Sunday I preached our penultimate sermon from 1 Corinthians.  We finish next week with 1 Corinthians 13.  Two days ago, though, I tackled the enormous task of distilling 1 Corinthians 11, 12, 13, and 14 into one salient, and hopefully big, idea.  The idea is that confusion and lack of control in our worship is bad.  Or, as Paul put it:  “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  For God is not a God of confusion, but peace.” (1 Corinthians 14:32 & 33a, ESV)

In my amazing rhetorical technique I employed the very next lines in the text to prove my point, and thereby simultaneously addressing two issues at once.  Those issues being worship and gender equality.

You see, the very next lines, right after the bit about God not being a God of confusion but peace says,

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 33b-35, ESV)

Oh dear!  Right now you are thinking, “Does that mean what I think it means?”

No.  It does not.

The reason it does not is that in Chapter 11 Paul spends a lot of time describing exactly how a woman should dress and what she should look like if she prays or prophesies (preach?) in church.  Has Paul forgotten in three short  chapters what he wrote?  Is he arguing against himself?

No, of course not.  He is addressing two different issues and they are not related to each other.  Of course women could speak and prophesy in the worship gatherings of the church as long as it was edifying and meaningful, which is the same requirement for a man to speak.  Then why does Paul say women should be silent in Chapter 14?

Good question.  The answer is that in the culture of Ancient Greece (and Palestine in general) women were subjugated as property.  They were not taught  to read or how to engage in social discourse.  Women were not allowed to participate in public life and were certainly not allowed to lead anything.  The ancient Greek’s were misogynist, plain and simple.  The Romans were a little more open on the issue, due primarily to Roman law for patrician women, but not by much.  Women were viewed as sex objects and domestic servants.

In this darkness the liberating gospel enters.  This is a gospel where Jesus’ interacted with women just as much as men and where Paul declares elsewhere that there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).  Therefore, in Christian worship practice women, who otherwise were shunned, were allowed to participate fully in the worship experience.  They heard the sermons, heard the readings, sang the hymns, prayed the prayers, and took of the cup and loaf.  Apparently, they didn’t always understand what was going on because they had never experienced it before.  Their behavior was childlike, not because of lack of intelligence but through lack of experience and apparently they always slowed down the worship experience with their continual questions of such things as, “Why is he doing that?” and “What does that mean.”  Hence, Paul says they should be quiet and ask their husband at home later what certain things mean because their husbands were experienced in worship and public discourse so they would know.

To me, this makes far more sense that implying that it was de facto based on gender that women are not allowed to speak in all the churches.  Paul’s statements are about unlearned women who had not yet found their footing in this new fresh air of gospel liberation.  It takes time for freedom to find itself.

So the lesson here is not about gender, it is about disruption in worship.  If that is the case then there are three take-aways.

1.  People who are unlearned and ill-trained should not be in public leadership.  It is okay to have young leadership (which I advocate for highly) but they need to be trained and gently led in appropriateness as they lead.

2.  Individual needs for recognition or understanding are subordinate to the needs of the collective whole.  This is why we do not recognize anniversaries or birthdays in our worship settings, unless someone else takes momentary control of the service (which happens more frequently than you would think) or I am strong armed.

3.  Churches should explain as much as possible to people who come into their worship service so as to answer their questions ahead of time.  This also fits the evangelistic concept of worship found in 1 Corinthians 15:23-25.





  1. The insecurity of people, (men and women) instead digesting the nuggets of God’s Word, are ready to so easily take offense of scripture that is God breathed. Instead of having a “me” mentality when we don’t understand why something is being said, I can understand the “world” running away with this. But I sure know how much God loves me. First His Son and then how He has blessed my life. I know it is not God’s intention to try to belittle me but to love me. I know how important I am to Him. Me, of all persons, who doesn’t deserve how much He loves me. Thank you for your useful blogs.

  2. Apparently, they didn’t always understand what was going on because they had never experienced it before. Their behavior was childlike, not because of lack of intelligence but through lack of experience and apparently they always slowed down the worship experience with their continual questions of such things as, “Why is he doing that?” and “What does that mean.”

    I’m curious, where do you get this? The idea that the Apostle Paul wrote that to address a transient problem due to women being newly invited into active worship is not actually in the text, nor is the assertion that there is no gender-based order in church leadership (Galatians 3, for instance, is about membership in the Body of Christ, not about Church hierarchy or lack thereof). Is there some other evidence of this besides speculation based on the generalization that women were treated as inferiors in ancient society? And how does it fit with the famous admonition in I Timothy 2?

    I know that it’s a popular (and usually insipid) thing on the Internet to challenge someone to find sources, and then it often turns into who can be the craftiest with Google, and truly I’m not trying to get into any of that here, but I seriously don’t think that you’re analysis is especially rigorous. I’m also no sola Scriptura Christian (I’m Orthodox), so I’m not challenging your comments on that basis. I just think you’re speculating rather subjectively about why the Apostle Paul said what he said, and it seems the conclusion preceded the analysis here (thus causing the analysis to be put together specifically in order to fit the conclusion).

