Are women supposed to be permanently silent in the church gathering?


Catherine Booth

(Courtesy Zion Christian Ministry)

By Spencer D Gear

This is one way to get a discussion going on the Internet:

cubed-redmatte  Take one:

If women are to be silent…why are they allowed in the choir???

1 Corinthians 14:34
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.
So why are women allowed to be children’s ministers, music directors, even deacons, but Paul says they must be silent?

To those who say that a woman cannot be a pastor, but allow your women church-goers to hold roles in the church that go against the very verse you use to claim they cannot hold leadership positions in a church I must ask: Dont (sic) you find this to be the very definition of hypocrisy?[1]

A response to this was, ‘There are some problematic verses for staunch advocates of exclusively male roles for church. The verse had a local meaning only referring to some inappropriate behaviour by some women at Corinth, probably interrupting orderly conduct during the house church gatherings’.[2]

My comeback was:[3]

Just as important as your issue seems to be, if women are to remain silent in the church (1 Cor 14:34), how is it that we have this teaching from Acts 2:16-18 on the day of Pentecost?

16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants[
a] and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy (ESV).

Do we have a contradiction between Acts 2:16-18 and 1 Cor 14:34 OR, as I believe, was Paul addressing a particular error in the Corinthian church where the women needed to remain ‘quiet’ because of the disorder they may have been causing? This seems to be inferred from 1 Cor 14:40 (which follows 14:34):

So, dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. But be sure that everything is done properly and in order (1 Cor 14:39-40 NLT).

Could it be that the silence of women in 1 Corinthians 14 is not a contradiction (as it seems on the surface) with Acts 2, but that 1 Cor 14:34 is meant to deal with a situation specific to the Corinthian church and was not meant to close down women in ministry for all of the NT era?

Could it be that the alleged silence of all women in ministry since the first century has been a wrong interpretation? Otherwise, we have a substantive contradiction between Acts 2:16-18 and 1 Cor 14:34?

Another’s rejoinder was, ‘There is no contradiction…. Prophesying is different from making a sermon from the pulpit’.[4] My response was, ‘I can see nothing in 1 Cor 14 that even remotely sounds like ‘making a sermon from the pulpit’. Could that be your imposition on the text?’[5] Another responded to the idea that ‘prophesying is different from making a sermon from the pulpit’:

A bit of history might me useful here. The Pulpit was used in the Christian church as early as A.D. 250. It came from the Greek ambo, which was a pulpit used by both Greeks and Jews for delivering monologues. The Centrality of the Pulpit in the Order of Worship was introduced by Martin Luther in 1523.

In contrast the NT Christians met in homes around a meal. It was highly participatory as were the gatherings themselves. Contrary to all social norms, slaves ate with the (sic) rest of the group including the host, not separately and women were included, again contrary to custom. In that setting it is preposterous to suggest some formal hierarchy of genders being taught, rather than some corrections to inappropriate behaviour by some women experiencing a new liberty for the first time. We must never impose 21st Century church structures onto the NT records. The former have an historical process behind them which is not always true to sound biblical exegesis.[6]

To this historical information, another tried to give some spin:

This is so misunderstood. In the early church the women and children sat on one side and the men on the other – the women chatted and tended to the children and they were told to remain silent.

There are many women pastors called and anointed. There will be many women who have not fulfilled their calling because of the misunderstanding of this scripture.[7]

This earned the reply:

That was true of the synagogue but not of Christian gatherings which were communal, participatory and informal by today’s standards.

Here is a quote from a great Christian and scholar. Mark Strom.

Paul fought against the influence of abstraction, idealism and elitism upon his ekklesiai Ultimately, Paul lost. Only a generation or two after the apostle, the abstract categories of theology had become the model for discussing his God and message. Ideals of Graeco-Roman morality like serenity, moderation and courage shaped the ways believers read and applied Paul’s instructions on the life of faith. Church conventions of leadership and authority adapted and reinforced the common marks of rank and status. Similar conventions of abstraction, idealism and elitism have continued to shape Christian thought and practice almost without exception and across all traditions to the present day. Evangelicalism is no exception.”

