Women should be silent in the church: Really? (Part 1)

Throughout the centuries, women have been muzzled by the church because of a few key and challenging Scriptures. Over the next few posts, I plan to look at some of these.

Photo Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer (Creative Commons)

All of the challenging Scriptures that appear to limit women’s activity in the church were written by Paul. Was he a misogynist? Were his statements purely cultural?

What does one do with a Scripture like this:

 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.  If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

At first glance, these verses are totally clear. Women are to keep silent in the church. I know of churches where the women literally don’t open their mouths because they take this passage so literally. And I don’t believe, for the most part, that men are being deliberate misogynists when they limit what a woman can do in church. All of us want to obey the Scriptures.

For me, it’s extremely important that we interpret these challenging Scriptures with integrity. If I don’t like what they say, that is not so important as living with what God asks of me. But what if verses like these have been misunderstood?

In 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, (no matter what one thinks about head coverings), it gives instructions on how both men and women are to wear their hair when they pray and prophesy. The 1 Corinthians 14 passage, therefore, cannot be taken literally in all circumstances. Women can pray and prophesy in church meetings.

In an earlier verse in chapter 14:26, the word adelphoi  meaning brothers and sisters is used:

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.

Most modern versions of the Bible accurately translate adelphoi as brothers and sisters although it technically means brothers. However, where this word is used in the context of community, it is generally taken to mean both genders. For example, in Romans 16:17, adelphoi is used again and in this context, it obviously refers to both men and women.

So what do these challenging verses mean? In 1 Corinthians 7:1 Paul notes that his letter is an answer to various questions they have posed him through a letter the Corinthians wrote to him. This is going to become important as we look at this passage more closely in the next post.

  • Steelwheels

    How do you see marital status impacting this topic?

    • Tiro Lynn

      Steelwheels, whether or not women should speak in the gathering of the church, would not impact women in relationship to their husbands at all. At the time of the writing of this letter, Jewish women were segregated in the temple meetings with men having more freedoms. The women could not participate at all, and would have to ask their husbands afterwards if they wanted to know anything. This is likely what the Jews wanted for the Christian meetings. And this request would have been included in the letters from the Corinthians. Thankfully, Paul replies against such rubbish. You can see it, when you understand that that section (34-35) is a quote.
      We know that it is not Pauls words and a quote because earlier in the letter Paul discusses women praying and prophesying in the church; hardly being quiet. As well as vs. 26 which discusses everyone’s participation. Also, in other places women are praised for things that would include active participation in church meetings, even some of the women having church meetings in their homes.

      • felicitydale

        Tiro I totally agree with you. I’ll be looking into this further.

    • felicitydale

      I believe that neither single nor married women are supposed to stay silent in the church. There is some teaching out there that as long as women are submitted to a man, then they are “allowed” to speak, and of course, for married women, that is their husbands. For single women, usually the pastor.

      I think this is totally misunderstanding the issues. All of us are submitted to Christ and the Holy Spirit distributes his gifts as he wills. He can lead any of us to speak in a gathering.

  • http://www.facebook.com/graeme.cooksley Graeme Cooksley

    We know that Paul in 1 Cor was replying to a letter sent to him, (1 Cor 7:1), and he liberally quotes parts of the letter, and his responses follow throughout 1 Cor.

    1 Cor 14:34-35 is one of the quotes, and his exclaimation at the start of v36 puts it in perspective. Looking at the structure of the verse makes it clear it is not Paul’s thoughts but a quoted argument that he rubbishes.

    Paul, sadly often misquoted, and such a champion of women.

    • felicitydale

      I totally agree and I’ll be talking about this in one of the next posts.

    • randirooks

      Thank you so much for this post Felicity… and this comment Graeme…. it makes such sense to me to believe that 34 & 35 could be a quote from the Church that wrote the letter to paul….. and that church was struggling what to incorporate from their Jewish background into their Christian faith…

      Paul’s next words..after those comments…. so powerful!!!!……

      “36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?”

      and even on…

      “37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.[h]

      39 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”

      Thank you for giving me a chance to see that there ARE other possible interpretations of this scripture.

      • felicitydale

        Thanks, Randi. And these other possible interpretations are so freeing for us women.