Bible Study: On Women Keeping Silent (1 Corinthians 14:26-35)

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1 Corinthians 14 continues the discussion of women in ministry, with many complementarians using it to say, “Women shouldn’t talk or speak or do anything involving talking and speaking in the churches.” In tonight’s Bible Study (audio message above), I tackle the complementarian interpretation and show from the text that it is wrong, terribly flawed and erroneous.

There are clues within the text that tell us the complementarian view of women and its interpretation here is flawed. First, Paul establishes order throughout the passage, first telling the church that “all things be done for edification” in verse 26. In verses 27-31, Paul establishes an order by which each prophet and tongue speaker can contribute what God has given them to the service. He uses the words “if anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret” (v.27). “Each in turn” tells you that Paul is establishing order.

In verse 28, Paul tells men to “keep silent in church” if they have a tongue to speak but an interpreter is not present. Contrary to what complementarians believe about women, that Paul is only concerned with telling women to “shut up” in the churches, Paul tells the men to “keep silent” too. Should we just take Paul’s context, throw it out, and tell men to keep quiet in the churches? I think not. But I write this to show the danger of interpreting a passage while ignoring its context.

In verse 29, Paul establishes order for the prophets when he says, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.” In verse 31 Paul writes, “For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” The goal of prophesying is that all would understand what God wanted to reveal in worship in order to learn of God and be encouraged by God. The prophets were God’s spokesmen and spokeswomen, and prophesying at the same time wasn’t helping themselves, nor was it encouraging to the Body of Christ. The phrase “prophesy one by one” is yet another clue that Paul has an order in mind for the worship service.

Verse 33 tells us that the worship Paul is trying to institute in Corinth should reflect the character of God: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” In other words, God is the author of peace, so worship services offered to Him should be peaceful. The Corinthian church had anything but peaceful worship going on. Like those in the church at Ephesus, Corinthian worship was out of control with fighting and arguing going on. And God is the author of peace “in all the churches of the saints,” a reference to all the churches. Paul is not telling the Corinthians about something that was unique to them; rather, this was standard for all the churches, every believer in an organized gathering was subject and still is subject to this rule: that God is the author of peace, and worship should reflect His peace in all it does.

Verses 34 and 35 are where we see the direct prohibition to women, but this prohibition isn’t as clear as the surface reading first tells us. That is, these “women” here at not single women in general but wives, and Paul’s words that “and if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home” (v.35) confirms the same. These women have husbands and are interrupting church services with questions about what occurred during the service. Paul says in so many words that this Q&A expectation of these wives is a complication within the service, where the goal is not so much to have Q&A as it is to hear from God. One cannot hear from God and learn of God in worship when one is talking.

The “law” says that these women are to be submissive, and this leaves one puzzled. Where in the Word does it say that women are to be submissive and only women? Unless we’re talking submission to husbands here, few other places would give such a command and then, to talk doesn’t mean that one is not being submissive to his or her husband. We know from 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women were praying and prophesying in the church (with their heads uncovered, no less), so this prohibition against wives talking in church has nothing to do with prophetesses (women prophesying publicly). In other words, Paul isn’t making this prohibition for all wives, nor is he making this prohibition for all women, but rather, a small subset of Christian women (specifically, those in the church at Corinth, these wives who are asking their husbands questions in the midst of worship).

When we examine context, we see that Paul is writing to restore order, not to “order women around” as the complementarian view says. In fact, placing the text against complementarian assumptions shows that comps are blind in their interpretation of what this text says. They are also hidden from the truth of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11, neither of which affirm that men are more qualified than women to Pastor, preach, and teach “because Adam was formed first.” Where has Scripture ever said men are qualified to be leaders because they were created first? Ask a complementarian to show you that evidence in the Bible.

For those who want to hear the audio recording of this teaching, please feel free to click “play” on the audio message above (gray and black rectangle above). We’re thankful that you are studying Scripture with us and look forward to seeing you again Thursday night.

God Bless.

Pastor D.M. Richardson

The Essential Church

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