Women Keep Silent in the Church

Q. Should Women Keep Silent in the Church?

A. 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.
And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.  (1 Corinthians 14:34, 35)

I consulted two sources which commented on 1 Corinthians 14:34 which included verse 35 as well.   First, I will quote from a book entitled “Answers to Difficult Bible Texts” by Joe Crews who was the late founder of Amazing Facts.  “Two principles seem to be involved in this counsel of Paul to the Corinthian church.  First, there was definitely a violation of principle of propriety and decency.  In verse 33, Paul said, ‘God is not the author of confusion, but of peace’.  Again he admonished, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order’ (Verse 40).

It is not hard to visualize the situation that brought the rather stern rebuke from Paul in verses 34 and 35.  In that early church, the men and women sat in segregated groups on opposite side of the room.  Apparently, some of the women were creating considerable disorder by calling across to their husbands, asking for clarification of certain points in the sermon.  Paul commanded them to stop bringing in this confusion and to wait and ask their husbands at home about anything that wasn’t clear.

Eastern culture dictated that a modest woman be veiled and remain in the background.  There was danger that women in the Christian church might be linked with the shamelessly bold women whose conduct stigmatized the city of Corinth.

The second principles involved in Paul’s counsel had to do with the headship of men in both home and church affairs.  The man was primarily responsible for leading out in worship.  In 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul warned that women were not ‘…to usurp authority over the man …’  Therefore they should assume no position in the church that would frustrate that divine order of things.

Within these two principles of proper decorum and vested authority, women have served most effectively in the work of the church.  They have been called by God into prophetic office (Luke 2:36, 37; Judges 4:4; Acts 21:9) and were given recognition by Paul in public and private witnessing roles (1 Corinthians 11:5).  The principles of Paul’s counsel apply just as strongly today, even though the absence of a Christian woman’s veil does not bring reproach on her church, nor is she stereotyped as a clamous confuser in the congregation.”

My second source was an article entitled God’s Imagination at Work in the December 1996 issue of “Signs of the Times” magazine.  It says, “As we consider the way Paul worked with and commended women in leadership, we may puzzle over the standard he laid down to the women worshiping in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).  Why does Paul state that they should cover their heads and keep silent in church?

To understand this seeming dichotomy, I had to brush up on the history of Rome.  The Romans were very concerned about order, and the young Christian church had to struggle to make a place for itself under Roman rule.  It was not a ‘politically correct’ church.  In fact, its members were often persecuted.

Under Roman law, women could not own property and run businesses.  But Roman authorities held that women should be submissive to men, and one way a woman showed her submission was by keeping her head covered in public.  In addition, Roman law forbade women from speaking in a public assembly.

Christian worship services were open to all, members and nonmembers alike.  So Paul, recognizing the power of the Roman social taboos, admonished women to cover their heads and keep silent in church.  If a woman had a question about the service, she could ask her own husband when they were home.  It would have been foolish for Christians to alienate the very people they hoped to convert.”

Here are a few other statements made in the above mentioned article.  “The Bible records many instances of women holding positions of leadership among God’s people in subsequent years.  Miriam served as a counselor to Moses (Ex. 2:4, 7, 8; 15-20, 21) and was known as a prophet.  Deborah served as a judge, on a par with other judges (Judges 4, 5).  The king’s ministers consulted Huldah, another prophet (Is. 8:3).  Both men and women could take the Nazarite vow, dedicating themselves to God (Numbers 6:2).  In these and other examples, the Old Testament shows that God employed women to work for Him just as He did men.”

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