Women: The Ruckus In 1 Corinthians 14.

#TalkingThursday – If you don’t talk about Jesus who will?

Dear Reader, Welcome Back! We’ve been away for sometime and we hope that we’ve been missed because we’ve sincerely missed you too! Hope you enjoy today’s #TalkingThursday topic!

Just to let you know right away, that topic was just to lure most of you back here since we’ve been absent. The real deal is that someone asked on ask.fm about it being shameful for women to talk in church and although a short answer was provided there, we thought it best to look at the issue in more detail and context. Our real question today therefore is:

Are women allowed to speak in churches or not?/ Is it shameful for a woman to speak in church?

This is another very sensitive issue, with churches and scholars holding violently different opinions and interpretations of the scripture at hand. So as with every other thursday we are going to approach this question from an eternal perspective.

We should not approach this passage (or any other scripture) with the motive of trying to “explain it away.” Instead, we should study this passage, and any difficult passage in scripture, with the honest desire to fully understand it. In so doing, where a clearer/fuller understanding compels us (via the Holy Spirit) to adopt an interpretation different from the one that we previously held, then that is a good thing and we should aim to follow it.

The aim today is to breakdown a lot of complex things, so look at this topic like a play that’s being made into a book, we’ll see what’s going on backstage: behind the scenes with the actors, then we’ll take a look from the crew’s perspective: the writers, directors, producers and then from the audience’s perspective, the critics, judges, analyzers and then finally from the forefront of the real story, the bigger picture.

Not to worry, this analysis will soon make sense! 

The ruckus around this matter began with this passage of scripture:

As in all the churches of the saints. Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

— 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 (NKJV)

Taking this scripture literally, it equals that women are not allowed to:

  • Sing in church
  • Teach or preach in church
  • Ask questions in church
  • Respond when the pastor asks for comments from the audience

Who’s having a good laugh after reading that, because I know I am! 

So how do we respond to this scripture? Well, bear with me a while longer and I’ll tell you.

Good common sense, which is obviously lacking these days church custom, and good principles of biblical interpretation all say that we should not take these verses literally. Paul is obviously not making a total prohibition that women must never speak in church. So the real questions are, what exactly did Paul mean in those verses, is there a limit regarding Paul’s prohibition? or is it meaningless altogether, thereby allowing women to do whatever they please?

The short answer which was given on ask.fm is this:

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 07.15.47

Now to unpack this, we’ll examine a number of things:

  1. Cultural Context
  2. Greek Lexonic Transliterations/Translations
  3. Scholarly Interpretations & Opinions
  4. Biblical Applications & Context

A. Cultural Context

Let’s begin this by discussing a few theoretical “cultural realities”, the first of which is that there is this idea that men and women sat on opposite sides of the meeting hall in Corinth, and so the women were shouting questions to their husbands on the other side, making the assembly noisy and disorderly. Now, although Paul may have been forbidding disorderly speech, there is no scriptural, archaeological, or ancient literary evidence which indicates that the practice of the first century church was to segregate the men and women (if you are aware of any such evidence, please do let me know via the comments section or our social media pages).

As the early church often met in each other’s homes, it is hard to imagine this division in the casual atmosphere of a home meeting. It is possible that the women voluntarily sat together and apart from their husbands; that could partly explain this passage, but it would not explain all of it; because the scripture covers much more than just the asking of questions.

The “let them ask their own husbands at home,” indicates that some of the women were asking questions of people besides their own husbands, which may have been against cultural practices for women at the time. The passage also says that women should be in submission, making it possible that the Corinthian women were speaking in an insubordinate way.

Now taking into account Apostle Paul’s comments in Chapter 11 that women could pray and prophesy if they were wearing the right attire, and later on in Chapter 14 that two or three people could prophesy in a worship service, shows that women are allowed to speak. It is not insubordinate for any woman to speak prophecies so it is likely that Paul is prohibiting some less-formal speaking, such as chattering or side-comments in the audience.

Moving on to this: “If they want to inquire about something”

This suggests that the problem in Corinth concerned the asking of questions with a desire to learn something. This reason for this as Blomberg suggests, is that some of the uneducated women in Corinth were probably interrupting proceedings with irrelevant questions that would be better dealt with in their homes. Therefore, the fault is not in asking but in the inappropriate setting where the questions were made. Therefore, we can assume that this is why Paul says they should “should ask their own husbands at home.” This doesn’t rule out single women however, it just shows that that the ruckus was likely being caused by married women and so Paul’s address was directly speaking to them.

We all know married women make noise, singles will behave in church because they are trying to find husbands. See, it’s no different in the 21st Century!

It is important to note that Jewish customs had a part to play in the conduct of married women, notice that the scripture says: it is “disgraceful” or “shameful” for women to talk in church. Those phrases most likely refer to appeals regarding the Corinthians’ sense of social propriety i.e. manners to be exact. He is saying that church customs (v. 33b), the law (v. 34), and social expectations (v. 35) all prohibit women from talking in church. The questions themselves are not wrong, because they can obviously be asked at home, but it is disorderly to ask them in the worship service and that was the tradition of the day.

∗∗∗ Now that we’ve placed things in cultural context and seen what’s going on backstage with the actors, I hope that brings better understanding to the many things that were going on in Corinth which prompted Paul to write Chapter 14. If you’re clear here on the topic, feel free to drop off at this bus stop because the next few stages are a bit more problematic to unpack and we will be taking a look at them next week!∗∗∗



2 thoughts on “Women: The Ruckus In 1 Corinthians 14.

  1. Pingback: Is it shameful for a woman to speak in church?| The Gossip 4 Jesus Initiative

  2. Pingback: Is It Shameful For A Woman To Speak In Church? (2) | The Gossip 4 Jesus Initiative

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