What Did the Apostle Paul Mean By,

Let your women keep silence in the churches”?

"But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Habakkuk 2:20

 

By Marshall “Rusty” Entrekin

 

Imagine that the 1930’s comedy team of Laurel and Hardy were invited to share inspirational messages at a church. In a departure from their regular routine, they decided to take turns addressing the congregation. While Oliver Hardy had the congregation in stitches, Stan Laurel was loudly carrying on a conversation with the person sitting next to him. “Stanley, please be quiet!” Oliver said. “You’re not supposed to be talking in church! You ought to be obeying the rules! Shame on you!”

 

At that, Stanley quit talking and sheepishly sank down into his seat. Finally, Oliver finished his message. “OK, Stanley, now it’s your turn!” He said.  Stan, however, remained seated.

 

“Stanley, it’s your turn!”

 

“Stanley?”

 

Stan scribbled a note and handed it to the usher. Oliver read out loud: “But Ollie, you said that I’m not supposed to be talking in church!”

 

Obviously, in this imaginary story, Oliver meant that Stan was not supposed to talk in a disruptive way in church. Stan, however, took Oliver’s words to mean that he should not speak at all. That was because he failed to recognize what most of us, as native speakers of English, are able to easily see. A foreigner, however, or even an English speaker a few hundred years from now, might easily miss such indicators of meaning.

 

All of us are “foreigners” to Koine Greek, the language that the New Testament was written in nearly 2000 years ago. Occasionally, where difficult passages are concerned, it is only through careful study and reflection, combined with receptiveness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we come to properly understand the meaning of a biblical writer. Sometimes, upon further study, even expert translators realize that they had initially missed indicators of meaning in a difficult passage.

 

For some time now, persuaded by a good friend who has written on this subject, I have held to the position that women should not speak publicly in church. This position is based on I Corinthians 14: 34-37:

 

 

34     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.

35     And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

36     What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

37     If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.

 

In most modern churches, not only the women, but also most of the men have to be silent, so this passage does not attract as much controversy as it might. In churches such as ours that practice participatory meetings based on I Corinthians 14:26-40, however, it is of great relevance. Although I was intellectually persuaded that my friend’s interpretation was probably right, I had nagging doubts about it.

 

This was because in I Corinthians 11, Paul does not speak disapprovingly of a woman prophesying in what most commentators take to be a church setting, as long as she has a covering on her head. John Calvin offered a possible explanation for this in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:

 

It may be replied, that the Apostle, by here condemning the one, does not commend the other. For when he reproves them for prophesying with their head uncovered, he at the same time does not give them permission to prophesy in some other way, but rather delays his condemnation of that vice to another passage, namely in 1 Corinthians 14.

 

Still, it seemed odd to me that Paul would not express his disapproval of this practice right away, if it was so objectionable to him, but would wait until chapter 14 to express his disapproval of it.  It is possible that the apostle was referring to women prophesying in contexts outside of the church meeting, but, as I already mentioned, most commentators do not see it that way, and because of reasons that I will explain later, this interpretation did not seem as likely to me, either.

 

Secondly, this passage is one of the most controversial in the New Testament, and I had heard arguments against this strict interpretation that, although they were not conclusive, raised further doubts.

 

Lastly, although my wife and I were intellectually persuaded of this interpretation, I was dismayed as she struggled with deep feelings of low self worth because of it. I would remind her that she is of such worth that God gave His Son for her, and of the close relationship that Jesus had with women such as Mary and Martha. Although this interpretation seemed to be having an oppressive effect on her, the last thing that I or anyone else I knew who held to this position wanted was to be oppressive. They were simply good, loving people who felt duty bound to obey what they thought the Bible commanded, just as we did.

 

 

 

A Command Meant to be Obeyed

 

Our desire to be obedient to this passage was strengthened by the fact that Paul’s words here are quite firm. He gives not one, but five reasons why this command should be obeyed:

 

The first is "for it is not permitted unto them to speak.” The perfect tense of the Greek verb translated "permitted" indicates that Paul was being quite emphatic.

 

The second is "but they are commanded to be under obedience". This verb is also in the perfect tense, again signifying that Paul was being very emphatic.

 

Paul’s third reason reinforces the second, "as also saith the law." This is followed by a reply to a possible objection, "And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home".

 

The fourth is "for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

 

And the fifth is because "the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord."

 

And so there is no doubt that Paul wanted this command for women to be silent to be obeyed!

 

But in order to obey it accurately, we must make certain that we understand it correctly! In this case, it is particularly important, especially if we are going to teach others how to obey it. This is because how we interpret it has a very important effect on half of God’s people! In our opening story, when Stan Laurel misunderstood a similar command, it made for comedy. But if God’s people misunderstand Paul’s command, the result is not so funny, when we consider the potentially vast impact of that error. Whatever view we adopt, we must not enter into it carelessly or lightheartedly.

 

Just as Stan mistook Ollie’s words, could my wife and I have misunderstood the Apostle Paul? Was Paul merely forbidding the women from speaking disruptively? As I pondered this question, I knew that determining the answer to it would require time-consuming study, which would involve close examination of the relevant Greek words, the Greek grammar, and the context of the passage. With a struggling new business and seven children to provide for, that was a luxury that was hard to justify, so I put it off for a long time.

 

Recently however, even my fifteen and nine year old daughters began to question this interpretation. That was the final prod which motivated me to take the time to study and meditate on this passage in depth.

 

Surely, when any scripture passage has a great and controversial impact on God’s people, it can be beneficial to study the Greek words, the grammar, and the context carefully, to make certain that we understand it correctly. Otherwise, how can we be certain that we know the “plain meaning” of the passage?

 

What I learned from this study was very edifying to me! I hope that you will find it to be of benefit as well.

 

Various Interpretations of this Passage

 

We must not approach this passage (or any other scripture passage) with the motive of trying to “explain it away.” Instead, we should study this passage, and any difficult passage in scripture, with the honest desire to more fully understand it. If a fuller understanding honestly compels us to adopt an interpretation different from the one that we previously held, then that, on the other hand, is a good thing.

 

Some have claimed that verses 34 and 35, which are generally regarded as canonical, are an interpolation (addition) by a scribe. However, although these two verses are indeed placed at the end of the chapter in some ancient manuscripts, they are present in all of them. In light of such massive manuscript evidence, verses 34 and 35 seem to rightfully belong in the inspired text. Furthermore, in the spring 1999 edition of the Biblical Theology Bulletin, D.W. Odell-Scott pointed out that in manuscripts where these verses are placed at the end of the chapter, there is a resulting textual incoherence, because verse 36 is then left standing alone. Despite the attempts of some to make it disappear, this difficult passage just won’t go away!

 

Others say that Paul’s command only had application to the Corinthian cultural situation. However, could not this claim be made in regard to any scripture that we are uncomfortable with? Furthermore, it is plain contextually, by statements like “as in all of the churches of the saints,” that the instructions Paul is giving have universal application.

 

Still others assert that in verses 34 and 35, Paul is quoting the words of some people in Corinth that he disagrees with. In this scenario, he follows the quote with the words, “What! Did the word of God originate with you?” However, this interpretation is pure conjecture, since the apostle gives us no clear indications that he is quoting someone. Steve Atkerson has pointed out that contrary to the mistaken assertions of some, the Greek letter ayta does not indicate that verses 34 and 35 are quotes [http://www.ntrf.org/silent2.html]. Instead, Paul’s “What!” seems to be directed at those who would disagree with the firm command he has just given.

 

Some have conjectured that the men and women were sitting on opposite sides of the meeting hall, and the women were shouting questions to their husbands. Although Paul may have been forbidding disorderly speech, there is no scriptural, archeological, or ancient literary evidence I am aware of which indicates that the practice of the first century church was to segregate the men and women (if you are aware of such, please let me know). Furthermore, the early church met in homes. It is hard to imagine such a strict segregation in the casual atmosphere of a home meeting! However, many of the women might have voluntarily sat together and apart from their husbands. That would partly explain this passage, but it would not explain all of it, because Paul’s prohibition seems to cover much more than just the asking of questions. Furthermore, Paul wrote, “let them ask their own husbands at home,” indicating that some of the women were asking questions of people besides their own husbands.

 

Lastly, another interpretation is the idea that Paul is merely forbidding the women from openly questioning or judging a prophecy spoken by a man. However, this idea has difficulties, too, not the least of which is the fact that the apostle closes his command with the observation, “For it is a shame for women to be speaking in church,” a statement which seems to be much broader in scope than questioning or judging prophecy.

