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

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)

Some have suggested that the “speaking” in this passage is relegated to prophetic speaking and/or speaking in tongues. While it is true that the passage uses the word “speak” here primarily in regards to miraculous gifts, there are serious problems with claiming that Paul restricts from exercising spiritual gifts in the assembly.

First, the text makes it clear that the women in the assembly were allowed to pray and prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:5; 14:26). Clearly, Paul was not claiming that women were not allowed to exercise their miraculous gifts in the first century church.

Second, the specific word used here for “speak” did not only have reference to inspired speech such as speaking in tongues.

“Those who believe that Paul here addresses an abuse of spiritual gifts like tongues or prophecy appeal to Paul’s particular word for “speak” at this point, laleō. One writer points out that elsewhere in 1 Corinthians 14 this term usually refers to speaking in tongues.[ 49] But the meaning of laleō cannot be so limited; it sometimes refers to teaching or to preaching the gospel elsewhere in the same letter (2: 6–7, 13; 3: 1; 9: 8), to prophecy (12: 3; 14: 3, 29),[ 50] to revelations (prophecies? interpretations? 14: 6), to tongues (12: 30; 13: 1; 14: 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 13, 18, 21, 23, 27, 28, 39), to anything except tongues (14: 19), and to normal speech (13: 11). The term “speak” does occur with tongues more frequently than with prophecy in this chapter, but for the simple reason that, in contrast to “prophesying,” Paul had no single verb to express “speaking in tongues” without the word “speak.” We should note that Paul nowhere uses “speak” to mean “speak in tongues” without making it clear that he means “speak in tongues”—which he does not do in 14: 34–35. Nor can the older, classical meaning of the verb “speak” here be used to support the theory that Paul is addressing ecstatic or babbling speech; by this period, it was an ordinary word for speaking and so occurs for ordinary speech throughout the New Testament.” (Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage And Women’s Ministry In The Letters Of Paul, 1696-1704 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)

Whatever specific situation that Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, we can safely say that it does not have the meaning of his forbidding women to exercise their miraculous gifts in the assembly of the church.

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