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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 14:33-35


Wise Counsel for Christian Women.   1st Corinthians 14:33-35

1st Corinthians 14:33-35, (Ephesians 5: 18-24, 1Timothy 2:8-15.)

As in all churches of the saints. 34Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

I overheard a conversation a few years ago.  An acquaintance of mine who is an elder in a church was talking to a group of friends after a service.  One of them, a lady who we will call Mary, said to him, “What does the Bible mean when it says, women are to keep silent in the churches?”  My friend’s reply was instant!  “Mary, never mind what it means, just obey it!”

At first glance this seems a strange place for Paul to suddenly bring up the subject of the role of women in the worship of the church.  As you now know, Paul has been demanding that the Corinthian Church put their house in order in respect of the way in which they worship God, and especially as regards to the Lord’s Supper and the use of spiritual gifts in the church.  Obviously, some (or many) of those who were contributing to the confusion of worship at Corinth were women!

But you will remember that I have said on quite a few occasions throughout these studies that Paul’s teaching on worship is contained within a parenthesis of teaching on the doctrine of HEADSHIP.  In chapter 11, we see the ‘opening bracket’ of the parenthesis, in the passage teaching on the basis and symbols of headship, 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.  In this passage we have, as it were, the ‘closing bracket.’   The outworking of that initial teaching on headship is seen here in chapter 14, (and in the other passages that we read) as Paul outlines for us the role of women in the churches.

Women are to be Selectively Silent!

1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; There are many preachers who do their best to avoid this verse, or to disguise its true meaning.   Some will argue that it was only a cultural matter, and only for Corinth.  Some have proposed the ludicrous theory that because men and women sat in separate sections of the church, women were shouting across the room, asking their husbands what various speakers were teaching.  It is complete fantasy, and it does not give much credit to those ladies, who may well have been just as intellectually able as the men!  Paul says that this is FOR THE CHURCHES!  Not just for one church!  The teaching is based on OT foundations, and is repeated throughout the Pastoral Epistles.  It cannot be sidetracked or ignored!

There should be no need for controversy over these verses at all, but as you know, in modern days the role of women has changed in society.   The Women’s Liberation movement of the early 20th century brought a host of needed benefits for women, but subsequent to it came an aggressive form of feminism, which has perversely influenced our ‘politically correct’ society, and in turn has made the church, ever weak and compromising these days, react in different ways.  There are two prevalent views on the subject of women keeping silence in the churches.

  • The Liberal View.  Now adopted by some so called evangelicals as well, this is the view that women can be ordained as preachers and ministers, and can rule in the sessions of the church, and can take the role, previously allowed only to men in the church.  This is of course, a view informed by modern thought, owing more to the influences of the feminist movement than to the Bible!  There can be no such thing as a ‘Christian feminist’ for the task of the feminist is to seek equality with men in all areas of life.  Paul quite clearly states that a man is the head of the woman!  This view depends on a misunderstanding of Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28,  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.  In Christ we are all equal in status, for we are all sinners, and as believers, all sinners saved by grace, but we all have different functions within the body of Christ; men and women both!  Only in our modern age, obsessed by political correctness, could ‘equality’ be made to mean ‘ability or authority to perform the same tasks!
  • The Brethren View.  The opposite of the liberal view, the Brethren and others believe that a woman must always be silent in church, they must not pray vocally in a meeting, they must not ask questions in a Bible Study etc.

Now both of those extreme views are incorrect.  We must adopt a proper balanced viewpoint, and we must always seek to discover what the Bible says, and we must apply proper hermeneutical principals to the text in question.  This is especially important, for Paul argues here that this is not just something that applies at Corinth, this is for ‘the churches.’  

Women are to be Scripturally Submissive!

But they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. Paul says that women are to be silent in the churches.  But when are women to be silent?  But does this mean that a women should not pray, should not sing, should not teach children in Sunday School?  I want to argue that the silence of women is only related to the SUBMISSIVENESS of women, that is, when the DOCTRINE OF AUTHORITY in the church should be properly applied.  If this was a general instruction as the Brethren claim, then it must apply to all of our worship.  If it applies to prayers, then it also applies to praises, and women should not sing hymns in church either!

The rule is that women should be silent where headship and authority is being exercised!

