By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Does 1 Corinthians 14:34 forbid women speaking out, like on a Wednesday night when the one making the announcements says, “Is there any announcement we failed to make?”
Reply: 1 Corinthians 14:34 does not forbid a woman to speak up in an assembly in such circumstances as referred to in the question. This passage has been misused by those who attempt to prove that a woman cannot ask a question or make a comment in a Bible class conducted by a man.
The setting for the verse under consideration was concerning spiritual gifts that were being exercised in the church at Corinth. There was disorder in the assembly, thus Paul wrote to correct the confusion. There could be no edifying in such a condition, so he urged in verse 26, “Let all be done to edifying.” He wrote in verse 33, “For God is not a God of confusion, but peace.” Then he summed it all up in verse 40, “But let all things be done decently and in order. ” Thus we have the background for verses 34 and 35, “Let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.” The men who were speaking were inspired. If a man who was speaking in a tongue had no interpreter, he was to keep silence. This is obvious because in such a case there could be no edifying, the very purpose of tongue speaking in this situation (see v. 26 again). The prophets were instructed how to have an orderly service. “And let the prophets speak by two or three, and let the others discern. But if a revelation be made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence” (vv. 29,30). So, certain men in the assembly were to keep silence, and implying that all the women were to do likewise. There is no indication that the women present were inspired or that they were receiving revelations.
The word “women” in verse 34 is from the Greek word gune and can be translated either “women” or “wives.” The context favors “wives.” These women were the wives of the prophets and were evidently uninspired. To avoid interruptions, these wives were to ask their husbands (the prophets) at home for any information they lacked. This consideration makes sense and is in harmony with the context.
Although miraculous tongue speaking has ceased, the principle of women being in subjection remains in force in our assemblies today. Paul wrote, “but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law” (v. 34). They are not allowed to confuse the assembly today any more than they could then. But the stipulation that “if they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home” does not apply today, for the obvious reason that she has the same revelation that her husband has – the word of God. In fact, some women’s husbands are not even members of the church. It would be rather absurd for a woman who desires some Bible information to be restricted to ask her non-Christian husband at home.
There is much that a woman can do in the assembly, and yet be in subjection to the man. She can sing in the assembly (Eph. 5:19); she can and should pray in the assembly. There is a vast difference in a woman praying and one leading prayer in the assembly. There is also a vast difference in a woman singing and one directing singing in the assembly where men are present and able to do so.
Neither 1 Corinthians 14:34 nor 1 Timothy 2:11,12 forbids women to participate in a Bible class taught by a man. In so doing she is not usurping the authority of a man, neither is she teaching over a man. Women speak and teach in the assembly when they sing, confess Christ or confess their sins. In these acts she is in submission to man and is not out of place. She can ask questions and make comments in a Bible class taught by a man, and yet at the same time be in submission to the man. Neither is she violating any Scripture if she modestly speaks up in an assembly to remind a man of some missed announcement when the man has made such a request of the audience. How strange it is that some brethren think a woman is keeping “silence” when she sings at the top of voice in the assembly, but that she is not keeping “silence” if she makes a comment or asks a question in a Bible class!
Let us remember that the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34 was to avoid confusion in the assembly at Corinth. While women are prohibited to direct singing, lead in prayer, preach, take a leading part in the assembly where men are present, she nevertheless can fulfill her role of submission by doing much to encourage and strengthen others in the Lord’s work and be instrumental in bringing many precious souls to Christ.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 19, p. 581
October 2, 1986