Did Paul Tell Women to ‘Shut Up’ in Church?

I have been somewhat taken aback by the volume of material posted over the last four or five months regarding the oppression of women in the body of Christ. To my shame, I did not recognize this was as widespread an issue as it seems to be. The pervasiveness of the issue is clearly evinced by the amount of “airtime” and “ink” the issue is getting recently in social media and Christian news sources.

As an expert in my own mind, I asked myself, “Gee, Damon, what are your thoughts on this issue?” For this blog post, I have decided to limit my response to an analysis of one specific passage in the Pauline canon of scripture – 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38.

The Question

The question we will be attempting to answer is whether the apostle Paul told the Corinthian women to remain silent while in church. I’ll reveal the punch line here and tell you I believe quite the opposite is true, and if you stay with me for the entirety of this rather long blog posting, I hope to convince you of that by the time we reach the end.

Any analysis of the role of women in the body of Christ is a polarizing undertaking. We must give care, therefore, to avoid an emotional attachment toward what many hold to be the most misogynistic statement in the entire Pauline canon. Instead, we should apply ourselves to an objective analysis of the target passage.

The focal passage of this analysis reads as follows:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. – 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38, NASB

This passage presents us with some interesting difficulties. A fundamentalist student of the Word will begin with this passage and, having established a doctrine from it, work to explain seemingly contradictory passages considering this passage. I am suggesting an equally valid exercise wherein we reverse that approach, begin with other less controversial, more easily understood passages, and then work toward harmonizing this one by asking more difficult questions than we have previously asked.

Attempts to make peace with 1 Corinthians 14 have been varied in scope and approach.

  • Some claim Paul did not write these verses at all, insisting that they were added later. That is an argument, or explanation, to which I don’t ascribe much credence. I do believe this came from the apostle Paul.

  • Others will cite this passage as evidence that Paul was inconsistent and conclude from his inconsistency that we can ignore him altogether and do whatever suits us. Holy Spirit inspiration and inconsistency do not play well together in my mind.

  • Still others contend that Paul was not inconsistent but that he simply changed his mind. I dismiss this for the same reason I dismiss the inconsistency analysis. If God changes not, then his inspired message will not change either.

If we take the passage at face value, it does present a clear, apostolic prohibition against women speaking in Christian assemblies, even going so far as to attach some level of shame or disgrace to women speaking “in church.” Assuming we do accept the passage verbatim, several disturbing difficulties immediately arise. In our spirit of objectivity, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore these difficulties.

Three Challenges With a Literal Reading

  1. What constitutes a church? If a woman is to remain silent “in the churches,” based on the impropriety of her speaking in church, it is essential for us to determine exactly what constitutes “in church.” Jesus, while discussing disciplinary issues, indicated a gathering of two or more in his name includes his presence. Is that church? When a husband and wife pray together, is that church? When a small group of believers gathers in my home, is that church?

    I do not ask these questions facetiously. If we are going to take the passage literally regarding the behavior of the female gender in church, then we must take it equally literally regarding the practical definition of an ἐκκλησίᾳ, a “church.”

  2. It is problematic trying to harmonize this directive with other biblical passages that unquestionably display women in positions of leadership.

    • Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess in Judges chapters four and five. Following the death of Ehud, Deborah was the fourth Judge/Leader of pre-monarchic Israel. She rendered public decisions on disputes between the Israelites. It was Deborah who sent for Barak and commanded him to go to battle against the pagan, Sisera. Barak refused to go unless Deborah went with him. She did, and the honor of the victorious battle against Sisera went to Deborah, not Barak.

    • Huldah, the wife of Shallum, was a great prophetess in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34, during the reign of Josiah. The Huldah Gate in the Southern Wall of the Temple Mound is so named in her honor. When Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law collecting dust in the Temple, the king sent the scrolls to Hulda to have her confirm what the scrolls were, giving clear indication that she was considered the national authority on such matters.

    • Anna, the wife/widow of an unnamed husband, was the prophetess at the temple who, when Jesus was presented on his eighth day, announced to the crowd that the child was the promised redeemer.

