In 1 Cor. 14:34 the Apostle Paul’s letter states: “…the women should keep silent in the assemblies. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” There are several major problems with this statement.

First, nowhere does the Jewish Law forbid women to speak in public gatherings. Paul, being a well-educated Jew, certainly would have known this. In fact, there was a law on the books that did forbid women to speak, vote and exercise authority over men by holding public office. It was not a Jewish, but a Roman law. These words would sound far more credible if someone else, other than the Jewish Apostle Paul, had written them.

Second, on numerous occasions throughout his travels and letters, the Apostle Paul affirmed the ministry of women (Rom 16:3-4; 1 Cor. 16:19; cf. Acts 16:11-40; 18:26). The centrality of the Shemah – the Oneness of Israel’s God, informed Paul’s theology when he wrote that in Christ-following assemblies there was no place for segregation or discrimination: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)

In 1 Corinthians 11:5, he wrote that a woman’s head must be covered while she is engaged in speaking in tongues or prophesying in a public assembly. The question was not, therefore, if a woman could speak and teach, but how it should be done in a way that would be right before God, angels and the people of Corinth.

When we read Paul’s letters we need to keep in mind that 1 Corinthians was not the beginning of this correspondence. Paul wrote at least one letter to the Corinthians prior to this (1 Cor. 5:9) and the Corinthian leadership had also written to him (1 Cor. 7:1). It is therefore highly probable that the statement in 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is a quotation from a letter that the Corinthian male leadership had addressed to Paul. It was their proposal on how to bring order into the disruptive practice of some women in the congregation as they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Paul, however, disagreed.

If this text is viewed as a quotation, then the challenge in 1 Cor. 14:36 that Paul brings to the male leadership makes perfect sense:

“Was it from you (masculine) that the word of God first went forth?! Or has it come to you (masculine) only?!”

The all-male leadership of the Corinthian congregation was not to forbid (women) to speak in tongues and themselves were to be encouraged to prophesy just as the women among them already were doing:

“Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” (1 Cor. 14:39-40)

Paul’s solution, therefore, was not to exclude half of the congregation from exercising the gifts of the Spirit, but rather to make sure that it was done in a respectful, proper and orderly fashion.

Was Paul right about women? Absolutely! His Corinthian opponents were not.

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427 COMMENTS

  1. Last time when I mentioned that I am expecting a lot of hate mail to come in, I had a lot of comments begin "This is not a hate mail, but... ". Don't worry, its ok to disagree!!!! We Jews (whether we follow Jesus or not) prefer clarity to agreement :-). So, let's get this exciting conversation going. Does this article make any sense and deserve further examination?
    • At the time of Paul’s writings the Jews were under Roman law as you stated. The Bible also tells us to obey the laws of the land. It is also fact that culturally at the time females were not acknowledged as equals to males. Therefore Paul’s instructions certainly make sense at the time both contextually and culturally.

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    • v34b "..but should be in submission, as the Law also says" means submission to the Spirit of God, I think, as everyone should be. and v35 "if THEY desire to LEARN anything let them ask their husbands at home."So obviously the women in question were asking something, not prophesying or praying and that was disrupting the service. Also, 1Cor 11:16 re: women covering their heads.. "we have no other practice nor have the churches of God" in Greek is actually "we have no such practice..." Am I right? I haven't taken Greek yet.Seems like a cultural practice to me

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    • Hi Dr. Eli, First, women were kept separate and not permitted to take part in any Jewish Congregations, so they talked amongst themselves,and this same habit continued in the Cornithian churches. Second: SOME women wanted to know what was being said and to understand and thus used to interrupt the men ...given that the women were generally relegated to the "balcony" whereas the men were "on the floor" of the "house"....that behaviour was quite a distraction. Some habits die hard and it still happens today. Thirdly, men are usually the literalists rather than women.

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    • Let's not read something into what is clear. Eve was deceived, Adam was not. Adam came first, it's about headship. The qualifications for eldership are clearly mentioned in ITimothy and Titus.