 

Besides the interpretations listed above, all of which present difficulties, we are left with only two other reasonable explanations I am aware of, which I will discuss after a few brief introductory comments.

 

 

A Limited Silence

 

To begin with, it is obvious Paul meant that when the church comes together, the women should be silent only at certain times. Most church historians agree that in the early church, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated each week in the context of a full meal, and was a time of wonderful fellowship. Surely Paul was not prohibiting the women from speaking to others during that time, except, perhaps, at certain points, such as when it was time for someone to explain the significance of the bread and wine. And so reason dictates that the times when silence is called for are those periods that are devoted to public speaking and reverence before God.

 

Nearly all of those who believe that women should not speak publicly in church allow them to sing with the men. Most of them also would allow a woman to call down an unruly child. And so it is obvious that this was a limited silence. The important thing that we need to determine is, what was the scope of it?

 

 

Two Likely Meanings

 

A Greek word can mean different things depending on the context, just as an English word can. Sometimes there are fine shades of meaning in the Greek, just as there are in English. This, of course, is why we have multiple definitions for many words in Greek lexicons. To argue that laleo, the Greek word meaning “to speak,” means all speech of any form, or that sigao just means “be mute” is to over-simplify things and to gloss over this fact.


For reasons which I will further explain, it has seemed to me for some time now that the apostle Paul must have had one of two different shades of meaning in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 14:34-37:

 

1)     Silence in regard to public speech:  A woman should not publicly address the church at all during the meeting time. Although nearly all English translations can be understood in the sense of #2 below, this is what many think the “plain meaning” of this passage seems to be, as it is usually translated into English.

But that, of course, should not be the ultimate determining factor for us. The most important question is, what was the “plain meaning” of this passage in the Greek language in which it was written? That is what I set out to learn when I began to study this passage, and I will try to explain the conclusion I came to in a way that the average Christian with no knowledge of Greek can understand and evaluate.

 

2)     The other meaning that Paul may have had in mind is silence in regard to disruptive speech: Women should not talk in a disruptive way during the meeting. For instance, suppose that a missionary revisited a church that he had planted. When the meeting began, he noticed that some of the ladies, not wanting to stop their enjoyable conversations, were continuing to talk, ignoring the speakers and church leaders. I can testify first hand that I have seen this happen in church, and it really is quite shameful. It reflects a disdain for the important spiritual matters at hand, a rebellious nature, and a lack of reverence, for the Lord is present when His people meet. In a follow-up letter to the church, we would not be surprised for that missionary to get very firm and say something like, “Just as in all other churches, your women should be quiet during the meetings! They are not permitted to be talking. Instead, they should be submissive, as the Bible also says. If they have any questions, they should ask their own husbands at home. For it is shameful for women to be talking in church!”

If this interpretation is correct, then the Greek word sigao should be understood in the sense of “keep quiet” rather than “keep silence.” The Greek word lalein should be understood in the sense of “to be talking” rather than “to speak.”

 

But which interpretation is the right one?

 

I don’t think that in the matter of practical instructions for church meetings, our Lord would leave us with no way of determining the meaning of an inspired writer of scripture. If we are responsive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and carefully study the grammar, the context, and the NT usage of the Greek words in a passage, we should be able to find indicators of the intent of a writer.

 

To begin with, the Greek word translated “keep silence” in verse 34 is sigatosan, which is the present active imperative form of the Greek word sigao. A present active imperative is a command to continue an action, such as “keep sweeping!” Because the command for the women to be silent is in the present active imperative, it carries with it the idea of "keep quiet."

 

This continuous sense could be understood in three different ways:

 

1)     Continue being silent during the meeting.

2)     Continue the church custom of being silent.

3)     Get quiet and keep quiet.

 

Note that all three of the above could refer to silence in regard to public speaking, or silence in regard to disruptive speech. Paul also used the present active imperative form of sigao twice in the nearby verses:

 

28  But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

29  Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

30  If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.

 

 

Where Paul commands the tongue speakers to be silent, his meaning is (1): continue being silent during the meeting.

 

Where Paul commands the first prophet to be silent, his meaning is (3): Get quiet and keep quiet.

 

The first thing that we notice in regard to Paul’s usage of sigao in these two verses was that he is not prohibiting all forms of speech. For that matter, he was not even prohibiting all forms of public speech, for he did not forbid the tongue speakers and prophets from speaking publicly in other ways. It was OK for them to speak publicly again, provided they did not give a message in tongues or another prophecy while a second prophet was speaking. Therefore, sigao meant silence in regard to tongue speaking and in regard to prophecy. This confirms our earlier observation that sigao is a limited silence, and it leads us to ask the crucial question, what is Paul commanding the women to be silent in regard to?

 

Examining how sigao is used in the rest of the New Testament can help us to determine this.

 

 

The New Testament Usage of Sigao

 

The Greek lexicon of Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich (BAG) is widely recognized as one of the most authoritative works of it’s kind. According to BAG, sigao can have the various meanings of:

 

  1. Be silent, keep still

  2. Say nothing, keep silent

  3. Stop speaking, become silent

  4. Keep secret, conceal

Sigao only occurs eight other times in the NT. Aside from Paul, Luke is the only other New Testament writer who uses this word.  Luke and Paul were contemporaries who spent a great deal of time in each other’s company, so it is likely that they both used the word in the same way. This means that Luke’s usage of the word can help us understand Paul’s usage of it as well. With that said, let’s look at each occurrence of this word in the NT.

 

In two verses in the NT, sigao has the meaning of, "kept secret":

 

Luke 9:36 And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.

 

Romans 16:25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

 

In these two verses, we again see that sigao is a limited silence. It does not convey the idea of silence concerning all things; just silence in regard to not divulging a particular secret.

 

All of the other occurrences of sigao concern public assemblies, so they have great relevance to understanding the meaning of this word as it used in 1 Cor. 14:34.

Luke 20:26 And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.

Acts 12:17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

Acts 15:12 Then all the multitude kept silence and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

Acts 15:13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:

The last two occurrences of sigao in the NT (other than 1 Corinthians 14:34), are of particular importance to this subject, because they are in the immediate context of the verses that we are considering:

1 Corinthians 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.

1 Corinthians 14:30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let  the first hold his peace.

From this complete list of all of the NT verses containing the word sigao (outside of the disputed verse), we can make several observations:

 

  1. As we have already noted, in the last two verses listed above, Paul does not mean that a speaker in tongues or a prophet cannot address the congregation again later in the meeting. He only means that they should stop talking in a particular way. In fact there is nothing to indicate that that the first prophet who speaks may not give another prophecy later in the meeting. He is only instructed to be silent so that a different prophet who also receives a revelation will have the opportunity to speak.

 

 

  1. Outside of the disputed verse, wherever sigao is used in the New Testament concerning a public meeting, it refers to the respectful silence required for unhindered public speaking. In this regard it is very similar to the English word “quiet.” When we use this word in a phrase such as “be quiet,” we usually do not mean that none of those in the audience are permitted to speak publicly. Instead, we use the word to bring order to a noisy crowd, and to request that disruptive speech and chattering stop. Outside of 1 Corinthians 14:34, that is exactly the way that sigao is used in all of the other NT passages that refer to public speech.

 

3.      If, in verse 34, sigao does not only refer to being respectfully silent while someone is speaking publicly, but also to a complete ban on public speaking, then this is the only place that the word is used in such a comprehensive sense in the entire New Testament.

 

If Paul had wanted the women to be completely silent, there is another Greek word, siopao, that he could have used. It also means “to be silent,” but it seems to be the New Testament word of choice to indicate complete absence of speech, including public speech. Here are some instances where siopao is used in exactly that way:

 

Luke 1:20  And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

 

Luke 19:40 And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

 

Matthew 26:63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.

 

Mark 3:4  And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

 

Acts 18:9  Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace:

 

 

And so we conclude that the Greek word sigao indicates a limited, not a complete silence, and that outside of the disputed verse, it always refers to the respectful silence required for unhindered public speaking when it concerns public meetings.

 

 

 

The New Testament Usage of Laleo

 

Next, let's look at laleo, the word translated "to speak" in "they are not permitted to speak."

 

Thayer writes that laleo has the following range of meanings:

 

1) to utter a voice or emit a sound
2) to speak
2a) to use the tongue or the faculty of speech
2b) to utter articulate sounds
3) to talk
4) to utter, tell
5) to use words in order to declare one's mind and disclose one's thoughts
5a) to speak

 

BAG lists a similar range of possible meanings.

