Let Your Women Keep Silence?
I’ve been a woman in church for some time now, and one thing that has always bothered me—actually irritates me—is when I hear men say how women shouldn’t preach or pastor but rather be silent in church like the Bible says. Baloney!
The Lord calls women the same as He calls men to preach, teach, sing, and minister to the body of Christ. Personally, I love to receive from the Lord through the ministry of women. Without them, the church would not be what the Lord intended it to be.
Nevertheless, let’s address this contention around women in ministry. We’ll begin with the Scripture that is most misunderstood on this topic.
I Corinthians 14:34 says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”
Not only is it helpful to read this verse in the context of the entire chapter, but it’s also worth noting what kind of church Paul was addressing, as well as the place where this church was located. In Paul’s day, Corinth had a horrible reputation. It was a busy complex of commerce with trade ships crowding its harbors drawing multitudes of people from different countries to transport goods and services. This metropolis was known for its chaos, carousing, and chief sins of dishonesty, sensuality, and worship of Aphrodite—the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure. You could say that its citizens were out of control. In fact, the phrase, “to behave as a Corinthian” meant the same as calling someone “low, shameless, and immoral.”
Thank God the gospel came to Corinth and for those who heard and received God’s gift of salvation. But as we know, after salvation comes sanctification—a lifelong process—which was no different for the Corinthians than it is for us today.
Church life is crucial to the sanctification process. That’s why, when a person is first saved, it’s important that he get into a good, Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached.
Keep in mind that when a person first comes to church, even though he’s saved, he can still feel like a sinner. He sees everyone dressed nicely when maybe he doesn’t have nice clothes, or, if he does have them, he doesn’t want to wear them. Remember, he’s saved, but just starting the process of sanctification and not completely sanctified. In other words, he might, in some ways, still “behave as a Corinthian.” What do I mean by that? Well, just because a person is born again, that’s only the starting point of Christianity. It doesn’t mean a person automatically knows how to “be” in church—how to dress, how to respect the presence of the Lord, or how to hush during the moving and operation of the Holy Spirit.
While this is true of both men and women, the female gender seems to take more criticism in these areas. We’ve had many young girls and women new to church who, when they first started attending Family Worship Center, dressed inappropriately—their tops too low or dresses too high. Girls tend to giggle and talk more among themselves. They simply do not yet know (because they haven’t yet been taught) to respect the presence of the Lord. Once saved, there is a greater desire to please the Lord, but girls and young women still need to be taught how to be young Christian ladies. (The same goes for young men, but the focus of our text is on women.)
Understand, I am not suggesting any type of legalism in my statements about dress. I’ve been in churches that will measure the length of a lady’s dress, criticize the amount and value of the jewelry she wears, and verbally judge her hairstyle and make-up. Folks, legalism is not of the Lord.
Hear me on this, we want people—saved and unsaved—to come to church and come to the Lord like the song says, “Just as I am.” We believe that as the Word of God gets into their hearts, the Holy Spirit will teach them proper behavior and modesty. However, God also intended for His church—the family of God—to help as well. Our young brothers and sisters need their older, mature brothers and sisters in Christ to help them in some of these practical areas. The second chapter of Titus explains this so well.
But going back to the Corinthians, they wanted—and needed—the apostle’s help concerning certain church practices and a greater understanding of the spiritual gifts and how they worked, which he addressed in the fourteenth chapter of I Corinthians.
In his commentary on this, my husband writes how the spiritual gifts were still new to the early church, so there was a learning curve:
“Of all the gifts, tongues was the most prominent and exotic. For someone to speak in tongues out loud in the assembly created a greater sensation than any of the other gifts, and for the obvious reasons. Consequently, more people wanted this gift, thereby yielding to the Holy Spirit in this capacity more so than in other directions, which of course caused an imbalance. As well, they had no regulation or order, it seems, as to how this gift should be used; consequently, with a lack of order, which Paul will address in this very chapter, at times, it seems there was confusion.”
The Holy Spirit through Paul spends most of this chapter dealing with prophecy and tongues, which again focuses on order: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (I Cor. 14:33). This connects to the very next verse which says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”
And women were not the only people Paul tells to be silent in this chapter. In verse 28, he said, “But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” And in verse 30, Paul said, “If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.”
So we find the Holy Spirit through Paul addressing issues of order in the church service, which would, at times, require temporary—but not permanent—silence.
