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Explore the depths of Apostle Paul’s counsel in ‘What is the Meaning Behind Paul’s Instruction for Women to “Keep Silent in the Congregations”?’ This article offers a comprehensive examination of 1 Corinthians 14:33-34, analyzing the historical and cultural backdrop, as well as the theological implications of Paul’s directive. Gain insights into the role of women in early Christian worship and how this instruction reflects the principles of orderly worship and biblical headship.
The Apostle Paul’s directive in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 for women to “keep silent in the congregations” has been a subject of considerable debate. This article seeks to contextualize and understand Paul’s counsel within the broader framework of early Christian worship and cultural norms.
Contextual Understanding of 1 Corinthians 14
- Purpose of Christian Meetings: Paul emphasizes the goal of edification and order within the congregational meetings (1 Corinthians 14:4, 5, 12, 26).
- Regulating Spiritual Gifts: The chapter focuses on the orderly use of spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy, ensuring that worship services are constructive and understandable.
The Threefold Use of “Keep Silent” in Chapter 14
- Regarding Speaking in Tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27-28): Paul instructs that if there is no interpreter, speakers in tongues should remain silent. NOTE: Speaking in tongues (actual languages unknown to the person) died out in the second century as Paul said they would in Corinthians. The only persons who could give this gift to others were the apostles, and when John died in 100 C.E., there were no apostles left to give the gift of tongues. So, as time passed in the second century, and those who possessed the gift died, so died the gift. The gift of tongues was meant to be temporary, to establish the first-century church and to evangelize on a large scale way before the apostasy was to set in in the third to fourth centuries.
- Regarding Prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29-31): Prophets are to speak in turns, and if a revelation comes to another, the first should be silent.
- Regarding Women (1 Corinthians 14:34-35): Women are instructed to remain silent, signifying not an absolute prohibition of speech but a call for order and respect for headship.
Analyzing Paul’s Instruction for Women
- Cultural Context: In the Greco-Roman world, women’s public participation was often limited. Paul’s counsel may reflect a concern for maintaining a respectable witness in that cultural context.
- Respecting Headship: The silence enjoined on women seems particularly related to the teaching roles in the congregation (1 Timothy 2:12), upholding the scriptural principle of headship (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Role of Women in Early Christian Worship
- Active Participation: Evidence suggests that women prayed and prophesied in the congregation (1 Corinthians 11:5), indicating active, albeit regulated, participation in worship.
- Public Declaration: Women, like men, were encouraged to make a public declaration of faith (Hebrews 10:23-25), possibly including giving comments during congregational Bible studies.
Understanding “Silence” in the Congregational Setting
- Specific Context: The silence required is likely specific to the context of authoritative teaching and not a blanket prohibition against all forms of verbal participation.
- Avoiding Disorder: The instruction may also target the prevention of disorderly and disruptive behavior, ensuring that worship services remain dignified and edifying.
Theological Implications of Paul’s Counsel
- Biblical Headship: Paul’s directive aligns with the broader biblical teaching on headship and order within both the family and the congregation.
- Dignity and Value of Women: The counsel does not diminish the spiritual dignity or value of women but rather delineates roles in a specific religious setting for the sake of order and edification.
Paul’s instruction for women to “keep silent in the congregations” in 1 Corinthians 14:34 must be understood within its historical, cultural, and theological context. Rather than an absolute prohibition on women speaking, it appears to be a directive towards maintaining order and respecting headship during congregational meetings. This understanding aligns with the rest of Scripture, which acknowledges the active and vital role of women in the life of the church while upholding the principle of orderly worship and respect for established roles.
FEMINIST AND LIBERAL-MODERATE BIBLE SCHOLAR CHALLENGES THE BIBLE
What About Romans 16:7?
Romans 16:7 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are well known among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Junias received a special greeting from Paul at the end of his letter to the Romans. (16:7) Andronicus and Junias were his “kinsmen.” While the Greek word used here (συγγενής) can mean “a man from one’s own country,” “fellow countryman,” the primary meaning is blood relative, including the extended family,” of the same generation. The two were Paul’s “fellow prisoners,” meaning that they had been in prison with him somewhere. Paul calls them both “well known among the apostles,” perhaps remembering their fine reputation with the apostles. Note that it does not call Andronicus and Junias apostles but only says that they were well known among the apostles. The Greek term (episēmos), rendered well known, is a plural masculine adjective. Therefore, it could rightly be rendered, “men who are well known among the apostles.” — James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
What About the Argument That Paul Wrote Those Things Because He Lived In a Patriarchal Society or Culture that Influenced Him?
