Vol. 2 - No. 6
Women Keep Silence In The Churches
by B. G. Echols
"Let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church" (1 Corinthians 14:34, 35).
Every verse of Scripture must be interpreted in view of the context of the time and circumstances under which it was written as well as its place in the epistle. Chapters thirteen, fourteen and fifteen of 1 Corinthians deal with miraculous spiritual gifts. In these chapters, Paul reveals the full truth about spiritual gifts. Chapter twelve enumerates the gifts and shows their purpose and function. Chapter thirteen reveals how long they were to last, and chapter fourteen regulates the use of spiritual gifts in the assembly. To understand the application of our text, several questions need to be answered.
Who are the women" of the passage? It could not be all women in general for the ones being considered had husbands (14:35). That leaves out single women. It could not be all married women because the ones discussed were to be taught by their husbands. This eliminates women married to unbelievers and women who know more about the Bible than their husbands. That narrows the field considerably.
The K3V says "°your women." The wives of the prophets would fit all the qualifications. Moreover, this meaning fits the context since 14:26-28 deals with specking in tongues and prophesying in the assembly. The misuse of these gifts was leading to confusion. The wives of the prophets were adding to the confusion thus were told to remain silent and ask husbands at home. To make the command general and applicable to all women seems to bind where God has not bound.
What are "the churches" in the text? It is clear the reference is to the assembly. It could not mean the church in any other sense. The reference is limited to the assembly (14:23). The assembly of 1 Corinthians fourteen cannot be duplicated today since spiritual gifts have ceased.
What are the women to do in the churches? Paul commanded them to "keep silence." The women are told to hold their peace. Does this mean the women were to make no sound? No, because the wives were to sing (Ephesians 5:19). The context gives us a clear understanding. The man who could speak in tongues was to "keep silence" if there were no interpreter (14:28). If one was speaking and another got a message, the first was to "keep silence" (14:30). The idea is to refrain from speaking to the assembly.
What did the verse prohibit? It prohibited the wives ignoring their relationship of subjection to their husbands (14:34). Their speaking out is contrasted to being under subjection. It forbade the wives addressing questions to their husbands while the husbands were prophesying in the assembly (14:35). By speaking out they were violating the principle of subjection to their husbands. In such cases they were not to utter a sound.
Does this passage prohibit women teaching in classes of women and children? No. Such is not under consideration in the passage. Does it prohibit speaking in a class in response to a question from the teacher? No. The verse has no direct bearing on our classes today and should not be made to apply universally to all women.