 

A quick computer survey of all of the 271 instances of this word in the New Testament also confirms that laleo has a very broad range of possible meanings, just as the English word talk does. Just like the English word talk, wherever laleo is used, we must determine it’s precise meaning by the immediate context.

 

Another word that is commonly used to refer to speech in the NT is the word lego. Why did Paul not use it instead? 

W.E. Vine points out the primary difference between laleo and lego:

 

In comparison with laleo, lego refers especially to the substance of what is said, laleo, to the words conveying the utterance.

Regarding this, Dr. Spiros Zodhiates writes, 

The reason he [Paul] used laleo and not lego [when discussing tongues] is because laleo refers to the mere utterance of sounds without the speaker necessarily knowing what he is saying or others understanding. Lego on the other hand is saying something which is the product of one’s thought.

Although Dr. Zodhiates was discussing why Paul chose laleo to refer to speaking in tongues, it is easy to see how the word would also be appropriate for referring to speaking in a disruptive and noisy fashion. The translators of the World English Bible, in fact, translate laleo as “to chatter” in verse 35:

 

If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly.

 

The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament also confirms the above observations regarding  laleo :

 

This word, like “lull,” imitates childish babbling, and thus means ‘to prattle,’ to ‘babble.’ It is also used for the sounds of animals and musical instruments. As regards speech, it may denote sound rather than meaning, but also the ability to speak. In compounds the meaning is always ‘to prattle.’ [Little Kittel, p 506].

 

Along similar lines, the translators of the Bible in Basic English render laleo as “talking”:

 

14:35 And if they have a desire for knowledge about anything, let them put questions to their husbands privately: for talking in the church puts shame on a woman.

Laleo is used to refer many times in the New Testament to the speaking that occurs during conversation, rather than to public speech.

 

If laleo only referred to public speech, then the following verse regarding the prophetess Anna would cause problems for those who believe that a woman should not publicly address men, since scripture seems to speak approvingly of her actions:

 

Luke 2:38  And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake (laleo) of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

 

To be sure, laleo is often used to refer to public speech in the NT, so New Testament usage of this word does not at all preclude the possibility of this. However, although laleo is less often used to refer to conversational talk, it is still used that way many times in the NT, so this may have been what the apostle Paul had in mind. Here are most of the examples in the NT in which laleo refers to conversational speech:

 

Luke 24:32  And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?

 

Matthew 12:36  But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

 

Matthew 12:47  Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

 

Mark 5:36  As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.

 

Mark 9:6  For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.

 

Luke 7:15  And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.

 

Luke 11:14  And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered.

 

Luke 12:3  Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

 

Luke 22:60  And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew.

 

John 4:26  Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am [he].

 

John 4:27  And upon this came his disciples, and marvelled that he talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her?

 

John 9:37  And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh (laleo) with thee.

 

Acts 22:10  And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told (laleo) thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.

 

Acts 23:18  So he took him, and brought [him] to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto [him], and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say (laleo) unto thee.

 

1 Timothy 5:13  And withal they learn [to be] idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking (laleo) things which they ought not. [Here I think the word definitely refers to chatter, and godless chatter at that.]

 

James 1:19  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:

 

1 Peter 3:10  For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak (laleo) no guile:

 

Revelation 17:1  And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked (laleo) with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:

 

Revelation 21:15  And he that talked (laleo) with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof.

 

And so disorderly conversation is certainly one of the meanings that the apostle Paul could have had in mind when he used the word laleo. As we will see later, the tense of laleo as it is used in I Corinthians 14:34 gives us good reason to believe that this is exactly the case.

 

Paul’s Usage of Adelphoi in 1 Corinthians

Now let’s examine Paul’s usage of another important Greek word in I Corinthians, the word adelphoi, translated “brethren”. This word is important, because if the argument that women should be silent in regard to public speech is going to hold water, adelphoi has to refer to men only in 1 Corinthians 14:26. This is because in 14:31 Paul says, “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.” The context here undoubtedly indicates that Paul is referring to public prophesying.

 

Unfortunately for the silence-in-regard-to-public-speech argument, in every other place in 1 Corinthians in which the church is being addressed, the apostle Paul is including the women when he uses this word. There are only 28 occurrences of this word in 1 Corinthians, so it will not be difficult for us to examine all of them. To begin with, let’s look at every verse outside of chapter 14 where Paul uses this word to address the church. In a few of these verses, men are mentioned as a subgroup of the brethren, but it is still clear that Paul is addressing the entire church.

 

1 Corinthians 1:10  Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you; but [that] ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.

 

1 Corinthians 1:11  For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them [which are of the house] of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

 

1 Corinthians 1:26  For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

 

Here "wise men" are mentioned as a small subgroup of the brethren.  But Paul is sharing something that he desires all of those in the church to be aware of, so there is no reason to think that by "brethren," Paul does not have the entire church in mind.

 

1 Corinthians 2:1  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

 

1 Corinthians 3:1  And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [even] as unto babes in Christ.

 

1 Corinthians 4:6  And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and [to] Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think [of men] above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.

1 Corinthians 7:24  Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

1 Corinthians 7:29  But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;

 

Read in isolation from the context, verses 7:24 and 7:29 might seem to be exceptions. But both verses are in the context of instructions given to both men and women, including virgins and widows, so there is no compelling reason to think that Paul is not addressing both men and women with his use of the word "brethren."

 

1 Corinthians 8:12  But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

 

1 Corinthians 10:1  Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;

 

1 Corinthians 11:2  Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered [them] to you.

 

1 Corinthians 11:33  Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.

 

1 Corinthians 12:1  Now concerning spiritual [gifts], brethren, I would not have you ignorant.

 

1 Corinthians 15:1  Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;

 

1 Corinthians 15:50  Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

 

1 Corinthians 15:58  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

 

1 Corinthians 16:15  I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and [that] they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,)

 

 

And so we see that outside of 1 Corinthians 14, in every place where the church is addressed by the word adlephoi, the women are included. Now let’s look at each occurrence of the word adelphoi in chapter 14. In all of these, the church is being addressed.

 

1 Corinthians 14:6  Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

The ASV translation of 1 Corinthians 14:20 might lead some to believe that this is one instance where adelphoi refers only to the men:

1 Corinthians 14:20  Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.

However, the Greek word translated “men” here is the word teleioi, which means “full grown” or “mature.” It is translated “men” here in the AV because it has a masculine gender, but this is probably not because Paul was excluding the women. It was probably for reasons of grammatical correctness only; the word needed to be in agreement with the masculine gender of adelphoi. Besides that, just as we often mean a group consisting of men and women when we use the words “man” and “mankind” in English, it was also common in Greek to use the masculine form of a word when referring to a group consisting of men and women. That is why most modern translators do not translate teleioi “men” in this verse. Green’s Literal Version translates it “mature,” as does the Modern King James, the New King James, the NASB, and  the RSV. Young’s Literal Version translates it “perfect,” and the NIV “adults.” Certainly, no convincing argument can be made on the basis of the gender of teleioi alone.

1 Corinthians 14:26  How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.

1 Corinthians 14:39  Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.

 

 

Nowhere in 1 Corinthians 14 does the apostle inform us that he is switching gears and addressing only the men with the word adelphoi. Although this conjecture seems very unlikely, it must be affirmed if one is to maintain the silence-in-regard-to-public-speaking position.

 

Now lets look at the all of the places in 1 Corinthians 14 where Paul uses the word adelphoi, but not to address the church. Even in most of these, women are not excluded.

 

 1 Corinthians 6:5  I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?

 

1 Corinthians 6:8  Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

 

1 Corinthians 15:6  After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.

 

1 Corinthians 16:20  All the brethren greet you. Greet ye one another with an holy kiss.

 

 

That covers 25 of the 28 occurrences of the word adlephoi in 1 Corinthians. The remaining three verses are the only ones in I Corinthians where it may be argued that the word adelphoi definitely excludes women:

 

 

1 Corinthians 9:5  Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as do other apostles and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

 

1 Corinthians 16:11  Let no man therefore despise him, but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me; for I look for him with the brethren.

 

1 Corinthians 16:12  Now concerning our brother Apollos: I greatly desired that he should come unto you with the brethren, but it was not at all his will to come at this time; but he will come when it shall be convenient.

 

Note that in none of these last three occurrences of the word “brethren” is the church being referred to.

 

And so there is overwhelming evidence that when the word  “brethren” is used to address the church in 1 Corinthians, it includes the women.

