Women in the Assembly
Introduction: Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "Let your women keep silent in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak " (I Cor. 14: 34). There is no small amount of confusion associated with Paul's command. An understanding of the verse is especially essential in view of the various extremes that are being introduced into the Lord's church today relative to women and their role in the church. I Corinthians 14: 34 has often become the "proof text" for those opposing women waiting on the Lord's table, singing solos, and serving as elders and preachers. The question is, what is Paul really teaching in "Let your women keep silent in the churches" and what is the scope of the instruction?
1. A closer look at I Corinthians 14: 34.
A. The use of "churches." By Paul employing the plural, it is evident that the intended application involved more than just the church at Corinth.
B. Use of "church." In the immediate context, it appears "church" is used in two senses: The local church (vs. 5, 12, see I Cor. 1: 2) and the local church assembled or the assembly (vs. 16, 19, 23, 26, 28).
C. It is apparent that the inspired apostle is focusing on a certain group at Corinth, "your" women" (more later). These women are told to be silent, which literally means "to hold one's peace" or not make a sound (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, pg. 574, on sigao).
II. A closer look at the context.
A. Verse thirty-four is preceded and followed by warnings concerning disorder in the assembly (vs. 33, 40).
B. Paul has instructed the Corinthians how they were to exercise the service in turn or "one by one" (vs. 26-31). He explained that the prophets were to have self-control (vs. 32).
C. The women of verse thirty-four were not women in general, they were married women (vs. 35).
D. Certain women with regulation were obviously speaking in the assembly (prophetesses, 11: 3-16). Hence, it was not a "shame for women to speak in the church" in general (vs. 35). The women of verse 34 appear to have been the prophets' wives who were asking questions of their husbands in the assembly in such a way as to cause confusion; hence, they were to ask their husbands "at home" (vs. 35).
III. Women have certain restrictions placed on them regarding the "leadership" of the local church.
A. For instance, women are not to be preachers or elders (I Tim. 2: 12-15; 3: 1-7).
B. However, the women of I Corinthians 14: 34 appear to be a specific group of women in a specific set of circumstances. These women were not to emit a sound in contrast to what they were doing.
C. To understand "these women" as being women in general creates problems with Paul's teaching in chapter 11 regarding the prophetesses and commands such as the command to sing in the assembly (Col. 3: 16).
Conclusion: Paul's instructions to the church at Corinth were both universal and "local." Women (as well as men) are not ever allowed to create confusion (vs. 33, 40). The specific Corinthian women were to remain speechless rather than cause confusion. The specificity of the command pertains to these married women who had husbands from whom they could obtain answers rather than ask in the assembly.