Paul’s gatherings focused on integrating allegiance to Jesus Christ with everyday concerns. The people met to equip one another for the decisions and options they would face outside the gathering. The gathering did not convene for religious worship. They did not gather for a rite. Nor do the sources suggest a meeting structured around the reading and exposition of Scripture following the model of the synagogue. They met to fellowship around their common relationship to one another on account of Christ. Most evangelicals agree that a rite is not central to church; most argue that preaching is central. But rite and preaching share common ground. Both are clergy-cantered. Perhaps the reason so many theologians and clergy resist any shift away from the centrality of the sermon lies not only in the fear of subjectivism or heresy, but also in the fear of losing control and prestige.

Professionalism, even elitism, marks the sermon and the service and distinguishes clergy from congregation. Paul faced something similar at Corinth. The strong had transferred to themselves certain social and religious marks of rank and status-education, eloquence, a leader’s style, even clothing. They had also come to regard the fruits of Christ’s work-the Spirit and the evidences of his presence-as further marks of status, even “spiritual” status. Paul would not tolerate this creation of new rank within the assembly. He urged the Corinthians to see what they had as gifts of grace. They must honour the least honourable. This was not conventional; it was not moral. This was not theology; it was not about words. This was the meaning of grace.

Little in modern Christian experience matches this. Academic, congregational and denominational life functions along clear lines of rank, status and honour. We preach that the gospel has ended elitism, but we rarely allow the implications to go beyond ideas. Paul, however, actually stepped down in the world. His inversions of status were social realities, not intellectualized reforms.

Dying and rising with Christ meant status reversal. In Paul’s case, he deliberately stepped down in the world. We must not romanticize this choice. He felt the shame of it among his peers and potential patrons yet held it as the mark of his sincerity. Moreover, it played a crucial role in the interplay of his life and thought. Tentmaking was critical, even central, to his life and message. His labour and minis[bless and do not curse] try were mutually explanatory. Yet for most of us, “tent making” belongs in the realms of missionary journals and far-flung shores. As a model for ministry in the United States, Britain or Australia, it remains as unseemly to most of us as it did to the Corinthians. At best it is second best.

Evangelicalism will not shake its abstraction, idealism and elitism until theologians and clergy are prepared to step down in their worlds. Some might argue that since the world often shows contempt for the pastoral role, then professional ministry is itself a step back. But that is to ignore the more pertinent set of social realities: evangelicalism has its own ranks, careers, financial security, marks of prestige and rewards. Within that world, professional ministry is rank and status.

Paul’s conversations were rich in stories. These stories characterized the gathering. The believers came together around Christ and his story. They also came with their own stories. They came to (re)connect their stories to his and to each others’ stories. That was the gathering. They taught, prophesied, shared, ate, sang and prayed their stories-their lives-together around Christ. The Spirit made the conversation possible. All the people shared the Spirit through whom they met God and one another face to face. They urged one another in conversation to grow into the full measure of their freedom and dignity.

This touches on themes that have appeared in this thread, generally supporting a limited role for women. Much needs reappraising as the issue of women is in fact a subset of some far wider issues.[8]

Image result for photo Anne Graham Lotz public domain

Anne Graham Lotz (courtesy National Day of Prayer)

This is an important issue for us to consider since so many gifted women in ministry have been closed down by well meaning men and women. Even Billy Graham acknowledges that his daughter Ann Graham Lotz is the best preacher in the family. How could that be when Anne, some say, is supposed to be silent in the church?

