Should Women be Silent in Church? (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

My three daughters are growing up in a country where women often reach the highest levels of leadership. In New Zealand we’ve had female heads of state and government and everything else besides. As a father, I am thrilled that my daughters will be able to do just about anything they put their mind to.

As long as they don’t aspire to preach, teach, or speak in church.

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:34-35)

This scripture, along with 1 Timothy 2:12 (which we will get to in the next article), has been used to muzzle women and deny the church of the gifts they bring. Is Paul really saying women should stay silent?

No way!

Forgive me for getting angry, but as a father and a husband, this idea that “women need to keep their mouths shut” boils my blood. I hope to make you angry too – righteously angry – so that you will speak up for those who have been silenced by religious traditions.

Why does Paul say women are not permitted to speak?

According to one tradition, women in church chatter like children and need to be hushed up. Um, yeah, that’s not offensive.

According to another tradition, the uneducated ladies of Corinth interrupted sermons with annoying questions. They lacked the common decency to remain silent when others were talking. In other words, they were dumb and rude, you know, as women tend to be.

Sheesh.

Aside from being offensive to women and slanderous to Paul, these common interpretations are totally unsupported. There is zero evidence that the Corinthian ladies were church chatterboxes.

“Paul is giving a commandment. ‘Women must remain silent.’ It’s in the Law.”

Ah yes, about that Law. Search the Old Testament and you will find no law forbidding women to speak. It’s simply not in the Bible. Even if there were such a rule – and there isn’t – wouldn’t you find it odd that that the apostle of grace was preaching law?

So what’s going on here?

There was no law but there was a rabbinical tradition among the Jews that forbade women from asking questions in the assemblies.

The Jewish religion of Paul’s day was sexist in the sense that women were not allowed to participate in religious ceremonies or enter the best bits of the temple. (Ever seen a map of the Jerusalem Temple and wondered about the Women’s Court? That was as far as they could go. It was like going to church and leaving your wife in the carpark.)

The ideal woman, according to first-century Judaism, was silent and out of sight. If she went into the synagogue, she sat in crummy seats and kept quiet while the men talked.

Religion sought to silence women, but Jesus and the apostles encouraged them to speak. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all, and those who spoke in tongues included both men and women. This shocked the Jewish onlookers, so Peter stood up and said:

This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and daughters will prophesy. (Acts 2:16-17)

Evidently the Holy Spirit didn’t get the memo about women staying silent in church.

Then Paul came along and said this:

Now to each one (male and female) the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy… (1 Cor 12:7, 14:39, NIV)

Paul was eager for all, male and female, to prophesy and speak in tongues. So why does he say that women are not permitted to speak? He doesn’t. He’s quoting a question raised by the Corinthians.

An epistle of Q&As

The second half of Paul’s letter contains his response to several Corinthian questions:

Now concerning the things about which you wrote (1 Cor 7:1)
Now concerning virgins… (1 Cor 7:25)
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols… (1 Cor 8:1)
Now concerning spiritual gifts… (1 Cor 12:1)
Now concerning the collection for the saints… (1 Cor 16:1)

The Corinthian church was young and naïve. They didn’t have a clue about how to do communion, and evidently they had bought into this misogynistic Jewish rule that said women must be silent in meetings. The Corinthians asked Paul what he thought about this issue. In his reply to their question, Paul repeats what they had heard – that women were not permitted to speak, just as the (Jewish) Law says – before giving them his response:

What? Came the word of God out from you? Or came it unto you only? (1 Cor 14:36, KJV)

In other words, “Are you guys nuts? By commanding women to be silent do you think you are speaking from the heart of the Father? Do you really think – and I’m shaking my head here – that you have heard from God?”

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. (1 Cor 14:37)

“If you think you’re so spiritual, stop heeding manmade traditions and listen to what I have to say about the matter.”

But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. (1 Cor 14:38, KJV)

“Let the ignorant yahoo who teaches this stupidity remain ignorant if he does not acknowledge that what I write is from the Lord.”

