questions from the church. Paul devotes most of 1 Corinthians to addressing these issues. In Chapters 1-4 Paul corrects them on divisions within the church, in Chapter 7, it is marriage and divorce, in Chapter 8 it is food sacrificed to idols, in Chapter 11, it is questions about worship, and he concludes in Chapters 12-14 by explaining the use of spiritual gifts within the church.
Knowing that Paul is responding to a letter is key, because it alerts us to the fact that he will be quoting or rephrasing someone else’s words. In 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35, Paul left us with some really big clues that he was quoting the Corinthians. Our first clue is in verse 34, when Paul says women “are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” This is a big clue, because there was nothing in the Old Testament law about women not speaking or being in “full submission”. Paul was an expert in Old Testament law and would have known this. He was likely responding to an oral law or tradition believed by the Corinthians. These oral laws, typically referred to as the “Oral Torah”, were nothing more than the teachings and opinions of Jewish Rabbis. Every time Paul quoted scripture he began with the phrase “it is written”; a phrase he didn’t use in verse 34, because he knew this wasn’t a part of God’s revealed word.
This verse also contradicts what Paul had said 8 verses prior about the sharing of God’s word:
“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” 1 Corinthians 14: 26
Paul had already established that both brothers and sisters had a “word of instruction” when they came together.
Our next clue is what Paul says in relation to husbands.
“If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home”
This would exclude the women who were widowed or unmarried, something Paul had just encouraged in Chapter 7.
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” (1 Cor. 7:8)
If a woman’s only chance to speak God’s word was with her husband, Paul would be wrong for suggesting they remain unmarried.
What Paul says next is often misunderstood because it’s viewed in light of our present day notion that “church” refers to a place.
“for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
When Paul used the word church he wasn’t referring to a place. He used the Greek word “ekklēsía”, which refers to those “called out from the world and to God”. This would mean Paul was telling women they couldn’t speak among believers at all. The translation here is misleading because it adds the word “the” before church, and translates the Greek word “en” as “in” instead of “among”, which would better fit Paul’s use of the word. The Corinthian people were trying to silence women all together by saying they were to be silent among those called out by God. Paul was upset by this, something he makes clear as he responds in verse 36:
“What, did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?”
As he had done many times before, Paul rebukes yet another issue, showing his obvious frustration, with a people he had referred to as “mere infants in Christ”(1 Cor. 3:1).
Paul concludes his response in a way that should leave no doubt where he stands on the issue.
“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues." 1 Corinthians 14:39
If Paul’s questioning in verse 36, didn’t convince us that he was opposed to silencing women, what he said in verse 39 should leave no doubt as he tells the sisters to be “eager to prophesy”. This lines up perfectly with the opening lines of chapter 14:
“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy” 1 Corinthians 14:1
Paul is adamant that the believers in Corinth speak God’s word, and he wants both men and women to do so.
When we see verses 34 and 35 as the quoting or paraphrasing of an issue in Corinth, they immediately fall in to place with the divisions and issues Paul was speaking against.
Recognizing 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as a quote isn’t a recent phenomenon, it’s been recognized as such for centuries by many prominent biblical scholars. Here is a list of some well-known biblical scholars whom recognize verses 34 and 35 as a quote.
Katharine C. Bushnell, (1889); Jessie Penn-Lewis, (1919); Helen Barrett Montgomery (1924); J. A. Anderson, (1933); Joyce Harper, (1974); Walter C. Kaiser, (1976); Guy B. Dunning, (1977); N. M. Flanagan and E. Hunter Snyder, (1981); David W. Odell-Scott, (1983, 1987, 1989); Chris U. Manus, (1984); Charles H. Talbert, (1984, 1987); Gilbert Bilezikian, (1985); Gordon D. Fee, (1987); Robert W. Allison, (1988); Linda McKinnish Bridges, (1989, 1990).
The failure on behalf of our biblical translators to recognize 1 Cor. 14:34-35 as a quote might be accidental; after all, humans are fallible. However, some of the mistakes our translators make are intentional, such as Romans 16:7.
“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." (NIV)
The original Greek manuscripts included a woman named “Junia”, but someone was uncomfortable with a woman being referred to as “outstanding among the apostles”, so they changed her name to Junias, which is a man’s name. Most updated translations have corrected this and brought Junia back into the text, but the fact that this happened in the first place sheds great light on what our adversary is doing behind the scenes.