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    • The topic you are dealing with is highly controversial. It seems that the more people talk, the more confusion arises. Paul is in no way forbidding women from speaking or exercising a ministry in the church. There are great exemplary women in the Bible, like Deborah. There are women in the church who are extremely capable to give advice, they can even teach at different levels. But what Paul teaches is that women should not exercise authority over men publicly; she must remain outside the leadership of authority in the church, exercising the position of pastor. The work of a

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  2. Paul was right about forbidding women from teachi g or having authority over men. You know this. Paul even gives a sound Biblical foundation. He states that Adam was created first, then Eve. This says it all. Worship services wouls be far less chaotic and noisy if women would keep silence. Let men lead. This is our calling.
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  3. yes it very much agreement, but the church fathers not wron't to let women teach in church's i been reading the church fathers they was too much in let wemon do a lot.
  4. Yes, this subject makes a lot of sense. If today, we exclude the women from speaking in the church and teaching (men) in the church most Baptist churches could shut their doors and not really be missed. Who teaches the growing child, who teaches the teenager? The man is out in the fields making a living for the family, while the woman is at home tending the children. More women are scholars of the bible more than what men know. If women do not speak up and be heard, it is time for the Lord to come.
  5. Has it ever occurred to anyone that Paul was possibly trying to save the women of His day from persecution from the Roman's and the Jewish leaders ????
    • Excellent observation Wendy. Given that Roman law subjugated women, it is definitely a valid consideration of Paul's motivation. Great comment, thought-provoking!

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    • From my understanding, we need to consider the customs of the time. Women and children used to sit at the back of the church. They asked women to be respectful of the meetings by keeping quiet during the service and not talking amongst themselves causing a disruption. It doesn’t mean they could not participate in Service

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  6. ABBA'S GIRLS is a short book that I wrote back a few years ago. 'How are we to be, from a Biblical perspective?' Still have it on email if someone wants to read it. PS. HE loves us girls.
  7. Eli, Why does a woman need to cover her head? That is what the Roman Catholics do/did. GOD has given me beautiful long naturally curly hair. I am Protestant. When GOD has used me in the gathering to prophesy, to speak a message in tongues or to give Interpretation of tongues , I have never had a scarf on my head/hair because people in the USA don't wear them.. Why are women looked on as guilty of something in this regard as if she is lacking, in GOD's Word?

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    • Before Jesus, in Roman habits, unmarried ladies used to keep head uncovered, while married ladies used to keep head vivere e with a "nube", that is a tissue light ad a cloud. Still today in formal acts a woman that never got married is called "nubile" according to Italian civil Law. About female hair lenght, I remember Mary of Magdala drying Jesus feet with her hairs after washing and perfuming them. Hope this helps.

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    • Not too important. Note :Paul's statement... 1 Corinthians 11:16 But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
    • Jewish custom required men to cover their heads while praying because they were in the presence of God. Women were (and are if Orthodox or Conservative) required to cover their heads at all times so as to not be a distraction to the men. Don't know if other reason for the requirement. Hope this helps.
  8. Fascinating! I see something even bigger than women’s rights. I believe “speaking (in tongues)” is one of the many factors contributing to a type of replacement theology; one based on language. I have been leaning towards identifying the two-fold revelation of Christ as “speaking in tongues”. (Jesus revealed Himself in my secular language.) I have used many secular words for it like prayer, hope, justice & victory, secrets of the dark(light). Is this what speaking in tongues is? Is it strong? Can it begin with the Logos of God and repentance rather than the NT and evangelism?
    • Kat, I think you will never really understand about speaking in tongues until you do speak in tongues. And even then there is misunderstanding by many. There are TWO types of "tongues" talked about in the NT: one is your personal prayer language (Paul said "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than any of you" - which may have just meant how much he prayed). The other is when that same language (the speaker's personal gift) is used in church to bring a "Rhema" word from god to the church (or sometimes, in ministry, for one person)
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