As Paul goes through some rules for ministering spiritual gifts in the assembly of the saints, he steps on troublesome territory in the next verse: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted for them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law” (1 Corinthians 14:34).
Now, in the 21st century this is indeed controversial. Some teach that this is to be taken literally and only men should be speaking in the church. Others say that it had to do with Jewish and cultural traditions that no longer apply. But, this is the word of God, and it is the great Apostle Paul speaking. Therefore, we have to take this seriously. Many younger folks have walked away from the faith because they believe this is one of the verses that prove the Bible is really out of touch with the world today and not relevant to their lives. What do we say to all this?
Dr. Paul E. Paino, one of my faith heroes, used to say that whenever we have two opposite opinions in the church world, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. When Paul said, “it is not permitted“, he doesn’t tell us whether it was God, church leaders, or the culture that made this rule. Because he also says, “as also says the law“, we know that there is a cultural perspective in his teaching, because Jesus fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). He also says women are “to be under obedience“. A better translation for the Greek word translated ‘obedience’ is ‘submission’.
What I speak now is my opinion of what Paul was saying. The cultural norm within the Jewish and Gentile culture was for women to be in subjection to their husbands. It would be a stumbling block for many if that cultural norm was violated. Therefore, the Christian women should follow the rules of their local assembly so there will be no confusion and there will be peace (v. 33). This does not disqualify them from speaking a prophetic word individually or in small groups. This interpretation fits with the context of surrounding verses.
I do not believe Paul is teaching here that Christian women are somehow inferior in the church setting. As a matter of fact, thank God for the many women who are spiritual leaders at New Hope. What would we do without them?
OK. This is your opportunity to comment and give me your honest opinion of what Paul means in this verse.