“Silent in the churches” – 1 Cor. 14:34 Examined

There are clearly lots of opinions and emotions around 1 Cor. 14:34: “women should keep silent in the churches.”

Personally, I’ve adjusted my own view on this over the years.

Initially, I thought it was just reciting what the Corinthians were doing (wrong) by forcing women to be silent, and Paul is dismissing it and encouraging women to speak freely (see 1 Cor. 11).

But my view now is that 1 Cor. 14:34 reflects Paul/God’s own thoughts on what should happen. It is not meant to be an absolute that women never speak in church meetings (for just a few chapters before that, Paul/God explain how women are to speak in church meetings!). Instead, the text is describing a specific type of speech women shouldn’t do. That is, women are to be silent in matters of the ultimate judging of doctrinal purity and discerning God’s word on behalf of the entire congregation. In fact, this is a role spelled out for elders to do:

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9)

And since elders are spoken of as males in the Bible, it is actually very consistent that the role of guarding the doctrine in 1 Cor. 14:34 is entrusted to men. This doesn’t diminish the woman’s place in prophesying, exhorting, speaking faithfully, and giving Spirit-led input in general. God forbid–we need more women doing this! But it does show that it should be within the oversight of the elders who are ideally men (according to Scripture).

All that to say, a VERY GOOD treatment on this subject (that ultimately persuaded me) is: “Silent in the Churches”: On the Role of Women in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 (by D.A. Carson)

It’s long, but well worth the read, in my humble opinion.

Brian

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