Silent in the Churches
Text: I Corinthians 14:34-37
I. Interest has risen in the subject of women speaking during Bible classes and in the assembly.
A. I would like for us to delve into this topic in detail, but first I would like to commend the women here.
1. Recently, some of the women here became aware there are members here who are uncomfortable with the idea of women speaking in Bible class.
2. In concern for not offending a brother’s conscience, they privately informed me that they would rather not speak in class than to cause offense – I Corinthians 10:32-33
3. For that sensitivity, I commend them.
B. Still, it is a topic that needs to be considered and studied. Please do not look at this as arm twisting or insistence that you must see things this way
1. Rather, I desire that each of you make an informed decision based on what the Bible says.
2. What concerns me is not that some have chosen individually to be silent, but that there is condemnation of those who have not made the same choice - Romans 14:1-4
II. There are two passages which are key to the discussion - I Corinthians 14:34-37 and I Timothy 2:11-15
A. The two passages cover two different situations.
1. I Corinthians 14 is dealing with activities in church worship
a. It begins with a discussion of edifying the church and how the use of tongues affects that edification - I Corinthians 14:4-5, 12
b. The importance of understanding in public prayer - I Corinthians 14:15-17
c. Tongues are useful, but in the church understanding by all is more important - I Corinthians 14:18-20
d. Rules for when the whole church gathers in one place - I Corinthians 14:23-25
e. Using the gathering for edification - I Corinthians 14:26
f. If no interpreter, must be silent in the church - I Corinthians 14:27-28
g. Take turns without interruption when speaking God’s word - I Corinthians 14:29-23
h. God doesn’t promote confusion in the churches - I Corinthians 14:33
i. Women are to be silent in the churches - I Corinthians 14:34-35
2. Notice in I Corinthians 14 how often the terms of gathering together and in the church is used.
3. I Timothy 2 is dealing with general Christian living
a. Prayers are to be made for all men - I Timothy 2:1-4
(1) The reason is that the community impacts Christians
(2) And Christians should desire to change those around them.
b. Prayers are to offered everywhere, i.e. not just in church services - I Timothy 2:8
c. Similarly, women need to show proper decorum in their dress - I Timothy 2:9-10
d. Women are to show submission by not exerting leadership, such as in teaching - I Timothy 2:11-12
e. It is not forbidding all teaching because a woman’s salvation is impacted by how she raises her children - I Timothy 2:15
4. Notice that issues are raised in I Timothy 2 that encompasses worship, but are not exclusive to worship, such as modest dress and the raising of children.
B. What is meant by silent
1. It is unfortunate that the word “silent” is used in both passages because there are distinct Greek words being used.
a. In I Corinthians 14:28, 30, 34 forms of the Greek word sigao are being used.
(1) It means to be silent, keep still, say nothing, stop speaking, or hold one’s peace.
(2) It is defined for us by Paul in I Corinthians 14:34 when he said women are not permitted to speak.
(a) The word “speak” is from the Greek word laleo, which means to speak, proclaim, say or utter sounds.
(b) It is used heavily in I Corinthians 14 in speaking a tongue, speaking a prayer, or speaking God’s word. It is often used in the sense of addressing other people.
(3) It is not a complete prohibition of all sound
(a) The tongue speaker and the prophet were to keep silent in certain situations. There were times they could speak and times they could not.
(b) And these men would still need to participate in singing - Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16
(4) Thus, the use of the word should not be used to conclude that the silence was for the entire service, but in regards to certain activities.
b. In I Timothy 2:11-12, “silence” translates the Greek word hesuchia, which means quietness, rest, or peace
(1) Acts 22:2 - The Jewish audience quieted down to hear Paul’s speech
(2) II Thessalonians 3:11-12 - Gossips are told to stop and lead a quiet and productive life.
(3) It doesn’t refer to an absolute silence, but a non-intrusive approach to life.
(4) Again, Paul defines what he means by stating that a woman is not to teach or exercise authority over a man. It is forbidding being domineering.
(5) Notice the parallel contrasts between verse 11 and 12
(a) learn / submission
(b) teach / exercise authority over
(6) Neither learn nor submission implies absolute silence
(a) People learned from Jesus - Matthew 11:29
(b) But they talked to him and asked questions, as well as listened to instruction
(c) A wife can be in submission to her husband and still speak to him
(d) It is the role assumed and not whether words are uttered that are under consideration
2. Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians 14:34ff comes on the heel of telling the prophets to take turns in teaching.
a. It appears that women in Corinth were questioning the teachings being given during the church service.
