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.

A good Presbyterian memory verse

Memory Verse for 1 Cor 14.40

If you’re a Presbyterian, particularly one who has served one a committee or session, then you’ve almost certainly heard the phrase, “decent and in order.” Now, if you haven’t already, you can memorize that phrase and add to it a knowledge of where it comes from. Paul writes those words in his essay on worship, for he believes our worship should be an environment where we can learn, where our God of peace is best represented, and chaos and commotion are kept at bay.

Hope Fulfilled Around the Throne of God

We see a powerful image of what life with God will be like, and in these verses are wonderful promises of Jesus truly fulfilled. Jesus, the bread of life, told us that if we come to him we won’t hunger and if we believe, we’ll never thirst. He said that he is our good shepherd. He offers us living water. Our lives are hidden within him, finding shelter there. Such hope is wrapped up in the scene around the throne in chapter seven:

They are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Daniel and Friends in a Foreign Land

rembrandt lion
These friendly felines are in his future.

When you open Daniel you may think you’ve gone back to our history blitz since 2 Chronicles finishes in a similar way to how Daniel begins. Not only has Judah been attacked, but they have been brought into exile. Daniel is among some of the elite that are chosen to train in the king’s palace. But don’t let the sound of that invitation fool you since only eight verses in we see a problem. Daniel does not want to defile himself with the food he is offered and has his guard give him and his three fellow exiles vegetables and water.

The end of this is that God softened the guard to be permissable and blessed Daniel and company. But it is just the tip of the iceberg in relation to how exiles are to maintain their worship and their faith in a hostile, foreign environment.

So much of worship in the Old Testament is very localized and geographically bound. Without the temple or the priests doing their jobs, how are they to offer up praise or sacrifice to their God? How can they keep themselves from being overwhelmed by this opposing culture of the Babylonians?

Think of the difficulties you might have trying to celebrate Thanksgiving in a country that doesn’t do the same? Or how about Christmas? You could do something, but it wouldn’t be the same. The Fourth of July that we kick off with grand fireworks and big bands would be hard to muster if you are an alien living abroad all alone. But these examples would be nothing compared to what is on the line for the people of God taken in to exile. They must look at their history and their relationship to God and figure out ways in which they can carry on. God’s promise was for a promised land, so what does it mean if they are taken away? God had them make for himself a temple, but that was left behind. Now what?

One thing they turn to and we see in Daniel is prayer, but even that will eventually get him into trouble with his new land.

Undignified Worship

In chapter six of 2 Samuel David celebrates “with all his might” as he dances before God. There is plenty to say about this passage, such as the energy we should devote to the worship of God or the importance of spouses to share certain commitments and priorities, which is not the case in David’s wife, who criticizes her husband for such an act.

But instead of that, I’ll take it mainly as an excuse to post another video from David Crowder – Undignified. It’s taken from 2 Samuel 6:22. David’s wife, Michal, communicates her displeasure that her husband is dancing around in his underwear looking foolish. Michal actually despises David in her heart for doing so. In response David doesn’t apologize for such an action instead says that he “will become even more undignified than this” (2 Sam 6:22a NIV).

We don’t worship God because it looks good. David finds joy in God and cannot rejoice reservedly. He has to worship with all his might as he dances before God. If that means he finds himself contemptible, so be it. He’ll become even more undignified if that’s what it takes to worship God.