By Johnny Stringer
We have shown that the Bible sets forth the general principle that women are to teach the word of God. We pointed out, however, that there are two passages which place a restriction on the woman’s teaching. According to 1 Timothy 2:9-10, the woman is to maintain her place of subjection to men. She may not teach in any circumstance in which she would be out of subjection to men. Having discussed that passage, we will now give consideration to the other passage emphasizing this restriction: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
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. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
1. Context. In the letter of 1 Corinthians Paul dealt with problems that plagued the church in Corinth. In chapter 14 he addressed himself to the conduct of the Corinthians in their assemblies. His remarks indicate that their activities were not always edifying but were characterized by disorderliness and confusion. According to our text, women were contributing to the problem by the manner in which they spoke.
2. A Shame to Speak. Paul forbids women to speak because it is a shame for women to speak in the church. Yet, this same Paul commanded all Christians — including women to sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16); and singing is a form of speaking. It is clear, therefore, that not all speaking is shameful. If it were, it would be a shame for women to sing. Paul was obviously discussing a certain kind of speaking when he said that it was a shame for women to speak, and singing is not included in the kind of speaking that is shameful.
This is a simple verse, making it quite clear what kind of speaking is forbidden. After saying that it is not permitted for women to speak, Paul adds, “but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” Thus, speaking is contrasted against being under obedience. Obviously, therefore, the kind of speaking to which Paul refers is speaking which would cause the woman not to be under obedience (subjection). This is the reason singing does not fall within the realm of the speaking that is forbidden; scriptural singing does not cause the woman to be out of obedience. One would not contrast the woman’s participation in congregational singing against being under obedience. For her to lead the singing, however, would violate that principle and therefore would be included in the kind of speaking that is shameful.
It is a shame for the woman to speak in any way that would cause her not to be in subjection. Hence, she may not preach to an assembly that includes men, for the one preaching is in control of the study; he is not in subjection.
3. Asking Questions. Because it is a shame for women to speak so as to be out of obedience, Paul said that if the women had a question, they should ask their husbands at home. Depending on the situation and the attitude and manner of the one asking the question, a question may violate the principle of being in subjection. Questions may be asked in an insolent manner or in a way that is disruptive.
We do not know the exact situation at Corinth. We do know that in dealing with problems found in the assemblies at Corinth, Paul was discussing the matter of speaking so as to be out of subjection. Therefore, women must have been asking questions in a way that violated the principle of subjection.
Additionally, we can conclude that Paul was directing his remarks to a certain group of women who were causing the problem, for the command to ask their husbands at home could not be obeyed by all women. This command could be obeyed only by women (1) who had husbands and (2) whose husbands had access to truth they did not have. Inasmuch as Paul had just spoken to prophets, then said “Let your women …,” some have surmised that the reference is to the wives of the prophets. This may be so. It is difficult to imagine who else it could have been. One thing is certain: The command to ask their husbands at home is not applicable to women today. Women today do not have to ask their husbands at home; they have Bibles just as their husbands do. Husbands do not have any access to truth that their wives do not have.
Do not misunderstand. The command to maintain their subjection is applicable to all women. Paul taught that it is a shame for women to speak in the assemblies so as to be out of obedience. Certain women in Corinth perhaps the wives of the prophets were violating that principle by the manner in which they were asking questions, and Paul told them to ask their husbands at home rather than to disrupt the assembly with their questions. Paul addressed a certain group of women because they were violating the principle of subjection, but the principle of subjection is binding on all women.
We do not know the specific details of the problem at Corinth. One possibility is that as prophets were revealing divine truths to the assembly, their wives were interrupting them with questions. Such would surely be out of place and disruptive. Whether or not that was the problem, the women were in some way asking questions in a manner inconsistent with their place of subjection.
Some use this passage as a basis for prohibiting a woman from asking a question in a Bible class today. This is a misuse of the apostle’s words. What is insubordinate in one situation may not be insubordinate in another situation. The fact that it was out of order to ask a question in the kind of assembly Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 14 does not mean it is out of subjection to ask a question in today’s Bible classes.
In the assembly described in our text, inspired men were revealing divine truth as the Spirit guided them. Today’s Bible class is a different kind of gathering. A group of people have gathered to study the Bible and to help one another in reaching an understanding. In that situation, it is not insubordinate for a woman to humbly ask a question or submit an idea for the class’s consideration. Yet, a woman in a Bible class can get out of line in the manner in which she asks questions or expresses her ideas. If she asks questions or speaks in an insolent manner, or speaks to the extent of dominating, she violates the principle of being under obedience. She must manifest a meek and quiet spirit.
The woman is to teach the word of God. The only restriction in her teaching is that she must not violate the principle of being in subjection to men. She may teach in any circumstance or capacity that is consistent with that restriction. She may teach classes consisting of women or children, for in such classes she is not in authority over men.
The woman may even teach men so long as she remains in subjection. In congregational singing, for example, she is involved in teaching others in the congregation, including the men (Col. 3:16). Priscilla helped teach Apollos (Acts 18:26). If a woman and her husband are discussing a passage at the dinner table, and the woman brings up a scriptural point that has never occurred to the husband, she has taught her husband; but she was not out of subjection when she did so. In a Bible class that is taught by a man, a woman may quietly and meekly make a point that enlightens some men who are present, but she has not dominated the class or taken control of it. If a woman thinks a man is in error on some point, she may discuss the matter with him without being in a position of authority over him.
Whereas God has placed only one restriction on the general principle that the woman is to teach, some brethren have added another restriction. They say that while she may teach her children at home, she may not teach in the church building or in a class arranged by the church. This restriction is not found in the Bible. In fulfilling its mission of teaching the truth, the church may utilize anyone who is scripturally qualified to teach; and faithful, knowledgeable women are scripturally qualified to teach classes of women and children.
Sisters in the Lord, learn God’s word, live God’s word, and teach God’s word. God has not gagged you; rather, he has given you the responsibility to teach. He has simply placed one restriction on you. Do not fret because of the restriction; it is unlikely you will ever do all the teaching you could do in accordance with that restriction.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 9 p. 8-9
May 4, 1995