Should Women Speak?

By Timothy Sparks


“And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for he is not the God of confusion but of peace. As in all the assemblies of the saints, let the women be silent in the assemblies; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but let them be submissive, as also the law says. But if they want to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in assembly” (1 Cor. 14:32-35, translation mine).

Spiritual gifts are being regulated in this context. We must approach this passage from the first century perspective, in the days of the miraculous. “He is not the God of confusion but of peace.” The members of Christ’s body at Corinth were abusing and misusing their spiritual gifts. No building up or teaching was being accomplished. They should have done things orderly (14:40) so that all could learn and be encouraged (14:31).

“Let the women be silent in the assemblies; for it is not permitted to them to speak.” “The women” refers to “all women in the congregation.” The root word for the term Paul uses in verse 34, which is translated “be silent,” is σιγάω (sigaō). The same root word occurs in verses 28 and 30. No female was to use her spiritual gifts in the assembly. The one miraculous gift that is particularly dealt with here is that of speaking in tongues. Paul expounds on the proper use of speaking in tongues in chapter 14. In the immediate context, women are to be silent, not uttering a word miraculously.

This does not teach that a woman is to say absolutely nothing in the assembly today. If a woman cannot say anything in the assembly now, how can she be allowed to sing? Paul includes women in the command to sing (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16). Paul’s statement to the Corinthians prohibited their miraculous gifts in the assembly.

“Let them be submissive, as also the law says.” All the way back to Gen. 2:18 God states that a woman would be a suitable helper for the man. Woman was taken out of man (Gen. 2:21-23). She was made for the man and from the man. God tells the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). Notice the similarity to Gen. 4:7, “its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” God tells Cain that sin wanted to take control in his life but he must rule over it. Similarly, God was telling Eve that she would feel the urge to take charge and lead her husband, but the husband is to lead the woman. God wants the man to lead in the spiritual realm.

Based on woman’s God-given role, Paul further points out, “the head of woman is man” (1 Cor. 11:3). The law of creation teaches that a woman is to be submissive and not to take a position of leadership over the man. Apparently some of the Corinthian women in the congregation were attempting to lead the men, abusing both their God-given role and their miraculous gifts.

“But if they want to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in assembly.” The congregation at Corinth was in a state of tumult. Now Paul commands that the women are not to say anything in the assembly that might be directed or conducted in such a way as to put her in a leading role. “If they want to learn anything” may be referring to a question or issue that the women might ask or promote. If the women all joined in, the effect might be that the women would be conducting the teaching themselves in a chaotic fashion, which would certainly be disgraceful. The women could ask their own husbands at home. This is not a prohibition against a woman asking a man of the congregation a question outside of the assembly.

Paul’s statement should not be used as a “proof-text” for those who claim that women are not to ask any questions or make any comments during a Bible study. This passage is dealing with the regulation of a woman’s spiritual gifts and a woman’s role of submission. Paul clearly reveals that women must not spiritually teach the men, which is what they were doing when they were speaking in tongues in the assembly.

This entire context devastates the charismatic practice of ecstatic utterance, which communicates no message, no building up and cannot possibly be interpreted because the gibberish is not an actual language. In fact, some charismatic people today even allow their women to “speak in tongues” in their assemblies. Even if miracles did exist today, such would be expressly forbidden since women were not permitted to use their ability to speak in tongues (1 Cor. 14:34), “for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in assembly” (1 Cor. 14:35). Just as the carnal Corinthians exalted the least of the miraculous gifts—speaking in tongues—some also do today. They think they are spiritual by practicing such nonsense. Paul says, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you are a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).

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