“Let your women keep silence in the churches.” Really?

Ayla87 (Michael & Christa Richert) http://www.rgbstock.com
Ayla87 (Michael & Christa Richert) http://www.rgbstock.com

Did Paul, or for that matter God, teach “”Let your women keep silence in the churches”?

In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “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 Cor 14:34-35).

That seems plain as day, right? Yes, if these verses are looked at in isolation, it does seem very plain that Paul was restricting women from speaking in church meetings. However, let’s consider the text, in its context.

Immediate Context:

Firstly, consider that the very next verse says, “What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” (1 Cor 14:36), which, if read immediately after verses 34-35, shows Paul to be reacting to the idea of restricting women and not advocating it.

Extra Biblical Context:

Now, someone may rightly ask, surely Paul would not advocate following God’s law only to immediately refuse the idea. But, was it God’s “law” that Paul was referring to that says women ought to keep silent? No! A careful search will reveal no such law in the Bible.

So what “law” was Paul referring to then? Paul was quoting the Jewish oral law (Talmud) in vs 34-35 that some in the church apparently still wanted to embrace. And, in vs 36, we see Paul reasoning against this restriction on women. Firstly, he is clearly flabbergasted by such a notion. Then, through rhetorical questions, he refutes their logic to keep such a custom.

Paul points out that the word did not come from men, but, by implication, that it is from God. And, that it also did not only go to men, but, by implication women too. The logic being that there was no reason to restrict women from speaking because they “learn” just fine directly from God and His word and don’t need to be instructed by their husbands at home in order to learn. This explains the grammar and obvious tone in verse 36.

TALMUDIC QUOTES:

Only men could speak in public (Beraktoth 4,36; Mishnah Aboth 1,5)

No woman could give a testimony or conduct business. (Mishnah Shabbath 4,1).

For a glimpse into the prevailing mindsets around that era, here is Adam Clarkes comment on Verse 34:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches] This was a Jewish ordinance; women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies, or even to ask questions. The rabbins taught that “a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff.” And the sayings of Rabbi Eliezer, as delivered, Bammidbar Rabba, sec. 9, fol. 204, are both worthy of remark and of execration; they are ….”Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women.” Adam Clarke

Further Context:

Paul would be contradicting himself in the very same letter if he taught that women were to keep silent. Consider that he says 1 Cor 14:26, “…when ye come together, EVERY ONE of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation…” This would be impossible for women if they were to keep silent.

Furthermore, Paul clearly knew, taught and practiced the New Covenant where no restriction on women exists. In Galatians 3:28, Paul captures the equality that is found in Christ. It reads, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Paul Was Rejecting Male Patriarchy and Not Women Speaking

So, contrary to the teachings and traditions of Judaism (and a whole lot of Christianity today), PAUL WAS OPPOSING THOSE WHO WOULD SILENCE WOMEN. He was correcting those who were wanting to bring certain wrong teachings and traditions from Judaism into the church. Clearly, if we are to isolate verses to capture Paul’s thinking then surely his view is seen in vs. 36 and not vs. 34-35.

He then refutes opposition to this by saying, “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. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant” (1 Cor 14:37-38).

Recommended Reading:

For an excellent and more complete explanation of these verses, I would like to suggest another’s post: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: Should Women be Silent in Church?

Here is another interesting article too: Paul’s Missing “Double Bunk” in 1 Corinthians 14:36

Perhaps you are asking, “What of:

1 Tim 2:11-15

1 Cor 11:3

1 Tim 3:1

Eph 5:22?

Rob Morley

8 thoughts on ““Let your women keep silence in the churches.” Really?

  1. While I have never been able to support the notion of women taking a ‘back seat’ (as it were) in the Church in general, some of the Jewish context you have added was interesting and certainly made this passage more understandable. Thanks Rob.

    1. I am glad. As you well know, context is so key to us understanding the Bible. I am very sure that I am just scratching the surface here, but deep enough, I believe, to see the direction Paul was taking.
      Thanks for your words. They are encouraging!

    1. Thanks Barb! Your discussion group on LinkedIn, on whether or not women can be pastors/elders, is the inspiration for some of my posts. May God continue to bless your own endeavors in getting people to consider this issue in the light of God’s word. And, also your work in helping those who have been abused by the many who have misused His word.

      For others, may I recommend Barb’s website, Church Exiters

  2. I found your site after doing a google search on the subject to help me with a Blog post I am preparing. I always knew something was wrong when I heard various preachers tryng to strictly adhere to the status quo, while in practise allowing all sorts of exceptions for common sense sake. Your Biblical reasonings and explanations have helped me enormously. Thank you

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