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Cor 14:39, NIV)

“I wish that you all – men and women – spoke in tongues, just as all did on the Day of Pentecost. Do not forbid it! And I wish even more that all – men and women – would prophesy” (1 Cor 14:5).

Read the whole letter and Paul’s message could not be clearer: every member of Christ’s body, whether male or female, young or old, is vital. Every part is needed. Of course, women can speak, prophesy, sing, shout, speak in tongues, and do whatever is proper and fitting in church. Indeed, we need them to because God has given every one of us gifts and talents.

“Strong words, Paul. But I’m not ready to overturn my precious traditions. If I gave the mike to my wife, there could be chaos.”

Then you need to repent and renew your mind because you are quenching the Spirit. You are missing out on the good things God wants to give to you through the fairer sex.

“I dunno Paul. You’re a lone blogger speaking against my denominational teaching. You’re going to stir up trouble with this modern message.”

This is no new revelation. It’s been around a while. It is even found in study bibles such as the 1991 Spirit-Filled Life Bible edited by Jack Hayford. Look it up. And then go look up all the influential women that Paul praised in his letters. Some were apostles, and some were pastors. Others were preachers who contended alongside with Paul for the gospel.

The first-century women who changed the world were many things. But what none of them were was silent.

___________

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54 Comments on Should Women be Silent in Church? (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)

  1. It’s just what the Bible says, it’s not that insecure men can’t handle being challenged by women. Haha! Truthfully, grace frees us from this type of thinking because it frees us from the condemnation of the law. Thanks Paul!

  2. Thank you for this wonderful presentation of truth, Paul Ellis!

  3. Great to hear this, Paul … all too often, women have been silenced in the church.
    What does the Bible say about women ‘teaching’ in church or ‘leading’ from the pulpit? Are they ‘permitted’ to teach ‘men’ in the church?

  4. Thank you for writing on women. I am not a feminist at all, nor do I believe that is correct, as it causes separation. I believe in what Paul stated when he said, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for your are all ONE in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28 Why did Paul write this if it were not true?? I don’t look at a male counterpart as a male, but as being equal with me in Christ on a Spiritual realm. I don’t look at our status (bond or free) or our color or background (Jew/Greek). If the cross made us all one in Christ Jesus…………and it did, our Lord desires unity……to live as one. The Apostle Paul was given a huge revelation of the finished work of the cross to give to us. Why do we fight it!! It is flesh!!!, not Spirit.

  5. Love your stuff in stepping into Reality!!! Keep up the good work!!

  6. Just a thought in relation to there being no law.
    In 1 Timothy 2 v 9-15 where Paul is raising the same issue, to give authority to his statements in verses 11 and 12 he does not use the law which the Jews were using to establish their own righteousness but the law which is ordained by God in the creation of mankind, For Adam was first formed then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

  7. Sam Griffith // October 18, 2017 at 3:14 am // Reply

    Honest question Paul, because I agree with your assessment based on what I’ve read in the New Testament, but I’m having a hard time with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. When I read it with the rest of the section, it seems to be a list of instructions to keep the worship gatherings orderly. Is it possible that this is a structural translation issue? Or do you think its a situation where Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to be “all things to all people” and avoid offending the Jews as he talks about elsewhere?

    I definitely agree that there is no evidence at all that the early church silenced women, I’m just trying to make sense of this particular section because it seems so out of place.

    • My interpretation of these two verses is in the article above. Paul is not giving them an instruction at all. He’s repeating a question put to him. At the beginning of verse 36 there is a word that is sometimes left untranslated, but the King James Bible has it as “What?” and the Amplified has it as “What!” So Paul repeats their ridiculous thinking – that women should stay silent – then says “What?!” His tone is that they are nuts for thinking like this. The context of the following verses makes it plain that he does not agree with this absurd teaching at all, but would rather than men and women spoke in church.

