Other Possibilities

But let us assume for a moment that the words in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 are Paul’s original words, and that he is instructing women to keep silent. How then should we interpret what he says?

Again, we would have to wonder why Paul was making a blanket command for women to keep completely quiet in church gatherings when he said in the same letter that they can pray and prophesy in church gatherings.

Moreover, surely Paul was aware of the many biblical instances we’ve already considered of God using women to speak His word publicly, even to men. Why would he completely silence those whom God has often anointed to speak?

Surely common sense dictates that Paul could not have meant for women to be completely silent whenever the church gathered. Keep in mind that the early church gathered in homes and shared common meals. Are we to think that the women said absolutely nothing from the time they entered the house to the time they left? That they didn’t speak while they prepared or ate the common meal? That they said nothing to their children the entire time? Such a thought seems absurd.

If where ‘two or three are gathered” in Jesus’ name He is among them (see Matt. 18:20), thus certainly constituting a church gathering, when two women come together in Jesus’ name, must they not speak to one another?

No, if 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is indeed Paul’s instruction, he was simply addressing a small problem of order in the churches. Some women were out of order in some way in regard to asking questions. Paul did not mean for women to be completely silent for the entire meeting any more than he, when giving similar instructions a few verses earlier to prophets, intended for them to remain silent for the entire meeting:

But if a revelation is made to another [prophet] who is seated, let the first keep silent (1 Cor. 14:30; emphasis added).

In this case, the words ‘keep silent” mean ‘temporarily refrain from speaking.”

Paul also instructed those who spoke in tongues to remain silent if there was no interpreter in the gathering:

But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God (1 Cor. 14:28; emphasis added).

Was Paul instructing such people to be completely silent during the entire meeting? No, he was only telling them to be silent in respect to their speaking in tongues when there was no interpreter. Note that Paul told them to ‘keep silent in the church,” the same instruction he gave to women in 1 Cor. 14:34-35. So why should we interpret Paul’s words to women to keep silent in the church to mean ‘keep silent for the entire meeting,” and then interpret his words to out-of-order tongue-talkers to mean ‘refrain from speaking during specific moments in the meeting”?

Finally, note that Paul was not addressing all women in the passage under consideration. His words have application only to married women, because they are instructed to ‘ask their own husbands at home” if they have questions.[1] Perhaps part or all of the problem was that married women were asking questions of other men besides their own husbands. Such a scenario could certainly be considered inappropriate, and could reveal some degree of disrespect and lack of submission to their own husbands. If that was the problem Paul was addressing, that could be why he bases his argument on the fact that women should be submissive (obviously to their husbands), as the Law revealed in many ways from the earliest pages of Genesis (see 1 Cor. 14:34).

In summary, if Paul is indeed giving instruction regarding women keeping silent in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, he is only telling married women to keep quiet in regard to asking questions at inappropriate times or in a way that was disrespectful to their husbands. Otherwise, they may prophesy, pray and speak.

[1] It should be noted that, in the original Greek, there were no different words for women and wife, or man and husband. Thus we must determine from context if the writer is speaking of men and women, or husbands and wives. In the passage under consideration, Paul is speaking to wives, as only they could ask their husbands anything at home.