Why women should not be "silent in the churches"
Why on earth would anyone say that preaching the gospel is wrong for women? The answer lies primarily within two verses written by the apostle Paul; the same man who told us in Galatians that there was neither “male” nor “female” in Christ.
These two verses are 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 35, which state…
“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.” 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
On the surface, these two verses appear to be giving us a straight forward commandment, forbidding women from speaking in church. However, when something appears to contradict God’s word, or quite simply doesn’t make sense; it warrants further investigation.
To fully understand why Paul wrote verses 34 and 35, we need to put our self in his shoes (or sandals). It wasn’t always realistic for Paul to correct or give advice to his newly developing Churches in person. When he wasn’t locked up for preaching the Gospel, he was often on his way to places that had yet to receive it. Because of this, he relied very heavily on written communication, which is why so many of his writings exist today.
When Paul wrote First Corinthians, he was responding to specific issues from within the Church of Corinth, which had reached him by either a messenger of the church, or a letter addressed to him by the church. One specific example of an issue Paul addresses takes place in 1 Corinthians 1:11
“My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:11-12
Paul responds to this by saying..
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:13
We can sense Paul’s frustrations, and a strong sense of sarcasm, and rightfully so, as he had previously encouraged the people in Corinth to have “no divisions” amongst themselves, and to remain “perfectly united in mind and thought”1 Corinthians 1:10
When we look at the previous passage from 1 Corinthians 1:11, we see something that was not included in the original Greek manuscripts; something very important, something translators knew instinctually to add. That very important something was quotation marks. The Greek writing system Paul used did not have quotation marks; this was something the original reader had to understand via the context of the passage.
In our English writing system we do have quotation marks, and we can add them when we detect a quote in the Greek manuscripts. This helps an English reader understand that what is being said is in fact a quote, and not necessarily the authors own words.
Unfortunately, we can’t rely on our biblical translators when it comes to identifying quotes. We know this, because bible translations are inconsistent in their identification of quotes.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:1, the NIV uses quotations to identify an issue which Paul addresses from the Corinthians:
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 1 Corinthians 7:1
However, some translations such as the RSV and the NKJV leave out the quotation marks, making the statement Paul’s own words. The NKJV records the passage as follows…
Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 1 Corinthians 7:1
When we look at what Paul later wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, it’s important that we keep this in mind; because determining quotes can be very subjective. If we read the verses surrounding 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and what’s actually being said in the verses, it should help us identify them as another issue of the Corinthian people, and something Paul was quoting, not teaching.
Here are the verses as they are seen in the NIV.
"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.
Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues."
Paul was an expert in the law, so when we hear him say that women “are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” it should jump out at us instantly as something Paul is questioning; for he knew with 100% certainty that there was nothing in the law about a woman remaining in silence and full submission.
Paul then 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.”
If these are Paul’s words, he’s not just telling women that they can’t speak; he’s preventing them from even asking questions, unless of course they have a husband at home to ask. This sounds nothing like the equality and freedom Paul so often declares. What Paul says next shows just exactly how he feels about these restrictions.
“Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?”
After stating the issue of silencing women in the church, Paul immediately responds by questioning the people of Corinth. He is specifically questioning them about their silencing of women in the church. The King James Version renders verse 36 in a way that more accurately portrays Paul’s questioning.
“What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only?”
This is very similar to what we saw in Chapter 11 when Paul immediately questioned the issue of divisions by saying…
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
If Paul’s questioning in verse 36, didn’t convince us that he was opposed to silencing women, what he says in verse 39 should leave no doubt. As we hear him plainly encouraging both brothers and sisters to be eager to prophesy. It wouldn’t make sense for Paul to tell the women to be eager to prophesy, yet to remain totally silent in Church.
When we see verses 34 and 35 as the quoting or paraphrasing of an issue in Corinth, they immediately fall in line with the divisions and issues Paul was speaking against.
“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.”
“Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
When Paul encouraged both brothers and sisters to prophesy, he knew that he was in line with one of God’s amazing prophecies. This prophecy in particular had been spoken of by Joel nearly 800 years before Paul lived. We know this prophecy was fulfilled because Peter came forth on the day of Pentecost and announced it to the people saying…
“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
This is God’s promise to us, something we can bet our lives on. God WILL pour out His spirit on both men and women, and they WILL prophesy. There’s nothing we can do to stop it, it will and has happened.
When someone prophesies, it’s done for the express purpose of being heard by others. The gift of prophesy is a powerful and amazing gift, it means that what we’re saying is coming directly from God. If God gives women this amazing ability, we can be certain that He doesn’t want them to remain silent. To silence someone with the gift of prophecy would be silencing the very words of God. Neither Paul nor the Apostles would want to silence God's word.
Why the verses were moved.....
Moving verses 34 and 35 away from Paul’s response as some scribes have done is very damaging to the text; because it prevents us from recognizing them as quotes. If an early scribe felt uncomfortable with women speaking the word of God, all they had to do was move the two verses below verse 40, and the problem was solved. Now an issue in Corinth becomes just another teaching of Paul. This could have been an accident, but few professional scribes misplaced entire sentences. Their mistakes usually consisted of small grammatical errors involving one or two Greek symbols.
There are other incidences in which some scribes felt uncomfortable with women holding high positions in the church. This happened in Romans 16:7 when a woman was referred to as “outstanding among the apostles”. This woman’s name was Junia, but to avoid having a woman recognized as "outstanding among the apostles", some scribes changed her name to Junias which is a man's name. Practices such as this show just how resistant some were to women playing a key role in the church.
Here is Paul’s mention of Junia as it appears in the NIV.
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Romans 16:7
Paul’s mention of Junia as a fellow prisoner and someone he considers outstanding among the apostles would be unlikely if she were simply a silent member of a male dominated church. After all, people are rarely arrested for sitting in silence.
There are verses other than 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 that have been used to silence and subject women, and as we encounter them, we must seek their true meaning. Always keeping in mind that both our “sons and daughters will prophesy” (Acts 2:17); and that in God’s kingdom there is neither “male” nor “female”, for we "are all one in Christ." (Galatians 3:28)