#TalkingThursday – If you don’t talk about Jesus who will?
Dear reader! Welcome back, today we’re continuing our examination of the topic: Are women allowed to speak in churches or not?/Is it shameful for a woman to speak in church?
From last week’s text: The Ruckus in 1 Corinthians 14 we concluded that a thorough answer would require examination of a number of things:
- Cultural Context
- Greek Lexonic Transliterations/Translations
- Scholarly Interpretations & Opinions
- Biblical Applications & Context
We concluded the Cultural Context perspective last week, we will now be moving on to the Greek Lexonic Transliterations/Translations.
B. Greek Lexonic Transliterations/Translations
sigaō hymōn gynē sigaō en ekklēsia gar epitrepō ou epitrepō
autos laleō alla hypotassō kathōs
kai legō nomos
— 1 Corinthians 14:34
In translating and understanding context of the language used, we begin with the viewpoint that the apostle Paul had one of two different shades of meaning in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 14:34-37:
Silence in regard to public speech: A woman should not publicly address the church at all during the meeting time. Although nearly all English translations can be understood in the sense of the second viewpoint below, this is what many think the “plain meaning” of this passage is.
Silence in regard to disruptive speech: Women should not talk in a disruptive way during the meeting. For instance, suppose that a missionary revisited a church that he had planted. When the meeting began, he noticed that some of the ladies, not wanting to stop their enjoyable conversations, were continuing to talk, ignoring the speakers and church leaders. This often happens in church and it really is quite shameful. It reflects a disdain for the important spiritual matters at hand, a rebellious nature, and a lack of reverence, for the Lord is present when His people meet. Therefore, in a follow-up letter to the church, we would not be surprised for that missionary to get firm and say something like, “Just as in all other churches, your women should be quiet during the meetings! They are not permitted to be talking. Instead, they should be submissive, as the Bible also says. If they have any questions, they should ask their own husbands at home. For it is shameful for women to be talking in church!”
If this interpretation is correct, then the Greek word above sigaō should be understood in the sense of “keep quiet” rather than “keep silence.” The Greek word laleō should be understood in the sense of “to be talking” rather than “to speak.”
But which interpretation is the right one?
If we are responsive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and carefully study the grammar, the context, and the NT usage of the Greek words in a passage, we should be able to find indicators of the intent of a writer.
To begin with,
the Greek word translated “keep silence” in verse 34 is sigatosan, which is the present active imperative form of the Greek word sigaō. A present active imperative is a command to continue an action, such as “keep sweeping!” Because the command for the women to be silent is in the present active imperative, it carries with it the idea of “keep quiet.”
This continuous tense could be understood in three different ways:
1) Continue being silent during the meeting.
2) Continue the church custom of being silent.
3) Get quiet and keep quiet.
Note that all three of the above could refer to silence in regard to public speaking, or silence in regard to disruptive speech.
Interestingly, Paul also used the present active imperative form of sigaō in nearby verses:
— 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
— 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
In 28, Paul’s meaning is (1): continue being silent during the meeting while in 30 Paul’s meaning is (3): Get quiet and keep quiet.
With regard to Paul’s usage of sigaō in these two verses, we notice he is not prohibiting all forms of speech or public speaking, he did not forbid the tongue speakers and prophets from speaking publicly in other ways. It was OK for them to speak publicly again, provided they did not speak in tongues or prophesy while a second prophet was speaking.
Therefore, sigaō in these verses meant silence in regard to tongue speaking and in regard to prophecy, thereby confirming the earlier observation that sigaō is a limited silence.
Therefore, what is Paul commanding the women to be silent in regard to?
Outside of the disputed verse, wherever sigao is used in the New Testament concerning a public meeting, it refers to the respectful silence required for unhindered public speaking. In this regard it is very similar to the English word “quiet.” When we use this word in a phrase such as “be quiet,” we usually do not mean that none of those in the audience are permitted to speak publicly. Instead, we use the word to bring order to a noisy crowd, and to request that disruptive speech and chattering stop. Outside of 1 Corinthians 14:34, that is exactly the way that sigaō is used in all of the other NT passages that refer to public speech.
If, in verse 34, sigaō does not only refer to being respectfully silent while someone is speaking publicly, but also to a complete ban on public speaking, then this is the only place that the word is used in such a comprehensive sense in the entire New Testament.
If Paul had wanted the women to be completely silent, there is another Greek word, siopaō, that he could have used. It also means “to be silent,” but it seems to be the New Testament word of choice to indicate complete absence of speech, including public speech. Here are some instances where siopaō is used in exactly that way:
Luke 1:20 — And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
Matthew 26:63 — But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God.
And so we conclude that the Greek word sigaō indicates a limited, not a complete silence, and that outside of the disputed verse, it always refers to the respectful silence required for unhindered public speaking when it concerns public meetings.
the word laleō, translated “to speak” in “they are not permitted to speak.”
laleō has the following range of meanings:
1) to utter a voice or emit a sound
2) to speak
2a) to use the tongue or the faculty of speech
2b) to utter articulate sounds
3) to talk
4) to utter, tell
5) to use words in order to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts
5a) to speak
The word for “speak” laleō does not necessarily mean a formal role in the pulpit — it is a general word that can also be translated as “talk.” Paul used a general word to say that women should not talk, and we have to make a decision: was he prohibiting formal speaking roles, or talk in the audience, or something else?
The translators of the World English Bible, translate laleō as “to chatter” in verse 35:
If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is shameful for a woman to chatter in the assembly.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament confirms the observations regarding laleō :
“This word, like “lull,” imitates childish babbling, and thus means ‘to prattle,’ to ‘babble.’ It is also used for the sounds of animals and musical instruments. As regards speech, it may denote sound rather than meaning, but also the ability to speak. In compounds the meaning is always ‘to prattle.’
In the New Testament, laleō is used to refer many times to the speaking that occurs during conversation, rather than public speech. If laleō only referred to public speaking, then the verse below regarding the prophetess Anna would cause problems for those who believe that a woman should not publicly address men or the church, since scripture seems to speak approvingly of her actions:
Luke 2:38 — And coming in that instant, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke (laleō) of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (NKJV)
Here are some the examples in the NT in which laleō refers to conversational speech:
And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures? —Luke 24:32
And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh (laleō) with thee. — John 9:37
And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told (laleō) thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. — Acts 22:10
Thus disorderly conversation is most likely the better of the meanings the apostle Paul could have had in mind when he used the word laleō and the tense of laleō as it is used in I Corinthians 14:34 gives us good reason to believe that this is exactly the case.
In conclusion, we understand that laleō is more likely to be referring to conversational (disruptive) speech rather than public speaking and sigaō is not a command to permanent silence but a command to keep quiet for a time during the hours when the fellowship is going on. Again this week, the greek lexonic transliterations and translations drive us further to the conclusion that the Apostle Paul was not placing a blanket ban on women speaking or holding positions of public speaking/teaching in the church fellowship.
Hope this has been an enlightening read, see you next week for the final analysis, God bless you!