KEEPING SILENCE IN CHURCH (2)
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
"women should remain silent" - since the same letter by Paul allows women to pray and prophesy in church as long as their heads are covered (11:4-5), this passage cannot be a prohibition on speaking or Paul would be contradicting himself.
The only kind of speaking specifically addressed in this passage is verse 35: "If they want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home". This implies that the problem at Corinth was that some women were speaking up to ask questions during the prophecies or Scriptural expositions, and disturbing the meetings. This would have caused an affront to the more conservative men or visitors.
The women were more likely to be asking questions than men, because in Greek and Jewish cultures the women were less educated and unaccustomed to public lectures. Their asking of questions was a result of their eagerness to learn, but the resulting disturbance was preventing others from benefiting from the exposition.
"as the Law says" - what law said woman could not speak, but must be in submission? The Law of Moses made no such prohibition, and even so, Paul was unlikely to quote the Law for support as he nowhere else appeals to it absolutely, and he opposed the Judaizers who insisted on adhering to the Law. However, Rabbinic law contains an almost identical prohibition (Meg. 23a). While women were legally entitled to recite, and be called up to, the Reading of the Law in Synagogues, this Rabbinical enactment forbade this in order to preserve decorum (Encyclopaedia of the Jewish Religion: Women).
If Paul would not seek the support of the Mosaic Law would he quote a Rabbinic law in support? It’s unlikely. We need to view this passage in its broader context:
• 1 Corinthians is Paul's reply to an earlier letter written to him by the Corinthians.
• Their earlier letter contained questions and other material which Paul is now answering. His main responses commence in 7:1 and occupy most of the remainder of the letter.
• He sometimes quotes from their letter before answering it, e.g., "Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to marry’. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband." (1 Cor 7:1-2). I have put the words in italics in quotation marks because the words that follow show this is not Paul's view but is a quotation from their letter which he answers in the words “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband”. There are several quotations from their letter in the chapters which follow. (See also 6:12-14 where the NIV puts some words in quotation marks, assuming they are from the letter from the Corinthians.)
• These words in 14:34-35, or some of them, are likely to be from the Corinthians' letter and Paul is responding to them. They might quote a Rabbinic law but Paul would not!
1 Corinthians 14:36-40
Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.
Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
• Paul's response, in verse 36, is one of indignation: "Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" He challenges their right to impose a ruling which conflicts with the revealed Word of God, even to deal with a local issue. Verse 36 commences with the Greek adversative participle ay (“what?” in the KJV). Paul elsewhere begins with this participle when he wishes to challenge the Corinthians' behaviour (e.g. in 11:20-21 he states the situation and then challenges it in verse 22, commencing with this participle.) The language of verse 36 has been described as "biting rhetoric" - "Who do they think they are anyway, is the implication; has God given them a special word that allows them to reject Paul's instructions, and be so out of touch with the other churches, and carry on in their own individualistic way as if there were no other believers in the world?" (Gordon Fee).
Paul's concluding words are his summary of the two main issues dealt with in chapter 14, with his conclusion on whether women should be prohibited from speaking: 'Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (verses 39-40). The ability to prophesy and speak in tongues by the Spirit of God was God's own verdict that He had empowered both men and women to speak in the church. To forbid anyone from speaking was to oppose God (he states this in verse 37, "what I am writing to you is the Lord's command").
However, their eagerness to prophesy led to too many prophets wanting to speak at once, and the women were so eager to learn that they interrupted the meeting with questions. Paul gave instructions to resolve this so that "everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" but objected to their restriction on women speaking.