Paul is speaking here about authority and headship.  Listen to what he says in1 Corinthians 14:34 they are commanded to be under obedience, (NKJV they are to be submissive) as also saith the law.  Genesis 3:16  Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over theeNow, in the church that authority is vested in the MAN, not the woman!  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. 1 Corinthians 11:10 For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.   (Amplified Bible renders this verse, Therefore she should be subject to his (the man’s) authority and should have a covering on her head as a token, a symbol of her submission to authority that she may show reverence as do the angels and not displease them.)  So, when is AUTHORITY in the church an issue?  If we understand that, then we will understand when women should be silent.  Again Paul tells us, and he tells us very clearly indeed.  Read 1 Timothy 2:11-14 and see that:-

  1. Authority is challenged by women preachers! Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. (There is the reference to SUBMISSION AND AUTHORITY AGAIN) But I suffer not a woman to teach This is God’s word.  It is not something that I have invented in an effort to promote some sort of male supremacy.  Nothing of the kind.  A woman is not given a place by the Lord in teaching in a meeting of the church for such teaching or worship.  Why?  Because in the act of ‘teaching’ she would be usurping authority over the man.  Preaching in the church is AUTHORITATIVE.  A preacher is not a lecturer.  A preacher is standing before the people, saying, “This is what the Lord says!”  That is why Paul refers to preaching as ‘prophecy’ – forthtelling the truth!  I once did a week’s seminar in Educational Psychology.  At some point in one of the workshops, I was required to stand at the front of the group and deliver a talk.  I was a little ‘at sea’ with the subject, and so a bit unsure of myself.  The lecturer stopped my talk.  “Bob”, she said,  “Remember, when you are at the front, you are in charge!  Take authority over the class”   Now  God’s word is perfectly clear.  You may not like what it says, but that is irrelevant.  To be in obedience to the Lord does not require us to actually like what God requires us to do!  A woman must not stand before the gathered church and take authority, she must be submissive, she must not preach or teach!  So this is a specific instruction, explicitly about preaching in open worship.
  2. Authority is challenged when women hold governing office in the church! nor to usurp authority (SEE THAT WORD AGAIN) over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. (There is the reference again to Genesis 3:16)  Paul has already told the Corinthian women that they are to be under the authority of the men in the church.  This means that a woman must not be a minister, or an elder, in the Lord’s church.   Neither can she be a deacon, for a woman cannot preside at the sacraments of the church, for again, that is exercising authority in the church.

A female relation of mine was recently extolling the virtues of her new minister, a lady!  “She’s just great,” she said!  “Far easier to talk to than any man, and a far better speaker than any male minister we have ever had!”  I replied by reminding her that the Bible forbids a woman to teach or preach in the church.  Her response, at first astonished me!  She retorted, “We don’t worry about that, sure the Bible’s out of date anyway!”  I say that it shocked me at first, but it soon dawned on me that what she was saying very clearly outlined the divisions of modern religious thought on this contentious theological issue!   For a church to adhere to and to believe in the sufficiency of the Word, to accept its inerrancy, its authority and its inspiration and then to appoint a woman minister is an utter contradiction, not to mention impossibility!  One or other position must give!  As soon as the lady was ordained, doubt was cast upon the Word of God; a huge piece of the Bible was torn out, (far more than we have dealt with here!) and creeping liberalisation and spiritual dearth was the result.  Evangelical churches simply do not, and can not have women ministers and still remain evangelical!

Women are to be Sensible Students!

1 Corinthians 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.   I think that this verse reinforces what I have just been saying!  Paul adds a new dimension to the doctrine of Headship now, for here we see that the authority of the man in the church extends also to the home!  Notice in our text that:-

a)      Women are to LEARNSome may argue, “How can you say that a woman must remain silent in the church, but you are quite happy for women to teach in SabbathSchool or to be missionaries and so on!  It’s pure hypocrisy!”  Well, no, it’s not!  There is a time for a woman to speak, and a time to remain silent, and the key is, when is the Doctrine of Headship and Authority being challenged.  Women are to be silent in the church, but they are not to be PASSIVE in the church.  While they are not to be ministers or elders, they must be DISCIPLES!  They are to desire to acquire Biblical knowledge, and that implies that they must put that knowledge into practice!  So:-

