I found this on my Facebook wall the other day:
Hey Mark! Do you mind addressing how the Bible treats women in your next blog post? Specifically, 1 Cor. 14:33-35
This is a great question. So let's look at the passage.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. -- 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
It seems like there are only two options. Either we throw this passage away and obey the rest of the Bible or we obey this passage and mistreat women. But I believe that study and context will help us find what the Bible is really trying to say. Remember, the Bible is not something you just grab a verse from and assume you know what it means. You've got to do the work to make sure you're not taking the Bible out of context. So let's look at some ways of understanding this passage and weigh them by the context. I'll start with the context.
- The letter of 1 Corinthians was written by Paul in response to the Corinthian church. The church at Corinth had a lot of specific issues. They wrote a letter to Paul asking him questions and seeking advice. Paul wrote a letter to Corinth answering their questions. That letter is 1 Corinthians.
- In the rest of chapter 14, Paul has been addressing the issue of keeping the church service orderly so that everyone can learn and grow. First he addresses speaking in tongues and requires an interpreter and order so everyone can understand. Then he addresses prophecies and requires one at a time and order so all can understand. Then he moves on to women talking.
1) Women Should Keep Their Mouths Shut in Church
At first glance, this might seem like the intent of what Paul is saying. But with just a little thought, this just can't be what he means. Common sense tells us that Paul can't be banning women from all speech at church. Surely, he is not saying that women cannot say, "Hello" or "Goodbye". Surely he is not saying that, when the whole congregation is singing, the women are to refrain from worship. What if the pastor asks a woman a question? Is she to say nothing in response at church? What if her children are acting up? Is she still unable to speak? Common sense would tell us that Paul is not saying women can never open their mouths in church.
This view doesn't really click with the context of keeping the church orderly. There is nothing innately disorderly about women saying hi or keeping their children in line when at church. If talking itself was disorderly, then the men should be banned from it too.
This view also leaves us with a strange question. If this is a general ban on women speaking, then why does Paul give the specific instruction for women to ask their husbands questions later at home?
2) Women Cannot Participate in Any Part of the Service
Those who hold this view say that Paul is banning women from standing up in the front of church and speaking to the congregation for any reason. This ban would include preaching, teaching, praying, prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting, leading worship, etc. This may seem to be a correct interpretation because elsewhere the Bible does say that women should not be pastors/elders nor should be allowed to preach (see 2 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, and 1 Timothy 2:12).
But there are still problems with this interpretation.
First, it still does not really fit the context of chapter 14 on preventing disorder in the church service. Having a person speak in tongues with no interpreter when 90% of the congregation doesn't understand certainly keeps people from learning. Having four people stand up to announce a word from the Lord at the same time certainly is disorderly. But having a woman sing on the stage is not innately disorderly nor does it keep people from learning.
Second, it still leaves us with this strange instruction that tells women to ask their husbands questions at home. What does that have to do with women not being allowed to pray or lead worship in the service?
Third, Paul very clearly allows women to pray and prophesy in church in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5. Paul served in ministry with women who were his fellow workers as seen in Philippians 4:3. In Acts 18:26, the woman Priscilla played a role in instructing the man Apollos.
3) Women Should Not Ask Questions During Service
Have you ever been listening to a sermon and missed something? Either you didn't understand or you just got distracted for a moment? Have you ever turned to your neighbor and asked them to repeat or explain it to you? I have. And usually, the explanation takes so long that we both miss the next thing that is said. On top of that, whispering is not easy for everyone and we end up distracting others from the sermon.
I believe, as well as many scholars and commentators, that this was the issue in the church in Corinth. Women were asking questions during service and it was becoming a distraction and a problem. Why the women? Two reasons. First, women were not educated in those days. This led to many of the women just not understanding references, illustrations, tough sentences, philosophical concepts, and other parts of the sermon. Second, women were usually the ones keeping an eye on the kids. They didn't always have children programs like we do so the kids would often distract mom during the sermon.
All of this led to the wives and moms at Corinth asking a lot of questions during the service. It got so bad that it became a distraction. But the church didn't want to ignore the women because they wanted the women to learn. So what should they do?
Paul says to tell the women not to speak during church. If they get lost or confused, they need to ask their husbands at home so they aren't being disruptive. Its disgraceful to have all of these people talking while other people are coming to church to learn.
This interpretation is the winner in my opinion. It lines up with the fact that 1 Corinthians is a letter addressing specific problems for the church of Corinth. It follows the theme of chapter 14 by addressing issues that are causing the church service to be disorderly and preventing people from learning. It fully makes sense of the instruction for wives to ask their husbands at home. It also lines up with the rest of Scripture which shows that women are allowed to pray and prophesy and do ministry. Finally, it doesn't violate common sense by thinking Paul actually meant women can never open their mouths in church.
1 Corinthians 14:33-35 is not banning women from speaking at all. It was telling them not to be disruptive during service and to instead hold their questions for later. This is actually something we should all put into practice. If you've got a question or missed something in the sermon, don't ask your neighbor and distract everyone. Ask after the service or at home. You may also want to consider what other ways you might be distracting people at church.
The treatment of women by the church is a very sensitive issue. I believe that this issue has often been abused and misapplied in churches today. Women should not have no influence or impact on the church. Quite the opposite! Women possess the image of God! They are a vital part of the ministry of the Body of Christ. I strongly believe the church is in great need of godly women to serve as deacons, to volunteer in every area of ministry, and to teach younger women to live a godly life.
I hope you found this helpful. I mentioned earlier that the Bible does say that women are not allowed to be pastors/elders or preach. If you'd like more info on that, you can read my thoughts HERE. Let me know if you have any questions and have a great day!