“How Are Women to Keep Silent in the Churches?”

Categories: Meditations


A week or two ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to this blog.  Among other things, one of the author’s main goals appears to be insisting that women should be allowed to speak in the assemblies of churches of Christ.  This post is representative of his arguments.

The post is, quite honestly, very long, and I don’t have space to respond to everything in it that I think is mistaken (not without turning this into the 1 Corinthians 14 blog, at least!).  However, I think it’s worthwhile to address one of the author’s primary arguments—that no church of Christ is consistent in applying 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 because in none of them are women absolutely silent.  He writes, “Hardly a single woman remains silent in the churches.  Women sing.  They greet people.  They say ‘good morning’ and ‘Amen.’  They make comments in Sunday School.  They give confession to the assembly before baptism.”

What the author describes is true, so far as it goes.  However, it’s not in conflict with the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 14.  First of all, this text applies to times “when the whole church is assembled together”—what we would call worship services rather than Bible classes (though I think that churches need to apply 1 Corinthians 14 to their Bible classes if said classes are an assembly of the whole.  The label we assign an activity is less important than the reality of what we’re doing.). 

Second, though we tend to focus on women, sisters in Christ are not the only group in the chapter that Paul instructs to be silent.  In 1 Corinthians 14:28, he tells men with the gift of tongues to keep silent if there is no interpreter present.  In 1 Corinthians 14:30, he tells prophets to keep silent if a revelation has been given to another prophet. 

In these passages, it’s clear that “silent” isn’t contrasted with making a sound.  Otherwise, gifted men under these conditions would have been barred from singing, saying “Amen”, and otherwise participating in public worship.  That interpretation can’t be supported from the text, particularly when Paul urges brethren to earnestly desire spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14:1.  Why desire something that could bar you from worshiping?

Instead, “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 is contrasted with being the speaker.  Tongue-speakers and prophets in these circumstances were free to participate in public worship.  They were not free, however, to claim center stage for themselves.

The same rule applies to women.  They too are free to say the “Amen” if they agree, as per 1 Corinthians 14:16.  They too are free to obey the exhortation of Romans 15:6 and join in glorifying God with one voice.  They are not free, however, to become the speaker.

There were circumstances in which tongue-speakers and prophets could become the speaker in an assembly.  Tongue-speakers were permitted to do so in the presence of an interpreter.  Prophets were permitted to do so (one by one, two or three at most per assembly) in the absence of another revelation.  However, there are no circumstances in which the text permits women to do the same.  Paul’s prohibition is absolute, even to the point of forbidding women to ask questions in such circumstances. 

Such a commandment is opposed to the spirit of our time.  That’s not in question.  The question is if we are willing to defy the spirit of our time to follow the Spirit of God.  Honoring His word will not find favor with our culture, but it will find favor with Him.