If the word speak used in verse 33 was taken literally, then it wouldn’t be proper for a woman to pray, prophesy, preach, teach, or even sing in church. Actually, it wouldn’t be proper for a woman to say anything in any capacity, which is absurd. Yet isn’t it interesting that in nearly every church on the planet it’s perfectly fine for women to teach children in Sunday school?
But just as new converts—both male and female—need correction at times on proper church behavior (and if you don’t believe me, just ask any church usher), so did members of the early church. This was especially true of women who apparently were interrupting the service by talking—either to each other or loudly addressing their husbands on the other side of the church where the men most likely sat. Some women may have done this because they honestly—and instantly—wanted to learn, while others may have been motivated by emotion or even the flesh.
Consider the woman in Luke 11:
“And it came to pass, as He spoke these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto Him (the Lord was teaching the most solemn truths about the terrors of the spirit world of darkness, and this woman rudely interrupted with her carnal thoughts), Blessed is the womb that bear You, and the paps which You have sucked (it was true what the woman said, but out of place at this time). But He said, Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the Word of God, and keep it (the Lord gently reproved her, pointing out that the natural man and natural relationships cannot be recognized in the kingdom of spiritual realities)” (Luke 11:27-28, The Expositor’s Study Bible).
This woman flat out interrupted the Lord Jesus Christ while he was speaking on a very serious subject. Think of that. Clearly she was out of order, and yet look at the Lord’s response. He didn’t embarrass her or tell her to shut up. He let her speak, but He also corrected her—He taught her—by turning her attention back to the Word of God.
And that’s all Paul was doing in this verse about women being silent. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, was teaching order to the early church. Otherwise, how could women ordered to silence prophecy?
I Corinthians 11:5 says, “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth….” And we know that women served in this role in both the Old and New Testaments (Judg. 4:4, II Kings 22:14, Neh. 6:14, Lk. 2:36, Acts 2:17, and Acts 21:9).
The Lord approves of His daughters prophesying. He also allows them to preach.
Jesus Told Women To Go And Tell
His disciples marveled that Jesus spoke to the woman of Samaria. My husband notes, “There were no dealings normally between Jews and Samaritans, and even above that, rabbis did not converse with women in public or instruct them in the law.” (This supports why women of the early church probably had so many questions—they were not taught as the men were.)
During this spiritual conversation, not only does the Lord tell this woman of Samaria that He is indeed the Messiah—a powerful revelation—but afterward she becomes the first preacher of the gospel to the Gentile nations. She told the Samaritans, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did,” and her preaching caused a revival! John 4:39 says, “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified.”
Then there is Mary Magdalene, whom the Lord gave the distinct privilege of being the first person to herald His resurrection. What an honor!
“Jesus said unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (Jn. 20:17).
Mary told the disciples that she had seen the risen Lord. Unfortunately, they did not believe her.
Two other verses often used by the “men only ministry” doctrine are I Timothy 2:11-12: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Since we’ve already addressed the issues regarding women teaching and silence, let me say a few things about submission.
We know that after the fall, part of woman’s punishment was that her husband, rather than God, would rule over her (Gen. 3:16). Since then, it seems there have been religious men who have used these and other Scriptures on “submission” to amplify man’s superiority over women in a non-biblical way. This misinterpretation of his role in the home and in society has oppressed countless women, and in some cases has resulted in women being physically or verbally abused.
Listen, if a woman is being made to do anything that goes against the Word of God, then that is not anywhere close to the type of submission that God intended in His creation model.
In Genesis 2:23, Adam says of Eve, “she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Notes on this verse from The Expositor’s Study Bible read, “God did not take the woman out of man’s feet to be stepped on as an inferior; nor out of his head to be put on a pedestal as a superior; but from his side, close to his heart as an equal.”
Any wife who is repeatedly beaten down by her husband physically or verbally and made to feel worthless is not required to stay in that marriage. Let me say it plain: If a woman or her children are being abused, that woman has a responsibility to her kids and herself to leave, for the health and safety of all. The Lord does not condemn any woman who is being abused to stay in such a relationship.
The Bible says, “Submitting yourselves one to another (this tells us that proper spiritual submission is always horizontal and never vertical as it refers to believers, meaning that we submit one to another) in the fear of God (meaning that all vertical submission must be to God alone, never to man)” (Eph. 5:21, The Expositor’s Study Bible).
Going back to where I started, the book of I Corinthians lays the foundation, my husband says, for victory over sin and purity within. And that’s what every man and every woman in the body of Christ should believe for through His cross.