Speaking in Church—Part 2
No one can do something that edifies the church on his own, apart from Christ. The Lord is the one who edifies the church, for he says "I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). Anyone who does something that edifies the church is participating in the work of the Lord and is like a tool in the hands of the Lord. "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building" (1Co 3:9). The time when believers meet together as a church is focused on the Lord. Ministry cannot be done without him. Prayer and worship should not be done apart from him, but rather in the Spirit (Eph 6:18, Jn 4:24). Therefore, it is essential that when believers meet together as a church they draw near to the Lord and seek to do all things in a manner that is pleasing to him. But isn't a believer always in his presence? While the Lord never leaves those who are his, he is not equally near to the believer at all times. Indeed, it is interesting to notice the tense of the Greek verbs commonly translated "come" or "draw near" in Heb 4:16, Heb 7:19, Heb 7:25, Heb 10:22, and Heb 11:6. The tense fits a repeated action, not an one-time action. When we draw near to him we can both minister effectively and receive what the Lord has for us. Our ministry is effective when it is guided by the Lord. The following passage indicates that it is his will that all work should be carried out in an orderly fashion
(1Co 14:26)Darby What is it then, brethren? whenever ye come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edification.
(1Co 14:27) If any one speak with a tongue, let it be two, or at the most three, and separately, and let one interpret;
(1Co 14:28) but if there be no interpreter, let him be silent in the assembly, and let him speak to himself and to God.
(1Co 14:29) And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
(1Co 14:30) If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.
(1Co 14:31) For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.
(1Co 14:32) And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
(1Co 14:33) For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
(1Co 14:34)MKJV Let your women be silent in the churches; for it is not permitted to them to speak; but to be in subjection, as the Law also says.
(1Co 14:35)EMTV And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
The remaining part of this article focuses on the last two verses of the passage above. The statement "it is not permitted to them to speak" (1Co 14:34) can be explained as follows. In the original language, "to speak" is a present infinitive form. If an aorist infinitive form were used instead, the meaning of "it is not permitted to them to speak" would have been "it is not permitted to them to speak at all". However, since a present infinitive is used, we could interpret the statement as saying "it is not permitted to them to speak in every circumstance".
Moreover, 1Co 14:34 states "it is not permitted to them to speak; but to be in subjection, as the Law also says". We read here that women should be in subjection. Note that "in subjection" is the translation of a form of a Greek verb meaning "to submit" (υποτασσω). By examining the other New Testament passages that use the same verb, the following areas of submission could be identified. One should submit himself to God (Heb 12:9, Jms 4:7), God's law (Ro 8:7), and God's righteousness (Ro 10:3). One should submit also to the authorities (Ro 13:1). Slaves and servants should submit to their masters (Tit 2:9, 1Pt 2:18). The younger people should submit to the older (1Pt 5:5). Women should submit to their own husbands (Eph 5:22). Believers should submit to those who labor for the Lord (1Co 16:15-16). Church people should also submit to one another (Eph 5:21, 1Pt 5:5). Among the aforementioned areas of submission, the only one that is only for women is that they should submit to their own husbands. The passages stating that the women should submit to their own husbands are Eph 5:22-24, Col 3:18, and 1Pt 3:1. Note the word "own" in "their own husbands". In Greek, the received text and the Byzantine majority text have the word "own" (ιδιος) in all of Eph 5:22-24, Col 3:18, and 1Pt 3:1. Thus, the instruction is not that women should submit to men, but that they should submit to their own husbands.
The Lord gave the Bible for all generations of believers. It follows that whenever the Lord recorded a book of the Bible, he had everything written in a manner consistent with his purpose that the book be for all generations. Thus, what we read in 1Co 14 is not just about the church in Corinth, but has also an application to our time. The following remarks consider the application to our times of the instructions of 1Co 14:34-35.
Clearly, the statement "Let your women be silent in the churches" does not refer to contexts in which everyone is invited to participate (such as during the worship time or in a study group). Rather, it refers to contexts in which not everyone is supposed to speak. Moreover, the statement that women should "be in subjection", as indicated above, is about the fact that women should submit to their own husbands. Thus, the verse draws special attention to words by which women do not submit to their own husbands. Now, when reading the statement "Let your women be silent in the churches", one could think of disruptive talk, such as conversations taking place while others try to listen to a sermon. However, such talk is also disruptive when it comes from men, not just from women. Since only women are mentioned in 1Co 14:34, we could understand that this verse is not about such disruptive talk. (Now, a verse that instructs both men and women to avoid disruptive talk is 1Co 14:40.) Rather, the verse indicates that there are times in which men may speak, but women should be silent. However, since women are not supposed to be silent in all church contexts (such as during worship time), what are the contexts in which they should be silent? It seems that the only such context mentioned in the Bible is the one indicated in this verse, that is, when they are tempted to speak in a way that is unsubmissive to their own husbands. For example, the expectation of a man might be that his wife should not make him address her concerns in the church. If the wife is tempted to do it, she should be silent or find a submissive way to speak. We also read that "if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home" (1Co 14:35). In this context, the phrase "if they desire to learn anything" is not about church teachings but about personal matters. A question that might arise is why 1Co 14:34 asks the women to be silent only in the churches, and not in a more general setting. The answer could be that in certain other settings it might not be reasonable that men should expect their wives to be silent. At home, for example, a husband should be willing to discuss with his wife her concerns. Moreover, in contexts other than the church it might not be universally true that the wives should be silent. Sometimes it might be appropriate to be silent, but at other times not. Now, as reasoned so far, the only context mentioned in the Bible in which it is universally true that women should be silent while men could speak, is when women are tempted to speak in the church in insubordination to their own husbands. Accepting the Bible as complete, it is very significant that no other such contexts are found in the Bible.
