How does the New Testament answer this question? As disciples of Jesus we should be seeking to understand and obey His word on all matters, including this one.
Here are the verses that best explain and address this:
1 Corinthians 14:33-38 (CSB)
“…God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting.
Did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored.”
1 Timothy 2:9-15 (CSB)
“Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.
A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.”
So, taking these scriptures at face-value, it’s quite clear that Yahweh (through Paul’s writing) considers it to be disgraceful for women to speak in the church meeting, therefore they are to be silent (not speak).
There have been several attempts to explain away these passages. Let’s address some of them.
These instructions were only for the women in the church in Corinth to be silent in the church meeting, because they were being disorderly.
This one is not difficult to address since Paul never mentions anything in this context regarding women being disorderly. Also, he begins his instruction with, “As in all the churches…” and he also says women should be silent “in the churches“.
So, clearly Paul was not limiting this command to the local church in Corinth, but to all the churches.
Paul also writes, “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting.”
So, why would it be disgraceful for women to speak in the church in Corinth, but not in other churches? This would not make much sense.
I mean can you imagine Paul saying, “The women here in Corinth are not allowed to speak in the church meeting. It is disgraceful for women to speak in the church meeting here in Corinth. If any Corinthian women don’t agree with this and want to be allowed to speak in the church meeting then they should move to Ephesus or Colossi or to some other church where it’s not disgraceful for women to speak in the church meeting.”
I don’t think so.
If this were true then Paul would be discriminating against the Corinthian women and showing favoritism to women in other churches, which is wrong. I don’t believe Paul was committing these sins here.
Paul was only concerned about order in the church meeting. He was not writing that women have to be silent in the church meeting, but that they must speak in an orderly manner.
Right before Paul writes the commands concerning women speaking in the Church meeting he writes:
1 Corinthians 14:26-33
“What then is the conclusion, brothers?
Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.
If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
So, Paul was writing to instruct the brothers in the church to maintain order in the church meeting. He instructs them to conduct themselves in an orderly manner when prophesying or speaking in tongues. In these passages he does not specifically include women.
If Paul was including women then his statements regarding them not speaking in the church meeting would be quite confusing and contradictory. If women were allowed to speak in the church meeting, but Paul was simply trying to instruct them to do it in an orderly manner, then he could have said that.
For example, he could have said, “Women, when you speak or prophesy in the church meeting make sure that you do it in an orderly manner. Only one woman should speak at a time…” or something similar. I use this example because it is congruent with the format of his instructions regarding prophesying and speaking in tongues right before the instructions regarding women.
Instead he uses quite strong language by instructing them to be silent and that if they spoke in the church meeting it would be disgraceful.
Yes, it seems quite clear that these instructions were for the women not to speak or teach in the church meeting or to teach and have authority over men, but that was because of the culture. Things are different now.
This is a very common argument for why we don’t need to obey these instructions today, but what was Paul’s reason for these instructions?
Again, in 1 Timothy 2:11-13 Paul says:
“A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.”
So, the two reasons Paul attributes to this teaching are:
- God’s Created Order
- The Consequence of the First Woman’s Transgression.
After the woman sinned, God said to her:
“So the Lord God asked the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “It was the serpent. He deceived me, and I ate.”
“He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will rule over you.”
So, it was Eve who was initially deceived and transgressed and then she gave the fruit to Adam to follow in her steps. This is the first example in the Bible where the woman took the leadership role and she led Adam into committing sin.
Part of the consequence for the woman’s transgression was that her husband would rule over her.
The reason for Paul’s instruction is rooted in God’s order of creation and the woman’s transgression in the garden of Eden. This is God’s created order of authority and his established consequence for the first woman’s sin.
So, this Biblical teaching for the church should not be ignored because of changes from culture to culture. They should be taught and practiced in the church until this world, with the created order and spiritual laws put in place by God, pass away and we are in Heaven.
Are changes in culture ever a valid reason for us to change or ignore certain biblical teachings or practices?
I don’t believe it’s incorrect to use cultural changes as a valid reason to not have to follow certain practices that were more relevant to a culture before us.
Clearly there are many things that are different now. Many of them are neither good or bad, they are just different.
For example, should we only wear the style of clothing they wore back then, live in the type of houses they lived in, or do jobs that were around at that time?
Or just because they didn’t have automobiles, computers, phones, electricity, air conditioners, furnaces, bicycles, airplanes, televisions, radios, etc., are we, as disciples of Jesus, required to live without these things today?
I don’t believe so.
Like many things it depends on how you use these.
Do you use them for good or evil? Do you use them for the Kingdom or the world? Do they allow the Devil to get a foothold in your life?
Do they cause you unnecessary or self-inflicted temptation to sin and need to be cut out or restricted in some way? Are you placing your treasure in these and the other things of this world or in the things of the Kingdom?
