I have been struggling with Paul’s instructions for how women should worship in church. Could someone help provide clarity on these verses? I’ve heard people use verses like these to argue against women teaching and preaching the Bible… However, I am so unclear of the context behind why Paul would put these words down in his letter whenever Jesus Christ had made radical statements and actions that basically lifted women up from an oppressive culture.
@Ajax93 Great question This is a fairly difficult passage because, truthfully, no one knows the exact context. We are dealing with a letter between Paul and Corinth and we simply lack some of the context. But there are a number of things we can keep in mind.
overall, the New Testament is radical in the way it respects women - they are the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and coworkers for the Gospel in a culture where women could not testify in court
earlier in 1 Corinthians we see women both praying and prophesying in the congregation (1 Corinthians 11:5 - But every woman who prays or prophesies…)
there are a number of possible cultural explanations, one of the more likely that women were being disruptive in the congregation in some way
Below are some resources you may find helpful. Christ grant you wisdom.
“The view that seems best to me is to understand the speaking prohibited here to women to refer only to disruptive questions that wives (usually uneducated in the culture of Paul’s time) were asking their husbands. This corresponds precisely with the resolution Paul offers (1 Corinthians 14:35): “if they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home. . . .” Such disruptive questioning was also considered a disgrace in Paul’s day in which it was widely believed that it was morally indiscreet for any wife to say anything on any subject in public. This view of disruptive questioning also fits well the specific context (1 Corinthians 14:26-40) in which Paul is concerned about appropriateness and order, which permit genuine edification (note that 1 Corinthians 14:26 expects everyone to participate). Thus, there are actually three injunctions to silence (1 Corinthians 14:28, 30, 34), although many Bible translations use “silent” only in 1 Corinthians 14:34.” –Fuller Seminary Website
We must remember: Paul is writing about women in this particular context, so we should not universalise what he has particularised.
So I follow Keener’s conclusion: “If Paul does not want the women to teach in some sense, it is not because they are women, but because they are unlearned. His principle here is that those who do not understand the Scriptures and are not able to teach them accurately should not be permitted to teach others ” (p. 119, bold mine).
I Corinthians 14 is a difficult passage. One thing that we do know that is culturally relevant is that the mystery religion cults of the day, which were certainly active, prolifically so, in Corinth at that time had female prophetess/priestess who would engage in ecstatic speech. It is thought that certain of the women in the Corinth church were engaging in this behavior in church. Given that the issue of speaking is in tongues is also discussed at length by Paul in this chapter, it seems very probable that it is precisely this that Paul is discussing. Therefore, Paul isn’t saying women cannot participate in the service as it might seem. But rather he is stating that they shouldn’t be engaging in that kind of pagan behavior. Obviously, because Paul’s discusses women praying and prophesying earlier in the letter, it would be a rather huge self-contradiction otherwise. Hope that helps. God bless.
Hi @SeanO. My scripture text is from the KJV. I have always read verses 33, 34, 35, and 36 together. Therefore this particular section of scripture has always appeared to be sarcasm and rebuke from the Apostle; with the principal question being asked in verse 36.
“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. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?”
I have also heard it explained as contextual to what was happening in the church at that time. Though it was not addressed in the original question, I wondered what your perspective is regarding verse 36.
@cer7 Are you suggesting that verses 34-35 are a kind of summary of a position which Paul is then refuting in 36? Basically, there are some people saying women should be silent and Paul is in fact rebuking them?
@SeanO. I have always read this passage as a question, not a declaration. By virtue of the revolutionary way the Apostle addressed other issues such as the burden placed upon early gentile believers to be physically circumcised; such questions would be routine to his behavior. What do you conclude?
@cer7 Well - I think in verse 26 or so Paul switches into instruction mode and says you should only let one or two speak in tongues at the same time and then someone should interpret. I do not think that is a question - it is much more like an instruction. And the passage we are discussing here follows right after those instructions, so it does seem to be some form of instruction.
I agree Paul is challenging the Corinthians to think rationally through questions, but I am not sure I would say the whole passage is a question.