She Shall Be Called Woman
Part Three Session One
Shall Women Be Silent?
In Part One of She Shall Be Called Woman we explored the first two chapters of Genesis to see God’s original plan for human beings. Then we looked at the fall and its consequences in Genesis Three. Part Two of our study was on Jesus, the culture of his day and how He came against traditions that contradicted God’s original plan.
In Part Three we will investigate the five scriptures from the writings of Paul and one from Peter that have been used to restrict the functions of women in the church and in so many areas of life. How do we reconcile these verses with what we have learned so far? Remember, God does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Our goal is to come to the end of these lessons with a clear understanding of God’s original plan of equality for women—biblical equality, His confirmation of the plan in the life of Jesus, and the living out of the plan in the early church. God is calling us to maturity in Christ. In Him we are one, not divided by race, social position or gender—all one in Christ Jesus. As it says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In this sesson we will discover:
1. Why 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is part of scripture
2. If this is a statement commanding women be silent is what Paul believed
3. How these words should be used in our lives
Have you ever gone into a situation and made some wrong assumptions because you didn’t know what had happened before you got there. We sometimes make assumptions about the meaning of scripture because we don’t know the background information. That was the reason we taught about culture before we started the lessons on Jesus. It will be important in these next lessons because we are studying letters written to someone else a long time ago. We need to know who they were writing to as well as why they were writing in order to understand their purpose.
Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth on his second missionary journey. He wrote First Corinthians around 55 AD during his third missionary journey while he was living and teaching in Ephesus. This is not the first trouble he had had with the Corinthian church. Paul had already written one corrective letter. Although we do not have the first letter we know that it was written because it is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 where he says, “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.” He then clarifies what he had written by saying, “Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.”
We know that there are current problems in the Corinthian church from 1 Cor. 1:11 which says, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's [household], that there are contentions among you.” We also know that a delegation also came from Corinth bringing a list of questions in a letter because Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:1 “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:”
What we have just done is like finding clues to a mystery in order to understand why Paul is writing. However, the main point is to realize that letters have been exchanged between Paul and the people from the Corinthian church. This is important because it is likely that the first six chapters of 1 Corinthians address the concerns raised by Chloe’s people and try to correct misunderstandings from his first letter. Chapters 7 through 16 address the questions raised in the letter to Paul from the Corinthians. This letter (1 Corinthians) is full of God’s wisdom, but our purpose here is to explain why 1 Cor. 14:34-35 doesn’t mean that women should forever be silent in church. Let’s take a look at these verses in context.
In most of chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul is talking about the orderly use of spiritual gifts. We’ll pick up the discussion at verse 26.
26 "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
Notice the underlined words above. “Brethren" was used of all believers. Many new translations say “brothers” but the word is adolphos in Greek and it should not be translated brothers when the next phrase “each of you” includes all people, both men and women. In verse 28 the word translated “himself” is heautou in Greek which can mean himself, herself, itself or themselves–again why not make it clear that Paul is speaking to all people, men and women. Verse 31 starts with the words “you can all prophesy . . . ” All means all: both men and women!
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order."
Paul has just said all should have a psalm or teaching or prophecy and then he seems to completely contradict what has just been said with these words, “Let your women keep silent in the churches.” Doesn’t it seem strange that Paul would say this immediately after calling on all to prophesy? If you read back through previous verses that we have not listed and even when you read whole chapters, you will find that over and over everyone is included in participation.
Some say that this section silencing women was included because women were uneducated and were calling out questions to their husbands and disrupting the service. This assumes that women were seated in a separate section from the men like they were in the Jewish synagogues. We have no proof that this was the case since Corinth was primarily a gentile congregation.
If we remember that Paul is responding to questions asked him, a clear case can be made for considering this a quotation from their letter to him. We can find quotes from the letter, sent by some in the Corinthian church, beginning in 1 Cor. 7:1. If you carefully read your Bible you will find the letter is also referred to in 7:25, 36, 39; 8:1 and 9:3.
The fact that Paul seems to contradict everything he has been teaching is the first clue that something is wrong. Let’s return to chapter 14 and read verses 34 and 35 carefully. Where have you seen words like this during our study? Remember the lesson on culture in Part 2 Session 1 where we read quotes from the Talmud, the Jewish oral law, that were derogatory (insulting, negative) toward women.
Nowhere in the first five books of the Old Testament which are known as the Law of Moses, does it tell a woman to be silent in an assembly. In fact, nowhere in the whole Old Testament do we find such words. Therefore, we must assume that the reference is to the Talmud (Jewish Oral Law) not the Bible. Remember, the New Testament was in the process of being written at this time so any reference to scripture would be to the Old Testament books of the Bible.