      Note: Some will be quick to note that these three pre-church examples appear to be exceptions, rather than the societal standard. That is a valid observation. However, it must also be noted that societal standards are rarely God’s standards, and the calling of God on the lives of these three prominent women establishes that the unchanging God does not forbid such practice as Paul appears to be doing. Furthermore, we also see that neither did their culture prohibit it. It may not have been the norm, but clearly it was accepted.

    • The Acts 2 quotation of the prophecy of Joel declares a public role for women in the church, a role which would not have been common in the synagogue. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter gave a speech to the crowd in which he pointed to Joel’s prophecy as being fulfilled through the Spirit of God. Be very clear on this – it is God’s work.

      And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, that I will pour forth of My spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; Even on My bondslaves, both men and women, I will pour forth of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy. – Acts 2:17-18, (NASB)

      This quotation, speaking of the church age, not only allows that women will prophesy, it makes special emphasis of that fact in the last verse, stating that sons and daughters and “both men and women,” the bondslaves will prophesy because the Spirit of God will cause them to do so. Intellectual honesty demands we acknowledge that.

    • Philip’s four daughters, mentioned in Acts 21:9 constitute a fulfillment of the prophecy mentioned above.
  3. The “silence” directive of chapter 14 is inconsistent with much of chapter 11 from the same letter. In 1 Corinthians 11:3–16, Paul lays down a difficult discourse about head coverings for men and women. It is outside the scope of this blog post to give full treatment to that discourse, but one thing that is clear from the passage is that a woman who wears a head covering may both pray and prophesy. The context of chapter 11 is one of a religious assembly, so it is problematic to say this directive is intended for anything other than public assemblies of believers. While it is true that prayer is frequently a private engagement, in 1 Corinthians 14, the very chapter containing our target verses, Paul indicates that prophecy is intended for the edification of the entire body.

    • Some have asserted that the seeming contradiction between chapters 11 and 14 are not a contradiction at all, but rather that the assembly in chapter 11 is “informal” while the assembly in chapter 14 is “formal.” Such a dissimilitude is never presented by the apostle Paul, and no other New Testament passage notes a distinction between formal and informal assemblies, wherein certain activities are allowed in informal gatherings that are strictly prohibited in formal ones. Thus, this explanation is devoid of a foundation, and it cycles us back to the nagging question, “What constitutes church?”

    • Similarly, some have proposed that the chapter 11 assembly was one in which only women were present which, if true, would allow them to pray and prophesy without violating the directive in chapter 14. Such a proposal, however, is internally inconsistent. In a “women only” assembly, a head covering would be unnecessary according to the line of teaching in chapter 11. Setting aside the theological difficulties of the chapter 11 discussion, what is clear from that chapter is that the head covering is prescribed precisely because “the woman is the glory of man.” If only women are present, the head covering is a non-issue.

    • Still others argue that the context of 1 Corinthians 14 includes a discussion of spiritual gifts, specifically, tongues and prophecy. The argument contends that by the time Paul gets to verse 33 he is saying the wives of the prophets need to wait until they get home to evaluate and criticize the message. To do so in public is denigrating to the husband. If this is to be believed, it seems Paul is allowing others to knock the prophetic message in public, while the wife must wait for a private moment to do so. Furthermore, this argument neglects the female prophets in the body. Is there to be a similar restriction placed on their husbands? This argument is ludicrous.

A Proposal for Understanding Verses 33b-38

Years of study, attempting to understand this passage, and to harmonize it with other passages in which women are clearly praying and addressing an assembly of believers with a word from the Lord, have brought me to a view of this passage that is not outlined above.

I have concluded that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is not from Paul. Don’t misunderstand me though. Paul wrote them, yes, or rather he spoke them and his amanuensis wrote them for him, but these words do not reflect Paul’s belief, or his teaching.

A Pauline Rhetorical Device

It is not unusual for Paul to implement a practice in his letter-writing of alluding to statements made by his readers, and then responding to those statements. I am convinced that is what Paul has done with our target passage. Scholars agree, almost unanimously, that Paul uses this rhetorical device in his writing, but since we do not have quotation marks in the original Greek manuscripts, scholars do not agree on exactly where all these quotations are located.