 

In response to this, it has been argued that Paul is addressing the women under the headship of the men by using the word “brethren.” The problem with this is that Paul does not exclude the women in his opening address to the church:

 

1 Corinthians 1:1  Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,

2        Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

 

This certainly includes the women. Since the letter is written to both men and women, the word “brethren,” which Paul uses quite frequently to refer to those he is writing to, obviously must include the women.

 

Secondly, Paul seems to have no hesitation about addressing women directly, even by name, in his epistles. In Philippians 4:1-3 he uses the term "my beloved brethren," and then addresses two women by name in the very next verse:

 

I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

 

If, for purposes of headship, Paul preferred to address the women through the men, this would be an exception to that rule. He could have written, “Please beseech Euodias and Syntyche,” but instead he wrote, “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche.”

Thirdly, in addition to the New Testament usage, there is solid extra-biblical evidence that adelphoi can refer to females as well as men. There is an excellent article by George Davis and Michael Clark entitled, Brotherhood: Male and Female Created He Them, at http://www.awildernessvoice.com/brotherhood.html, which further discusses the meaning of adelphoi. In it, the authors quote Michael Perkins, who wrote,

"It (adelphos) can literally be translated 'from the same womb' and was often used of twins, INCLUDING brother/sister pairs. That's why I abandoned the use of 'brothers/ brethren' a few years ago and began to use 'siblings'... adelphos (comes from delphos: 'womb') literally means 'from womb', but is normally considered to be, 'son of the same mother'.

HOWEVER...

Euripides uses adelphoin (masculine genitive/dative dual) in Electra 420-410 BC (line 536), 'the foot of brother and sister would not be the same in size, for the male conquers.'

Here, Euripides uses a masculine plural word that has for centuries been considered to ONLY refer to males. The only significance to his using the DUAL is that it's clear he is referring to two siblings. However, the other contextual information, 'the male conquers' makes it absolutely evident that one of these siblings is female. This provides incontrovertible extra-biblical evidence that completely dispels the myth that because adelphoi(n) is masculine, it can only refer to males."

But there is more extra-biblical evidence than that. Acknowledging that adelphoi can refer to both men and women, Wayne Grudem writes in What's Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations? :

Up to this point I have listed numerous examples of inaccurate translations in the NRSV and other gender-neutral versions. A different matter arises, however, with the plural form of the Greek word adelphos, "brother." Although in many cases the plural word adelphoi means "brothers," and refers only to males, there are other cases where adelphoi is used to mean "brother and sister" or "brothers and sisters."  Consider the following quotations from Greek literature outside the New Testament:

1. That man is a cousin of mine: his mother and my father were adelphoi (Andocides, On the Mysteries 47 [approx. 400 B.C.]).

2. My father died leaving me and my adelphoi Diodorus and Theis as his heirs, and his property devolved upon us (Oxyrhynchus Papyri 713, 20-23 [97 A.D.; Diodorus is a man's name and Theis is a woman's name]).

3. The footprints of adelphoi should never match (of a man and of a woman): the man's is greater (Euripides, Electra 536 [5th cent. B.C.]).

4. An impatient and critical man finds fault even with his own parents and children and adelphoi and neighbors (Epictetus, Discourses 1.12.20-21 [approx 130 A.D.]).

In standard English, we just don't say, "My brothers Dave and Jenny."  So the Greek plural adelphoi sometimes has a different sense from English "brothers." In fact, the major Greek lexicons for over 100 years have said that adelphoi, which is the plural of the word adelphos, "brother," sometimes means "brothers and sisters." (so Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker, 1957 and 1979; Liddell-Scott-Jones, 1940 and as early as 1869).

One other important factor is that the masculine adelphos and the feminine adelph_ are just different forms (masculine and feminine) of the same word adelph-. But the plural form of this word would be adelphoi when talking about a group of all men, and it would also be adelphoi when talking about a group of both men and women. Only the context could tell us whether it meant "brothers" or "brothers and sisters." This makes Greek different from English, where bro- and sis- are completely different roots, and we wouldn't call a mixed group of men and women "brothers." (The root adelph- is from a-, which means "from," and delphus, "womb" (Liddell-Scott-Jones, p. 20)  and probably had an early sense of "from the same womb.") [http://www.cbmw.org/resources/articles/genderneutral.html]

 

Confirming these observations, Thayer writes that adelphoi may refer to “a fellow believer, united to another by the bond of affection.”

Likewise, W.E. Vine writes that the word can mean “believers, apart from sex” [p147].

And so we conclude that outside of the disputed verse, when the word  “brethren” is used to address the church in 1 Corinthians, it always includes the women. In my opinion, this deals a crushing blow to the silence-in-regard-to-public-speech position, because while directly addressing the “brethren” in this passage, Paul writes, “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.”

What do the Context and Grammar of I Corinthians
14:26-40 indicate regarding this silence?

 

There is more than the New Testament usage of these three important Greek words to lead us to believe that Paul was not prohibiting the women from praying or prophesying publicly in church. The grammar and the context all point to that conclusion, too:

 

1.      Laleo is in the present active infinitive form lalein, which indicates action that is in progress or is prolonged (Huber DrumWright, An Introduction To New Testament Greek, p. 75). Although it is translated “to speak,” which sounds more natural in English, more accurate translations are “they are not permitted to be talking,” and “for it is a shame for women to be talking in the church.” If Paul had wanted to forbid individual acts of public speaking, as opposed to conversational talk or frequent public speaking, he could have used the much more commonly used aorist active infinitive.

 

 

Admittedly, the tense could indicate that Paul was prohibiting women from engaging in public speech on a regular basis in church. Even this would make allowance for occasional acts of public speech. But it is not likely that Paul was doing this, for two reasons:

a.      Paul uses lalesai, the aorist active infinitive form of laleo, in 1 Corinthians 14:19 to refer to public speaking in the church: “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” If Paul wanted to forbid women from engaging in individual acts of public speech such as this in church, why did he not use lalesai again?

b.      Paul also used the present active infinitive in 1 Timothy 2:12, where he wrote that he did not permit a woman “to be teaching” a man.  But there the word “woman” is singular. In 1 Corinthians 14:34, however, it is plural, indicating that Paul did not want multiple women to be talking at once. We will discuss this in more detail shortly.

 

Laleo is used two other times in the present active infinitive form in 1 Corinthians 14, where it literally means,

 

“and I wish you all to be speaking with tongues” (verse 5)

 

“and to be speaking with tongues do not forbid.” (verse 39)

 

In each of these instances, lalein denotes the prolonged ability to speak with tongues, but does not necessarily refer only to speaking in tongues publicly. Paul wanted them all to have the ability to speak with tongues. But if there was no interpreter, they were not to speak publicly, but to themselves and to God. Therefore, it cannot be argued on the basis of these two instances that lalein must refer to public speech.

The present active infinitive is not used with the other instances of laleo in chapter 14, all of which involve public speech.

 

2.      Likewise, as we mentioned above, in the Greek "women" is plural in verse 34. It is also plural in verse 35 in the Textus Receptus and Byzantine majority texts. This is reflected in the AV (King James Version) translation: "for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." This is exactly what we would expect Paul to say if he were prohibiting the women from conversing with each other in a disruptive way when someone else is speaking publicly.

Of course, this begs the question: Men should not engage in disruptive speech either during the meeting. So why did Paul single out the women?

The likely answer is quite simple. Paul was having a problem with the women talking in church at Corinth, but not the men!

Obviously, he would not have approved of the women conversing out loud when someone was speaking. But he also would not have approved of a woman competing with a male teacher during the meeting:


1 Timothy 2:12  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

 

Each of these things seems to have been a problem in some of the churches. Evidently, some of the women, enjoying for the first time in their lives the liberty of NT priesthood, were going to extremes and abusing their new-found freedom by trying to "take over" teachings, by usurping pastor-teachers, disregarding head coverings, and conversing during the meetings. It is less likely that this would have become a problem if the women were not allowed to contribute revelatory insights, such as tongues, a word of knowledge, or prophesy, during the church meetings.  Instead, it seems more likely that some of these women took their liberty and ran as far as they could with it!   Paul got very firm with them, as we have already stressed. He commanded them to act in cognizance of, and to be in subjection to, the principles of creation and of order.

 

3.   In I Corinthians 11, Paul teaches that a woman’s head should be covered, and a man’s head uncovered, when praying or prophesying.  There is little doubt that the women in some of the early Christian communities covered their heads with garments. Vincent writes: "In the sculptures of the catacombs the women have a close-fitting head-dress, while the men have the hair short."