      • Sam Griffith // October 18, 2017 at 7:03 am //

        I did see you’re interpretation but I got stuck on the context. However, after looking at a few different translations I totally see what you were referring to. Looking at YLT actually helped a lot because it seems that several translations have difficulty in figuring out how to structure this section and a literal interpretation of the passage makes your interpretation of the context make a lot more sense.

  8. Matheus Almeida // October 18, 2017 at 3:29 am // Reply

    Wooow man.. This is wonderful!! And i have been judging Paul because these verses for years lol

    Portuguese King James Version says something different from the English. Its like: “As in all churches of the saints, let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” (1 Cor 14: 33b-34) It sounds like in all the churches they commanded women keep silence. But when i read the english version, the meaning changed at all.
    This post actually cleared my mind. I’m so happy!! 🙂

  9. Thank you Paul. Leave it to us men to twist things in such a way so that we can feel good about ourselves, when in fact, we should be ashamed. The desre of a teacher is to see the one he is teaching grow in faith and knowledge and to be able to demonstrate what they have learned through word and deed. The greatest teacher, the Holy Spirit, wants this for all His children, both men and women. Another myth bites the dust. Well done brother! I once read in one of your articles about wether it leads to ” life or death” and I am interested in hearing more if you have the time or inclination. Thank you!

  10. I’m from South Africa and what I don’t get is that we made a massive issue around racism here and in the rest of the world, but we’re unable to see that as christians we promote sexism in our churches. I was taught with glee, that there will be no female leaders in our church stream and it just sounded pathetic. God prepared good works in advance for us all to do. Does it mean that not one lady has ever been called to church leaderhship? The church, with this teaching, has abused women for ages and we need to repent for our behaviour towards the fairer sex. As a man who sat quietly for a long time while women were being left voiceless by incorrect teaching fueled by insecurity of leadership, I apologize to the ladies who have been wronged in this way. You are not Jezebel when you have an opinion. You are not ‘non-submissive’ because you spoke up. You are equal in value and we need you to be you. Being you glorifies Him.

  11. This is fascinating to me and resonates in my heart. Could you provide a source for this sentence -“There was no law but there was a rabbinical tradition among the Jews that forbade women from asking questions in the assemblies.” I have never been comfortable with the idea that this scripture was only dealing with the Corinthian church and its new believers, but resigned myself to just not understanding it. Thank you so much! Vivian Foster

    • I’m the source; I wrote that sentence. It’s easy to prove there was no law in the Bible forbidding women to speak, because there isn’t. The subject of sexism within Judaism is contentious. Out of curiosity I googled it and read the most baseless defenses of institutional sexism, like this: “I’m a woman, I don’t enjoy the same privileges men do in the assemblies, but that’s God’s way so it’s not sexist and I’m happy with that.” Look at the maps in the back of your Bible, study the Jerusalem Temple, and note the Women’s Court. That was as close as they got to the good stuff.

  12. Jim Kenderdine // October 18, 2017 at 6:56 am // Reply

    Excellent!

  13. This has always been my “reality” on that scripture. What about the women who don’t have a husband or has one who doesn’t attend, who does she ask for the answer after she leaves?? This scripture assumes all women have a husband that attends this church with them. I always wondered if one of the Judaizes slipped something in there when Paul wasn’t watching!! Just my funny thoughts!! I love the set free body of believers in the Gospel of Grace!!! Thanks Paul, I so appreciate the Reality….charge!!

  14. This is my favourite line: “Evidently the Holy Spirit didn’t get the memo about women staying silent in church.” A lot of church is conducted in ways that suggest the leaders didn’t get any memos from the Holy Spirit either.

  15. Praise God! I was reading to a friend just this Sunday last from this very chapter and got to those verses and was like, This gets taken out of context and is not God’s will—it’s not His will to silence His adopted daughters.

