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Home : Articles : Women In The Church
: Part 2: Should A Woman Be Silent In The Assembly?


Women In The Church
By Andy Zoppelt

Part 2: Should A Woman Be Silent In The Assembly?

1 Corinthians 14 problems

One of the problems we have in reading Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is that we are only getting one half of the conversation; we know nothing of the question he is answering. It is like listening to someone talking on the phone and trying to discern the conversation of the other person. This can pose a serious dilemma for the honest saint who wants to obey God’s word. We hear, loud and clear, Paul’s answers, but we have no idea of the question. If we understood the question, the answer would make much more sense. Again we are dealing with bias.

Let’s now turn to 1Cor 14:34-38, and I am going to add wives and see if it will make a difference. “34 Let your women [wives] keep silent in the churches, for they [wives] are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they [wives] want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home [only wives have husbands]; for it is shameful for women [the wife] to speak in church. 36 Or [What!] did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet [women prophets] or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.” NKJV.

The Greek word for husband or man is "aner," and the Greek word for wife or woman is "gune." The context will tell us to which is being referred to.

There is a fundamental rule in lexicography that says, "A word should be translated by its most common usage unless there are clear and compelling reasons not to." Paul's most common usage of "aner" and "gune" is in reference to husband and wife, and they are so translated most often.

Ignoring the point of the woman’s head covering which I cover in another article for the moment; but let us look at it from the point of the issue of wives and husbands praying and prophesying while uncovered and covered. There was never an issue of a woman’s silence in prophesying in these scriptures. It is clear that these wives were not silent! She could both pray or prophecy!

We must ask and answer one simple question to understand this passage: Where did men and women or husbands and wives pray and prophesy in the reference to this passage? In the assembly is the obvious answer.

So can it be that Paul is dealing with a husband and wife situation here also in 1 Corinthians 14 instead of just women in general? Yes!

“Let your wives keep silent in the churches” Silence in reference to what?

A little side issue here, the word “church” is a poor translation of ekklesia, it is another one of those biases of the translators… no church building, no bishop, no bishop no king with authority over Christians.

So is Paul eliminating or silencing one half of the body in the function of the assembly (ekklesia)? If that is the case, we don’t need women in the assembly, and the whole of 1 Corinthians 12 must therefore be dealing with men only… and that is not true. We have dealt with women in the ministry in both the old and New Testament. We have dealt with the gifts of the Spirit. We have dealt with women being used today in the assembly. So now are we saying that the bible and Paul are denying the voice of women?

The word “silence” is used in three places in chapter 14 within limited bounds. Example: in the issue of speaking in tongue without an interpretation, the one who speaks in tongues is to be silent only if the speaking is not followed by an interpretation. Second, “if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.” And the third is speaking of women or wives being silent. It is clear that each rule of silence is coupled with a condition in order to maintain the meeting run “decently and in order.” None of the silent rules are meant to silent the person completely.

The Greek verb sigao, which means "to be silent, or quiet, or to hold one's peace which means a "voluntary silence." It was used to describe Jesus' silence when He stood before Pilate (Mark 14:61) and the silence of the apostles and elders at the Jerusalem Council as Paul and Barnabas reported the reception the gospel received among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12).

In verses 34 and 35, wives are to be (voluntarily) silent in reference to asking there husbands questions during the meetings. They are to wait till they get home so not to create a bunch of talking during the meeting. Is this something we see today: husbands and wives talking to each other during the meeting? Questions that disturb the meeting are not part of the gifts of the spirit in a meeting and can wait.

In view of all the instructions which Paul gives concerning the function of the whole body, it is impossible for me to reach any other conclusion from I Corinthians 14:34-35 than that this silence involved only husbands and wives and the wives asking their husbands questions during the gathering. If not, then we need clarification of Chapter 12, Eph 4, Romans 12, etc… concerning body ministry being a “men only” ministry in the assembly.

"For it is not permitted for them to speak."

The Greek word for speak here is "laleo." Since this Greek word may also include the idea of babbling, prattling, chattering, etc., it could easily and logically prohibit wives from babbling and chattering in the assembly to their husbands.