Mentioning Anne Lotz got a couple of them going. One response was: ‘Ann is a teacher not a overseer. Her husband is a deacon. Female deacons are allowed in the SBC and were found often from 33AD to the 300’A.D’.[9] My response was: ‘That’s not the issue being raised. The issue is women who are to be silent. When Anne is a teacher, she is not silent. It is HERE on Anne Graham Lotz’s homepage that there is the quote of Anne being the best preacher in the Graham family’.[10] Another response to me was: ‘We accept women as missionaries who preach, teach and in some cases have established churches. Since ‘missionary’ is the Latin word for the Greek word ‘apostle’ such women are therefore performing in apostolic roles from a NT perspective’.[11]

In response to Johnz on a related topic, I wrote:[12] I also have Gordon Fee’s book on the Holy Spirit in Paul’s letters, called God’s Empowering Presence. I must admit that I’ve only read chunks of it. I find his commentary on 1 Corinthians in the New International Commentary series to be a breath of fresh exegetical air in this debate.

However, I have also heard some fairly trite ‘messages’ delivered in churches as manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit over the years, but this is easily dealt with according to 1 Cor 14:29, ‘Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said‘ (ESV, emphasis added).

Too little of this kind of ‘weighing’ goes on in my part of the world.

It seems to me that ‘weighing’ is needed for all of these supernatural vocal gifts, whether prophecy, tongues and interpretation, a word of knowledge, a word of wisdom.

Does this kind of ‘weighing’ the content of the message happen in the groups to which you belong/have belonged? On the practical level, how does it happen in your groups? My experience is that it is rare in the groups and churches I have attended.

One fellow got rather pointed in his reply to another person and me: ‘How many of the 12 were women? How many leaders of the early church were women? This does not make women inferior. But God created men and women to have specific roles’.[13] My reply was:

Arguing from silence is not a good way of producing evidence. How many of the 12 were married? Is that an argument against married men in ministry?

bronze-arrow-small C E Cerling Jr has a helpful article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, ‘Women ministers in the New Testament church?‘ that seems to contradict the view that you are here promoting.
bronze-arrow-small Australia’s New Life newspaper has an article online that provides NT material that differs from what you are saying: ‘New Testament Women Church Leaders‘.
bronze-arrow-smallSee also, ‘What the Bible Says about Women in Ministry‘, by Betty Miller.

I’ll stick with what the Scriptures teach and it does not close down women in ministry, as far as I can read. But this I know: Hermeneutics by some men and women has closed down many God-gifted women in ministry.[14]

Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of the evangelist, Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth, wrote this article, ‘Jesus Calls Women to Serve and Lead‘. In it she states what happened to her when she addressed a group containing men. She wrote:

What legitimate, Biblical role do women have within the church? That question demanded an answer early in my ministry when I accepted an invitation to address a large convention of pastors.

When I stood in the lectern at the convention center, many of the 800 church leaders present turned their chairs around and put their backs to me. When I concluded my message, I was shaking. I was hurt and surprised that godly men would find what I was doing so offensive that they would stage such a demonstration, especially when I was an invited guest. And I was confused. Had I stepped out of the Biblical role for a woman? While all agree that women are free to help in the kitchen, or in the nursery, or in a secretary’s chair, is it unacceptable for a woman to take a leadership or teaching position?

When I went home, I told the Lord that I had never had a problem with women serving in any capacity within the church. I knew that the New Testament declared that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28) And God emphatically promised, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… (Acts 2:17) But the problem the pastors obviously had was now my problem. And so I humbly asked God to either convict me of wrongdoing or to confirm His call in my life. The story of Mary Magdalene came to mind, so I turned to John 20.

At the beginning of John 20, Peter and John had been to the empty tomb, then returned to Jerusalem. With the sound of their footsteps fading in the distance, Mary Magdalene returned and encountered the risen Christ. Then I read His command to her, “Go…to my brothers and tell them…” Jesus was commanding Mary to go to Jerusalem and tell eleven men what she had seen and heard. Mary obeyed and ran back to Jerusalem to deliver the glorious news, I have seen the Lord! With great joy and relief, I concluded that Jesus Himself did not have a problem with women in ministry.

Mary Magdalene was actually the very first evangelist! Since Jesus had obviously been present when Peter and John were there, why did He withhold Himself from them, but reveal Himself to Mary? He could so easily have given the task of announcing His resurrection to Peter and John, but instead He had given it to Mary. I believe He was making an undeniable, obvious statement that reverberates through the centuries, right up until our own day. Women are commanded and commissioned to serve Jesus Christ in whatever capacity He calls them, within or without the organized church, in word or in deed.

