Women being silent when the Church assembles

1 Corinthians 14:34

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.

In this article I will show that it is the Lord’s will that women be silent during an assembly of the Church.

In looking at this issue it is important to make sure that we are willing to do whatever the Word says on this subject as a reflection of what God wants for the Body.  If we are not willing then we will chafe against any thought of women having to be silent not because the Word is not clear on this but rather because our hearts are not willing to accept what is unacceptable to us. We will fight against it tooth and nail and will, in the end, do whatever we want to do and not what the Lord desires that we do…if we are not willing to begin with.

Assuming then that we are at least willing to do whatever the Word clearly says on this issue, if indeed it is clear, let us proceed to look at this issue.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 14 Paul gives instructions to the Corinthians regarding the proper operation and use of tongues and prophecy as well as instruction on women being silent.  These instructions were given to the Corinthians in the context of having a Church meeting.

1 Corinthians 14:19

…however, in the church…

1 Corinthians 14:23

Therefore if the whole church assembles together….

1 Corinthians 14:26

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble…

The book of Corinthians was, of course, written primarily to the Corinthians but Paul makes it clear at the beginning of the book that it is likewise written for all believers  (i.e. those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, who are saints by calling, and who call on the name of the Lord Jesus who is Lord of all)  in every place and not just the Corinthians only.

1 Corinthians 1:2

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours…

As a side note I would like to point out here that 1 Corinthians 1:2 partly refutes the idea that his instructions for women to remain silent in Church assemblies was just for the Corinthians within their particular culture as Paul’s instructions would have been applicable to all Christians of whatever culture they were in, in every place of the known world at the time he wrote. In other words Paul’s instructions in this book were not just applicable to the Corinthians within their particular culture but to all Christians in every place irrespective of cultural differences among the localities where there were Churches.

Leaving the cultural neutrality of what Paul wrote aside for now…let’s continue…

Most of this chapter has to do with the proper exercise of the gifts of tongues and prophecy.  In short Paul says that only 2 or 3 gifted individuals should exercise either of these gifts in an assembly of the Church and with regard to tongues speakers that they speak in tongues only if an interpreter (a person with the gift to interpret tongues) is present to interpret what the tongues speaker says.

1 Corinthians 14:26

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation Let all things be done for edification.If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret;

but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.

But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted;

and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets;

for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

A couple of things I would like to point out about what Paul said above.

While Paul spoke directly about exercising the gift of tongues and prophecy within an assembly of the Church the underlying principles that he applied to the operation of these two gifts are also to be applied to the operation of any gift.  Namely that all gifts are to be exercised for the edification of others within the Church (vs 26), that gifted individuals are to show deference to each other and not hog the time exercising their own gift only (vs 30), that as many as desire to exercise a gift should be given ample opportunity (within the limits set by Paul specifically for tongues and prophecy as being no more than 2 or 3 each) to do so (vs 31), that no gifted person is incapable of controlling themselves in the Spirit to control the exercise of their gift and operate in love and consideration for others (vs 32), and lastly that all the gifts operating through each of the members in love for one another and to build each other up and not just tout one’s own horn so to speak will bear the fruit of godly peace and not lead to complete confusion where every member is exercising their gift willy nilly as they see fit whenever they feel like doing so.

In short Paul was bringing some order into what had apparently been an exhuberent but undisciplined exercise of the gifts within the Corinthian Church where the Corinthian Christians were stepping on one another in their zeal to exercise their gifts.

Given that we are looking at the issue of women being silent in Church assemblies I would like to ask a couple of questions here.

What did it mean for those speaking in tongues to keep silent?

1 Corinthians 14:28

…but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God.

I think it is clear that if there was no interpreter present, in other words no person who was known to have the gift of being able to interpret tongues, that one who spoke in tongues was to…well…keep their mouth shut as in not speak in tongues out loud for the whole assembly to hear them.

What did it mean for those prophecying to keep silent if a revelation came to another prophet who was sitting down?