    But. To be transparent, I wasn’t able to explain why as thoroughly as you did in this article. So thank you for sharing. I’ll send her the link 🙂

  16. Rowan Durward // October 18, 2017 at 9:31 am // Reply

    Amen !! Paul 😊

  17. can you explain how adelphos in v.39 is translated “brothers and sisters”? strongs has it is a masculine noun meaning brother.

    And more explanation for why only the KJV translates v. 36 as “What?”

    I appreciate your teaching as I wrestle with this issue.

    • The KJV is not the only translation that has the word “what?” at the start of verse 36. Many other translations have it as well. The real question is why some translations don’t bother translating all of Paul’s words.

      If you enjoy studying the meaning of words, I encourage you to check out Vine’s Expository Dictionary. WE Vines has a nice discussion of the various meanings of the word brethren.

  18. Thank you for this great article, Paul! I have believed these things to be true in my heart for awhile now, even though I didn’t have any ‘solid’ proof against the usual teaching. I just couldn’t live with the bondage and contradiction it caused anymore, so decided to reject it and wait for an explanation to show up that came in line with what I have learned to be true of God and His Word. I recently devoured an older book regarding this topic which began my journey of understanding along these lines, and your articles have brought even more joy and confirmation, I can’t tell you. It’s really something to come out of the shame and heaviness of such false teaching about women after so many years!

    Btw, I enjoy all of your articles and books, and love your ministry!!

    Just curious, would you recommend the 1991 Spirit-Filled Life Bible edited by Jack Hayford in general, Paul? Or just for certain passages? I’ve never heard of it and am on the lookout for a good study Bible/ tool.

    • I don’t recommend any particular study Bible. They all have pros and cons. I just happened to have this one within reach when I was writing my article and was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the editors held a similar view.

  19. We all are teachers to some degree, from the least to the greatest.
    With that being said, I believe the man should indeed be the leader of the household, and wife should submit to him. And him treat her, with love and respect in return. But, outside of the household, we are all teachers in some degree.. to a lost world. Just my take. I have shifted positions on this subject over the months. We should all be open and willing to recieve correction on areas of study. Not one of us has everything right. Shalom!

  20. Honestly I think Johnny Tatum has a great study on this, in our earliest manuscripts these verses are not even there in 1 Cor, they were added.

    I have heard many interpretations on this matter but I think your’s and johnny’s are the best.
    I used to have a Jack Hayford study bible, it was my first bible as a believer. Good times, lol.

    I have heard from Joseph Prince that the reason Paul wrote that is because in that time men and women sat on opposite sides whether in homes or synagogues so if the wife wanted to ask the husband something she would have to yell across the room to speak with him.

    JP’s interpretation is kind of weak in my opinion.

    Most women now a days are all smarter than me, lol. So I have no problem with them helping me out or teaching me something. I do agree though especially in Romans 16 there are many women given many mentions. Phoebe who seemed to be a leader as well (16:1-2)Priscilla who risked her life for Paul, Mary and Junia (16:3-7), Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother and Paul’s (16:12-13), Julia and Nereus’s sister as well to name a few (16:15).

    • There are so many religious myths that get passed off as fact: (1) The Romans tore the Temple stones apart looking for gold in AD70. (2) The Corinthians sat apart from each other like religious Jews. People believe these stories because they hear them in church, but dig a little and you’ll find they’re totally unsubstantiated.

  21. While you know me and know I am for women in ministry, am for women holding any place a man can hold in ministry and leadership because in Christ there is no difference in women and men. I know there is no rule barring women from speaking, I am sorry to say I have to strongly disagree with this article. Only because my brother it seems your grasping for straws. You seem to have mistakenly used modern thinking to apply to an ancient society. A simple history lesson reveals education levels (which wasn’t much) and role in society of women at this time in mankind’s history. We strongly disagree with sexism and oppression of women, but we can’t erase history to make it more acceptable to our renewed and modern understanding. At this time in human history, women were 2nd class citizens. That is a fact regardless of our feelings and we can’t change it.
    I read a dozen translations of this passage and I can’t see one supporting your view. In context, Paul simply says women (wives) if you have questions ask your husband at home. In the flow of context, Paul is dealing with the order in a worship service. Suggesting the view that Paul’s instruction is merely about interrupting service with questions is a sexist viewpoint, when Paul clearly references asking questions is groundless. The Message Bible confirms my view.