For a detailed study of 1Co 14:34-35 it is important to determine also the meaning of the phrase "in the churches". By examining the usage of the Greek word εκκλησια "church" in the Bible, it is possible to conclude that the word refers to people, not to a building. Moreover, this word is not translated exactly by the word "assembly", or else the statement that the church is the body of Christ would imply that only the church assembly is the body of Christ, which would lead to the false conclusion that a person is no longer a member of the body when the meeting time of the church is over. Further evidence that the Greek word for "church" refers to the people of the assembly and not to the assembly itself can be found in passages such as 2Co 11:8, 2Co 12:13, and 1Ti 5:16. The aforementioned passages speak about burdening a church or churches. This would fit well a "people" interpretation of the word for "church", but not an "assembly" interpretation. We could conclude then that the Greek word for "church" denotes the people of the assembly. Then, a woman would be in a church when among the people of the church.
As shown above, the statement "Let your women be silent in the churches" does not say that women may not speak when among fellow believers. Rather, 1Co 14:34-35 asks women to be silent when what they would say is not in submission to their own husbands. Some examples showing that 1Co 14:34-35 does not require women to be completely silent when among fellow believers are as follows. A number of women announced the resurrection of the Lord (Lk 24:9-10, 22-23). Rhoda announced a group of believers that Peter was at the door (Ac 12:13-15). In Ac 5:8 Peter asked Sapphira a question and she answered. Apparently, this happened in a meeting place of the church (Ac 5:2), and other church people were present. Two instances in which women spoke when the Lord taught are recorded in Lk 10:40 and Lk 11:27-28. (Note that other people besides Mary must have been present in Lk 10:40.) There is no indication that the women were asked to speak. Moreover, considering the manner in which the Lord replied, there is no indication that they were not supposed to speak. Clearly, the teaching style of the Lord allowed for questions and remarks from the audience.
Other questions that may arise would be whether a woman may teach in the church, or lead worship, or bring a message to the church. As indicated above, 1Co 14:34-35 does not say that women may not contribute this way. Moreover, let us notice that the Holy Spirit has used also women, not just men, to edify his people. Indeed, there are Bible passages from women, such as Jdg 5, Pr 31, 1Sa 2:1-10, and Lk 1:41-55. Furthermore, various prophetesses are mentioned in the Bible, such as in Ex 15:20, Jdg 4:4, 2Ki 22:14, Is 8:3, Lk 2:36, and Ac 21:9. Women prophesying are mentioned also in 1Co 11:5.
We read, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1Co 14:40). An orderly environment is to be desired because peace, not disorder, is from God (1Co 14:33). We can understand that the instructions of 1Co 14:26-35 are meant to create an environment appropriate for the work of the Lord.
Verses 1Co 14:34-35 are found at the end of a passage including various instructions. Reasoning based on the original language, 1Co 14:36 does not continue the topic of 1Co 14:34-35, but is rather related to 1Co 14:37 and should be taken in the context of all instructions, including that of 1Co 14:34-35. Therefore, 1Co 14:36 is not addressed to women specifically, but rather to any man or woman who would object.
(1Co 14:36)Darby Did the word of God go out from you, or did it come to you only?
(1Co 14:37) If any one thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognise the things that I write to you, that it is the Lord's commandment.
In order to see that 1Co 14:36 does not address explicitly the women, note that the word "only" in 1Co 14:36 corresponds in the original language to a masculine form of an adjective. A feminine form would be used if women only were addressed. However, as it stands, 1Co 14:36-37 anticipates objections from men and women to the instructions previously given. We read "Did the word of God go out from you ... ?". Indeed, if anyone disagrees with the given instructions, let him consider that the Word of God did not come from him but from the apostles. Thus, what the apostles have to say should be given careful consideration, for "He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me" (Jn 13:20). "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Lk 10:16). In 1Co 14:36 we read also "came it unto you only?". The Word did not come only for one member of the body but also for all other members. Thus, the members of the body should consider one another and do the things that edify one another.
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