A Brief Answer to “Should Women Be Silent in Church?”

Paul writes what have been pretty controversial words in 1 Corinthians 14:34:

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.

So what does that mean? Is it plainly that women shouldn’t be allowed to talk in a church service?

Here is the brief answer I supplied for this week’s Bible study:

In chapter 14 Paul has been writing about speaking in church and not speaking in church, trying to maintain order in the church’s worship service. He has told both those speaking in tongues and speaking prophecy to be silent. He tells them to be silent to protect worship and encourage peace and the building up of the body. He doesn’t tell them to be silent because they have no place in worship–Paul actually lifts up their value in these last few chapters. In that context, it is not unlikely that he is telling women now to be silent because of disruptions in worship that may have occurred as women, in that time usually less educated and separated from the men in worship, were talking with each other or speaking to their husbands asking questions in order to better understand what was being said. Paul would rather that take place elsewhere and he values peace over confusion and commotion when the church gathers.

Imagining the Commotion in Corinth

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.

It may be hard for some to imagine a scene in church where more than two or three are talking at once. Truly, it may be hard to imagine more than one person. Many denominations today are in no real need of hearing an instruction about making sure people are silent in worship, if anything it would be the opposite. But that is the scene in Corinth.

Take time as you read this to try to imagine what this would look like. What would worship be like if everyone had something to share, whether it be a lesson, prophecy, tongues, hymns, and there was no order in the way they shared. How would that sound? How would that look? Perhaps you can wonder, if you were one who was interrupted or shouted over, how would it feel?

If there was such a commotion, what would be the point? If you couldn’t understand someone why listen? I for one am not a fan of loud restaurants. I’m not the best at projecting and it is near impossible for me to have a good conversation. Because of that I’m drawn to more low-key environments. Paul likewise wants to turn down the noise to make room for encouraging words and provide peace for the people of God.