Are Women Instructed to Keep Silent in Church?
The apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians Church wrote, “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” (1 Corinthians 14:34).
Some have found difficulty in understanding this prohibition in terms, not only of our modern concepts of the place of women in the church, but also of the place and service of women in Bible history (Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Luke 2:36, 37; Acts 21:9). Paul himself commended the women who labored with him in the gospel (Philippians 4:3).
God gave an important place for women in His work. Women played a prominent role in the ministry of Jesus and the ministry to Jesus (Matthew 28:1–10; Luke 8:3; 23:49; John 11:1–46; 12:1–8). Further, no spiritual gift is limited to men (1 Corinthians 12:27–31; Romans 12:3–8; 1 Peter 4:8–11). Women were commanded to edify the body of Christ, which included teaching (Titus 2:4) and prophecy (Acts 2:17, 18; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
The Issue in the Corinthian Church
Why, then, should they be prevented from speaking in public? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 14:35 “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.” Such instruction would prevent unseemly interruptions in the service of worship and avoid the confusion attendant on such interruptions. This was true because both Greek and Jewish custom dictated that women should be kept in the background in public affairs. Violation of this custom would be looked upon as disgraceful and would bring reproach upon the church.
Paul says, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection” (1 Timothy 2:11). And he adds, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” So, this is a silence in the sense clearly described—without teaching or exercising authority over men. Paul gives a reason for it “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13). Here, Paul grounds his teaching directly to the creation of all things, stating that men and women were created differently and have different roles in the natural.
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In His service,