1 Corinthians 14:30

But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent.

I think it is likewise quite clear that if a revelation came to someone while a prophet was speaking and prophecying that the prophet had to…well…shut up and allow the person receiving the revelation to speak it out.

In Paul’s instructions to both the Greek word used for being silent was sigao (Strong’s number 4601).   This word occurs 12 times in 9 verses of the Greek underlying the King James Version of the Bible.  In every case to be silent means…well…to be silent.  Meaning to shutteth thy mouth and stop speaking or to not speak out in the first place.

Now let’s look at Paul’s subsequent instruction that women should be silent in a Church assembly.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.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.

If tongues speakers are to keep silent and not speak out when there is no interpreter and if prophets are to become silent when a revelation comes to someone sitting down then women are likewise to keep silent in a Church assembly.

If women are allowed to speak out then tongues speakers are allowed to speak even if there is no interpreter and prophets can continue speaking out a prophecy even if a revelation comes to someone sitting down.

We cannot have it both ways if we are to interpret this chapter with integrity before God and take what it says at face value (barring any reason to take it otherwise…which in this case there simply isn’t).

We cannot require tongues speakers and prophets to be silent (within the limits of expression indicated) on the one hand and allow women to speak out at the same time.  Not if we are going to be consistent with our interpretation of these verses.

Let me get back to the cultural argument against women being silent that seems to be so prevalent among many Christians as a reason to ignore the instruction of Paul that women be silent in a Church assembly.

The argument goes something like this…

The Corinthian women where uneducated, as many women of the time were (the assumption being that uneducated women don’t know how to speak in turn which I find quite ludicrous to believe but continuing on with this idea…).  These women were prone to speak out of turn with the result that they caused disruptions in the meetings of the Church (remember now that they were uneducated).  Paul is basically telling the women to not speak out of turn and to not disrupt the meetings and his instructions was for women in the Corinthian’s culture of the time.

Let me just say off the top that this is nothing but pure conjecture.  There is not a shred of historical, archeological or other evidence of any kind to support the notion that the Corinthian women were unruly and prone to cause loud disruptions and that Paul’s instructions were given to correct this.  If anyone knows of any such evidence by all means speak up and let us know (with a valid link to the source or note of attribution allowing the rest of us to evaluate such supposed historical evidence). 

More importantly look at Paul’s reasoning as to why women should be silent in a Church assembly…(I have bolded his reasoning).

1 Corinthians 14:34

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 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.

The Law made it clear that women were to be in submission to the men in their lives, in this case the husband, and that not speaking in a Church assembly was an expression of that submission.  That based on the Law, speaking out in a Church assembly was improper or not in line with God’s standard of righteous conduct as expressed in the Law.

There is absolutely no cultural relevance to this reasoning at all.  The Law was written thousands of years before there was even a Corinthian culture much less a Corinth.  The Law was and is culturally neutral.  It is wrong to steal and murder and covet your neighbors wife across all cultures (at least by God) just as it is wrong for a woman to not express submission to her husband in an assembly of the Church by being silent, no matter what culture the Church is in!

If what Paul said was only relevant to Corinthian women then to be consistent in our interpretation of these passages…we would have to conclude that the Law, at least as far as it speaks of the need for women to be submissive, must have been applicable only to…well…Corinthian women.  Which is absolute nonsense.

In fact the Law and the need for women to express submission by keeping quiet in a Church assembly applies across all cultures.

Why many of my Christian brethren do not embrace this is quite frankly beyond me to comprehend.

Now does that mean that women are not to open their mouths and say anything at all while assembled in Church?  I do not believe the context supports this conclusion.  In context it is the public speaking out inherent in the exercise of gifts that involve speaking (such as tongues and prophecy) that is being spoken of.  As such we must give liberty were the Bible itself gives liberty and not deny women the opportunity to speak (as long as their speaking is confined to normal, everyday type conversation as might occur in a meeting and not to the public expression of gifts that involve speaking out).