Some examples of this practice from the letter of 1 Corinthians, alone:

  1. 1:2, “I am of (or follow) Paul” … “I am of Apollos” … “I am of Cephas.” They say it, Paul writes it, but the words do not reflect Paul’s doctrine or belief.

  2. 7:1, Paul writes, “Now for the things you wrote about:” and the very next thing he writes, I believe, is a quotation he presents to the Corinthians, a statement they would recognize immediately. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

    Really? I cannot see a God-inspired apostle saying such a thing with a straight face. The Corinthians say it, Paul quotes it back to them, and then he follows it up with some teaching that says in effect, “That may or may not be true, but if you’re going to find yourself living immorally, it’s just not very sound counsel.”

  3. 8:1, “We know that we all possess knowledge.” For starters, that’s not even true. Paul responds by saying, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

  4. 8:4, “We know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world and there is no God but one.” Really? Our world is flooded with idols, just as theirs was.

  5. 6:12, “Everything is permissible.” No. It isn’t. Murder is not permissible. Rape is not permissible. Child molestation is not permissible. Sexual intercourse with livestock is not permissible. Worship of idols is not permissible.

  6. 6:13, “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food.” Paul responds, “No. The whole body is for the Lord!”

Similar examples of this rhetorical technique are strewn throughout Paul’s epistles, but these are sufficient to make the point.

I submit, therefore, that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is a statement made by the Corinthian Christians, a statement to which Paul responds in verses 36-38. To make this assertion, I must offer convincing evidence, evidence that would cause me to seriously consider such a proposition. That evidence follows.

The Evidence

To begin with, I should state upfront that this is not an idea original to me. Extending as far back as 1924, the American Baptist Publication Society celebrated the completion of their first 100 years of work as a society, and did so by publishing the Centenary Translation of the New Testament.1 In this translation, 1 Corinthians 14:33b – 35 is set in quotation marks, indicating the committee’s belief that Paul was implementing his practice of quoting his audience and then responding to the quotation.

We will come at this from three distinct angles, each of which adds just a bit of weight to the assertion that what I am proposing is an accurate approach to reading and understanding our target passage.

1. Syntax, Vocabulary, and Writing Style

I start with this, because it is the weakest of the three evidentiary arguments, but it is true that writers have certain styles to which they adhere. This is certainly the case with Paul and, while I could offer extensive examples of consistency in his approach to writing, it is my hope that this is a concession the reader is willing to make.

As in all the congregations of the saints…

Consider the opening phrase of our target passage. Paul writes, “As in all the congregations of the saints…” It would have been sufficient to say, “As in all the congregations…”

Some scholars have noted that often in the Corinthian literature, the phrase, “the saints” seems to refer to a very specific group of believers. Further study drives us to the conclusion that the specific group in mind is the Palestinian Christians and perhaps, even more specifically, those in Jerusalem.

  • Take, as an example of this, 1 Corinthians 16:1, where Paul writes, “Now concerning the collection for the saints…” The collection to which he refers is for a specific group of believers – the church in Jerusalem, a body that supported a large number of widows, and one suffering in the midst of a famine.

  • Another example is in 2 Corinthians 9:1, “For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints…” Again, Paul is referring to the Jerusalem church. They were gathering funds specifically to support their brothers and sisters in Christ in Jerusalem. Paul would be in Corinth later to pick up that support and deliver it to Jerusalem.

Is it reasonable for us to believe that there might be a group of believers in Corinth who would use the phrase “congregations of the saints” in such a way as to refer to the Jerusalem believers? I submit that, not only is it reasonable, but that it might be those very believers who were quoted in chapter 1 as saying, “I follow Cephas” (Peter).

What is it that sets the Cephas-aligned believers apart from the others at Corinth?

Cephas walked with Jesus in the flesh, something that neither Paul nor Apollos did. Cephas had a first-hand example from Jesus. He operates in Jerusalem, home of the “mother church” where Christianity finds its roots, beginning with that mighty Acts 2 sermon from Cephas/Peter himself.