In On The Veiling of Virgins, Tertullian, arguing that both married women and virgins should cover their heads in church, wrote,

 

The region of the veil is co-extensive with the space covered by the hair when unbound; in order that the necks too may be encircled…To us the Lord has, even by revelations, measured the space for the veil to extend over. For a certain sister of ours was thus addressed by an angel, beating her neck, as if in applause: "Elegant neck, and deservedly bare! it is well for thee to unveil thyself from the head right down to the loins, lest withal this freedom of thy neck profit thee not!" - CHAP. XVII

 

Chrysostom, in his Homilies on 1 Corinthians, wrote, 

 

For this cause He left it to nature to provide her with a covering, that even of it she might learn this lesson and veil herself.

 

If alternate translations of this passage lead us to believe that long hair was the covering that Paul was referring to, a woman with short hair would still be expected to don a head covering before praying or prophesying publicly in the presence of men. In light of that, these commands seem to make the most sense when understood in a public rather than a private context, for several reasons: 

 

First of all, in even the strictest Middle Eastern countries today, when women are in private gatherings (even private gatherings that include men) or in public women’s meetings, head coverings usually come off. Take the following report from the UK Observer regarding current practices in Kabul, for instance:

 

The burqa has no longer been compulsory since they [the Taliban] fled Kabul, but women of marriageable age still wear it all the same. In the streets of the city last week it was almost impossible to see a single adult woman who had cast it off.

In private, where they feel comfortable, women will lift their veils, even in the presence of men. And they are confident enough to do so in places where there is a large female presence - in government offices like the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, or in the offices of the women's associations or schools. When they enter a building the burqa is hauled off with a quick flick and put into a handbag. When they leave it is slipped on again. [Peter Beaumont, Sunday December 30, 2001 The Observer]

 

It seems likely that  the early Christian women behaved in a similar fashion in regard to head coverings, and removed their head coverings at home and during private gatherings when men were present, as well as in public gatherings where only other women were present. 

I don’t think that women praying or prophesying without a head covering would have been an issue at all were it not for the fact that they were doing this during the church meetings, in the presence of men. It seems likely that the women, who were accustomed to removing their head coverings during home gatherings with family and friends, were taking the liberty to carry this custom over into home church meetings, which are more public in nature.

It could be argued that Paul was encouraging women to cover their heads in private times of prayer and prophecy when men are present, just as men today remove their hats before praying at the dinner table. But although such behavior seems appropriate, it really is difficult to imagine the apostle being so concerned about enforcing this formality over private gatherings. Instead, his primary concern in these chapters of 1 Corinthians is the church meeting.

Secondly, in 1 Thes 5:17, the apostle Paul instructed us to  “Pray without ceasing.” In light of that, what are we to make of the command for men to pray without a head covering on, and women to pray with one on? It would be impractical for a woman to keep her head covered at all times. Likewise, it would also be impractical for a man to remove a head covering in bitter cold or in the raging sun. This is further evidence that Paul was talking about public prayer and prophecy in church.

In support of this, a woman’s head covering is a sign that she has authority on her head. (I Cor. 11:10). It seems that such a sign would be for people, not angels, who already are aware of the authority a woman has on her head. However, it would be important to the angels that a woman exhibit this sign to other people. Of what use is a sign of authority to people when it is worn in private?

And so given the fact that Paul seems to be speaking in regard to women prophesying and praying publicly in church (and most commentators agree with this idea), the vital question comes to mind, “Why would Paul go into such great detail explaining the proper way to do something that he was just about to completely forbid?”

To this, it can conceivably be argued that Paul would have approved of women praying and prophesying privately in church in the presence of men, during the fellowship of the Lord’s Supper meal for instance, but not publicly to the eentire church.

No doubt, private prophecy took place during NT church meetings, and it is certain that both male and female prophets participated in this. This is made evident by verses 23-25:

23  If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
24  But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
25  And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.

  

The hypothetical unbeliever who visits the church is male. But notice how Paul uses the term "the whole church" and follows it with "but if all prophesy." This must include the women, and the fruit of it is repentance.

Obviously, Paul must have had prophecy outside of the official meeting in mind when he said “but if all prophesy,” in verse 24, since only two or three prophets were allowed to speak during the time for public sharing of spiritual gifts. But it was not private, because the hypothetical visitor is male, and other church members, both male and female, would still be present during the times of fellowship before and after the public meeting.

However, although the women must have prophesied to visiting men without publicly addressing the entire church, and it would have been important for them to have their heads covered while doing so, it still appears that they were permitted to prophesy publicly during the meetings.  Since “adelphoi” includes the women, then “you can all prophesy one by one” in verse 31 must also include them. And the context of verse 31 concerns the official meeting time, the time for mutual public edification. Since Paul limits the number of prophets who can speak during this time to two or three, he must have meant that that everyone, including the women, could prophesy one by one over the course of many meetings.

Lastly, Paul concludes his argument for head coverings in 11:16 with “But if any man seemeth to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”  Paul’s use of the word “churches,” which has the primary definition of  “assemblies,” lends weight to the idea that he is speaking of a custom adhered to during church assemblies. To avoid confusion on this matter, Paul could have said, “neither do the other saints of God,” but instead he chose to say, “neither the churches of God.”

 

4.      The Corinthians were busting at the seams with spiritual gifts, and their meetings were quite disorderly and confusing. Paul’s overarching concern in this passage is that everything be done in an orderly and edifying way:

 

26c: Let all things be done for edification. (26c) 

33: for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as it is in all churches of the saints. 

40: Let all things be done decently and in order.

The idea of Paul commanding the women not to engage in disruptive speech fits with this. 

 

5.      Let’s appeal to "nature itself" here, as Paul does in chapter 11 when he argues that a woman should have long hair. Which do people naturally feel is shameful: A woman making a respectful and insightful comment that is accord with scripture, or women carrying on a conversation while someone is trying to teach? Isn't it our natural inclination to regard the second as shameful, but not the first? Isn’t it also our natural inclination to judge that not allowing the women to utter so much as a peep of public speech in church is overly harsh?

6.      In 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul instructs women to wear a head covering when praying or prophesying, and in 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul states that he does not allow a woman to teach or to usurp authority over a man, he appeals to the created nature of men and women as justification for this. This is to be expected when we encounter a very restrictive command that deserves an explanation. But we see no such explanation  here, although, if Paul were commanding the women not to speak publicly at all during the meeting, that would be a much more restrictive command. There is no attempt to explain the reasons for this command; apparently, Paul assumed that they would be obvious to his readers. The absence of such an explanation lends weight to the idea that Paul is only prohibiting disruptive speech.

7.      Beyond the immediate context of this passage, we should also consider the context of the New Testament as well. The New Testament teaches us that in Christ there is “neither male nor female” (Gal 3:28), that men and women are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7), and that women as well as men are “priests unto God and his Father” (Revelation 1:6).  Although the New Testament clearly teaches that “the head of woman is man” (1 Cor 11:3), it also teaches “for as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman” (I Cor 11:12). Although it teaches that wives should submit themselves to their own husbands (Eph 5:22), it also teaches “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). The idea that Paul did not permit the women to utter so much as a prophecy or a prayer in church seems very difficult to reconcile with the New Testament teaching that women are also “priests unto God.”

 

 

The Differences between Prophecy and Teaching

 

Verse 31 indicates that there are didactic (teaching) elements to prophecy, because prophecy results in learning: 

 

For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

 

In light of this, some argue that since Paul forbade a woman to teach a man in 1 Timothy 2:12, a woman must not prophesy publicly in church.  However, the offices of prophet and teacher are not synonymous:

 

1 Corinthians 12:28  And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.

Ephesians 4:11  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

 

Generally speaking, prophecy, by nature, is revelatory and spontaneous; it does not come from study or forethought, (although it may build on this) but is revealed directly from the Spirit of God. Teaching, on the other hand, is based on prior learning and experience.

 

However, a teacher should be guided by the Spirit of God in how he utilizes his learning and experience to instruct. And so prophecy and teaching, although distinct spiritual gifts, overlap in function:

In the zone in which teaching and prophesy overlap, a woman must exercise discretion.

As the above illustration indicates, the boundary between prophecy and teaching is more like a "zone" than a line.

 

Usually, a woman should avoid that zone, but if she does feel compelled by the Lord to venture into it a little, she should be careful, because there is a limit to that zone, and it is possible to cross over that limit into forbidden territory.