No, it does not follow. First, what if the Bible was written today, we could make the same counter-argument, saying Paul wrote this or that because of the liberal-progressive culture. Second, Paul himself clearly states or does he that “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21) Yes, God allowed the authors to use their writing style but what they wrote were God’s thoughts and clearly, God is not influenced by any human society or culture.
What about Deborah of Ancient Israel?
In the Old Testament Deborah was a prophetess* in Israel. Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth encouraged Judge Barak in the work God assigned him. So, Deborah encourages judge Barak like a wife would encourage her pastor husband of the church, offering moral support. Deborah had yet one other responsibility as well. She was also apparently settling conflicts by giving God’s answer to problems that had come up. – Judges 4:4-5.
Again, Deborah was a prophetess in Israel. There was never a female ruler or judge in ancient Israel. Deborah was a proclaimer of God’s Word. Her being an Old Testament prophetess is not the same being a New Testament pastor (elder). She never taught the Word of God. The prophets were not the teachers who taught the Israelite people. They were given the responsibility of sharing God’s Word. They were a spokesperson for God. It was the responsibility of the priests and Levites to teach God’s law to the nation of Israel. (Lev. 10:11; 14:57; 2Ch 15:3; 35:3) Yes, Judges 4:4 tells us that “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” In the Old Testament, there was no hesitation in Israel to involve women as prophets. Women identified as prophets in ancient Israel were Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and the unnamed wife of Isaiah (Isa. 8:3). We could rightly add Hannah as well (1 Sam. 2:1–10) See also Anna in Luke 2:36. Lastly, Deborah was used to offer moral support for Barak, who was shirking his responsibilities.
* Other prophetesses included Miriam, Huldah, and the wife of Isaiah.—Exodus 15:20; 2 Kings 22:14; Isaiah 8:3.
What About the Women Who Claim That They Are Called to Pastor a Church? The Women Say, ‘It Is Our Calling? Who Are You to Reject a Person Called by God?’
1 Corinthians 7:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.
Notice that Paul is saying, I am inspired by God, so I can say this and the Lord (Jesus), did not touch on this, but I am. Let us take a look at the context and historical setting.
1 Timothy 2:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 But I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.
Here again, we notice in 1 Timothy 2:12 that Paul is exercising the authority that he has been given and his word is, in essence, God’s Word. So, the Bible says so that you cannot pastor a church at any level, including deacons. The other thing to consider is what if a homosexual man says he has the gift to pastor a church, or a man with many wives says he has the gift to pastor a church. The Bible says homosexuality is a gross (very serious), unseemly, shameful sin and that the homosexual “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Rom. 1:26-28; 1 Cor. 6:9) Not every emotion that moves one to think they are gifted to do something gets to carry that out. Just because you feel like you have the gift to do something, that goes not give you the right to overrule, set aside the Word of God. God said ‘the office of the elder must be the husband of one wife ‘ (1 Tim. 3;2), which means the office is held out to men alone. The Bible is very clear that women are not to teach or exercise authority over men. There is absolutely no justification or any feeling of a calling for a woman to hold the office of pastor/teacher or to exercise that authority. No one’s feelings of being called can conflict with the plain language of the Bible. If one is wrong, it will be the one who has the feeling of being called and all who participate in that sin.
As has been stated already, women can be ministers or teachers in other capacities. They can evangelize and teach unbelievers, unbaptized boys and girls regardless of baptism, and women in church Bible studies. They can serve as missionaries.
1 Corinthians 14:34 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
34 let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, as the Law also says.
What Did the Apostle Paul Mean Women to Keep Silent in the Congregations? Are The Women Not to Speak at All?
“Let the women keep silent in the congregations,” wrote the apostle Paul. (1 Corinthians 14:34) What did Paul mean? He was not saying that they could not even speak at all, or that they could not teach in any capacity, which would require speaking? No. In fact, he that “they are to teach what is good” in certain capacities. (2 Timothy 1:5; Titus 2:3-5) Here in the letter to the Corinthians, Paul told not only women but also persons who had the gift of tongues and prophecy to “keep silent” when there was another believer who was speaking. (1 Corinthians 14:26-30, 33) It is possible that some of the Christian women may have been so thrilled because of their newfound faith that they spoke up with questions, interrupting the brother who was speaking, which actually was the custom in the first century throughout the Roman Empire. But Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to avoid disorder, Paul urged them, “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”—1 Corinthians 14:35.