Here is a group of believers that says, “Hey, we are those of the old paths. Perhaps out here in Asia Minor, Paul has all these newfangled ways of doing things where you don’t have to keep the customs of the Jews, but we … yes, we follow Cephas; we follow the old ways.” The phrase, “As in all the congregations of the saints…” could easily be a flag-phrase of the Cephite disciples in the church of Corinth, a phrase that is used to refer to the Jerusalem Christians.

As the Law also says…

The textual argument of 1 Corinthians 14:34 is that the women need to remain silent. Why? What force is put to that argument? It is because the Law says so.

There are three glaring problems with this idea.

  • Glaring Problem #1 – In what other passage does the apostle Paul ever say that a Christian must do anything because the Law of Moses says they must do so? I cannot identify a single instance of this occurring. Paul uses the Law to illustrate concepts, but never to bind. Indeed, the entire letter to the Galatian churches demonstrates quite the opposite truth. Paul says we are free from the Law, so it is unthinkable that he would use it here to bind.

  • Glaring Problem #2 – In every passage from Corinthians where Paul references the Law, he quotes the verse … except here. That is an inconsistency that cannot be ignored. With a statement as dynamic and as impactful as this one seems to be, it would behoove Paul to quote the referenced Law in support of his statement.

  • Glaring Problem #3 – Where does the Law say this, that women must remain silent in the churches? It doesn’t say it anywhere. Nothing in the Law even approaches this. Is it in keeping with Holy Spirit inspiration for an apostle of Jesus Christ to spit out alleged quotations, attributing them to the Law of Moses, when no such quotations exist?

Some have tried to downplay this substantial oversight by saying the silence directive from Paul is an “extension” of Genesis 3:16, “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.’

I see nothing in Genesis 3:16 that lends itself to silence in Christian assemblies. And even if it did, it is important to realize that Genesis 3:16 is a curse, and not a command. This extension principle would be a rabbinical interpretation of the Law (curse), and I don’t see the apostle Paul mandating obedience even to the Law itself, much less some rabbinical tradition stemming from their interpretation of the Law, particularly an interpretation as misguided as this one seems to be.

Josephus, a non-Christian, Jewish historian of the first century, in his work Against Apion – Book II, sections 200 to 201, makes the following statement, “The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive.” Again, there is no such statement in the Law. What Josephus is referring to is a rabbinical tradition.

In the Mishna and Talmud, we can find several misogynistic statements, just like the one Josephus references above. Statements like, “It is indecent for a woman’s voice to be heard,” abound in these writings. It is highly likely that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a reference to such statements as though they were Mosaic Law.

If we tie this idea back to the core argument in this section, we have the Cephite disciples reflecting the Judaic culture, saying, “We do things the way they do them in the motherland, and one of the things they do in the motherland is they prohibit women speaking in public.”

2. The Greek Disjunctive Particle

Multiple occurrences of the Greek disjunctive particle ἢ are found in our target passage. According to the Greek-English Lexicon by Arndt and Gingrich, this disjunctive particle “separates opposites which are mutually exclusive.” Lidell and Scott, in their lexicon, state that it is an exclamation expressing disapproval.

Twice in our target passage, Paul uses this disapproving, mutually exclusive particle. It carries the idea of a “not” used by the youth of our day. “Hey, you’re an excellent hockey player, man … NOT!”

While many translations ignore particle completely, the King James Version translates it, “What?” or sometimes, “Never!” To get a feel for how Paul uses this disjunctive particle, let’s look at its usage in other passages.

For our purposes, I will render the disjunctive particle as “Preposterous!” That accurately captures the idea. Paul uses this throughout his writings, but we will constrain ourselves just to 1 Corinthians, since that is home to our target passage. When you see this particle in action, I believe it will shed bright, new light on our target passage.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:1-2, Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Preposterous! Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts?

  • 1 Corinthians 6:8-9, On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. Preposterous! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

  • 1 Corinthians 6:15-16a, Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Preposterous! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her?

  • 1 Corinthians 6:18b-20a, Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Preposterous! Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

  • 1 Corinthians 9:5-8, Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Preposterous! Do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Preposterous! Who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Preposterous! Does not the Law also say these things?

  • 1 Corinthians 10:21-22, You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Preposterous! Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?

  • 1 Corinthians 11:13-15a, Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Preposterous! Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her?

