Does I Corinthians 14:34-35 Apply
To The Modern Day Assembly?
by Patrick T. Donahue
Although most (though the number is dwindling daily) of my fellow Christians believe that it is wrong for a woman to preach in the church's assembly, many of them do NOT believe that I Cor 14:34-35 forbids it today (some do believe that other passages forbid it), because they believe that the passage does not apply to the modern day assembly. I disagree with this conclusion that I Cor 14:34-35 does not apply to the modern day assembly, and would like to state why in this article.
Does The Chapter Only Regulate Spiritual Gifts?
Some teach that since chapter 14 is primarily dealing with spiritual gifts, that we cannot apply it to today, since spiritual gifts are not being exercised today. I believe this to be an unwarranted assumption, that just because chapter 14 is primarily dealing with the regulation of spiritual gifts, that we cannot learn anything for ourselves (in absence of those gifts) today. For example, can we not see that the instruction to the tongue speakers and the prophets in I Cor 14:27,31 to speak one at a time would apply by principle with equal force today to uninspired speakers? In other words, we should not have two speaking at once in today's assemblies. Also, is it not true that the concluding remark of the chapter ("Let all things be done decently and in order") would apply just as much today as it did then? Moving to another context: don't all faithful Christians recognize Acts 20:7 as a binding example (concerning the frequency of partaking of the Lord's Supper) even though Paul's speech to that assembly was likely inspired, and therefore "that assembly can't be duplicated"?
The Greek Work For "Silence"
Some point out that the Greek word for "silence" in verse 34 is also found in verses 28 and 30, and then make the application that verses 28 and 30 "thus enforce the same degree of silence upon the persons mentioned and under the circumstances described." To this I reply, I wholeheartedly agree!; when one person is already speaking in tongues (the circumstances of verse 28), another tongue speaker should be just as quiet as the woman should be during the whole assembly (the circumstances of verse 34-35). Likewise, when one person is already prophesying (the circumstances of verse 30), another prophet should be just as quiet as the woman should be throughout the assembly. Keep in mind that verses 34-35 are not a regulation against two speaking at once as verses 28 and 30 are; verses 34-35 forbid a woman from speaking in general, even when no one else is speaking.
Commanded To Be Under Obedience, As Also Saith The Law
Some think that the phrase, "but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law" (verse 34), somehow allows women to speak in today's assembly. They attempt to find a woman speaking "in the assembly" in the Old Testament, and then reason that since women could speak then, and since today's women are to be under obedience as Old Testament women were, then a woman today can speak also.
There are a number of things wrong with this understanding of the phrase. First, this understanding contradicts what the passage actually says, that women are not to speak in the assembly. Second, the passage is saying that when women don't speak, they are under obedience. Not speaking is how they remain in obedience in this context. The passage is not saying that it is right for them to speak as long as they remain under obedience; the passage is saying that when she is silent she is being obedient. Third, the passage is not saying that women are to be silent, as also sayeth the law, but that they are to be under obedience, as also sayeth the law. The passage is not saying that women are to be in obedience to the same commands as in the Old Testament, but only that both laws taught obedience on the part of the woman. The application of this role of submission may be different under some circumstances depending on the covenant, but both laws taught obedience on the part of women. To illustrate, we might say that man is to be in obedience to God in the New Testament just as he was in the Old. We don't mean that the regulations to be obeyed are the same; we are simply saying that both laws require obedience. Obedience under the old law and obedience under the new law are not necessarily the same relative to women speaking in an assembly.
Does "Your Women" Only Refer To The Prophet's Wives?
Another thing to keep in mind is that the prohibition in verses 34-35 is not just against inspired women speaking, it is against all women (verse 35b). Some maintain that the "your women" of verse 34 is referring only to those women belonging to the prophets (their wives), since the section has just concluded discussing the prophets in verses 29-32. The argument then is that since there are no prophets today, there are no prophet's wives, therefore the passage applies to no one today. I don't believe that the passage is only referring to the prophet's wives for at least two reasons. One reason is because verse 33 seems to be the conclusion to the preceding paragraph, and indeed many translations so mark it. Regardless, it is impossible to prove from the context that the "your women" of verse 34 only refers to the prophet's wives, it can only be an assumption.
The second reason that I do not believe that the "your women" of verse 34 refers only to the prophet's wives is because of the difference in person of the verbs and pronouns used in the passage. The book of I Corinthians is addressed to all the saints in Corinth (I Cor 1:2) and therefore a second person verb or pronoun would naturally be referring to the whole group unless otherwise stated. Closer to the immediate context of the verses in question, I Cor 14:6 shows us that Paul is addressing the "brethren" as a whole, not just a selected portion. The word "brethren" is used again in verses 20, 26, and 39, showing that the whole chapter is addressed to the brethren as a group; this group as a whole is what is being addressed by the second person verbs and pronouns. Notice then that the "your" (second person) women of verse 34 would naturally refer, not to a select group of women, but to the Corinthian women as a whole.
Notice that when select groups of the brethren are being talked about, such as the tongue speakers and the prophets in verses 27-32, the third person is generally used. Most can see this for themselves from the English. As for the Greek, I am told that the verb "speak" in verse 27 is in the third person, "keep silence" and "speak" in verse 28 is in the third person, as well as the verbs "speak" in verse 29, and "are subject" in verse 32. On the other hand, the verb "come together" in verse 26 is in the second person, referring to all the "brethren" (not just a select group) and the word "your" in "your women" in verse 34 comes from the pronoun "you," obviously referring to the whole group being addressed just as verse 26 is. Note: I believe that verse 31 (second person verb "prophesy") is again referring to the brethren as a whole, and is basically teaching that following these regulations would give an opportunity for all to prophesy, which all should covet to do (verse 39).
"Let Them Ask Their Husbands At Home"
Some quote from v.35, "let them ask their husbands at home," as further evidence that only the prophet's wives are being referred to. The reasoning is that the passage is only talking to women who had husbands, therefore it must not be a general admonition. But the phrase, "let them ask their husbands at home," does not prove that all of the women under consideration had husbands, but only that they did as a general rule. For example, if you were teaching a women's Bible class consisting of 90% married women, and 10% single women, you could ask them to ask their husbands a question at home, even though some of them did not have husbands. You would not be excluding the single women at all. Those who make this argument on "husbands" probably understand the word "home" here in exactly the same way I understand "husbands." It is not that the "home" is the only place that the women can ask a question, but that it is generally the place that the question would be asked.
Verse 35 Generalizes The Regulation To All Women
After saying all this, let me emphasize that even if I am wrong about who the "your women" of verse 34 are, that is, if "your women" does refer only to the prophet's wives, I Cor 14:34-35 would still apply to women today because verse 35 generalizes the passage to all women, then and now. Whoever the "your women" of verse 34 are, whether they are the Corinthian women as a whole or just the prophet's wives, verse 35 says that it is wrong for them to speak because "it is a shame for women to speak in the church." In other words, it is wrong for the Corinthian women (or the prophet's wives) to speak in the assembly, because it is wrong for women in general (all women everywhere) to speak in the church. And this would certainly apply to women today!
When Paul taught in I Cor 13 that there would come a time when the miraculous gifts would cease, he did not say that the regulations about women speaking in the assembly would cease also. Yes, I Cor 14:34-35 does rightfully apply today to the modern day assembly and we should preach it that way unashamed!
[Editors Note: Thanks to Pat Donahue for the article! Pat can be reached at: Patrick T. Donahue, 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, AL 35749, (256) 721-0726, PatDonahue@gtcinternet.com]
Email the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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