“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (I Cor. 14:34,35)
This passage of scripture is frequently linked with First Timothy 2:11, 12 as companion passages. They are not, and should be kept separate in their application. First Corinthians 14 regulates women (and men, vs. 23, 30) when the “whole church be assembled” and when prophets were receiving revelations (vs. 29-33). First Timothy 2 regulates women everywhere and at all times.
THE CONTEXT: It is important, to observe the context of any passage in order to properly understand it. To fail to realize that the apostle Paul is here regulating men and women speaking under special conditions, i.e., during them exercise of spiritual gifts the assembly of “the whole church,” is to miss the point and give it an improper application. To apply the passage to all women under all conditions leads to several difficulties too important to be ignored. For example, no woman could sing (Col. 3:16) or confess since the passage prohibits vocal utterances and imposes utter silence. This will be considered later.
CHAPTER 12 enumerates spiritual gifts and states their purpose was “to profit withal” (v. 7). CHAPTER 13 shows their duration and the importance of love in which they were to be exercised. CHAPTER 14 regulates the use of gifts though out their duration. Since spiritual gifts have ceased (I Cor. 13:10; James 1:25), it is a misapplication to apply their regulation to circumstances today. This is not true of First Timothy 2:11, 12. Note also that the subject of spiritual gifts permeates First Corinthians 14 – “speak with tongues” (v.l); “psalm, tongue, revelation, interpretation” (v.5); “prophets speak” (v. 29); “anything be revealed” (v.30); “prophesy” (v.31); “women silence … not… speak” (vs 34,35).
The Passage Analyzed
” God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (v. 33). This should not be overlooked. It was confusion resulting from an abuse of spiritual gifts when the church assembled that brought forth Paul’s statement in verse 34.
“As in all the churches (assemblies) of the saints” (v.33). In every assembly of Christians all over the world though out all time under similar conditions, i.e., the exercise of spiritual gifts (v.l) and the whole church be assembled (v.23).
“Let the women keep silence in the churches” (v.34)
1. Women: The King James version says “your women.” That these women were wives is certain from verse 35. They were married women with Christian husbands capable of answering the wives’ questions at home. Paul did not direct this statement to single women for they have no husbands to ask. The statement was not directed to women with unbelieving husbands, or newly converted husbands, since they were not capable of answering questions. It is important that not only the women but also the men are commanded to remain silence under certain conditions. Note verse 27,28, “let him keep silence” and verse 30, “let the first keep silence.” Only two or at the most three were to speak at any one assembly. The others were to remain silence and “discern” (v.29). Obviously God did not command all men everywhere under all conditions to remain silence. Likewise the women (perhaps wives of the prophets and inspired men) who were adding to this confusion when spiritual gifts were being exercised in the assembly of the whole church were to remain silence. They were to remain silence under the conditions stated and if they would leam anything more ask their husbands at home. To be in subjection as the law says (Gen. 3:16, IPet 3:6-7, ITim. 2:11) to their husbands. They were bringing shame upon their husbands by causing confusion. To make the command general and applicable to all men and women under other conditions is to bind where God did not.
2. Silence: This word in the First Corinthians 14:34 comes from the Greek “sige, sigao” – to keep silence, hold one’s peace, to be kept in silence, be concealed. (TTiayer, p.574.) It is not the same “silence” of First Timothy 2:11. “Silence” in 1 Timothy 2:11 comes from the Greek “hesuchia” and “denotes quietness” (W. E. Vine). Paul is saying shut up and stop causing confusion. The American Standard Version makes a distinction by using “quietness” in 1 Timothy 2:11 and “silence” in 1 Corinthians 14:34 – “sige” – means total muteness. “For it is not permitted unto them to speak” (v.34) The word “speak” is from “laleo” and means “to make vocal utterance to babble, to talk, in N. T. absolutely to exercise the faculty of speech.” (Vine, p. 243) Hence, the women commanded to be silence in this passage were not to utter a sound. If Paul meant all women in every situation then all women in every situation must remain mute. But God commanded women to sing (Col. 3:16) and to teach (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:3-5). They did teach (Luke 2:36-38; Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:16; Acts 18:26; 21:9, 1 Cor. 11:5), and they can teach now as long as they do not violate First Timothy 2:11, 12. The kind of speaking prohibited is that which creates confusion and violates God’s principle of headship.