  • 1 Corinthians 11:20-22, Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. Preposterous! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.

Now that you have the idea how the particle functions, let’s place it in our target passage and see how it sheds new light on the actual meaning. Also, note that I have supplied quotation marks around what I believe Paul is quoting back to the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 14:33b-38

“As in all the churches of the saints, the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” Preposterous! Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Preposterous! Has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.

When we look at our target passage with the disjunctive particle in place, we see Paul saying that the statement requiring women to be silent in the Christian assembly is completely asinine. He raises the question, “Did the Word of God originate with you folks?” That too is asinine! “Perhaps you’re the only ones it has reached and the rest of us are in the dark.”

Paul is using a powerful rhetorical device, following a pattern he has used throughout the Corinthian letter. He states the Corinthian position, expresses disapproval with the disjunctive particle, and then moves forward, teaching an accurate view or understanding. In a sense, it is like the modern-day practice of shaming.

At the end of this section, Paul asserts his apostolicity, saying he is the one with a word from the Lord, not the Cephite disciples, and refusal to hear Paul on this puts the Corinthians in danger of not being “recognized.”

3. The Masculine Pronoun “You”

In verse 36, Paul asks, “Was it from you (plural) that the word of God first went forth? Preposterous! Has it come to you (plural) only?

Strictly speaking, Greek pronouns do not have gender attached to them. We must determine the gender from context and sentence construction. From that, we can tell if a pronoun, “you” in this case, is masculine, feminine, or neuter.

In this passage, the gender is determined by the modifier, “only” (μόνους). Monous is masculine, and from that, we determine that you (ὑμᾶς) is also masculine. Thus, in English, we might say what Paul said in this way, “Was it from you men that the word of God first went forth? That’s preposterous! Has it come to you men only?”

In fairness, and in the interest of full objectivity, let’s consider the fact that often masculine pronouns are used to refer to entire mixed-gender assemblies. A speaker may stand before a group and say, “Now, brethren…” but he’s not speaking only to the men. He is addressing the entire assembly, but using a masculine term to do so. Paul says, “By faith we have all become sons of God.” Do all women become men when they embrace their faith in Christ? No. This is a commonly used rhetorical device.

So, in our target passage, the masculine “you” could be inclusive. Or, it could be deliberately exclusive, as I believe it is. I believe Paul chose his masculine “only” as a dig, to chastise these arrogant Corinthian men, specifically the Cephite disciples, for teaching and practicing an oppressive stance regarding the sisters in the church.

Beyond the masculine pronoun, context itself seems to demand that Paul is addressing the men in this passage. The passage says that they (women) are not permitted to speak. Let them (women) subject themselves. If they (wives) desire to learn anything, let them ask their husbands.

This thoroughly demonstrates that Paul is talking to men about women. The men at Corinth were saying, essentially, “If women want to know something about what we’re doing here, let them ask their own husbands at home, because we all know it is disgraceful for a woman’s voice to be heard in public, and far be it from us to bring disgrace on the body of the Lord.”

Therefore, when Paul says “you” in verse 36, the “you” being addressed is the men, and these men are being verbally spanked by the apostle. Paul says to these men, “That’s dangerous teaching, guys. It sets you up in the place of God as his only mouthpiece.”

Furthermore, according to Paul, if it is only the men’s voices that are to be heard in public, we have a real problem with verse 31 in this same chapter, where it says all (πάντες) may prophesy in turn, not just the guys. Remember Joel’s prophecy that God will pour out his Spirit on “all flesh,” men and women, your sons and daughters, and that your sons and daughters will prophesy. We saw it with the four daughters of Philip, and we saw it with the women of Corinth in Chapter 11.

Indeed, it may be this very prophesying by the Corinthian women that was getting under the skin of the Cephite disciples, causing the stir that resulted in Paul quoting back to them in verses 33b – 35.

In essence, Paul says, “All may prophesy so that all can learn and be exhorted; the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. Now, if this is the case, how is it that some of you men are saying the women cannot prophesy, but that they must remain silent? I am the inspired apostle here, and I never taught you that. If you don’t acknowledge that I am giving you the command of the Lord, then you will not be recognized either!” (My rough paraphrase)

That’s very strong language. We would do well to heed it.