(1) The word behind “ask” is the Greek word eperotao, which means “to question, or interrogate; usually a more in-depth probing in order to get under the surface ...” [The Discover Bible]
(2) “to accost one with an inquiry, put a question to, inquire of, ask, interrogate ...” [Thayer]
(3) Thus, women are forbidden to interrogate by asking questions.
(4) Note I Corinthians 14:29, others judge, but a woman is forbidden to ask questions.
b. God’s command was that they be silent in the church and if they have questions to wait until they get home to ask their husbands.
(1) I’ve seen commentators twist this to claim only married women are not permitted to interrupt services to ask questions. Unmarried women, they claim, are not restricted.
(2) Others state that this is only talking to wives of the prophets, forbidding them from publicly questioning their husbands.
(3) But Paul’s point is that women cannot ask questions because women are not permitted to speak in church.
c. Paul gives women an alternative place to ask questions – at home
(1) “At home” is in contrast to “in church.” It is not their physical house, but to say outside of the assembly. (Like the Lord’s supper in church versus meals at home in I Corinthians 11.)
(2) Because they could ask at home, we see that the asking of questions is not what was improper.
(3) They could ask these questions at home and still be in subjection.
(4) Implied is that doing this type of questioning in a public arena places the woman in authority instead of in subjection.
d. Unlike the command to the tongue speakers or to prophets to be silent until their turn, women are not permitted to speak in services
(1) Using the examples of speaking given in this chapter, it means they cannot conduct a prayer, read a Scripture, or give a lesson in church
(2) But this doesn’t apply to outside of church
(3) I Corinthians 11:1-16 contains a rule that women are to have their heads covered while praying and prophesying.
(a) Such prayers and prophecy could not be done in church
(b) Thus, there are other times that it can be done so long as proper decorum is maintained
3. I Timothy 2 also prohibits a woman from giving a lesson to an audience which includes men or participating in other situations where she would be leading men.
a. It does not prohibit a woman from participating in a learning situation, so long as she does not dominate or take the lead.
b. In learning, a woman could answer when called upon, or read a passage, but she would be going beyond the limitation if she began instructing others even as she sat among the students.
c. Some are over sensitive about the issue and forbid a woman from even expressing an opinion
(1) A woman does need to be careful not to appear dominating.
(2) To respond with “That can’t be right!” is placing her opinion over others
(3) To ask, “How does that fit with the passage over in ...?” could accomplish the same end without placing the woman in a dominate position.
d. What about when someone is teaching wrong? Priscilla shows us that she did this with her husband in private - Acts 18:24-26
C. What about saying “amen”?
1. Notice in I Corinthians 14:34 that Paul states that the law also teaches what he is saying.
a. I’m not certain what verse Paul had in mind
2. But I was curious about the saying of “amen” under the old law
a. When Moses read the curses of the Law in Deuteronomy 27, all the people, including the women, were to say “amen” to indicate their acceptance of the terms
b. When the ark was brought into Jerusalem, men an women gathered to worship - I Chronicles 16:3
(1) After David’s praise of God, all the people said “amen” - I Chronicles 16:36
(2) A similar joint amen is found in Nehemiah 5:13
c. As the law are read, all the people said amen and worshiped - Nehemiah 8:6
3. Thus, while Paul states that the Old Law also had women keep silent during worship, it appears that this did not include the saying of amen when it was appropriate both in and out of worship assemblies.
III. Is a woman forbidden to speak in mixed company?
A. Again the example of Priscilla shows that a woman can participate in teaching in a private setting - Acts 18:24-26
B. Sapphira, in front of a gathering, answered Peter’s questions - Acts 5:8
C. Rhoda interrupt a gathering of Christians, who had gathered to pray at Mary’s house - Acts 12:12-15
D. Therefore we conclude that speaking in mixed company is not forbidden. I Timothy 2 only limits the type of speaking done in mixed company, while I Corinthians 14 forbids women from addressing the assembly when in church.
