Should Women Be Silent In Church?

silent woman
Photo Source: churchleadership.com

In recent months I’ve seen teaching online telling the people of God that Paul wanted women silent in church, and were not permitted to teach. Today, I want to reexamine scripture, dig a little deeper, and together discern what it really means in relation to this controversial subject.

In truth, some versions of the Bible make it appear this is actually Paul’s mandate. However, my challenge to everyone reading is this: those who would teach the word of God need to be smarter than to simply trust one version of the Bible without going any further.

Teachers must 1) have access to original languages and, 2) have at least basic knowledge of how to research those languages in order to more fully comprehend the meaning of passages in Scripture.

I’m going to demonstrate for you today how two passages in the New Testament have been used to silence women in the church erroneously.

First, a wee bit of Biblical history.

In ancient Israel, there were two female prophets to the nation of Israel: Deborah (wife of Lapidoth, Judges 4:4) and Anna (daughter of Phanuel, tribe of Asher, according to Luke 2:36). As did the male prophets to God’s nation, they spoke God’s direct word to His people.

In the New Testament, Peter records in Acts 21:9 that Phillip of Caesarea, a member of Paul’s missionary team, had four daughters with the gift of prophecy. Wow!

Between you and me, I’m not sure I would want to live in a household with not just one, but four insightful and outspoken women, but God bless Phillip of Caesarea for raising and nurturing such godly women in early church leadership!

Let’s get to the heart of it. If God gave a woman the gift of prophecy, and by Biblical record we know He did, is she to use it differently than a man? Perhaps only for her personal edification, while men are permitted to speak it everywhere?

According to Paul, the purpose of prophecy given by the Holy Spirit is for proclamation, for teaching, comfort, and edification, to name a few.

1 Corinthians 14:3 says, “But he that prophesies speaks for edification, and exhortation…” But what about, she?

1 Corinthians 14:29-38
29-30 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other discern their words. If anything be revealed to another nearby, let the first hold his peace.
31 For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
32-33 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
34-35 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
36 What? Did the word of God come out from you? Or did it come to you only?
37-38 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.

In the 1 Corinthians 14 passage above, Paul laid out the rules for prophecy in the church, and declared blatantly in verse 31, “ALL may prophesy, that ALL may learn, and ALL may be comforted.”

You can then practically hear his air quotes around verses 34-35, “let a woman keep silent, it is a shame for a woman to speak,” because in the verse immediately following, he challenges, “What? Did the word of God come out from you? Or did it come to you only?”

The obvious answer to these rhetorical questions was, “No!”

Think for a minute. How did gospel writer, John, identify “the word” from the very start of his book? “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”

Readers, the word of God is Jesus! So, when Paul was asking his audience, “Did the word of God come out from you?”, he was reminding them a woman literally ushered the word into the world when Mary birthed Jesus. And, the gift of Jesus, i.e., the Word, was given for all people, not just men! And all who receive Him/the Word are called to proclaim it!

Therefore, ALL prophets may speak, so long as it is done in an orderly fashion. In other words, be gentlemen and ladies… no shouting down everyone else around you just to be heard.

To recap, all prophets, male and female, are to speak what the Holy Spirit reveals to them for the benefit of the family of God.

We’ve just been reminded of at least six women in the Bible who had the gift of prophecy. Six women who SPOKE what the Spirit told them in order to edify the people of God.

These two verses, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, which some have erroneously used to silence women in church, are within the context of a passage where Paul is saying the opposite! He is actually saying this thinking is preposterous…

Note that when Paul spoke in verse 34, “Let a women keep silent…” he also reminded his audience this thinking was connected to old law: “as also says the law.”

The very thing Paul hit so hard in Galatians, Hebrews, and more, is the fact we are no longer under the law. See verses here on this very subject which hit the ball out of the park!

