By Jessalyn Hutto
“As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).
Isn’t it wonderful how Scripture can be relied upon to interpret Scripture? Take for instance this marvelously difficult passage found in 1 Corinthians 14 which admonishes women to be “silent” when gathered for corporate worship. A cursory reading of this passage can leave both the unbelieving feminist and Bible believing woman feeling somewhat oppressed and stifled.
Thankfully, we are not meant to take these three verses out of context and we don’t have to flip through many pages in our Bibles to find clarification on what it means to be “silent in the churches.” In fact, it is just three chapters earlier in Paul’s letter that we find something surprising given the seemingly absolute nature of “not being permitted to speak”-instructions for men and women on how to pray and prophesy when the body is gathered together.
In 1 Corinthians 11 we are told that women are to pray and prophesy with their heads covered as a sign of submission to their husbands:
“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:3-5).
Here it is assumed that both men and women will be praying and prophesying when gathered together. This beautiful manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy in the Old Testament: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” (Joel 2:28).
At first glance, Paul’s words in chapter 11 seem to completely contradict his statement in chapter 14. How can a woman be silent if she can also be praying and prophesying? Most commentators agree that the most obvious and consistent way to interpret this “silence” is as a clarification for the instructions on judging prophesy just a few verses before (14:29-33).
You see, each prophecy was to be carefully weighed for its consistency with and adherence to the teachings of the apostles. This type of authoritative judgment then is what is being prohibited for women by Paul.
A woman who took part in judging the authenticity and meaning of a prophesy (especially those given by men in the congregation) would indeed be acting in an authoritative manner and shamefully displaying a lack of submission to those God had put over her. Just as a woman praying and prophesying without a head covering (a cultural symbol of submission) would be stepping out from under her husband’s authority, a woman who did not remain silent during the weighing of prophecy would also be acting in a shameful way. It would be better for her to listen and learn quietly, then bring any questions she had to her husband once home so as to honor the church leaders’ authority as well as her own husband’s.
Women were free to use their spiritual gifts for the edification of the body, but must do so within the parameters set by the rest of Scripture.
This interpretation keeps in step with Paul’s later instructions to the women under Timothy’s care: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man: rather; she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
The Word of God consistently teaches that because of the created order (referenced in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2) women should live in submission to their husband’s authority as well as function within the church under the authority of male leadership. Here in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul again appeals to “the Law” (the testimony of the Old Testament) as reason for women to submissively keep silent in the churches.
Why is the submission of women within the church so important? Why must we remain “silent” and not seek a position of authority within the church?
Because God’s created roles for men and women are all about the gospel.
We are told in Ephesians 5:32 that in his infinite wisdom, God created the relationship between a husband and wife to be an image of Christ and his blood-bought bride. The loving authority of the husband and the willing submission of the wife are meant to reflect the relationship of the Redeemer to his redeemed. Therefore, the respectful and submissive attitude of women among the congregation of the saints brings great glory to God because it directs people to the gospel-and that kind of “silence” is indeed golden.
Jessalyn Hutto blogs regularly at Desiring Virtue (www.desiringvirtue.com) where she passionately encourages women to dig into the Word of God and apply it to their lives. Jessalyn lives in Texas with her husband, Richard, and three precious little boys: Elliot, Hudson, and Owen. You can connect with her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/
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