By Wade Burleson
In I Corinthians 14:34-35 the Apostle Paul writes:
"As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but they should be subordinate, as even the Law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church" (I Cor. 14:34-35).
I believe Paul is "quoting" the views of the Judaizers in these two verses, not expressing his own views, in order to correct their false teaching. Judaizers in the Corinthian church sought to bring the synagogue traditions into the Christian assembly. These Judaizers were "zealous for the Law," or the teachings of the Talmud (Acts 21:21), and caused all kinds of problems in the early church. Paul is blunt about their them in II Corinthians 11, calling them "false apostles" and "deceitful workers" (II Cor. 11:13), and telling the Christians at Corinth to resist the false practices of the Judaizers and stand firm to the New Covenant "traditions" that Paul had taught them (see I Corinthians 11:2).
Paul taught that all the members of the assembly, both male and female, could participate in congregational worship (see I Cor. 14:31 and 14:39), and it is expected that women in the church will publicly pray and teach just as men publicly pray and teach (see I Corinthians 11:5). The entire discourse of the New Covenant Scriptures is that God's priesthood is composed of males and females, slave and free, Jews and Gentiles. There is no separation of race, nationality, gender or color in the God's New Covenant priesthood. Each of us has been made a priest (Revelation 1:5) and we all form a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9).
So, the startling prohibition of I Corinthians 14:34-35 seems discordant and unconnected to the rest of the New Covenant Scriptures. There's a reason for this -- it is discordant and unconnected.
Paul is quoting the views of the Judaizers regarding women in I Corinthians 14:34-35. He quotes it in order to correct the Judaizers' false views which were being imposed upon the Christian churches, including the church at Corinth. The Judaizers had been taught four things about the role of women in the synagogues when they were Jews, and they wished to make "the church" conform to these restrictions.
(1). The Jews believed women were not qualified to be learners in the synagogue because the talmudic literature forbad them from learning. Their presence in the synagogue was tolerated, but they were to be unobtrusive and silent, never interferring with the work of the men. The Judaizers wished this tradition to be carried over into all the churches. But Paul argues throughout I Corinthians for full participation of women within the assembly (see I Corinthians 14:31 and 39).
(2). The Jews recognized that a woman in the synagogue might at some point wish to move from passive attendance to actually learning something in the synagogue, but this was viewed as an exceptional occurance and not the norm. Therefore, on the rare occasion a woman desired to ask a question in order to learn, she was instructed to maintain her silence in the assembly and wait to ask her husband after leaving the synagogue and returning home. The Judaizers wished to keep the same passivity of women in the earkt Christian churches. But Paul expects women to pray and prophesy, the two acts of worship in the assembly, in the same manner that men pray and prophesy. Women compose half the priesthood (see I Corinthians 11:5).
(3). There is the assumption in the synagogue that all Jewish women would be married; it was even expected by leaders in the synagogue that Jewish women would marry. The Judaizers believed the same thing should be true about all women in the early church. But Paul argues his preference that Christian women remain single for the purpose of ministry (see I Corinthians 7:34).
(4). The Jews believed, and it was reinforced by the Talmud, that only the males should receive religious instruction. Jewish husbands were the source of their wives learning. Women should remain silent within the context of the synagogue. The Judaizers carried this tradition into the early churches and taught just as firmly that all Christian women should be silent in the churches. But Paul has taught that the priesthood of God is composed of both males and females, and there is an equality within the priesthood in both role and function (see I Corinthians 11:11 and Galations 3:28-29)
Paul states the Judaizers beliefs about women in I Corinthians 14:34-35 to only refute it. In other words, the "women keep silent" passage is not God's commandment, but corrupt teaching about to be exposed! Gilbert Bilezikian writes:
"It is worth noting that in 1 Corinthians more than in any of his other Epistles, Paul uses the é particle to introduce rebuttals to statements preceding it. As a conjunction, é appears in Paul's Epistles in a variety of uses. But the list below points to a predilection for a particular use of é which is characteristic mainly of 1 Corinthians."The verses he listed I also list below, in the order they appear, with a notation indicating the appearance of the é particle, in each case translating it as "Nonsense!" as Bilezikian did to indicate its flavor:1 Cor. 6:1-2--"If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? (é Nonsense!) Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?"
Now look at I Corinthians 14:36: "What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?"
The "What" is the Greek eta, the conjunction Bilezikian points out that Paul uses throughout Corinthians to refute false teaching. There are actually two of these eta particles in this text, so Paul is expressing his disbelief (a compounded disbelief) that anyone would think that men only are the mouth pieces of God and that women should be silent in their presence. Paul states his objection to that kind of thinking very clearly.
"Did the word of God come only to you? What! (Note: this "What!" is the second eta in the text) Are you the only one's it has reached?" Paul is utterly refuting the belief that men only can speak in the church.
A few years ago I taught from this I Corinthians 14:35-36 passage, and as always we had a question and answer time after the study. A woman about seventy years of age who had been a life long member of a traditional SBC church in Nevada, desired to comment about what I had taught. She was seated next to her husband, and she raised her hand to be recognized and was called upon, she spoke and disagreed quite strongly with my interpretation. She believed I Corinthians 14:33-35 was a COMMANDMENT FROM GOD and after explaining her reasoning, she conluded emphatically that God wanted women to be silent "in church."
When she was finished I gently suggested that if she believed my interpretation of I Corinthians 11:34-35 was wrong and her's was right, then she should have never raised her hand to be recognized, she should have never voiced her beliefs in the assembly, and she should have waited until she and her husband arrived home before she asked a question of HIM or made a comment to HIM about what I had taught. That is what the text says! So either she must believe that what I'm teaching is right and then she is FREE to ask questions of her pastor, at any time, any place, for any reason the assembly is gathered, or she must be true to and consistent with her beliefs and remain absolutely silent in church.
She said she was not "in church," so she could speak. Mind you, we were in our Fellowship Hall on Wednesday night with a couple of hundred believers present. There were numerous other small groups from our church meeting throughout our facility and around the city that night. But, in our new member's mind, we were not "in church" that night because we weren't in the "auditorium" and having a typical Sunday morning "church" service.
Her comment led me to to think many Southern Baptists don't have a working, biblical understanding of what the church is. Traditional Southern Baptists often seem more Jewish or Roman Catholic in their views of the assembly (church) and authority (clerics) than the writers of the New Testament. I believe that the Bible teaches that where two or three are gathered in the name of the Jesus Christ, the assembly is gathered and Christ is at the center of His people. So Wednesday night is as much church as Sunday morning. Tuesday night small group is as much church as Wednesday night Bible study. Tuesday morning's gathering for fellowship, service and worship is as much church as Sunday night's discipleship classes.
We, the people, are His church, and when or where we assemble, as few as two or three, His church is convened.
So move over Judaizers; all the people of God, men and women, are free to function.