    • lasseter–thanks for reading and for commenting. i thoroughly enjoy polite, respectful discourse so i like your reply. i’m not much into googling theological resources either, so let me see if i can’t take your points in order. you are right to say that Galatians 3 is not about hierarchy in the church, but then neither is 1 Corinthians 15. this passage is about orderly worship. nevertheless, it is, to my mind, evidently clear that women did indeed exert leadership and speaking (prophetic ministries in the early church. there is the deacon phoebe, for example in Romans 16. Acts is full of women in leadership positions but i can briefly mention lydia, philip’s four prophesying daughters, tabitha, and priscilla. All of these women seem to be in some kind of leadership position. in Philippians paul exhorts euodia and syntyche. why else would paul mention them unless they were leaders?
      1 Timothy is famous, as you state, but context means everything. the entire passage is difficult. consider the implications that if you took everything 1 timothy says about women at literal face value, then women must throw away all their jewelry, nice clothes, and wear hair straight and long, a woman can learn, but only quietly, It was all eve’s fault, adam had no complicity at all, and women are saved through childbearing. If she has no children, she cannot be saved. it seems like paul is making some generalized cultural statements. if a person is going to push the point on women regarding v. 12 then that person must be consistent and literally enforce the rest of those statements about women. also, in that same letter, in chapter 3, in the section about deacons, where most texts describe ‘and their wives’ the greek is literally ‘the women.’ it is possible, and even likely, that there were women deacons in this community there in ephesus.

      now, here is the caveat i have for you, lasseter. these are my readings of the text, and i fully recognize others will come to different conclusions out of differing communities and that is okay. but rest assured, my conclusion was not adopted first and then stack the data to form the conclusion. quite the opposite. my review of the text and my hermeneutics of the New Testament have brought me to these conclusions.

      again, thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Thank you for your kind reply, Pastor. You’ll find no contention in me over whether there should be deaconesses in the Christian Church. There is historical evidence for there having been in the past, and I agree that it is found in Scripture, on top of which there are notable women in both Testaments of Scripture. I am in favor of deaconesses. Whether this means women should be at the very top of the hierarchy (priests or pastors or whatever the title is in a particular church) is another question, but one I’m surely not debating now (or in my prior comment). My issue in my comment was really particularly with the part that I quoted. I think that quoted part is just a guess (and, I think also, an unnecessary one) about the Apostle’s motives and about the experience of women in the Early Church.

        As for the matter of “literally” interpreting I Timothy and the pitfalls you associate with it, let me just respond to one of your examples:

        If she has no children, she cannot be saved.

        That would not actually be a literal interpretation. The Apostle Paul doesn’t say that childbirth is necessary for a woman’s salvation, and he doesn’t even say that she will be saved by childbirth: he says that she may be saved in or through childbirth, if she also perseveres in faith, love, and holiness and with self-control. We are able to gain from our experiences, and God’s grace may find its way to us through a number of activities we participate in, so this assertion in that epistle really shouldn’t be all that shocking, and it would be a flagrant misreading (not literal at all to my eye) for anyone to say that it means women who have no children cannot be saved.

        Which is not to say that no one would read it that way. There are plenty of nutty interpretations of Scripture, and by “nutty” I mean in many instances (thinking just now on some of the things I’ve seen) spiritually very dangerous. I’d put “if she has no children, she cannot be saved” into the spiritually dangerous category, and I have no doubt that on that one reasonable minds cannot differ.

      • lasseter–i agree, there are many nutty things people think and feel and believe about scripture (and other things as well). let me stay on target, though, with the original intention of your reply, that being my assertion that the reason paul made this statement was loud women were disrupting church with questions. i will cede the point that this is conjecture–because that is what it is. however, conjecture is necessary to understand the passage, in my opinion, because it can’t mean that paul doesn’t allow, and none of the other churches allowed, women to speak or prophesy in church. the reason it can’t mean that is because in chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians paul speaks about how women should dress and appear in public when they prophesy or pray. so, to my way of thinking, some conjecture is needed to understand what the significance of the passage is in 1 Corinthians 14 about women being quiet. since that context is about worship, then it must be something that disrupts worship. i could be wrong. maybe it was women teaching wrong things because they were coming from a proto-gnostic perspective (that is what some people think 1 Timothy 2 is all about). maybe it was women who were talking tangentially about things. i admit that my hypothesis might be inaccurate, but i do believe some hypothesis must be made to try and understand the significance of the passage since it can’t mean that women should be absolutely silent and never allowed to speak in church–which is the way the text has historically been understood by my denomination and other groups, an understanding that i think is erroneous because it logically falls apart given 1 Corinthians 11.
        again, thank you for your thoughtful reply and this friendly exchange on what is, assuredly, differing ideas by two people attempting to faithfully serve the same Lord.

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