What about the women who were not married? How were they to get their information? Paul would not make such a narrow suggestion. These words also go against other parts of his teaching where he encourages people to stay single. (see 1 Cor. 7) But, there is even more evidence.
In the King James version, verse 36 is translated “What! Came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?” The modern translations tend to leave out the “What!” Should it be there? Let’s see!
The word translated “what” is “è” in Greek. It is a disjunctive pronoun. Disjunctive means it contradicts or opposes what has just been said. In the second half of the verse even King James translates “è” as “or” instead of “what.” (“Or are you the only people it has reached?) In Greek the word is “è” again—just like the first time. “What! Are you the only people it has reached?” would be an improvement.
When the Greek word “e” is translated “Or,” we don’t realize that Paul is making a strong statement against the words that silence women. Some translations don’t even say “Or.” In The New International Version verse 36 says, “Did the word of God originate with you?" By leaving out the disjunctive pronoun, the context is changed and the meaning is made unclear.
“What?” with a question mark is certainly better than “Or,” but a better translation would be something like "Utter Rubbish!” Utter means complete, absolute or total and rubbish means garbage, trash or nonsense. Notice that it is followed by an exclamation point to emphasize the meaning.
We have checked out the accuracy of this translation by doing extensive study using various books, numerous concordances, an interlinear Greek-English New Testament, dictionaries, grammar books and hours of study. Utter rubbish is what Paul thought of verses 34 and 35
Paul continues: 37 "If anyone thinks they’re a prophet or spiritual, they are to realize that what I’m writing to you is the Lord’s commandment! 38 But if anyone is mistaken about this, then they are certainly mistaken!"
Paul is angry with their words. Because the Corinthians have made a statement that contradicts all he has taught them, he asks if they are the ones who wrote the scriptures, if they are the only ones who have heard the word. I think the Amplified translations helps us to understand Paul’s words. Beginning in verse 37 it says, “If anyone thinks and claims that he is a prophet [filled with and governed by the Holy Spirit of God and inspired to interpret the divine will and purpose in preaching or teaching] or has any other spiritual endowment, let him understand (recognize and acknowledge) that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.
Paul is saying that what he is teaching is a “commandment of the Lord.” If we do not understand that Paul is referring to his own teaching and not the words in the letter from part of the Corinthian church that is found in verses 34 and 35 it can be very confusing. Paul wants them to follow what he has taught rather than words of the Oral Law of the Jews from the Talmud.
Paul is using strong language to oppose teaching that is not scriptural. He is saying, If you are so mistaken or ignorant of God’s Word that you do not recognize that my teaching is from the Lord and you replace it with utter rubbish, you are truly ignorant, entirely mistaken.
In every commonly used English Bible, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 has been translated as though Paul were making a statment of what he believed. Most Bibles do not even say the authorship of these words is in question. What Paul inteanded by including quotes in his letter was to say that silencing women was not God's will and anyone who thought it was was ignorant of God and His Word. Instead, the quotation has been used for just the opposite purpose, and Christians have been taught that women should be silent.
When words seem to contradict the overall message, take the time to find out why. Train your mind to remember that 99.9% of the time, when you see the words he, him, his, himself or man and men in the scripture, they don’t refer to males only.
The passages that have been used to limit women are not easy to translate and appear to say what has traditionally been taught. These lessons take study to verify the truth being presented. God is calling. Are we willing to do the work necessary to understand difficult information not only for ourselves but in order to share it with others? For too long we have let tradition and custom color our interpretation of scripture. Study the scriptures as a whole. “Study to show yourselves approved. . .” 2 Tim 2:15. God loves us and He’ll help!
1. We studied quotes from the Talmud in Part 2 Session 1. It is a collection of ancient rabbinic writings on Jewish oral law and tradition—not the Bible. The idea that the language in the quotation resembles known Jewish oral law is supported by these scholars, cf. S. Aalen, “A Rabbinic Formula in 1 Cor. 14,34”, in F. Cross (ed.) Studia Evangelica, II-III. Papers, Berlin, 1964, pp. 513-25; Holmes, op.cit., p. 235.
2. 1 Cor 7:8 "But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am;"
Questions for thought and/or discussion
1. Had you ever seriously questioned the teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35? If so, why?
2. Has this lesson changed the way you look at 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. If so, how?
3. What do you think about the use of masculine words like men and man or he and him being used in scripture when the Hebrew or Greek words being translated include both men and women?