Depending on your answers to some of these questions, as a disciple of Jesus, it should determine how you use, interact with, and limit these things in your life and not simply because of cultural differences.
So, if these things can have a place in our life without causing us to sin or be worldly, then it seems quite logical and valid to not put unnecessary restrictions on us today regarding things like this simply because a prior culture didn’t have these things or because their homes or clothing were different.
But when it comes to Biblical teaching and commands from the scriptures for how to live and conduct ourselves in the church and in this world, I don’t believe we can rightfully play the “Culture” card as a valid reason to ignore them.
Once we allow this to be an acceptable filter for interpreting Biblical teachings, like the one we’re discussing here, then just about anything can be explained away or twisted due to cultural differences.
If we considered the latest uses and discoveries from our culture in Science, Technology, Psychology, Sociology, etc., we could probably get creative enough to explain away most Biblical teachings if we allow and use the “Culture” card in interpreting and applying the scriptures.
Paul couldn’t have been writing for women to always remain silent in the church meeting, because in other passages it refers to women having the gift of prophesy or having to cover their head while praying or prophesying. Doesn’t this mean that women could pray or prophesy in the church meetings as long as they covered or veiled their heads?
It is true that the Bible instructs Christian women to cover or veil their head while praying or prophesying and that some Christian women were given the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 11:5-6), but nowhere in the New Testament does it instruct or permit women to use this gift or lead a prayer in the church meeting, nor do we have any New Testament example of this occurring.
Also, after reading 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, where Christian women are instructed to cover their head while praying or prophesying, you will notice that Paul’s instructions do not appear to be in the context of a church meeting.
He doesn’t mention anything about the church meeting or assembly in these passages, but is instead giving instructs on headship and the requirements for men and women to follow anytime they pray or prophesy.
In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul does give instructions on the Lord’s Supper in the context of a church meeting or assembly, but that doesn’t begin until verse 17 after his instructions on headship, prayer, and prophesying.
Putting This New Testament Teaching Into Practice
Now that we have covered the New Testament’s teaching on the practice of women remaining silent during Church meetings, let’s consider how we can put this into practice.
If Christian Women Should Not Lead in Prayer or Use Their Gift of Prophecy in the Church Meeting, Where and When Can They Do This?
The following are some ways that Christian women could pray, lead in prayer, or use their gift of prophecy, without violating these commands:
- praying in private
- praying at home
- praying with women
- praying with husband
- praying out loud/leading prayer in women-only meetings
- prophesying at home
- sharing a prophecy with husband
- sharing a prophecy with others outside of church meeting
- prophesying with women
- prophesying in women-only meetings
By a Christian woman sharing a prophecy with her husband, other women, or with others outside of the church meeting, she would be doing so without violating Yahweh’s instructions for them to not speak in the church meeting or to teach men.
If Christian women are required to be silent in worship services or church meetings, does this mean that they are not allowed to sing?
I could be wrong, but I believe this would be taking things too literally, much like the Pharisees often did.
Paul does not mention anything in regards to women singing in these passages.
He seems to be writing against Christian women speaking and asking questions in the church meeting and against Christian women teaching or having any authoritative role over a man.
In none of these cases does Paul explicitly restrict women from singing in the worship service or church meeting.
This Biblical Teaching Seems to Devalue Women
I understand that many will read this and view the New Testament’s teaching on women’s role in the church and feel that it devalues women. This is not the case.
The New Testament teaches that women/wives are equal partners and co-heirs with men/husbands. (1 Peter 3:7, Galatians 3:27-28) The distinction here is regarding the proper roles that each gender is to play in Yahweh’s created order and in His church.
Yahweh has created men and women with their own unique gifts, qualities, and roles that are designed and meant to compliment one another.
The more we accept and embrace this — the more success and joy we should experience in life.
The more we fight against this — the more strife and discord we will likely produce and experience.
Those of this world may not agree with this Biblical teaching and they may fight against it, but it should not be this way with those in Christ’s church.
Itching Ears Not Putting Up With Biblical Teaching
In 2 Timothy 4:3 Paul writes:
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
Instead they seek preachers, teachers, churches, and seminaries that will teach them what their “itching ears” want to hear.
Seeking to Understand and Obey God
We have to do our best to understand and obey these passages, especially since Paul says, “what I write to you is the Lord’s command“ and that “if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored.”
Regardless of how difficult or politically incorrect some biblical instructions and practices may be, as disciples of Jesus, we should be striving to find ways to put them into practice and not trying to find ways to ignore them or explain them away.
Let’s believe that Yahweh ordered things this way for a reason and with our best interests in mind. After all “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Further Reading on Women Speaking in Church and 1 Corinthians 14: