May Women Speak In Church?
(1 Corinthians 14:35)
by Douglas Hoff
Occasionally, a Christian will express his or her belief that it is wrong for a woman to speak in Bible class. This usually includes all types of speaking whether it is commenting on a scripture, offering an observation, reading a passage from the Bible, answering a question the teacher posed to the class or even asking a question about the material being studied. Those who believe this know it is wrong for women to exercise leadership over men in the church. This comes primarily from two passages: 1 Corinthians , 35 and 1 Timothy 2:11, 12. To assist the reader, these passages and the verses pertinent to the context are reproduced below:
(1 Corinthians 14:26-35; NKJV) How is it then, brethren? Whenever you 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 for edification. (27) If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. (28) But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. (29) Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. (30) But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. (31) For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. (32) And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. (33) For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (34) Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. (35) And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
(1 Timothy 2:8-13; NKJV) I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; (9) in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, (10) but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. (11) Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. (12) And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (13) For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
In I Corinthians 14 Paul was dealing with a gathering of the church where men and women were present. The men were teaching in various ways and in this setting the women were told to “...keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak…for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” The Greek word translated as “silent” in verse 34 is sigao which means absolute silence. This Greek word is also used in Luke where the American Standard Version (1901) translated it as “they held their peace, and told no man.” Clearly, this indicates saying nothing.
Interestingly, sigao is also applied to the men of the Corinthian assembly. If the Holy Spirit gave a man the ability to speak in a foreign language (“tongues”) but no interpreter was present, then that man was told to “keep silent in church” (v. 28). Similarly, if the Holy Spirit revealed a prophecy to two or more men, only one was permitted to speak at any given time. The others were commanded to “keep silent” (v. 30).
In 1 Timothy 2 Paul was dealing with the different roles men and women have as Christians. These roles are to respected at all times — not just when the saints gather for worship. In this passage Paul points out that men are to be the leaders. They are to lead in prayer (v.8). The sisters are not allowed to exercise authority over a man (v.12). By its very nature teaching requires the exercise of authority over the students. Thus, it would be wrong for a sister to teach a Bible class where men are present. If the class consists only of women, then it is proper for a woman teach (Titus 2:3-5).
It is critical to our understanding to realize that a different Greek word is used in 1 Timothy where Paul said the woman is “... to be in silence.” Here the Holy Spirit used the word hesuchia. Unlike sigao, hesuchia does not mean absolute silence. Instead, it means stillness, quietness or desistance from bustle. The ASV correctly translates hesuchia in 1 Timothy 2:11,12 as “quietness” instead of silence. Paul said the women were to learn in quietness, not absolute silence.
Do these two passages teach that women cannot speak at all “in (the) church?” No. Asking a question does not put a sister in a position of authority over the teacher. Rather, it shows the sister submission to the teacher just as it
would if a man asked a question. Reading a scripture the teacher requested also does not violate scriptural principles. The teacher is still in charge of the class. Answering a question, making a comment on a scripture offering an observation does not necessarily mean the student has taken the lead. As long as those remarks are made in a spirit of “quietness,” then the sister is not exercising authority over the teacher.
In other congregations this teacher has seen a few sisters who tried to dominate the class. They were not in submission to the teacher and tried to exercise authority over the class. This behavior is condemned by both 1 Corinthians , 35 and 1 Timothy 2:11, 12. At all times the men must lead so that all things will be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians ).
What if a sister feels it is wrong to speak during Bible class? Should she violate her conscience? No, for that would be sinful for her (Romans ). She can certainly learn in quietness and be well pleasing to the Lord. In matters of personal conviction everyone has the right to his or her opinion.
Roy Deaver, “Woman And Prayer,” Spiritual Sword”, July 1975, 13-15.
Tim Ayers, ‘Were Euodias And Syntyche Authorized To Preach To And Teach Mixed (Adult
Male/Female) Assemblies (Thus Authorizing Women To Do So Today)?,” in Studies In
Philippians And Colossians, ed. Dub McClish (
Tom Wacaster, “Answering False Doctrines Relating To Galatians: There Should Be No Role Distinction Between Men And Women In The Church,” in Studies in Galatians, ed. Dub McClish (Denton, TX: Valid Publications, Inc., 1986), 368-9.
Douglas Hoff, preacher
(734) 782 -2886 [office]