This past Monday night I spoke to a group of women on some of the difficult passages in the New Testament concerning women and the church. One of the issues that we addressed was the issue of women being told to keep silent in the church.
Paul talked about this in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the Law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.”
Does this passage prohibit women today from speaking in the church service? Can we not share a testimony or story of how God is at work or read a Scripture passage or pray aloud?
Paul obviously didn’t mean that a woman couldn’t speak at all in church because he talked about women prophesying and praying in 1 Cor. 11:5. So what did Paul mean?
In the Greek culture at that time, women were not allowed to confront or question men publicly. Apparently, some of the women thought their Christian freedom gave them the right to question the men in public worship. The women were disrupting the service by asking questions of their husbands inappropriately, perhaps trying to dominate the conversation or arguing with their husbands about the teaching. This was causing division in the church and disrupting the service.
The Greek word for “silent” used here is also used in 1 Corinthians 14:28, referring to the silence commanded of the person who desired to speak in tongues but without an interpreter present. Obviously, this didn’t mean that this person was never to speak in church, but only to remain silent when certain conditions were not met so that the church service would not be disrupted.
The speaking to which Paul referred was inappropriate speaking that would disrupt the worship service. The purpose of Paul’s words was to promote unity, not to teach about the role of women in church. Paul was not forbidding all speaking by women, but speaking that creates a disturbance in the service.
The timeless principle we can take away from this passage is to avoid doing anything that would disrupt worship. Sometimes, that may mean we need to be quiet.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.