That these men could be so rude to an invited female guest, beggars my imagination.

A fellow responded to me:

Your (sic) overlooking a very simple fact. Paul’s prohibition was in a leadership role over men and their headship. God is a God of order…it is throughout the Bible…think of Jerico (sic), did God need them to march in the formation he designated to collapse Jericho’s walls, of course not. God clearly wanted the task performed to HIS COMMAND.

Gods command to us with respect to God, man, women is clearly defined as man was made for God, woman was made for man. Its really that simple from a humanperspective (sic). From a God perspective, its very complex. God alone understands his edicts and reasons, he is the potter we are the pot. Can the pot say to the potter why did you make me this way? Of coursenot (sic), the potter has complete license to make whatever he wants for his desired purpose…whether its to set up high on display for adoration, or whether it is to be set lower, or even destroyed…ALL is up to the POTTER’s desire, and none is of the POT’s desire.

As for women receiving gifts, of course they do, as you mentioned they can be deaconesses, lead children, sing in choirs, even take on certain leadership positions that dont (sic) involve men. Dont (sic) forget older women are critical to teaching the younger women.

So no there is no contradiction in the bible, the error was actually in the reader, who did not know, from the scriptures all I have stated here is plainly stated in the texts. That’s (sic) what sanctification is all about for the believer…conversely,…..

Its (sic) ALL foolishness to the unsaved. Which are you? clip_image001[1][15]

The original poster called the respondents back to the topic of the original post: ‘Please answer the question in the thread title. If you’re going to generically apply said verse to all of creation, then why do you permit them to speak in church?’[16]

A reply was:

I answered that particular question: What Paul meant was that women were not to be discipled under men and vice versa. It has nothing to do with being physically silent, but has to do with administering inherent doctrinal and disciplinary authority.

The only two roles I see that have inherent doctrinal and disciplinary authority are apostle and elder. I can argue that women could hold neither of those positions in the early church, but I’d agree that all the others could be held by women as long as they did not confer inherent doctrinal and disciplinary authority over men.

By “inherent” authority, I mean authority in the position that is not delegated. For instance, Phebe (sic) — carrying Paul’s most significant theological work to the Romans–was almost certainly the head of the delegation sent from Corinth by Paul and she was likely the only woman in charge of a number of men, but her authority was delegated from Paul, like that of a military sergeant is delegated from the commanding officer.

There isn’t any indication that the role of “deacon” held inherent authority, but it certainly had authority delegated from the elders.

This is not even the same thing as the general term of “leadership,” which does not take an office to exercise.[17]

cubed-redmatteTake two:

‘A woman prophesying or being a servant of God does not make them pastors. Women being deaconesses or teachers does not make them pastors’.[18]

This view was rightly challenged:

I agree. But then the modern pastor has no biblical counterpart from which women can be excluded.
In the NT pastor is just one of the gifted ministries. Since women in NT times were active in the other ministries we cannot now exclude women from a pastoral role when that simply did not exist as we have it today. I cannot recall any named person entitled ‘pastor’ in the NT. It is used only once in Eph 4:11, in the plural. Otherwise the Greek word (shepherd) is applied only to Jesus as any kind of title in the NT.

The NT always talks about elders – plural – in local congregations. Thus a woman can be part of a leadership team and express her ministry gifting as God intends. The one-man-in-charge is just a scaled down pope – a “pope one very parish’ as one church leader once stated.
Also, the NT Christians weren’t into titles as we are today. Some women obviously had leading roles in the NT church. But you will not find one man designated ‘pastor’ in the NT.