Based on these three arguments, I have concluded that 1 Corinthians 14:33b – 35 constitutes a quotation of a specific segment of the Corinthian men to whom Paul responds, “Guys, go pound sand! The Spirit of God has come on both the sons and the daughters, and these sisters have a function and a word from God for you. And for you to teach otherwise puts you in a very precarious position with God.”

I have a real problem with this passage if we are to take it literally as the belief and teachings of Paul. If this is Paul’s inspired position, then I must assume women are to be silent in public. They are not to be heard. Since there is no biblical distinction between formal and informal gatherings of believers, then women are not to speak in classes, in small groups, in fellowship meals, any place where there is a gathering of disciples. Sitting in my living room in the privacy of my home, if other believers are there, even one, my wife must remain silent.

Yet I see Huldah was a great prophetess. I see Deborah as a magnificent, brave Judge. I find Anna in the Temple announcing the Redeemer. I see the daughters of Philip prophesying and edifying. If we are to believe that 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35 is from Paul, then God inspired all these women to do something his own Law condemned, and I cannot accept that.

This passage must be harmonized with clear teachings in other passages. It must make sense to the people to whom it was written, and it must be seen in the context of their time, their culture, and their belief system. Only then can we know exactly what was meant.

I believe this was a statement made by, and belief held by the male, Cephite disciples in Corinth. I believe they were seeking an opinion from former Pharisee, Paul, on it, and if not, he offers one anyway. I believe Paul threw their quotation back at them and told them it was preposterous thinking and teaching. I am convinced that Paul is telling them that the exact opposite is true, and he hit them hard with verse 38, saying if they do not accept this then neither will they be recognized.

If I am correct about this, then many in the body of Christ are perpetuating a flawed teaching that is almost 2,000 years old; one which the inspired apostle Paul declared to be ludicrous and dangerous. The suppression of sisters in Christ is not a teaching I can endorse or teach because I believe it to be a teaching that is in opposition to God.

Blessings upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon

  1. Centenary translation of the New Testament : published to signalize the completion of the first hundred years of work of the American Baptist Publication – available at https://archive.org/details/centenarytransla0000unse

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  1. Wendy L Macdonald on June 12, 2018 at 12:00 AM

    Thank you for researching and writing about this topic, Damon. Jesus treated women well–as equals to men–so I’ve had a hard time reconciling the popular view regarding women not being able to preach in church. This article gives me reason to consider rejecting the stale air I’ve been led to breathe.

    • Damon J. Gray on June 12, 2018 at 12:00 AM

      Breathe deeply my friend! The air is fresh and clean.

  2. Edward Dingess on August 3, 2020 at 7:04 PM

    The gender of a word does not fix or determine the gender of its referent. Moreover, you do not interpret the brighter, later light through the lens of the lessor, earlier light. I put a lot of work into this article, mentioned several “glaring” problems but failed to harmonize this position with the glaring problem of 1 Tim. 2:9-15. In fact, you conclusion seems to place God in the embarrassing position of engaging in double-speak. That’s just impossible to take seriously.

    • Damon Gray on August 3, 2020 at 8:40 PM

      Thank you for chiming in Ed. Given that Greek pronouns do not have gender, how do you determine to whom “you” is referring? And what are the greater and lesser lights you mention?

      And yes, the Timothy passage presents its own challenge. This was not an article on the role of women in the church. This was a deep examination of one specific passage.

  3. Philip Thomas Mohr on August 6, 2020 at 9:11 PM

    Rather than speculating about a change in voice (for which there is no syntactic marker and which no Greek-speaking interpreters in the ancient church ever managed to recognize), it is probably better just to refer this passage to its immediate context. The so-called riddle is solved by *not* starting at v. 33b. Paul is giving not an absolute prohibition against all speech but a relative one—relative to the context of multiple speakers arising in a formal assembly of believers where prophecies are being discussed and judged. Women themselves can prophesy, as you pointed out, but they should not be discussing it or deliberating on the course of action it during the formal assembly. *

    If we interpret the passage in its immediate context as a relative prohibition, then there is no problem harmonizing it with 1 Tim 2, as Edward Dingess’s comment suggested. Paul is not quoting someone else in that letter; his own view is that women should not speak to deliberate on the course of action in a formal assembly, and the basis for that view is—yet again—the Law, specifically Gen 2 (see 1 Tim 2.13–15).