The male bias of the King James Version translators comes brazenly through when they render it "for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience." Hupotassomai means nothing of the sort. It is exactly the same word Paul uses two verses earlier when he writes, "and the spirits of the prophets are subject to prophets" (v.32, KJV). And it is the same word Paul uses when he counsels all the believers, male and female, to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (Eph. 5:21, NASB).

These wives were not exercising silence and restraint and thus causing confusion; similar to a baby crying in the middle of someone giving an important word to the assembly. And so, Paul says, "Let the women (wives; gune - wives who are asking their husbands questions in the meeting) keep silent in the churches. For it is not permitted for them to speak (in asking question), but to be in subjection as also says the law. And if they would learn anything (from asking), let them ask (the question) their own husbands at home" (I Corinthians 14:34-35).

We know Paul is not limiting wives to only learning at home and by asking their husbands, because we know they can learn in many ways in the meeting. Therefore this silence rule is referring to the limited learning through the asking questions during the meeting with their own husbands.

The translators made the correct translation of "aner" (ask their own husband) and left no doubt which group of women was to be silent. The translators would have had a very hard time using men. We would then have women who are not married with “their own man.” Who wants to be so brave to make that statement? If we do so, then we would be agreeing with women living with men and not being married. The women living with men are wives!!!

These verses are clear that they are instructing wives and not women! Not widows, but wives! Not divorcees, but wives! Not unmarried women or maidens, but wives were to hold their peace and ask, not men generally, but their " own" husbands at home.

The silent rule to all women and in every situation in the assembly is simply not consistent with the context of all the scriptures. The rest of the women would not be excluded from speaking, learning and asking questions, based on this command. No one can make the silent rule apply to all women and ignore the balance of the text or the context. The ones who were to be silent were those who had husbands at home and that silence related only to questions.

We often see a wife ask a question and then we find the husband disagreeing with his wife and we have a argument in the meeting.

The conclusion is quite clear, in spite of numerous mistranslations of "gune": these women were to ask "their own husbands at home." Only wives have husbands. Only wives are told to be silent here.

Paul is very clearly addressing a husband-wife problem here during the meeting and not a man-woman problem.

If we are going to be biblically dogmatic, then the wife couldn't even ask the question on the way home, she had to wait till she stepped in the door. So if we are going to be absolutist on part of this scripture, why not be an absolutist in all of it and impose a prohibition on asking questions on the way home?" Intellectual honesty will not allow us to have it both ways.

If we follow the "mute" theory, women are not permitted to speak at all in the ekklesia. Who will dare to speak for God on which exception will be allowed? Can the sing in with the assembly or pray with the assembly?

Why would anyone conclude that wives would be required to keep absolutely silent, except if they created disorder through babbling, thus creating confusion? It is in this kind of speech where they were to hold their peace, not in other ways as the Spirit might lead them. God forgive the men who are keeping the Spirit of God from ministering through women.

The silence instruction to her would be restricted to the subject of her interrogating her husband, and perhaps chattering or babbling. With 1 Cor 12 and 14 preceding v 34, women were a function part of the body through the gifts of the Holy Spirit and now we are to assume they are to be silent. Verse 34 must be in harmony with chapters 12 through 14.

Paul says, in I Corinthians 14:35, "If they would learn anything"; the Greek for learn is "manthano." It means to increase one's knowledge and frequently to learn by inquiry or observation. What, then, was the learning which led Paul to tell the wives to be silent about and not to speak about? It seems clear it was restricted only to those matters about which they made public inquiry of their husbands while the meeting was going on and to avoid confusion from a husband-wife confrontation in public worship.

1Co 14:34 “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 says the law.”

The phrase, “they are commanded” are words added by the translators and are not in the original text. Which is not uncommon for the translators to add to scriptures for the sake of their own bias.

"As Also Says the Law" I Corinthians 14:34

So what was the law? Biblical law? Jewish law? Gentile law? Social law? What law?

I have never found a biblical law stating such. In fact, Paul doesn’t give us the law.

The only time the scriptures even suggests subjection of women to men is in Genesis 3:16, "and your desire will be to your husband, and he shall rule over you." You notice it says “ he will rule over you.” That is part of the curse between the husband and wife and not a part of the law. From that point on, men have used their physical power to dominate the women with the outcome of conflict for superiority and control… that is not a part of the blessing, but the curse. Now if you are an honest believer, you know we are no longer under the curse.