So for example it would be perfectly acceptable for women to speak to their husbands about any number of things that did not neccesarily pertain to what was going on in the meeting and their wanting to have something related explained to them.  Likewise they would have liberty to speak to their children, to other women…and to speak to any number of others about all kinds of things.

As long as they did not engage in publicly expressing a gift through speaking it outloud and as long as they did not distract from the meeting by asking their husbands to explain something that was being said by others exercising their gifts.  Those are the prohibitions.

This may not be culturally acceptable today but that is of no relevance whatsoever.  As Christians we are not to be obedient to what the Words says for us to do only when it is culturally acceptable to do so. We are to be obedient to God through the Word…period.

Look at what Paul said after having given the above instructions in the rest of the chapter…

1 Corinthians 14:36-38

Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.

But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

Paul cut the ground out from any objections that might have been raised to his instructions by asking whether or not the Word had come through the Corinthians first (in which case they might have had some reason to feel that their view might have carried more weight than otherwise) and whether they were the only one’s that had received it.  The obvious answer to these questions was no!

In view of that and in view of who Paul was…Paul bluntly made it clear that anyone who was truly spiritual or a prophet would recognize that Paul was simply expressing the Lord’s commandment in all these matters and that anyone who did not recognize this was to be…well…ignored.

It seems to me that there are a whole slew of so-called brethren today who should be…well…ignored based on these verses since many ignore not only the parts about allowing the free expression of spiritual gifts in any assembly of the Church but the part about women being publicly silent to boot!

I say so-called brethren because brethren, at least by Jesus’s standard of measure, are those who do the will of God.  Those were His mother and sister and brothers and likewise are mine.  I am sick of excuses and thin rationalizations that are used to discount the need to obey instructions in the Word that we don’t like.  If you hide behind such excuses to disobey God you are not acting as my brother or sister in Christ. 

These instructions are not difficult to undertand.  They are there in black and white for anyone to read.  The problem is in the heart.  Where we simply do not want to follow the Lord’s instructions given to us through Paul in their totality.  We want to pick and chose what we are going to be obedient to.  To have our ears tickled, just like the Bible says would happen in the last days.

It’s time we stopped having our ears tickled and started getting back to obedience to what is written as an expression of our love for God.  To His greater honor and glory within the Church.


PS.  I recognize that some may simply have a difference of opinion as to what these verses say and may not be inclined to have their ears tickled as I indicated above.  If that is you I would ask you to carefully consider what I have said and to bring the matter before the Lord.  If your difference of opinion is still such that you feel I have misinterpreted these verses then by all means, speak up so that we can all learn and be instructed.  But if your reasoning is not biblically plausible may I say that you are obligated to obey Paul’s instructions in their totality whatever the Church is doing or not doing otherwise in our day and age. 

One other thing…DON”T put Church leaders and so-called doctors of divinity up on a pedestal!  They are but men and are as prone as any of the rest of us are to misinterpret verses.  I too am prone to that.  That is why we must speak truth to each other in love and correct each other where we are wrongly interpreting what God says. 

Not to mention that a Christian education is entirely uneccessary to understanding the things of God.  What is needed is a right heart and the Presence of the Holy Spirit within to lead us to all truth. 

DON’T take the word of a Church leader or seemingly educated Christian in the matters of faith about this issue if they object to it’s application and if they have no plausible Biblical reason to ignore what Paul said.  You will stand before God soon enough and He will not care one whit about what some other Christian thought about this or that.  He will ask you what YOU did with what you read and what He gave you grace to understand. 

We…the Body…must rise up to become all that God wants us to be.  I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that it will not happen through existing Church leaders.  Focus on God and what He thinks and join with others to do what He wants.  Allow Him to express Himself through you and through the gifts He has given you no matter who says otherwise.  In the case of women being silent…if you are a woman…obey Him and do what He says when assembled in Church.  Trust Him to use your obedience to begin to convict others.  Better yet find others who will support you in your obedience and join with them to be all that God wants you to be as part of His Body.


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