    Furthermore, to your first argument, Paul repeatedly refers to the legitimacy of the Law in establishing principles for Christian conduct; he quotes it everywhere, even in this very chapter. To your second argument, the disjunctive need not be over-translated; here and in all the cases that you cited it is a conjunction introducing a rhetorical question with an implied negative answer; “or” is a sufficient translation (see BDAG, s.v. “ἤ,” 1.d). To your third argument, the plural pronoun, though it can be shown as grammatically masculine, says nothing definite about the male-ness of the audience; the masculine plural is the standard for mixed company, as you noted, and we are speculating if we narrow it down more, for Paul gives no vocative to narrow it down.

    *There is also a text-critical point, but not one that is as easy to prove. The facts (a) that vv. 34–35 are transposed after v. 36 in some text traditions and (b) that these verses are not missing from any manuscript suggest together that vv. 34–35 could have been a large marginal addition from Paul’s hand. That suggestion reinforces the interpretation of this as a relative prohibition: Paul did not intend to make a blanket statement about women’s conduct in all cases but to give an application of the principle of orderly worship to a specific problem that the Corinthians were dealing with.

    • Damon Gray on August 6, 2020 at 9:43 PM

      Philip, thank you for joining the conversation, and for eloquently articulating your thoughts. While we clearly see it differently, I genuinely appreciate your contribution and the loving and respectful manner in which you presented it. I am particularly intrigued by the idea of a marginal comment though, as you noted, it is a difficult one to substantiate. That’s a suggestion I’d not previously heard.

      Again, thank you for your contribution!

  4. Rosanne on July 30, 2021 at 2:21 AM

    Thank you Damon, I found this so helpful in my understanding of this passage. Just to say that the reference to Huldah should be from 2 Kings 22, not 1 Kings. I only picked that up as I read 1 Kings 22 yesterday and had no recollection of reading about a prophetess.

    • Damon Gray on July 30, 2021 at 5:35 AM

      Thank you for the kind comment, Rosanne, and also for the editorial catch. You’re absolutely right that the finding of the book of the Law and taking it to Huldah for identification is 2 Kings rather than 1 Kings. I appreciate you catching that typo!

  5. Warren on February 21, 2022 at 8:15 AM

    Great article brother as usual, often when people tackle this issue they just reference 1 Corinthians, I was curious your thoughts on 1 Timothy 2:11-14

    These scriptures to me are more difficult to discern because he’s not addressing a specific “Church” but the order of service/worship?

    What are your thoughts? Keep up the good work brother!

    • Damon J. Gray on February 21, 2022 at 9:15 AM

      Hello Warren, and thanks for popping in.

      Yeah, the Timothy passage is difficult as well, and I confess I have not studied it as deeply . . . yet! I’ll get to it at some point, but I can tell you this – I’m convinced it is not telling us what we have traditionally said, but I can’t just say that. I need to dig into it, and harmonize it with passages where we clearly have examples of women teaching men. I do not ever accept the assertion that the Bible is contradictory. We just need to read it more carefully.

      • Bev Sterk on June 8, 2022 at 11:44 AM

        Are you interested in having a conversation about 1 Timothy 2? I would love to share some of the insights I haven’t covered in the last several years that are absolutely fascinating and definitely indicate we have misunderstood this passage to the harm of the body of Christ.,

        • Damon J. Gray on June 8, 2022 at 12:09 PM

          Hello Bev! Welcome to the site and thank you for chiming in.

          At some point I’ll do a similar deep-dive into Timothy. I’ll grant that it is still troublesome to me because it is incongruous with other scripture, but I maintain that in such cases, the problem is ALWAYS with me and never with scripture.

          I don’t know when I’ll get around to digging into Timothy and writing a similar article on that, but it will happen at some point.