‘Take two’ (my designation) made a reply to another:’1Tim. 3: 8-13, John 12:26 “him”, Titus 1: 6-9 and any place where you find the title “Overseer”, “Elder” or “Deacon” it is referring to the position we call “Pastor” today and is referring to men in those positions. There were no female “Overseers”, “Elders” or “Deacons”’.[20]

My answer to this fellow was: ‘Your issue is not just with women as pastors, but with women in any prominent ministry as leaders. Why would you be raising the issue of how many were in the 12 if you were not against women in these kinds of roles? Where in the Scriptures does it state: Women, thou shalt not be pastors? Where?’[21] Then I added, ‘Please direct me to NT passages where pastor = elder, overseer or deacon in meaning’.[22] And again: ‘You do err in making this kind of statement in the last sentence because Romans 16:1 is pointedly clear. A female named Phoebe was a diakonos, a deacon, in the Roman church’.[23] Another replied for him, ‘He wont be able to. Foot in mouth disease is rampant’.[24]

His replies failed to hit the mark: ‘Deacons and deaconesses do not fulfill the same rolls’[25] and ‘grab a Bible dictionary or concordance’.[26] Another jumped in for me, ‘Eph 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, NIV The only time pastor occurs in the NT’.[27] This person also explained re deacons and deaconesses: ‘Only due to church history, not adherence to the Scriptures. There was a similar situation with Song of Songs. The church fathers did not believe Holy Writ would contain anything so blatantly sexual. Thus, it must be an allegory. Today, that approach is commonly rejected. Preconceptions governed exegesis’.[28] My reply was, ‘That’s your 21st century speaking. They both come from the same Greek word, diakonos. Now try to prove to me that diakonos doesn’t mean diakonos when she is a female. God didn’t make me a lemming!clip_image002[29] His reply was, ‘So? They don’t fulfill the same functions today’.[30] Another chimed in, ‘The question for us is not whether they fulfill the same functions today, but whether they fulfilled the same functions in the Apostolic Churches’.[31]

Still another: ‘We may do, but that is simply ignoring biblical categories, For anyone who takes the Scriptures seriously that is not on in my view. And, even it that is true they were a operated as plurality in the NT church, not as a single unit. I am bemused that those who see that NT, taken literally, forbids women in leadership, yet are less than literal with other verses, as you seem to be above’.[32]

cubed-redmatteTake three:

‘What they called deacons and overseers in Biblical days we call pastors today’.[33] My response was, ‘Who said? Please provide exegesis to demonstrate such’.[34]

cubed-redmatteTake four:

Mary Jo Sharp (courtesy The Gospel Coalition)


Discuss women in ministry on a Christian forum online and the anti-women-in-public-ministry brigades are not long to raise their voices. Here are a few samples:

Overseers=Men only
Deacons= Both Men and Women
Elders=Generally Men since they were the community leaders at the time with some exceptions (Lydia)

My reply was:[36]

I can’t be as confident of this kind of teaching coming from Scripture as you are. Dr Robert Morey has written a thought-provoking article titled,Women Elders in the Early Church‘. In it he states,

these women functioned in a truly presbyterial (sic) capacity. They had charge not only of the other widows but of all the women in the church. They were not “exercising authority over men” (1 Tim. 2:12). They were discipling the women (Tit. 2:4).

In Titus 2:3–5, Paul tells Titus to teach the presbutidas (i.e., women elders) to teach the younger women. That he was not simply saying that old age was all that was necessary is clear from the fact that these women teachers had to meet spiritual qualification (v. 3). The subjects in which they were to instruct the other women required spiritual maturity (vs. 4–5). Thus while these women were “older” in age, it is their being spiritually mature that is in view.

This is why Paul says that these women must be hieroprespestata (v. 3). This word means according to Vincent,

“… becoming those who are engaged in sacred service. The meaning is the more striking if, as there is reason to believe, the presbutidas represented a quasi-official position in the church” (Word Studies in the New Testament, IV, p. 341).

As Moulton and Milligan point out:

“It is sometimes thought that the presbutidas of Titus 2:3 … are the members of a priestly or organized class in view of the hierprepes which follows” (p. 533).

Given the distinction between the sexes in the first century, that there arose a need for women elders to counsel and instruct the women in the congregation is no surprise. While Paul tells Titus to teach by verbal instruction (Greek: lalew), the women elders are to disciple the younger women personally. It would not have been appropriate for Titus to do so.