The Law
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. (Galatians 3:13)

If you are led of the Spirit, you are not under law. (Galatians 5:18)

The law is weak, useless and makes nothing perfect. (Hebrews 7:18-19)

God has found fault with (the law) and created a better covenant, enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:7-8)

(The law) is obsolete. (Hebrews 8:13)

So, again, did Paul contradict himself in basically saying, we are not under the law and all can prophesy, however women given the gift of prophecy cannot prophesy and are under the law?

No, of course not, to even suggest it sounds crazy. He does not contradict himself. Therefore, it is those misunderstood verses which are the contradiction to the rest of Scriptural teaching on prophecy and speaking, and we must correct our interpretation of them.

Paul was quoting the old thinking about women in silence in order to challenge it with the truth that ALL may prophesy! Men. Women. Children! Whoever receives the word of the Lord is expected to proclaim it!

Sadly, this teaching will continue to be used erroneously by a few, and Paul ends in verse 38 by saying, “If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.”

But, we do not have to continue in ignorance, so I pray all reading today who have previously used or taught this passage wrongly will receive the truth.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

In 1 Timothy 2, we find another controversial passage many have used to prevent women from ever teaching in church. But, with closer examination, the real truth of the passage comes out.

First, let’s read the King James, since that is one of the main versions causing confusion:

1 Timothy 2:11-12 “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

The King James Version clouds this Pauline address heavily, but a closer review and deep dive into original language reveals Paul was actually addressing wives and husbands and their home relationship. And it isn’t quite as harsh as the KJV makes it sound. Let’s take a look.

Read with me the same passage in a more literal version (Young’s):

1 Timothy 2:11-12 “Let a woman in quietness learn in all subjection, and a woman I do not suffer to teach, nor to rule a husband, but to be in quietness.”

When you study the original language (Strong’s Bible dictionaries allow easy deep-diving into nearly every word of Scripture), Paul was literally saying, the wife is not to take a posture of issuing orders to her husband and take away his God-given authority in the home. Rather, she is to have a spirit of gentleness and respect in her marriage, the kind of behavior that does not bustle about, meddle with everything he (or anyone else) does and boss people around.

Paul admonishes in 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”

When a wife steals her husband’s ‘headship’, she is symbolically and spiritually cutting off the head of Christ over her home! Wives, spouses, must learn to live together with respect, and take comfort, we are in the best company: Christ demonstrated this very attitude in relationship with His Father!

Wives, it is our calling to live in peace within the God-designed structure of our marriage, neither as a bossy tyrant nor as an obedient doormat. But rather as a mature woman of God who tenderly nurtures respect in her marriage.

And a wise husband will lean on his wife’s wisdom, her prayers and counsel, and not ‘lord it over her’ in a spirit of harshness either.

Ephesians 5:21 instructs that all in the family of God are to be ‘subject to one another in the fear of God’. This is not exempt in the home. Husbands and wives are also to subject themselves one to another. It is a position of respect and gentleness.

However, reading further in the Ephesians 5 passage, there is a special respect required of wives in the home to their husbands, and an extra charge to the husbands to love their wives sacrificially.

I am admittedly reading between the lines in saying that perhaps the Ephesian women were extra strong-minded (aka, bossy and controlling), and Paul felt the need to call this out in his letter. As we all understand, in the presence of controlling people, we often find ourselves struggling to love instead of react. So, the Ephesian men would have needed that extra push to remember to love sacrificially, as Christ did for all of us!

The bottom line for the home, in proper authority (him under Christ and her under her husband AND Christ), showing gentleness and respect to each other, husbands and wives make a formidable team to raise healthy and stable children and impact their world for the kingdom of God.

To wrap, and returning to women in the church once more, women were clearly given the gift of prophecy in the Bible, and per Paul, all prophets are to speak! Even in the old covenant, they still had female prophets who were anointed, entrusted with great spiritual authority in God’s family!

No need to silence or shun ladies from teaching, just do things in order as expected of everyone, and ladies, take care not to ‘lord’ it over your husbands. Respect and humility are always the best path to a healthy and loving relationship. And, in truth, that goes both ways.

May God bless and transform His people with truth.