 

In some of our past participatory meetings, a few women, when attending for the first few times, were so thrilled at finally having the opportunity to share something in church (when they had been denied this all of their lives), that they had a lot of pent-up observations concerning the scriptures to express, and disregarding this principle, crossed over the line from prophecy into teaching. Not only that, but these women made it more difficult for the teacher to complete his teachings in a timely fashion, because they had a lot of things related to his teaching to share, which were more like mini teachings than prophetic messages. By doing this, they were abusing their newfound freedom and violating Paul's instructions in I Timothy 2:11:

 

"A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness." (NASB)

Although the word translated "quietly" here may not necessarily  mean absolute silence, but rather a respectfully quiet demeanor free from conflict, argument and vying for leadership, a woman should be certain that she is hearing from the Lord and led by Him before she shares a prophetic word during a teaching, and should do it in a peaceful, edifying  way that complements, rather than interrupts the teaching.

 

If the teacher seems to be wrong about something important, she should give the men opportunity to correct him, rather than questioning or challenging him during the teaching. If they do not correct him during the teaching, perhaps they feel it is best to do so afterwards. Otherwise, she could ask her husband, brother, or father to respectfully correct  him.

 

I Corinthians 14:20, "And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop," applies to when someone else is prophesying, not teaching, so it is no excuse for anyone, man or woman, to usurp or derail a teaching.

 

The Church Fathers

 

The earliest comment that I have been able to find in the writings of the Church Fathers on this subject was made by Tertullian, around AD 206:

 

"It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church" (The Veiling of Virgins IX).

 

Yet the Montanists, of whom Tertullian was a member, did have prophetesses. more tna likely, they prophesied outside of the church meetings. Other Church Fathers who spoke on this subject also did not believe that women should speak publicly in church. 

 

Because of this, I have been asked, in essence, “How can you  justify staunchly defending the early creeds, and yet disagree with some of the Church Fathers on this subject?”

 

To begin with, most evangelicals and protestants disagree with many statements of the Church Fathers, where scripture plainly conflicts with them. As early as the beginning of the second century, the gospel “once for all delivered to the saints” began to be diluted with a works-based, “earn your salvation” mentality. This is plainly reflected in many of the writings of the Church Fathers. A shift from the plurality-of-elders kind of church government established by the apostles to a monarchial episcopy (church government by city-wide bishops) had begun by this time as well, and most Protestants reject the validity of that, too.

 

An example from the Old Testament can shed some light on how this can happen. In Exodus 30:8-9, Moses wrote,  

 

8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations.
9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.

And yet, in Leviticus 10:1 we read, 

 

1 And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not.

Nadab and Abihu attempted to start a new custom – offering strange fire before the Lord – even while Moses and their father Aaron were still alive! Clearly, there are fallen aspects of human nature that motivate men to do such things. Given these, it did not take long at all for people to add their own practices to those of the Lord, or even to replace those of the Lord with their own.

 

Plainly, the Church Fathers were men just like us, and capable of making errors. This is evidenced by the fact that they differed from one another in their interpretation of certain Bible passages. Given this observed tendency in the church Fathers to sometimes place man-made traditions above the word of God (a temptation we all must fight against), it seems all the more likely that they were influenced by common prejudices of their day regarding women. Tertullian, for instance, expressing a view of the female sex that most of us would consider extremely condemning of women, wrote:

 

God's sentence hangs over the female sex, and His punishment weighs down on you. You are the devil's gateway. You first violated the forbidden tree and violated God's Law. You shattered God's image in man. And because you merited death, God's Son had to die.

 

It is said that the young Byzantine Emperor Theophilus, while interviewing an attractive and intelligent young woman named Casia as a potential bride, lamented to her that it was through women that evil had entered the world. She responded that it was also through women that good (referring to Christ) had entered the world. [Byzantium, p. 79, Time-Life Books]

 

Surely, the male sex bears guilt for the fall of man, too! The punishment inflicted on the man was just as harsh as that inflicted on the woman. God’s call to Adam, “Where art thou?” indicates that as the head of his family, Adam was held accountable for the actions of his family. In fact, scripture teaches that although the younger (and therefore more ignorant) woman was deceived by the serpent, the man was not. However, God’s judgment of Eve was not unjustified, because Eve allowed herself to be deceived in order to gratify her desires.

 

Secondly, not all of the Church Fathers wrote on this subject, at least in extant documents that are known to us, so they may not have all held to this opinion. 

Thirdly, although we should carefully consider the opinions of the Fathers and hold them in respect, we must nevertheless place scripture above what they teach.

 

Lastly, a creed determined by an early church council is a corporate judgment of the Ecclesia concerning matters foundational to the Christian faith. Jesus granted authority to even local churches to meet for purposes of church discipline. How much weightier then, is the judgment of a provincial council, and weightier still the judgment of an international council such as the Council of Nicea! Such judgments are of an entirely different character, and of much weightier consequence, than an interpretative opinion expressed by one writer regarding an issue unessential to salvation.

 

 

Does the word “them” in “it is not permitted unto them to speak” mean that Paul must have been addressing the men only?

 

Some argue that since Paul uses the word “them” in “for it is not permitted unto them to speak,” he must have been addressing only the men in 1 Cor. 14. This argument would carry more weight, were it not for two very important facts:

 

To begin with, the letter of 1 Corinthians is addressed “unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”

 

This certainly means that the letter is addressed to the entire church, not just to men.

 

Secondly, there is at least one example in 1 Corinthians where Paul uses the word “them” to refer to a subgroup which is definitely among the people he is addressing!

 

1 Corinthians 7:8  But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, It is good for them that they remain even as I.

 

Here, Paul uses the very same Greek word that is translated “them” in 1 Cor 14:34 (but in the masculine gender). This means that Paul was probably addressing the entire church, including the women, in 1 Corinthians 14, but used the word “them” to refer to the women as a subgroup.

 

It is also worthy of note that although Paul is speaking to a group consisting of unmarried men, unmarried women, and widows in 1 Corinthians 7:8, he uses the masculine form of the word translated “them,” autoin, to refer to them. Likewise, as we have already seen, where the masculine word adelphoi is used to address the church in 1 Corinthians, it includes the women.

 

 

 

Do the words  “your women” indicate
that Paul is addressing only the men?

 

Steve Atkerson writes,

 

Interestingly, the textus receptus adds the word “your” before “women” in 14:34, further evidence that the term “brothers” throughout 1Co 14 specifically refers to the men and not the women. [http://www.ntrf.org/silent2.html]

 

The idea behind this argument is that by “your women,” Paul means  “the women (or wives) who belong to you men (or husbands).” Of course, this is by no means a conclusive argument, because it is also possible that “your women” simply means “the women (or wives) belonging to the church.” Given the fact that this letter is addressed to both the men and women at Corinth, and the fact that when adelphoi is used to address the church in the rest of this letter, it includes the women, this seems most likely. Also, in the Greek, the word “your” is not in some important manuscript traditions.

 

However, if Paul was addressing the husbands to tell them that their wives should behave, this does not necessarily mean that he had been addressing only the men throughout the chapter. He could have momentarily turned his attention to the men. In addition, as we are about to see, this idea that Paul’s command primarily concerned the wives in the church, which has much merit, does much to undermine the idea that women, as a gender class, cannot speak publicly in church.

 

 

Paul Primarily Had Married Women in Mind

 

Since Paul wrote, “let them ask their own husbands at home,” it is obvious that he primarily had married women in mind. Evidently, they were the ones who were doing most of the talking. Paul knew that some of them might ask questions of a husband or a friend sitting by, thinking that to be a legitimate reason to ignore his command.

 

The phrase, “they are commanded to be under obedience, as also sayeth the law” supports this idea that Paul was primarily correcting the married women, since the verse most often cited to support this, Genesis 3:16, has to do with the relationship between a husband and wife.

 

In the New Testament, the Greek word gune is translated “wives” rather than “women” nearly half of the time. The translators of the AV rendered it “women” in verse 34.

 

By contrast, the Greek word aner is translated “men” three quarters of the time.  However, in the AV, it is translated “husbands” in verse 35. So why did the translators of the AV translate gune as “women” but aner as “husbands”? That is a very strange (and seemingly inappropriate) inconsistency, and it evidently led the translators of the Wesley and Weymouth New Testaments to translate this word as “married women” rather than “women”:

 

Let married women be silent in the Churches [Wesley NT]

 

Let married women be silent in the Churches [Weymouth NT]

 

(The translation of gune as “women” at the end of verse 35 appears to be more justifiable, however.)