The women elders were under the authority of the male elders who had oversight over the entire congregation. Just as the deaconic came to include women who could minister to the women in those physical areas where the male deacons could not, the presbytery or eldership came to include women who could minister to other women in spiritual and domestic areas where the male elders could not.

These women elders instructed new female converts and even baptized them (see Lange’s Commentary, Vol. II, p. 59 on 1 Tim. 5:9).

The following comments from various scholars are given to establish the fact that the existence of women elders in the Early Church has been noted for many years and is not something recently “invented” by feminist scholars.

We then conclude that these “widows” were a distinct and most honorable order, whose duties, presbyteral rather than deaconic, apparently consisted in the exercise of superintendence over and in the ministry of counsel and consolation to, the younger women (Ellicott’s Commentary, VIII, p. 203).

Such widows, called presbyteresses, seem to have the same relation toward their sex as the presbyters toward the men (Lange’s Commentary, Vol. II, p. 58).

They supervised the female members in much the same way as the elders were responsible for the men (Scott, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 57).

They corresponded in office for their own sex in some measure to the presbyters, sat unveiled in the assemblies in a separate place, by the Presbyters and had a kind of supervision over their own sex (Alford, The Greek Testament, Vol. III, p. 347).

“An order of widows is referred to whose duties apparently consisted in the exercise of superintendence over … the younger women, whose office in fact was, so to say, presbyteral rather than deaconic. The external evidence for the existence … of such a body, even in earliest times, is so fully satisfactory and so completely in harmony with the internal evidence supplied by 1 Tim. 5:10, e.g., that on the whole we should adopt this view. That the widows here were church officials, who to command respect, must have been foremost in the performance of the duties for which women are looked up to.” (Sadler, Colossians, Thessalonians and Timothy, pp. 236–237)

Fourth, the documents of the Early Church clearly speak of an order of women elders or disciplers who had a ministry in the church and even a special seat of honor in the congregation.

“The Fathers … to the fourth (century), recognized a class known as presbyteresses ‘aged women’ (Tit. 2:3), who had oversight of the female members and a separate seat in the congregation” (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 257).

Stahlin in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. IX, p. 464f, points out that it is clear that in the Early Church there existed an order of women who ministered on a spiritual level to the other women. It is impossible to reduce their ministry to that of the deaconic.

In Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrneans (XIII, 1), he mentions “the virgins who are called widows.” While Lightfoot’s contention that the order of widows was not primarily made up of unmarried virgins is well taken, yet, it is still clear that some unmarried women were allowed to join the order if they met the spiritual qualifications.

Just as it was no longer thought necessary for men to be married and to be the father of children to be qualified to be an elder, even so it developed that spiritually mature unmarried women could join the female presbytery.

When Polycarp wrote his Letter to the Philippians, he stated the qualifications for becoming a “widow,” i.e., woman elder (IV), as well as those for deacons, deaconesses (V) and male elders (VI). The context is clearly dealing with church offices.

Other references to this order have been found in Hermas Vis. II.4; Clem. Hom. XI. 30; Tert. de Pudis 13; Apost. Constitutions VI, 17, 4; Test. Domini. 1.23 and among the heathen, Lucian De Mort. Perezr. 12.

It was not until the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 344) that the order of women elders was officially abolished.

“The appointment of the so-called female elders of presidents shall not henceforth take place in the church” (literal translation of Canon II).

The Canon reveals that certain women were “elders” or “presidents” in the church up to that time. This is the same council that forbade the “laity” from observing the love feast (Canon 28) and in forbidding “lay” intrusions into “clergy” business. It was a council which did much to strengthen the grip of priestcraft on the church and to overturn the last elements of the priesthood of the believer which still survived from Apostolic times.

Could it be that the close down of some women in ministries of leadership has more to do with our contemporary views than what is written in the NT text?

Another responded to Robert Morey’s comments:

I would agree with Morey about the specifics of the gender division. I’m not as sure as he that gender division would have required female elders–unless that role was limited to governing women only.