3. In the churches; “Church” is from the Greek “ekklesia” meaning “called out” (Vine). Not as one called out but when the “whole church, the assembly of the church.” It does not specify any particular assembly but does specify “when the whole church be assembled.” Unlike First Timothy 2:12, this passage is limited in it’s application to the assembly. The woman can speak at home or in other situations. First Timothy 2:12 does not specify any condition but regulates the woman under every situation. As Paul says of the men in 1 Timothy 2:8 “I want men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands”. When Paul says in verse 9 “likewise in the same way I want women everywhere to dress proper” Then thru verse 10 he tells them the proper way to dress. And in verses 11 and 12 he tells them the proper way to show respect to men.
“Let them be in subjection as also saith the law. (v. 34)
In this verse Paul gives the reason God imposed silence upon certain women under the stated conditions. Their speaking under the stated conditions took them from their rightful places of subjection to men. It has always been God’s plan that woman be in subjection to man (Gen. 3:15; 1 Tim. 2:12) and ruled by man. Though a woman may teach men (Anna, Luke 2:36-38; daughters, Joel 2:28; Priscilla, Acts 18:24-26; Phillip’s daughters, Acts 21:8,9) and speak in an assembly of men and women (Acts 5:1-11; 12:12-16), she may never do either if and when doing so usurps authority over a man or takes her from her rightful place of subjection to men (1 Tim. 2:11,12).
“And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.”(v.35)
It is obvious from this statement that it was by speaking and asking questions in such a way as to take them out of subjection to man that certain women in Corinth were commanded to remain silence. In the absence of complete revelation (which women today learn by reading) the women at Corinth were seeking information by asking questions at a time when such added to confusion and violated God’s principle of headship “as also saith the law.”
Is Paul here saying a woman cannot ask a question except of her husband and at home? Certainly not for the following reasons:
1. The context shows the conditions under which she was to refrain from asking questions (remain silence) were “when the whole church be assembled together” (v. 23,26) and when spiritual gifts were being exercised. Any woman today must remain silence under the stated conditions when speaking violates the principles of subjection to man and when it causes confusion in the assembly. Does the verse prohibit a woman asking a question or making comments in Bible classes? Not if she does so in the spirit of quietness and subjection (1 Tim. 2:11,12).
That silence imposed upon women in First Corinthians 14:34 does not apply to Bible class arrangements follows from the fact that the whole church is not assembled together but are divided into separate classes with different teachers teaching different lessons. No collections are taken and the Lord’s supper is not served. If verse 34 is binding then verses 27 and 31 are binding. Since more than one speaks at once in concurrent classes, such would violate the principle of orderliness if they constitute the whole church come together. In the latter case First Corinthians 14:34 is not applicable.
2. The women commanded to refrain from asking questions were women with husbands capable of answering questions. Every woman does not fit that category. Some have no husbands. Some who do, have alien husbands. Others have husbands not capable of answering questions.
“For it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.” The expression “in the church,” which is explained in verse 23 shows when it is a shame for her to speak.
The silence imposed upon women in First Corinthians 14:34,35 is binding “when the whole church be assembled together.” She is to refrain from speaking in such a way as to violate the two stated principles: (a) Headship of man, “let them be in subjection as also saith the law.” (b) Orderliness, “God is not the God of confusion but of peace.” “Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Also please notice these verses
These verses are what I call not BUT statements:
It seems to me that the emphasis is on the BUT part of the statement.
1 Cor. 14:20:
Brethren do not be children in your thinking yet in evil be babes. But inyour thinking be mature.
So then tongues are a sign not to those who believe. But to unbelievers, but prophecy is for a sign not to unbelievers but to those who believe.
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace as in all the churches of the saints.
Do not work for the food which perishes but for the food which endures to eternal life which the Son of Man shall give you for on him the Father even God has set his seal.
Therefore be careful how you walk not as unwise men but as wise.
So then do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.
And do not get drunk with wine for that is dissipation but be filled with the spirit.
1 Cor 14:34 is such a statement.
Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, also saith the law. Gen 3:16,1 Pet 3:1-6, Eph 5:22-24.
I think from what I have said that you can understand we need to be teaching submission. Not that women cannot speak.
by Johnny Hicks
This article was prepared and submitted by brother Johnny Hicks of the Winston Church of Christ in Winston, Oregon. Johnny has been an elder/preacher for over 40 years. For questions regarding this article, please feel free to contact Johnny Hicks directly at (541) 679-8312.