E. Nor is this a forbidding of all teaching. Older women are to teach younger women - Titus 2:3-5
F. Often overlooked is that Paul specifically speaks of women teaching children - I Timothy 2:15
1. A woman’s salvation is made more sure when she has children, if her children remain steadfast in godly living.
2. The implication is that she is involved in their rearing and teaching.
3. The same existed in the Old Testament - Proverbs 1:8; 6:20
4. Timothy was taught by his mother and grandmother - II Timothy 1:15; 3:14-15
G. When does a boy become a man?
1. Some select the time when a boy chooses to become a Christian because they have developed enough to distinguish between good and evil
2. We generally count a person an adult when they have matured physically and mentally.
3. Luke 2:52 - Children mature mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially
4. However, they don’t reach maturity in all areas at the same time. Most boys are physically mature by the age of 18, but recent studies show that mental maturation continues up to the age of 24 or 25 in males. Until the early twenties, the portion of the brain that governs judgment and restraint is not fully developed. But just because a boy, say of thirteen, is impulsive, it does not imply that he doesn't understand the difference between good and evil (i.e. spiritually mature)
5. The teenage years are the time for transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The transition should be gradual. The teenager gradually assumes more responsibility while the parents slowly release the limitations on his actions.
6. Even though a fourteen-year-old boy is not an adult by any stretch of the imagination, he is close to the age where he needs to be treated as an adult in limited areas. I would recommend that he start studying under adult males, not because the women can't do the job, but because he is entering the phase of life when he must learn his role in life. He needs males that he can use as role models to help guide him though the time of transition.
7. Does this mean his mother is to stop teaching him? Absolutely not! She has some of the most challenging lessons to give in the upcoming years. But in the public arena of the church, perhaps it is time to begin transitioning him over.
IV. When are we in church?
A. Most of what we have examined is fairly straight forward and most understand, but one area that generates controversy is what constitutes “in church?”
1. Everyone agrees that when the church is assembled for worship that this is “in church”
2. But what about gatherings for the purpose of studying God’s word?
B. In I Corinthians 14, the emphasis is on a gathering of the whole church - I Corinthians 14:23, 26
1. This gathering is properly referred to as the church since the Greek word ekklesia that it translates means an assembly
2. In this gathering, acts of worship are done, including teaching I Corinthians 14:26
3. Other passages also show the whole church worshiping together - I Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-34
4. Rhoda could speak during the gathering at Mary’s house because, while many Christians were gathered to pray, it was not an assembly of the whole church.
C. Time was set aside to gather as a church - I Corinthians 11:18
1. This implies there are times when Christians can gather without automatically constituting a church.
2. The church must gather for that purpose
D. Gatherings for other reasons
1. The church gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas’s report - Acts 15:4
a. In this gathering they determined to send representatives to other churches - Acts 15:22
b. The church acted as a unit, but it wasn’t gathered for the purpose of worship. The group acted as a church, but the group was not in church.
2. Thus we read that the whole church, men and women together, were pleased to select deacons - Acts 6:5
3. And to send a letter with men to deliver it - Acts 15:22
4. The implication is that Christians, men and women combined, gave their assent in some fashion. It was possible because the church wasn’t gathered at the time for the purpose of being in church
E. Is a time set aside for Bible study “in church?”
1. It can be. A church can set aside a part of their worship assembly for instructional purposes
a. Interactive teaching can be just as much a part of worship as preaching - I Corinthians 14:26
b. It is an opportunity for all to learn and be encouraged - I Corinthians 14:31
c. During that time men could ask questions and make comments on the lesson
d. But it would be a time the women would have to remain silent
2. But it is also proper to have Bible studies where the entire church is not present
a. Again, the example of Aquila and Priscilla - Acts 18:24-26
b. Since it is not an assembly of the entire congregation for the purpose of being in church, the silence of I Corinthians 14 doesn’t apply, though the rules for quietness in I Timothy 2 still remain.
3. If we could divide into classes scattered across the city, could we not also divide into classes at a common location?
a. These classes cannot be a part of the worship of the church because the congregation as a whole is not gathered together.
(1) Just as it would be wrong for the congregation to claim to hold worship services, but divide up into a children’s church, a young adult church, a men’s church and a ladies church
b. Even though all the members of a congregation are studying in different rooms, and in those rooms acts of worship, such as praying, singing, and instruction, are taking place, it remains that the church hasn’t called a gathering for the purpose of the entire church to worship
c. Coming to one location for multiple Bible classes would not constitute being in church.
V. This was a detailed lesson, but as we are required to teach the whole law of Christ, it is a necessary one.
A. It may not settle all the issues or even answer all your questions, but it is my hope that it gives you information for your studies so that you might make an informed decision.