But really, the idea that women were required to be physically silent is preposterous in context of all Paul and Luke have to say about the role of women in their own work.

We can debate intelligently about how their roles actually functioned but the idea of physical silence is the result of someone who is simply not reading scripture.[37]

First Corinthians 14:28-40 (ESV) reads[38],

28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

The same Greek word is used for ‘silent’ if there is no interpreter of tongues (v 28), of the first prophet in v. 30 (when the other is speaking),  as for the silence of women in the church (v 34). It’s the Greek, sigaw, which Arndt & Gingrich’s lexicon give as the main intransitive verb meaning ‘be silent, keep still’ with the meaning of (a) ‘say nothing, keep silent’ (1 Cor 14:28). This also is the meaning in Acts 12:17; 15:12; (b) in the transitive form of the verb, ‘stop speaking, become silent’ (1 Cor 14:30), which is also the meaning in Lk 18:39; Acts 15:13; (c) ‘hold one’s tongue, keep something secret’ (Lk 9:36). For an intransitive verb, it means to ‘keep silent, conceal something’ as in Rom 16:25 (Arndt & Gingrich 1957: 757).

So the meaning of sigaw in relation to 1 Cor 14:34 and silence of women in the church could be: be silent, keep still. The context gives further insight with this kind of language: ‘For God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ (1 Cor 14:33). It seems that confusion was happening in these meetings of the early church at Corinth and women could have been some of the culprits. They were told to keep silent/quiet wherever this was happening in churches. This is further emphasised in 1 Cor 14:40 with, ‘But all things should be done decently and in order’.

I’m not of the view that these verses are teaching the permanent silence of all women in the church throughout all of the existence of the church when the gifts of the Spirit are being manifested in the church gathering. As 1 Cor 11:5 indicates, wives could pray and prophesy in the church gatherings.  Some women in ministry were allowed in the Corinthian church – women could prophesy, as a gift of the Spirit. One cannot be silent, shut up, and speak prophesy to the church gathering.


There is a lot of mixed information in the above posts. How is it possible to gain a reasonable, biblically based understanding of women in ministry? See my articles:

cubed-iron-sm Women in ministry in I Corinthians: A brief inquiry

cubed-iron-sm Amazing contemporary opposition to women in public ministry

cubed-iron-sm Women in ministry: an overview of some biblical passages

cubed-iron-sm Must Women Never Teach Men in the Church?

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[39] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘If women are to silent … why are they allowed in the choir?’, 98cwitr, available at: (Accessed 4 October 2013).

[2] Johnz#5, ibid.

[3] OzSpen#9., ibid.

[4] Digout#63, ibid.

[5] OzSpen#66, ibid.

[6] Johnz#69.

[7] SharonL#70.

[8] Johnz#71, ibid.

[9] SeventhValley#10, ibid.

[10] OzSpen#11, ibid.

[11] Johnz#15, ibid.

[12] OzSpen#22, ibid.

[13] Revrobor#24, ibid.

[14] OzSpen#26, ibid.

[15] slickvolt#32, ibid.

[16] 98cwitr#33, ibid.

[17] RDKirk#34, ibid.

[18] revrobor#29, ibid.

[19] Johnz#31, ibid.

[20] revrobor#36, ibid.

[21] OzSpen#39, ibid.

[22] OzSpen#42, ibid.

[23] OzSpen#45, ibid.

[24] slickvolt#44, ibid.

[25] revrobor#47, ibid.

[26] revrobor#48, ibid.

[27] Johnz#49, ibid.

[28] Johnz#50, ibid.

[29] OzSpen#51, ibid

[30] revrobo#54, ibid.

[31] progmonk#55, ibid.

[32] Johnz#59, ibid.

[33] revrob#53, ibid.

[34] OzSpen#60, ibid.

[35] SeventhValley#64, ibid.

[36] OzSpen#67, ibid.

[37] RDKirk#68, ibid.

[38] I supplied the following post at OzSpen#72, ibid.

[39] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 February 2018.