The reference to God in the Garden of Eden did not say men shall rule over women, but "your husband will rule over you" - over Eve, the wife of Adam. This was not a man-woman law, but a husband-wife curse. In fact, no Biblical text ever suggests that men generally are to have dominion over women. God approved just the opposite. Nor does it teach that women in general are to be in submission to men in general. Therefore, to generalize beyond the husband-wife relationship is to go beyond the law and the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments.

If the law really backs up the argument that God's original intent was that men generally were to have dominion over women generally, what are the exceptions? Who makes the exceptions?

May a heretic rule over a faithful Christian woman?

Does a 14-year-old baptized boy rule over his 40-year-old mother, 60-year-old grandmother, or 80-year-old great-grandmother?

Does God's law require Christian women to be in subjection to non-Christian men?

If the above are not Biblical absolutes, who will we empower to draw the lines?

Furthermore, no one really believes that all men are to have dominion over all women.

Furthermore the Genesis citations quoted by some (Gen. 1:26, 2:21, 3:16) has nothing to do with denying women the right to speak in the assembly, it is developing a principle that is not stated. The reason given in verse 34 that women “ are not permitted to speak directly relates to the phrase “just as the law also says.” So a case must be proven that such a law exists or we must explain why Paul used the phrase to back up the silence of the woman.

“ just as the law also says,” contradicts Paul's known teachings that we have been liberated from the law (Rom. 3:28; 6:14, 7:16, 8:2; Gal 3:11, 13, 4:5, 5:18, etc.). 

In the entire epistle of 1 Corinthians, whenever Paul quotes from and specially uses the term "law" (meaning written Scripture) he does so with specific intent, focus, and stylistic writing. For example, in 1 Cor. 9:8-9 Paul writes, “ Does not the law also say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses: ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’” After referring to the law as saying something, Paul tells us that it is written and immediately quotes Deut 25:4 verbatim. Also in 1 Cor. 14:21 after Paul writes, “ In the Law it is written” he immediately quotes from Isaiah 28:11-12. Again, in 1 Cor. 4:6 where Paul generally refers to Scripture he tells the Corinthians to learn through us the meaning of the saying "Do not go “beyond what is written." In every case when Paul specially refers to Scripture, he says “ it is written” (1 Cor. 1:19, 1:31, 2:9, 3:19, 10:7, 15:45) and consistently quotes from the Old Testament to prove his point. Here only does he not back up his reference by giving the law, how would a Berean follow Paul’s instruction if they search the scriptures to see if what law Paul is referring to? “Where is the law Paul, I am a Berean, show me!” Why would Paul suddenly change his consistent writing style in this verse only?  Why doesn't Paul even say “ it is written” or even quote from the Old Testament so we have some idea what he is talking about as he has previously done in every instance throughout this epistle?  Why?  Either Paul was quoting a non-biblical source, such as a slogan or rabbinic saying or verses 34-35 represent an answer to a question that would justify an inconsistent verse with respect to the rest of his teachings. Possibility Paul was responding to a question and making a remark to which they would have a clear understanding. If not, then Paul was clearly inconsistent with his letters.

1 Cor 14:36-37, “Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?”

Was Paul rebuking them for a slogan or some oral law that many of the men used in controlling the women? If so he was rebuking them for their belief that they could develop a tradition without scriptural evidence.

The only record available for our consideration is that of the historical written text and writings of others. We often see the zealous Jews trying to bring in circumcision. Paul's immediate and strong rebuke beginning in verse 36 can be viewed as a correction to those men who held to the Oral Law of the Jews. Bibles have variously translated verse 36 as follows:

    - What! Came the word of God out from you or came it unto you only? (KJV)
    - Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? (NIV)    
    - Do you think that the knowledge of God's word begins and ends with you Corinthians? Well, you are mistaken! (NLT)

Proponents of this view then see v. 36 as his rhetorical answer, essentially saying, “ What? Men only? Nonsense!” 

Internally, there is not one verse in the Old Testament that Paul could quote to support such a declaration. Something he would never do. If this custom was something new with the church, he would have elaborated much on the point and not just drop a line or two and move on.