While we’re on the topic of name changes, let’s look at Colossians 4:15 in both the NKJV and the NIV:
“Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.” (NKJV)
Now look what happens to the name Nymphas as we move to the NIV.
“Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.” (NIV)
Just as with Junia, Nympha had her name changed to a man’s name. The name “Nymphas” is still used in today’s NKJV. The fact that two names were changed in the same way is a good indicator of foul play. No pure and honest motive can be attributed to intentionally altering God’s word. Intentionally changing God’s word is a very serious offense (Rev. 22:18-19), and something we need to be aware of.
The women in our bible have also fallen victim to translation bias. Translation bias occurs when a translators beliefs are reflected in their choice of words. When a translator decides which English word to use they often have multiple words to choose from, giving them a little room to skew a texts original meaning. We see many examples of this in the New Testament.
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.” Romans 16:1-2 NIV
The Greek word diakonon translated as “servant” means “deacon”. If Phoebe was a deacon, this means she held office. She was a powerful leader in the Church. The NIV has corrected this bias in their most recent translations, but the vast majority of translations have yet to do so. When Paul says Phoebe had been a “great help to many people”, he used the Greek word prostatis which means “guardian” or “protector”. There’s a huge difference between a servant that’s been a great help, and a deacon that been a ruler or guardian to many. It’s clear from Paul’s testimony that Phoebe was a very active and influential member of the church.
In 1 Timothy chapter 2 we encounter both translation bias and loss of context.
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” 1 Timothy 2:11
The Greek word hēsyxía translated here as “quietness” simply means “peacefulness” or “tranquility”, and never implies speechlessness. The KJV uses the word silence, which is even more misleading. God wants his women to learn peacefully, the same way he wants his men to learn.
Now let’s turn our attention to Paul’s original context.
“I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man; she must be silent.” 1 Timothy 2:12
When Paul tells the women not to have “authority over man”, he used the word authentein, which meant something entirely different in his time. Prior to the fourth century authentein referred to the instigation or committing of an act of violence, suicide, or murder.
“According to earlier usage, one who with his own hand kills either others or himself.” -Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
Knowing the original meaning of authentein leads us directly to Paul’s original context. There were some very heretical gnostic teachings circulating Ephesus when Paul wrote 1 Timothy, one in particular condoned ritual violence against men including the practice of male castration. Paul was obviously at odds with this practice. The word “silence” at the end of 1 Timothy 2:12 is the same word we saw in verse 11, meaning “peaceful” or “tranquil”. Paul is essentially saying that he doesn’t want violence from women, he wants peace.
As Paul moves into verses 13-15 of 1 Timothy chapter 2 he continues to address the false teachings of the Gnostics.
“For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” 1 Timothy 2:13-15
To the average bible reader it appears as though Paul just randomly brings Adam and Eve into the discussion, but he’s actually addressing a very popular gnostic belief which taught that Eve was created first and was Adam’s superior. The Gnostics also believed it was Adam who was deceived, making him responsible for mankind’s fall. As for the women being “saved through childbearing”, we need to be clear that Paul is in no way referring to salvation. The Gnostics had been encouraging women to abstain from sexual relations entirely, and they were particularly opposed to childbearing. The word “saved” in Paul’s context meant to be made whole. Paul wanted women to know that there was nothing wrong with the act of child bearing.
Women were a very crucial part of the New Testament church. They were hard at work both doing and speaking God’s will. These women were being locked up, beaten, and even killed for the sake of the gospel. They were much more than silent bystanders in a male dominated faith.
It’s very important that we understand what God wants us to do without restrictions. The full power of God is hindered by any teaching that denies the fullness of our equality in Christ. The gift of prophesy is a powerful and amazing gift, it provides us with a message straight from our heavenly Father, something all need to hear! If God gives women this amazing ability, we can be certain that He doesn’t want them to remain silent. Silencing someone with the gift of prophecy is silencing the very words of God. Neither Paul nor the apostles would want this to happen.
After Christ’s resurrection, he gave us very clear instructions:
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15
Anyone who tells us to do otherwise stands in direct opposition to Christ. If we take our New Testament authors seriously, then we must hold them accountable to the fundamental teachings of Christ.