It is written:
“But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (1 Corinthians 14:28)
“But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent.” (1 Corinthians 14:30)
“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)
The study of New Testament Greek certainly sheds a great deal light when studying the “silence” of 1 Corinthians 14.
Specirically, we see from the Greek of this text that the “silence” enjoined upon the prophets, tongue-speakers, and the women in this context was not understood to be a permanent silence where they were not allowed to speak at all during the service; but rather, it was a temporary silence where they politely held their silence so as not to disrupt the church worship service with everyone speaking at once.
One author has well written of the word “silence” in this passage:
“In the first two instances, it is unmistakably clear that perpetual silence is NOT what is required by siga ō . Rather, in the first instance (14:27, 28) the tongues speaker must be silent ( siga ō ) only unless or until there is someone available (of either gender) to interpret: “If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (14:28). The intent for a temporary pause rather than for perpetual silence could not be more clear. If the church is to be strengthened (14:26) in an orderly environment, up to three tongues speakers are allowed “one at a time” (14:27), but they must temporarily stop speaking ( siga ō ) in the absence of an interpreter. No one understands this first of three parallel uses of siga ō to be a permanent ban on speaking in tongues in the church! After all, a few verses later Paul mandates, “do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor. 14:38). Similarly, in the second parallel scenario (14:29–33) the mandated silence for prophets is NOT perpetual but is only a temporary pause to give a speaking opportunity to others (male or female 229 ) who also have a prophetic message to share: “And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop [ siga ō ].” In other words, Paul directs them to “suspend speaking in order to give someone else a turn to speak,” or to “pause and be silent long enough to defer to someone else who also desires to speak.” If there is no one else with a revelation to share, the first one may continue speaking. The issue is speaking “in turn” (14:31). No one interprets this second use of siga ō to permanently restrict prophets from speaking in church!…To promote participation and to preserve orderliness and peace in worship, Paul directed women to defer by politely suspending their talking until others also had an opportunity to participate. In all three parallel uses of siga ō Paul did not call for perpetual silence but for a hiatus in speaking so others might also contribute. This proper understanding of the text is devastating for the complementarian position….In every other New Testament usage, σιγάω ( siga ō ) or σιγὴ ( sigay ) convey the meaning “to temporarily stop speaking, become silent, or hold one’s tongue.” It means to pause silently in response to something that was or was not happening. In every instance, it is assumed or stated that after the hiatus, the speaking would or did resume. The word is never used in the New Testament to portray unending silence as is evident in the following passages (in each the translation of siga ō or sigay is underlined): • “And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen” (Luke 9:36 ESV) • “Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet , but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (Luke 18:39) • “They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent ” (Luke 20:26) • “Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison” (Acts 12:17) • “The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them” (Acts 15:12) • “Having received the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent , he said to them in Aramaic . . . ” (Acts 21:40) • “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden 233 for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings . . . ” (Romans 16:25, 26a) • “When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Revelation 8:1) Based on these and every other use of siga ō and sigay in the New Testament, it is clear that the three uses in 1 Corinthians 14 should be translated in the same way—not as referring to a permanent ban, but as a temporary and purposeful silence with the assumption that speaking would be resumed whether by tongues speakers, prophets, or women.” (Dr. Bill Rudd, Should Women Be Pastors And Leaders In Church? My Journey To Discover What The Bible Teaches About Gender Roles, 4353-4459 (Kindle Edition); Bloomington, Indiana; WestBow Press)
When noticing the other uses of “silence” in 1 Corinthians 14, Rudd points out that the silence of the prophets and tongue-speakers was only temporary. Using this fact to interpret the passage, we see that Paul was not enjoining some kind of law upon women being forbidden to speak in the assembly in some kind of permanent fashion; rather, it was a temporary silence in the assembly designed to keep chaos from erupting.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 has often been used as a “proof-text” to silence women in the Lord’s church, in many different ways. I have seen it used as a bludgeon to keep women from asking questions in Bible class, speaking too loudly in the church assembly, being forbidden to say “Amen” at the end of a congregational prayer, etc.
To use this passage in such a way is a misuse of the inspired Writings, and a betrayal of the spirit of the Restoration Movement. And, I must admit, there have been times where I myself have erroneously misunderstood and misused this text in such a fashion.
In our next studies, we will consider still further regarding the Bible teaching regarding the role of women in the New Testament church.