I wrote an article earlier this week exhorting women to speak up in their churches and local association meetings. My post generated a fair amount of comments, accusing me of, among other things, being a leftist, feminist infiltrator, and not knowing God’s word.
The scripture used to support a position in opposition to my post was 1 Corinthians 14, Paul’s instructions for orderly worship. I’d like to explore Paul’s instructions in this post, and specifically, Paul’s instructions for women to be silent in church.
Paul writes, beginning in verse 33 of 1 Corinthians 14, “Since 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?”
First, Paul does not expressly prohibit women from speaking in the church. In 1 Corinthians 11:5, he writes, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved.” In the Corinthian church, women were permitted to speak in an orderly fashion. Do Paul’s instructions in chapter 14 contradict his instructions in chapter 11?
If we examine Paul’s instructions in light of what was going on in the Corinthian church, we learn that there were women who were creating disorder in the public meetings. We learn there were women who were dishonoring their husbands by publicly questioning their doctrine. Paul’s instructions were meant to bring order back to the meetings in the Corinthian church. Paul’s instructions were never meant to silence every woman in every church until Christ comes back. We cannot lift verses 34-36 out of their context and command every woman in our churches to be silent. If we use a strict literal interpretation of those verses, then we also must strictly interpret verses 26-33 where Paul says that only two or three should speak. I know of some churches where this would be a good guideline in their business meetings, but most pastors would be looking for a job the next day if they tried to enforce a limit of three speakers during a business meetings.
All of Paul’s instructions in chapter 14 are for keeping good order and discipline in church meetings. If women are causing a disturbance in the church meetings, then they should be silent. If men are causing disorder in church meetings, they should be silent. The key verse in chapter 14 is verse 40, “But everything must be done decently and in order”.
There are also many questions that must be answered if we take a strict literal interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14. First, what about women teachers? Should they not teach? If women are to be silent in church, then they should not teach, and teaching should only be done by men. What about public prayer requests? Should women lean over to their husbands and whisper their prayer requests so the husband can repeat them in public? What about singing solos? What about giving their testimonies? Should the husband give his wife’s testimony for her? What about matters that concern ministry to women? Should only the men debate womens ministry matters? I’ve served three churches where the treasurer was a woman. Is she not allowed to give the treasurer’s report? Does another man have to do that? What about single and widowed women? In the early church, they were to be cared for by a deacon, but what if a single or widowed woman has an ungodly deacon? Is she just out of luck? What about the wife who comes to church without her husband? Is she out of luck too? What about association meetings? What about state conventions? What about the national convention? Should Dorothy Patterson not have given a nomination speech in 2016 at Phoenix? (I think she did this at Phoenix but it may have been in St. Louis a year earlier)
All the questions above can be answered with 1 Corinthians 14:40 as the guiding principle. Everything must be done decently and in order. This position does not make anyone a leftist, feminist, infiltrator who does not know God’s word.
My wife and I have struggled and argued about this passage for most of this year. When I have opened my heat to God’s word and His Spirit, I have found that my opposition to women speaking in church was not based on anything Biblical, but was based on my selfish desire to make name for myself and to be in control. Male dominance is not what Paul had in mind when he wrote this chapter, and it is not part of the decent order which God would have all local churches practice.