1 Corinthians 14:21
In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord.
In the Law. Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:11. The prophets do not form part of the Law of Moses or the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). He is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament. For similar examples, see John 10:34, 12:34, 15:25.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
(a) The women are to keep silent in the churches. No other scripture has been used to muzzle women more than this one. We should have no doubt that the Bible offers a clear answer to the question of whether women stay silent in church: They shouldn’t. Numerous scriptures exhort women to speak in church, and most of them were written by Paul (e.g., Acts 1:14, 2:4, 17, 18, 4:31, 21:9, Rom. 12:6, 16:1, 3, 6, 12, 1 Cor. 12:7, 11, 27, 14:5, 26, 27, 29, 31, 39, 2 Cor. 5:17, Heb. 5:12, 1 Pet. 2:9, 4:10–11).
Given the unequivocal instruction of scripture, why does Paul seem to contradict himself by telling women to remain silent? He doesn’t. This pair of verses is an interpolation. It should be in block quotes because he is quoting the Corinthians. They are the ones who wondered whether women should keep silent in the church.
The second half of this letter contains Paul’s responses to Corinthian questions: “Now concerning the things about which you wrote” (1 Cor. 7:1). “Now concerning virgins…” (1 Cor. 7:25). “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols…” (1 Cor. 8:1). “Now concerning spiritual gifts…” (1 Cor. 12:1)
“Now concerning the collection for the saints…” (1 Cor. 16:1). It’s the same here. The Corinthians had wondered whether women should remain silent in churches and they put the issue to Paul.
(b) They are not permitted to speak … as the Law also says. What law? There was no Old Testament law forbidding women from speaking. However, the Greeks had civic laws forbidding women from speaking in public assemblies, and it’s these laws that Paul was referring to. There were also rabbinical teachings that were later codified in the Talmud that said much the same thing. According to the Greek philosophers and the Jewish rabbis, woman were meant to stay silent while the men did all the talking.
Further reading: “Should women be silent in church?”
1 Corinthians 14:36
Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
(a) Was it from you? The Corinthians wondered whether women should stay silent in church and Paul’s response is one of shock and disbelief. “Are you guys nuts? By commanding women to be silent do you think you are speaking from the heart of the Father? Do you really think that you have heard from God?”
The Source New Testament translates this verse as follows: “Utter rubbish! Did the Word of God come originally from you! Utter rubbish! Were you the only ones that it reached!?”
Further reading: “What a difference a word can make”
(b) The word of God refers to the revealed will of God. Paul is saying, “Do you really think you know the mind of God on this matter?” If we really want to know what God thinks about women in the church, we should consider the way Jesus treated women. In contrast with the “civilized” Greeks and the religious Jews, Jesus did not silence women. He let them speak and listened to them.
Further reading: “Jesus listened to women: Why don’t we?”
1 Corinthians 14:37
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment.
(a) If anyone thinks. In other words, “If you think you’re spiritual, stop following manmade traditions and listen to what I have to say about the matter.
(b) Spiritual. To be spiritual is to walk after the new way of the spirit. In other words, “Don’t act like worldly people. Don’t walk after the old ways of the flesh and the corrupt patterns of this world.”
(c) The Lord’s commandment. The apostle of grace felt so strongly about the question of women speaking in church, that he was prepared to lay down the law. “You want a law? I’ll give you a law. Of course they can speak and they should! We need the whole body of Christ to function.”
1 Corinthians 14:38
But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
In other words, “Anyone who doesn’t agree with my teaching about women is an ignorant yahoo.” (The original word for recognize and recognized means ignorant.)
1 Corinthians 14:39
Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.
Paul closes the debate by repeating what he said earlier, which is that he was eager for all, male and female, to prophesy and speak in tongues (1 Cor. 12:7, 11). End of discussion.
Like the American revivalist Charles Finney, Paul understood that “the church that silences the women is shorn of half its power.” Every part of the body of Christ, whether male or female, young or old, is needed. Since no believer is excluded from the priesthood of all believers, all should be encouraged to participate in a way that is edifying to the church.
1 Corinthians 14:40
But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
Should women be forbidden to speak in church, as some have said? Far from it! Paul encouraged women to speak, prophesy, sing, speak in tongues, and do whatever is proper and fitting so that the whole church may be built up.
Further reading: The Silent Queen: Why the Church Needs Women to Find their Voice
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- 1 Corinthians 14:21
- 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
- 1 Corinthians 14:36
- 1 Corinthians 14:37
- 1 Corinthians 14:38
- 1 Corinthians 14:39
- 1 Corinthians 14:40