The extensive, eternal evidence points to the fact that Paul is quoting a saying from the Oral Law of the Jews that prohibited women from speaking in the synagogue; of which there is sufficient evidence to prove this point.

It would be entirely inconsistent for Paul in telling a woman how to pray and prophecy and then turn around and tell them they must be silent.

We will have women prophesying, praying, acting as ministers (diakonon), teaching and holding meetings in their homes and functioning in apostolic work and being silent at the same time???? I don’t think it is consistent with the larger context. I must understand the smaller by the larger. Whenever our beliefs are supported by fragmented evidence, we need to find out why. Why did Paul act in this manor must be understood on other scriptures. There should be plenty of evidence support such a belief. In Corinthians we know that Paul is responding to a letter sent to him from them, if we don’t know the question, we can not understand his comment.

There is one additional and extremely important argument that should be honestly considered, it regards the Greek term, "e," translated "what?" in the introductory word of verse 36. The argument has strength and must be considered by all serious students of this subject. Translated "what," it is an exclamation negating or contrary to the verses immediately preceding it. Thayer's position was that the "e" with the grave accent may appear "before a sentence contrary to the one preceding (it)...." He listed I Corinthians 14:36 as an illustration. The conclusion would be this: Paul has quoted what some Corinthian husbands or men were teaching regarding the place of wives or women in the Corinthian church. It may have been what was socially acceptable among the Gentiles. It may have also come out of Rabbinical law. And Paul retorts in verse 36, "What? Was it from you, husbands, men, or you Corinthians, who say women should be silent, that the word of God went forth? Or came it to you, Corinthian husbands (or men)?" According to Thayer, Paul would be actually teaching the opposite of what we have traditionally believed and taught. This proof text, which has been used to keep women in silence and subjection, loses its force completely. That is most ironic.

Was Paul countering the heresy of these Corinthians, among who were some who believed that women, or wives, should be silent in the worship service, because of Rabbinic law or custom?

Paul is using the interrogatory to make a positive statement about husbands (or men) not being the only ones who received the word of God or from whom it had to come. No one doubts that Paul's questions in this text are rhetorical. The answer is obvious: "The word of God did not come from you husbands (or men) only." The Corinthians certainly understood that this was the truth coming out of the two questions.

So, Thayer's position clearly makes this position as credible as any other, in view of what women actually did in the Old and New Testaments. Why? Because Paul has no doubt that the word of God did not originate with the Corinthians, but quite the contrary. Moreover, Paul knew women had the spiritual gifts. The "what!" was a rebuke of those Corinthians who believed that wives (women) should keep silence and not to speak in the assembly. There is certainly sound argument in the Greek for that interpretation.

The evidence is too overwhelming to argue that both men and women did not both have gifts and did not exercise those gifts in the assemblies of the ekklesia.

Paul was only saying, "You are not to chatter or babble in the assembly." This would meet the requirement of the Greek for "speak."

Who will dare draw the lines for God and impose their "special" insight on all others, even causing a hellish division in the church, or in maintaining false doctrines based upon our tradition instead of the teachings of the Bible? When there are clearly two or more logical conclusions to be reached on a particular scripture, no one person or group has the authority to impose a single interpretation on all others.

It is strange that the very church that professes, with the apostle Paul, to be "the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3), nevertheless makes the flesh the decisive criteria determining access to ministry. Natural talent and spiritual gifts, even a divine call to preach, are rendered null and void on the basis of human physiology.

Better exegesis would compel us to fit verses 34 and 35 into the entire context of chapters 11 and 14, instead of starting with verses 34 and 35, and forcing the context and the rest of the Bible to agree with our interpretation of those two particular verses. The evidence is too overwhelming to argue that both men and women did not both have gifts and did not exercise those gifts in the assemblies of the body of Christ.

Men drew a circle limiting the ministering of women and God drew a larger circle including them. I have said it many times and I will say it again, “God will do what He wants and will not ask men what he thinks.”

Women throughout the world are risking their lives and raising up assemblies throughout the world… who will have the guts to call them back and tell them to stop because of their being female. They are out there healing the sick, casting out demons, prophesying, teaching, and laying the foundations built on Jesus.

God is not a respecter of persons! God still looks at the heart and not the sexual plumbing.

Part 3: Can A Woman Teach? >

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