Taking A Careful Look At The Ministry Of Women In The New Testament Church (Part Fourteen)

It is written:

“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.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

Studying the context of a passage is absolutely essential to coming to grips with the teaching of a text of Scripture.

When we study Paul’s words in this passage, we need to take note of several things.

First, in chapters 10-16 of 1 Corinthians, Paul deals specifically with matters of public worship. In chapter 10, he discuses the Lord’s Supper and fellowship with idols (and demons behind the idols). In chapter 11, the Apostle addresses the subject of women casting aside their veils, and further abuses in the Lord’s Supper. In chapters 12-14, Paul deals with the subject of orderliness in the worship assembly. In chapters 15-16, Paul discusses public false teaching taking place at Corinth and his closing remarks after discussing the collection for the needy.

Second, Paul’s primary concern in 1 Corinthians 14 is that the worship services not get out of hand, but that the goal of each member be the edification of one another.

1 Corinthians 14:12-Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.

1 Corinthians 14:26-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.

Third, others in this context were told to keep quiet under certain circumstances, not just the women!

1 Corinthians 14:28-But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

1 Corinthians 14:30-But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.

Finally, it is here that we need to consider the cultural context of a woman asking questions in the context of the assembly of the church.

“If it is the prophecies that she is interrupting, her purpose is not to judge the prophecies (as some have suggested above), but to “learn” (14: 35). This could mean that she wants to inquire of the word of the Lord through the prophets (cf. 14: 31). The problem with this suggestion is that it would fail to explain Paul’s alternative: she can get the same information from her husband at home. Will her husband necessarily be as prophetically endowed as the prophets at church, and will she necessarily be unendowed (cf. 11: 4–5)? What is almost certainly in view is that the women are interrupting the Scripture exposition with questions. This would have caused an affront to more conservative men or visitors to the church, and it would have also caused a disturbance to the service due to the nature of the questions. What is the cultural situation in which asking questions during an exposition would most naturally be a problem?…The women are asking questions to probe what the speaker is saying during the church service. Although questions could be used to teach as well as to learn,[ 58] the issue here is learning, because this is what these women can get as easily from their husbands at home (14: 35). (Nearly all Greek women in Paul’s day were married.) Questions were widely used in learning….Perhaps more relevant to the context of the Corinthian church is the way public lectures were conducted by teachers in the broader Greco-Roman world. Plutarch says that it is important to ask lecturers questions only in their field of expertise; to ask them questions irrelevant to their discipline is rude….When Paul suggests that husbands should teach their wives at home, his point is not to belittle women’s ability to learn. To the contrary, Paul is advocating the most progressive view of his day: despite the possibility that she is less educated than himself, the husband should recognize his wife’s intellectual capability and therefore make himself responsible for her education, so they can discuss intellectual issues together….Paul’s point is that those who do not know the Bible very well should not set the pace for learning in the Christian congregation; they should instead receive private attention to catch them up to the basics of Christian instruction that the rest of the congregation already knows. In Corinth, the issue had come to a head with uneducated women interrupting the Scripture exposition with questions. Paul suggested a short-range and a long-range solution to the problem in his instructions on how to bring order back to the Corinthians’ church services. The short-range solution was that the women were to stop interrupting the service; the long-range solution was that they were to learn the knowledge they had been lacking.” (Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage And Women’s Ministry In The Letters Of Paul, 1753-1895 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)

What Paul is forbidding in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are questions which were being asked by women in the church and who were causing terrible disruption to the assemblies. This is also interesting when we consider the usages of the word here translated as “speak” in contexts outside of the New Testament.

“Greek has many words that can be translated “speak.” Five of them denote preaching or proclaiming, and twenty-five others can be translated “say,” “speak,” or “teach.” Some of them have various shades of meaning that can be reflected in the translation, but not all. But when Paul wrote that it is a shame for a woman to speak in church, his meaning can be seen if we look at which one of those thirty words he used. He did not write that women are not to preach, or teach, or declare, or give a discourse, or proclaim, or affirm, or aver, or speak for something, or any other of the distinctive meanings found in many of those verbs. Instead, Paul wrote that women are not to laleo (la-LAY-o). Like the other verbs, laleo can denote the act of saying something quite important. But of all the verbs that can be translated “speak,” only laleo can also mean, simply, “talk.” If someone wished to write in Greek the sentence “Please do not talk during the prayers,” the verb would have to be laleo. And since Paul’s instructions were given to a congregation trou-bled with tumult and discord during the worship services, he told the women not to laleo—that is, not to converse. Paul was telling them that it is shameful for women to keep talking during the worship service.” (John T. Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women, 62-63 (Kindle Edition); San Francisco, CA; HarperCollins E-Books)

The words of Paul in this passage were written for specific persons (married Christians), for a specific timeframe, and for very specific purposes and contextual conditions.

This teaches us a great deal about the work of women in the ministry of the church of Christ.

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