    • *Trying to be as clear and concise as possible so as not to be misunderstood. At this time in human history, women were deprived of the same rights, standing in society, and education opportunities as men. Because this fact is uncomfortable we can’t alter our past to make it more pleasing to our modern sensibilities. If you put a group of people who were deprived of an education,( due to no fault of their own but the ignorance of those domineering over them), in a room and began teaching the Scriptures to them it is obvious they could interrupt because they wouldn’t have much understanding. How often when I first heard Grace, because I was deprived of a spiritual education, did I want to interrupt a Grace preacher and ask questions.
      I don’t accept your concept, that the view that Paul in 1 Cor 14 is merely saying don’t interrupt service and is not about a rule against women preachers, is an offensive sexist viewpoint when all of your Bible translations translate this difficult passage in this very manner.

      • Don’t you find it odd that Paul, who has spent chapters encouraging women to speak in tongues and prophesy in church, is now telling them to be silent? Don’t you find it odd that he offers no hope for the unmarried woman who desires to learn but has no husband to learn from? Don’t you find it odd that some English Bibles omit to translate his exclamation “What?!” at the end of this controversial passage? Doesn’t the Bible say something about those who leave words out?

        Our “modern sensibilities” have caused us to dismiss the apostle as sexist or the Corinthian women as rude and ourselves as enlightened, but these interpretations are inconsistent with what Paul wrote.

      • I can’t respond to your comment. But Let me say I read the notes in the Jack Hayford study Bible you reference. It mentioned your take but stated the issue being addressed is about disruption. The scholar states that is the best interpretation. Are the scholars sexist too? My friend your ignoring my context and context of what Paul said. In the context of disruption he told them to be silent. He wasn’t making some arbitrary rule that they should never speak or teach or flow in the Gifts. It’s not calling them rude or accusing them of anything. You seem to dismiss manners and customs of the time. Often the males and female were completely separated during gatherings. The entire Corinthian church were carnal and none of them were mannerly hence the need for correction in chapter 12-14. I still don’t see how stating the obvious issue somehow bleeds out into a All or nothing debate. I can encourage you to flow in the Gifts and also tell you to be quiet if your being disruptive. Two distinct situations. They don’t contradict each other.

      • Except Paul is not telling disruptive women to be silent; that’s not what the text says. Scholars like to water down his words and frame the issue as “disruptive women,” but that’s an inference. Corinthian women shouting in church? Again there’s zero mention of this happening. It’s another inference. Women sitting separately from men? In a Jewish assembly, sure, but this was a Gentile church. Why would the carnal Corinthians act like religious Jews?

        These speculations about disruptive women shouting across the aisle make no sense. Just because some guy with a PhD said so doesn’t make it so. But the definitive blow to these outlandish speculations is Paul’s mention of the law. The fact is there is no law in scripture that that says women must remain silent. So if Paul was preaching law – and he wasn’t – it was an unbiblical one.

        See the contradiction? If Paul was quoting an extrabiblical law, then he was no expert in the law and we shouldn’t trust him. But if Paul was an expert in the law, and he was, then we should not heed this law.

        The context seems plain enough. Paul has spent the second half of his letter responding to the Corinthian’s questions and he’s doing that here. He is not quoting some law that’s not in the Bible; he’s quoting them. The Corinthians, like many people today, thought it was a law that women should remain silent in church and not ask questions. Paul’s snorting response, which begins in verse 37, makes it plain what he thinks of this nonexistent law.

      • John W Reed // October 20, 2017 at 3:18 pm //

        My friend and brother. We agree on so much. You must admit that. We obviously both agree on the main point. That Christian women aren’t 2nd class citizens of Heaven. That they are gifted, anointed, stirred up by the Spirit, just like their male counterparts. In Christ, we are all one. We may disagree with this interpretation but we still end up with the same conclusion. Let peace reign.