 

The significance of this is that Paul was apparently writing in response to the disorderly actions of a subgroup of women in the churches, not to prohibit an entire gender class from engaging in public speech. But why did Paul need to specifically address actions of the wives?

 

Surely it was not because wives are more inclined to public speech than single women and widows! Let’s not forget that before the advent of birth control, most women bore children until menopause. Since there was no “Sunday School” or “Children’s Church” in the apostolic church, the little ones were probably present with their mothers during the meetings. If anything, having to keep a constant eye on their little ones would have made them less inclined to public speech. However, it would have made them more inclined to chatter with other wives and to ask questions, since their children would have made it so challenging for them to focus on what was being taught. In our participatory meetings, I have observed this tendency first hand, especially with my own wife, since we have seven children. My wife often finds it difficult to concentrate on the meeting because of the demands of the children. When a noisy child forces her and another wife into the hallway, it is naturally tempting to talk rather than try to listen. The example we are about to quote will further serve to illustrate this.

 

And so although the command to “keep quiet” in the churches applies to all women in “all of the churches of the saints,” this helps us to recognize that the scope of that silence probably concerned disorderly speech.

 

 

 

Some Examples

 

The following quote describes women who, like most of the women at Corinth, grew up without formal classroom schooling. It helps us to understand the kind of situation that Paul might have been addressing at Corinth:

My mother used to compare the situation in Corinth to the one she and my father faced in northern China. Back in the 1920s when they were first to bring God's message to that forgotten area, they found women with bound feet who seldom left their homes and who, unlike the men, had never in their whole lives attended a public meeting or a class. They had never been told as little girls, "Now you must sit still and listen to the teacher." Their only concept of an assembly was a family feast where everyone talked at once.

When these women came to my parents' church and gathered on the women's side of the sanctuary, they thought this was a chance to catch up on the news with their neighbors and to ask questions about the story of Jesus they were hearing. Needless to say, along with babies crying and toddlers running about, the women's section got rather noisy! Add to that the temptation for the women to shout questions to their husbands across the aisle, and you can imagine the chaos. As my mother patiently tried to tell the women that they should listen first and chitchat or ask questions later, she would mutter under her breath, "Just like Corinth; it just couldn't be more like Corinth." [Kari Torjesen Malcolm, *Women at the Crossroads* pp. 73-74].

Writing four centuries after the apostle Paul penned 1 Corinthians, in his Ninth Homily on 1 Timothy, John Chrysostom expressed his view that women should not speak publicly at all in church. But within the context of it, he also bemoaned the fact that women were conversing with each other during their church meetings! Holding up the women of the apostolic age as an example, he exhorted the women in his congregation to refrain from this kind of disorderly speech:

 

Then indeed the women, from such teaching, kept silence; but now there is apt to be great noise among them, much clamor and talking, and nowhere so much as in this place. They may all be seen here talking more than in the market, or at the bath. For, as if they came hither for recreation, they are all engaged in conversing upon unprofitable subjects. Thus all is confusion, and they seem not to understand, that unless they are quiet, they cannot learn anything that is useful.

 

In modern times, I have at times observed some of the wives in our participatory meetings doing the same thing. A private, loving reminder of Paul’s words from their husbands was all that it took to bring it to an end.

 

Of course, if in some places there is a greater general tendency among women than men to converse in church, it would be very wrong to prejudicially assume that every woman is like this, for there are also women who are admirably disciplined in their speech, and there are men with uncontrolled tongues. Likewise, we recognize that men are generally more likely to attempt to “dominate” or “lord it over” God’s people than women, but it would be wrong to color all men this way, or to think that a woman is incapable of such behavior.

 

Putting Things into Perspective

 

Although these things lead us to conclude that women are permitted to pray and prophesy in church, we must also integrate this into the whole counsel of scripture. We must not think that distinctions of behavior and dress according to gender are foreign to the Scriptures. Deuteronomy 22:5  tells us 

 

“The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”

 

Likewise, the New Testament prescribes different behavior patterns in church for men and women. As we have already seen, a woman’s head is to be covered (with a garment, or, according to alternate translations, long hair) when she prays or prophesies in church. In I Timothy 2:11-15, Paul wrote,

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
(1 Timothy 2:11-15 ESV)

The BDAG lexicon defines hesuchia as:

1) state of quietness without disturbance, quietness, rest

2) state of saying nothing or very little, silence

The BDAG indicates that hesuchia is used not in the sense of the first definition above in 1 Timothy 2:11, but in the sense of the second definition. It is also used in this way in Acts 22:2

And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. (ESV)

Although one could argue this word may not necessarily confine a woman to absolute silence when a man is teaching, particularly if the teaching permits some group discussion, it does still indicate that her overall demeanor should be quiet, orderly, respectful and non-contentious. If she does say anything when a man is teaching, this verse indicates that she should speak sparingly, not make a teaching of it, and say it in a respectful, edifying and orderly way that does not usurp, interrupt, challenge, or derail the teaching.

Observing this principle must be difficult at times, especially when one considers how human and prone to mistakes we men can be. However, it can reap joyous rewards for women. Few women like the idea of men or husbands who are timid leaders. As Jonathan Lindval noted in a letter to me, by observing this principle, women will create a “leadership vacuum” that men will feel compelled to step into. Thus, through obedience to the scriptures, women can wisely help to mold the men of their church, and their own husbands, into bolder leaders.

By asking questions of their husbands or fathers at home, rather than of a teacher, women can also encourage their men to dig into the word of God more, because it is a rare man who would be content appearing ignorant or dumb before his wife or daughter! In fact, as I noted in the beginning of this article, it was the questions of my wife and daughters which spurred me to research and write this article! If they had asked another man at church these questions, this article might never have been written. If you are pleased with it and agree with it, you may thank them for being obedient to God in this matter! Perhaps this is the very reason why Paul said, "But if they will learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home."

Lastly, if a woman draws a teacher into a long discussion by asking a lot of questions of him following a teaching, she runs the risk of causing his wife to feel jealous or insecure, particularly if he has had a busy week and has not had enough time with his family.

There seems no escaping the fact that the Apostle did not permit a woman to teach a man publicly in church. There is little doubt that he wanted Timothy to imitate this practice.

It must also be observed that the two reasons Paul gave for this prohibition were based not on cultural conditions, but on the created order and the circumstances of the fall. Paul found those reasons to be compelling even after men and women had embraced Christ as their Savior. These are facts that must not be ignored by anyone desiring to come to honest conclusions regarding this passage.

However, although there is no doubt that “Let the woman learn quietly with all submissiveness” is a command, the statement that immediately follows it is not a command, but an example. It reads, “I do not permit a woman to teach” rather than “a woman should not teach.” If we make a rigid command out of it, we are going beyond scripture. As Proverbs 30:5-6 teaches:

5  Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
6  Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

Paul’s example is a practical application of scriptural considerations, and it obviously should be imitated. In fact, Paul wrote, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Ph. 4:9). However, Paul refrains from going so far as to command that women should not teach men in his letter. Why?

“What is the difference," someone might naturally ask, “between an example meant to be followed and a command?” The difference is that although Paul’s example models what should be done in the absence of special circumstances, it does seem to make room for some exceptions. Although the reasons Paul gave for not permitting women to teach men in church are valid considerations, he seems to make allowance for overriding considerations in some situations. Lottie Moon may have encountered just such circumstances during her Christian work in China. In a letter written February 9, 1889, and apparently intended for publication in the SBC’s Foreign Mission Journal, she wrote:


Feb. 9, 1889

Recently, on a Sunday which I was spending in a village near Pingtu city, two men came to me with the request that I would conduct the general services. They wished me to read and explain, to a mixed audience of men and women, the parable of the prodigal son. I replied that no one should undertake to speak without preparation, and that I had made none. (I had been busy all the morning teaching the women and girls.) After awhile they came again to know my decision. I said, "It is not the custom of the Ancient church that women preach to men." I could not, however, hinder their calling upon me to lead in prayer. Need I say that, as I tried to lead their devotions, it was hard to keep back the tears of pity for those sheep not having a shepherd. Men asking to be taught and no one to teach them. We read of one who came forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. "And how did he show his compassion?" He began to teach them many things.