  1. Women should not be silent in public prayer, or in praise!  Look at Ephesians 5:18, where the verse is written to the whole church, not just to the men!  And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Ephesians 5:18 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Ephesians. 5:19-20.  Now compare that passage with a parallel passage in Colossians 3:16. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. In both those passages it would be difficult to argue that only men are being referred to, for surely women also are to be sober, making melody in their hearts, thankful, having God’s Word dwelling within them.  This instruction therefore, obviously does not apply to women singing hymns!
  2. Women should not be silent where issues of Authority are not challenged!  This is a balanced position!  A woman can certainly pray in a prayer meeting, there is nothing to stop her.  In so doing, she is not adopting a position of authority in the church; she is simply speaking outwardly to her Lord and Saviour.    Let’s look at 1Timothy 2.  The only verse that the Brethren and others can use to argue that a woman should not pray in church is verse 8.  I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. 1 Timothy. 2:8. But this whole passage is about PREPARATION FOR PRAYER.  How we are to approach the throne of grace.  Verse 8 is about being in a fit state to pray for the furtherance of the Gospel, about having a clear conscience regarding our deeds and actions, before the Lord.  Verse 9 continues that theme!  ‘In like manner also’ women are not to be adorned in a worldly fashion.  When? When in prayer!!  Why not? Because they would be unprepared.  Their hearts would not be on the Lord; but would be on their appearance!  So a woman is not to attend a prayer meeting dressed like a beauty queen!
  3. Women should not be silent in situations outside the gathered worship of the churchA number of years ago I was instrumental in organising a public lecture, in a public hall, at which the speaker was a lady, who gave an excellent talk on the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.  After the talk a lady from the congregation approached me, or rather, reproached me, pointing out that women are not permitted to teach or to preach. “Oh,” I replied, “That’s all right then, for she wasn’t teaching or preaching, she was lecturing!”  “What’s the difference?” was her irate reply!  “Well, the difference is that this is not a meeting of the local church, no authority was being despised!”  There is plenty of Biblical evidence for this also.

Women make great evangelists!  In the Old Testament, we read I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.  Joel 2:28   And this, according to Peter is what happened at Pentecost!  Acts 2:17   So the Bible does not forbid women from speaking out in open-air meetings, or in evangelism – no authority is violated! So the Faith Mission pilgrims are not falling foul of Paul’s prohibition!

Women make great personal workers and often can speak in private in private gatherings, Acts 21:9 And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.   And Paul gives instructions for it, 1 Corinthians 11:5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.   Some of the ladies at Corinth had the gift of prophecy!  They were inspired preachers!  Paul does not tell them that they are to neglect their gift, he only tells them that they are not to do it in THE CHUCH, the assembly, and that when they do it they are to cover their heads, so that proper respect is given to the headship of Christ!  It is only the exercise of such a ministry within the gathered church that is forbidden here, so there is no reason why we can’t have a lady speaker at a small group meeting or a women’s fellowship, or a youth meeting, or at some private get-together.

Women make great teachers!  Look at the way Timothy was instructed by his grandmother!  2 Timothy 1:5 When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

Again see how women can give great practical instruction to other women in Titus 2:3-5 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

b)      Husbands are to be INSTRUCTORS!  Now, to me it seems that in our modern churches, men have done a great disservice to their families, and to their wives, for they have abrogated their responsibility to be an instructor to their families!  It is a husband’s responsibility to teach their families about the things of God!  This is a very basic biblical principle indeed!  It was so in the Old Testament, where the Jewish father took the words of the Sh’ma seriously, in Deuteronomy 6:1-7 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

The New Testament was no different!  The home is the place where families are to be taught about the Lord, not the church, and certainly not the secular school!

So you see, we are all to be sensible in the role we adopt in the home, and more especially in the church, so that our assemblies are ordered in accordance with the Word of God, and so conform to His will.

To summarise, there is a clear Biblical command regarding the teaching and preaching gatherings of the church.  A woman is not to usurp authority over the man, and she would do so, if she were to teach or preach in the pulpit.  This is a qualified instruction.  It does not apply to Sunday School, where children are being taught and headship is not involved.  It does not apply to missionary service, where no church meeting is constituted; it does not even apply to testimonies, where no teaching content is involved.  It certainly does not apply to prayer meetings, for the Holy Spirit is present just as much in a woman is he is in a man.  These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. Acts 1:14.  In the early church a prayer meeting was held.  Taking part was Mary and the women!

From → Sermon Notes

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