  22. Colleen Gleason // October 19, 2017 at 2:24 am // Reply

    One of the Greek resources I looked at for this silent didn’t really mean quiet or shut up. It just meant non-argumentative and peaceable. So much more gospel and grace friendly than “Shh! Be quiet.”

  23. Jeffrey Simon // October 19, 2017 at 2:35 am // Reply

    Great article, Paul. Classical Greek Scholar, Dr. Ann Nyland, in “The Source New Testament discusses how 1 Corinthians 14:36 has been terribly mistranslated and that two instances of the disjunctive particle have been deleted. Her translation reads “Utter rubbish! Did the Word of God come originally from you! Utter rubbish! Were you the only ones that it reached!” Oh what we lose when we silence half of the body of Christ.

  24. Paul- I’m not digging that photo you have of the gal with her mouth covered by the guy’s hand….seems a little assaultish if you know what I’m saying. Maybe considering lightening it up a bit?

  25. Barbara LaMaina // October 19, 2017 at 10:24 am // Reply

    Thank you, Paul. I agree with your interpretation of the scriptures regarding women in ministry, but I didn’t always.
    Fortunately our pastor agrees with you and it has freed me. If anyone in Lakewood Ranch, Florida is looking for a Grace Church, check us out on line – Grace Community Church. We have an amazing pastor and are a fast growing church. You can listen to the sermons on line.

  26. Did my comment get deleted?

  27. By the way the (WEB) version of this verse is great…

    1 Corinthians 14:34-36World English Bible (WEB)

    34 let your wives keep silent in the assemblies, for it has not been permitted for them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as the law also says.
    35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly.
    36 What? Was it from you that the word of God went out? Or did it come to you alone?

  28. My Gooooodddd! Paul, I am sending this to everybody I know! Every pastor, man, woman! My mom, dad!!! I was just asking God about this, literally, just yesterday, maybe the day before. With all the other Scriptures (i.e., “no male/female,” etc) and just the sense of offense, I just did not believe it the way it came across. Most in my circle believe the “traditional get-around,” but it was weak, as one poster puts it – to say the least! Even Pastor Prince doesn’t have this revelation yet! Because of this, he soon will. I have read dozens of articles on this and not one connected verse 36, “the What? verse” to verses 34 and 35. After reading your article, I looked up in a great commentary, my favorite of the 1700’s, Gills Bible Exposition, and surprisingly, he has the correct interpretation. It’s pretty amazing, he says Paul answered in this sense,

    “What? came the word of God out from you?…. That you must give laws to other churches, and introduce new
    customs and practices never known or used before?” And went on to say, “…churches [that came before
    them, like the church of Judea and others] from whence the word of God came…, disallowed of any such
    practice.”

    Your post immediately reversed 28 years of erroneous, unsatisfying, and sloppy exposition. GOD BLESS YOU FOR DOING YOUR RESEARCH AND POSTING THIS. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! AWESOMENESS!!! AND FREEEEDDDDOOOMMM AT LAST! Wait ’til I tell Theresa about this!

  29. Thanks so much for this, Paul. Wow. It all just snapped into place and years of anxiety and oppression have lifted.
    I never realized apostle Paul was re-quoting their question/statement and then negating it with an outraged “What?!” It is very healing to me to see how vehemently he attacked this damaging philosophy.
    I have wondered about this passage for years as it seems to contradict so much of the gospel truth the apostle Paul conveys everywhere else. Years of misrepresentation of this passage has kept me silenced. I remember working at a Christian organization and at staff bible studies the other women would glare at me if I spoke up when the Pastor asked for group discussion. Evidently only the males were expected to speak. Everyone was indoctrinated into this but I kept feeling the Holy Spirit prompting me that it was not from Him.
    I’m so glad you explained this so well.

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