Miss Moon was admirably right in her desire to remain faithful to the practice of the early church. It does not seem to have occurred to her that she could have answered the questions of the men in private, in the same way that Priscilla, with her husband Aquilla, “expounded … the way of God more perfectly” to Apollos in Acts 18: 24-26. Although Paul did not specify state that he was referring to public meetings in Timothy 2:11-15, in light of Acts 18:24-26, it seems likely that he was. Even if he was not, Lottie Moon seems to have encountered an exceptional circumstance. To require that women abstain from explaining the word of God to men in private who are starving for the milk of the word, as Apollos was, seems wrong. Perhaps such circumstances are why the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, refrained from going so far as to give a universal  command that women not teach men in his letter (although he did command this in the specific churches where he ministered).

Susanna Wesley, the mother of the famous evangelist John Wesley, also found herself in a similar situation. Susanna had a knowledge of the scriptures and of the NT Greek language that few men in her day could match. Some biblically illiterate parents brought their children to the Sunday evening devotions she gave to the children in her home. Soon, curious fathers, many of whom found the Sunday morning church service dull and uninteresting, became an unofficial part of the listening audience, soaking up her words. Her husband Samuel, who was on a church assignment in another city, seriously considered forbidding her to continue the devotions because of this, but wisely refrained from denying these men, women and children the opportunity to listen to the Word of Life as it came from his wife’s lips. Samuel returned home to a packed Sunday evening audience in his own home, which Susanna then turned over to him. [Susanna Wesley: Servant of God by Sandy Dengler, Moody Press, Chicago, p 163].

However, I do not believe that examples such as this should be misused as a ‘crack in the door,” in hopes of eventually forcing that door wide open for women to teach men publicly in churches where such overriding considerations do not exist. To have such a goal in mind would be to oppose the apostle Paul’s very clear example. I believe that on the whole, we should preserve the normative biblical pattern of men, rather than women, teaching the scriptures to grown men. Just as Deborah wanted Barak to lead the Israelites into battle without her, a woman should rejoice when she is able to turn things over to men who have matured enough to serve as teachers.

Obviously, Paul did not mean that he did not permit a woman to teach at all.  If that were so, then she could not teach her own children or other women.  That would contradict his own words in Titus 2:3-5, where he said that the older women should “teach what is good” to the younger women. He also did not forbid a woman to teach other women or children in a public setting.  Nor, it seems, did he forbid a woman to set forth the word of God to a man in an informal, non-church setting, as Priscilla, with her husband Aquilla, “expounded … the way of God more perfectly” to Apollos (Acts 18: 24-26). (We should note that Priscilla did this together with her husband Apollos. I need not point out the temptations, and the appearance of evil, that could occur as a result of a man and woman being alone together for instruction. Because of this, such a thing should not be done. If there is need for an adult of one sex to explain the scriptures to an adult of the opposite sex, it should be with other adults present.  If either is married, preferably one or both spouses should be present.) 

A Word of Caution

The subject that we have been discussing is a volatile one, one that sometimes inflames emotions and causes men and women to cast their reason aside as they debate this issue. Brothers and sisters have refused to speak to each other again over this issue. A friend of mine who holds to the complete silence-in-regard-to public-speaking position was even threatened with church discipline by an irate woman!

While we might understand this woman's frustration,  shunning and church discipline should typically be practiced only because of intentional moral infringements. They should only be practiced for theological issues when someone is denying a foundational or essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Although I have been arguing against the complete silence-in-regard-to-public-speaking position, it is certainly a possible meaning that the apostle Paul could have intended. I still respect and fellowship with those who hold to that position. Some of them are my very good friends, and although I believe that they are mistaken in their interpretation of this passage (just as they believe that I am mistaken), I admire them for being willing go against our culture for the sake of their personal convictions regarding the scriptures.

No matter how strongly we may be persuaded of our own interpretation of these passages, we should recognize that our brothers and sisters have just as much a right to live by their convictions as we do. When persuasion gets nowhere, there comes a point at which it is best to lay aside, at least for the time being, a theological issue that is not foundational or essential.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. [2 Timothy 2:24-25a]

One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth one day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not that day, to the Lord doth he not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not and giveth God thanks. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord. Whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and arose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. [Romans 14:5-10]

Application

We must understand a commandment before we can effectively obey it. But it would be imbalanced for us to devote so much attention to trying to understand Paul’s words without also discussing the application of them.

In modern Western culture, church meetings often take place in the regimented order dictated by the church bulletin or tradition, so the very idea of women being caught chatting in church may seem terribly embarrassing or perhaps even unimaginable. Perhaps you are even thinking, “This passage is hardly applicable to my church at all!”

That may be the case, but if it is, it indicates that your church practice is far from what normal Christian church life was like in NT times.

Church meetings in NT times took place in homes, not church buildings, and behavior was not yet dictated by elaborate ritual or church bulletins. Instead, the church meetings were participatory, and each believer was permitted to contribute to the meeting:

 26a How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.

Today some are going back to the New Testament practice of participatory home meetings, where everyone gets to know each other so well, and the meetings are unstructured enough, that it can be easily understandable how some of the women might get carried away in conversation. But although this is so, the atmosphere of fellowship in a New Testament style church meeting must never be used as an excuse for irreverence in the presence of the Lord.

It is important to realize that two of the guiding principles behind 1 Corinthians 14: 26-40 are expressed in verses 26b and 40:

26b Let all things be done unto edifying.

40  Let all things be done decently and in order.

Obviously, to be carrying on private conversations, even asking private questions concerning a scripture passage, during a time devoted for public speaking is neither edifying, decent, nor orderly. Any godly, conscientious woman who catches herself doing this will naturally feel at least a slight blush of shame.

In churches where the women talking has become a problem (and this probably occurs most often in rural, third-world locations), these women should submit to their husbands and church leaders in this matter, and be quiet in church. As Habakkuk 2:20 says, 

“But the Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”

Summary

Outside of 1 Corinthians 14:34, wherever the Greek word sigao concerns public meetings, it is used consistently to refer to the silence required for unhindered public speech. This leads us to believe that Paul’s command for the women to be silent involves refraining from disorderly speech. In support of this, we find that the Greek word laleo is often used in the NT to refer to conversational speech. Throughout I Corinthians, Paul addressed the members of the church as adelphoi, or “brethren.” Outside of 1 Corinthians 14, whenever this word is used to address the church in 1 Corinthians, it includes the women. Arguably, in I Corinthians 14, Paul was continuing to use adelphoi as he had throughout his letter. This would indicate that the following verses conflict with the silence-in-regard-to-public-speaking position:

1 Corinthians 14:26  How is it then, brethren? When ye come together every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

1 Corinthians 14:31  For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

Likewise, the present active infinitive form of laleo indicates that the most accurate translation of verse 35 is “for it is a shame for women to be talking in church.”

 Since Paul’s commandment was probably directed to the wives in the church, he was most likely writing in response to disruptive speech, since generally speaking, women distracted by the care of small children would be more likely to engage in conversation with each other than in public speech.

 

And so the NT usage of important Greek words in this passage, the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 14 34-35, and the Greek grammar used, all indicate that Paul was not excluding women from prophesying or praying publicly in Church. Instead, he was apparently forbidding them from talking in a disruptive way.

 

All of these factors suggest that 1 Corinthians 14:38-40 should be translated in the following way:

 

38     The wives should keep quiet in the churches, for they are not allowed to be talking; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as the law also says.

39     And if there is anything they want to know, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to be talking in the church.

 

I am not the only one who has come to these conclusions. The Common English Bible, a new translation by representatives of many faith communities, including Baptist, Methodist, Churches of Christ and Anglican, translates this passage in a similar way:

 

Like in all the churches of God's people, the women should be quiet during the meeting. They are not allowed to talk. Instead, they need to get under control, just as the law says. If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands at home. It is disgraceful for a woman to talk during the meeting.

In light of the overwhelming evidence we have considered, my belief is that scripture does not prohibit women from publicly contributing prophetic messages and prayers in church. Of course, while doing any of these things, they should be careful to observe the instructions our Lord has given regarding the exercise of spiritual gifts, including those that relate specifically to women.

 

With their male brethren, our sisters in Christ are “heirs together of the grace of life” and “priests unto God” [I Peter 3:17, Rev 1:6]. As such, they have valid and valuable contributions to make to the body of Christ. The body of Christ would be incomplete without their prophetic contributions, and without their prayers of faith.

 

ă 2003 Marshall E. "Rusty" Entrekin

 

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Rusty Entrekin is a theology graduate of LA College. He and his wife Julie have seven children, with 6 still at home, and two grandchildren. Currently, he resides in Kennesaw, GA, and teaches in a house church that practices participatory meetings.

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