  6. FRANK J LICARY on March 6, 2022 at 7:31 AM

    1 Corinthians 14:34-35: One of the advantages of living in our modern age is that we continue to improve in our ability to reconstruct the “original” text. Of course this is of inestimable value because the original God-breathed Word is priceless, but it also allows us to see into the mindset of the copyists who sometimes altered the text. Although often changes to the biblical text were just simple copying mistakes, sometimes they were an attempt to “correct” the Bible, and reflected the theology and culture of the time. When scholars encounter a word (or words) that is in some ancient manuscripts but not in others, they have certain tests they apply to see whether the word was added to the original, or omitted from it. Scholars consider things such as age of the manuscripts, the type or style of the writing, the ink that is used, and the “manuscript family” the texts come from. A very important principle in finding the original text is that the more difficult reading tends to be original. That is because scribes tended to alter texts to make them easier to understand, or to fit into accepted theology more easily.

    One test of the originality of a verse is its placement in the Bible. If a phrase is in the original text, then obviously, when it is omitted, it is always omitted from the same place. However, if a phrase is not in the original text, a scribe adds it but a later scribe, thinking it fits better somewhere else, adds it in a different place or moves it somewhere else. The sentiment that women should not be leaders, or take a prominent role in the Church, caused scribes and copyists to change quite a few biblical texts about women, and the fact that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 do not appear in the same place in every manuscript of 1 Corinthians, is one reason some scholars conclude they were added to the text by a copyist. Alan Johnson (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 1 Corinthians, p. 271), and Richard Hays (A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: 1 Corinthians, p. 247), are two such scholars.

    Additions to the text often break the context and even cause contradictions, and that is the case here. Scholars have long noticed that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 break the flow of the passage, which makes perfect sense without them. Verse 36 makes perfect sense after verse 33, because the prophets who spoke had a revelation (v. 30), but they still must listen to other prophets. The word of the Lord had not come “to you only,” i.e., only to those prophets. However, if we add verses 34 and 35, we create contradictions in the text.

    One of the contradictions created by the addition of these verses is that there is no evidence any women thought the Word of God came to them only, as verse 36 asserts. There is nothing in Greco-Roman or Jewish culture, or in the context of these verses, that leads us to think that the women in Corinth asserted that the Word of God came only to them, or only out from them. The fact that the women of Corinth wore head coverings as a sign of the authority over them (1 Cor. 11:5) is evidence that they were not being rebellious or acting as if God was speaking only to them. Paul’s comment in verse 36 seems especially inappropriate if addressed to the women because it is harsher than a simple statement, it is, as Robertson and Plummer point out, actually sarcasm (Robertson and Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, p. 326).

    Being sarcastic to the women is inappropriate and out of place. On the other hand, writing the phrase about the Word of God coming to “you only” would make perfect sense if it were written to one of the prophets. A prophet who got a revelation from God, as is indicated in verse 30, might have felt so strongly about his revelation that he might try to persuade the entire congregation of his point of view no matter how other prophets saw the situation. Since it can take a real jolt to convince a prophet to let go of his idea, if the sarcastic sentences in verse 36, and the phrase, “has it come to you only” is applied to the prophets in verses 29 and 30, they fit perfectly. That verse 36 applies best to the prophets of verse 30 and not to the women of verses 34 and 35, is powerful evidence that the verses about the women being silent were added. The phrase about the women “asking their husbands” at home is more good evidence these verses were added to the text. For more see Appendix 12 The Role of Women in the Church https://www.revisedenglishversion.com/Appendix/12/bb

  7. Chris Hearn on January 5, 2024 at 7:34 PM

    Hello Damon.

    I write this as one who agrees with your conclusion, that women should preach in church.

    A while ago I thought about the application of Paul’s teaching from the other point of view. Here are a couple of questions for those who believe that a woman should not preach at the main Sunday morning service. This does not involve pastoring a church; simply the act of preaching.

    Do you believe that a man can read a theological book written by a woman? If so, isn’t that a form of teaching?

    Similar question- if you say that a man can read a theological book written by a woman and you agree with the content, can the author preach a message from the book? Would you approve of her preaching at your church if the sermon was taken directly from the book? If not, what is the difference between reading the book and a preached message taken directly from the same book?

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