The Don Martin - Jeff Smelser - Mark J. Ward Discussion on
I Corinthians 14:34,35
The following is brother Jeff Smelser's first in the exchange after the preliminary posts (see background and introductory link)
Subject: Re: I Corintians 14: 34, 35
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 12:31:08 -0500
From: "Jeff Smelser" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jeff Smelser with the first of two posts. Thanks to both Don and Mark for
initiating and participating in a focused discussion of this topic. My first
post will deal with the concept of the assembly as it is in view in 1 Cor.
14, and my second post will get to the specifics of the implications of vss.
PART 1 - The Assembly
That 1 Corinthians 14 distinguishes between what is proper "in the church"
from what might be proper elsewhere should be clear to all. Though Paul
thanked God that he spoke with tongues, he said, "howbeit, in the church I
had rather speak five words with my understanding...than ten thousand words
in a tongue" (1 Cor. 14:19). Without an interpreter present, the one with
the gift of tongues was to "keep silence in the church" (1 Cor. 14:27).
Similarly, Paul's instruction that the women should keep silence was
applicable "in the churches." Paul explained that "in the church," it was a
shame for a woman to speak. Certainly Paul was not prohibiting the women
from ever speaking. If there were any doubt, it is removed when Paul said,
"let them ask their own husbands at home." Now if there is an instruction
that pertains to one who is "in the church," we must assume that being in
the church is not an indefinite status. We can know what it means to be "in
The word church is a translation of the Greek EKKLHSIA ("H" for the Greek
letter eta). This same word is translated "assembly" in Acts 19:32, 39 and
40. Some have said that EKKLHSIA means called out. However, while it may
have been derived from two words, one meaning call and the other meaning
out, even this is not certain. A footnote in Kittel's _Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament_ cites an article by A. Jehle who "correctly
emphasises the doubtfulness, if not the total irrelevance, of the etymology
of EKKLHSIA." (TDNT, vol. 3, p. 530, n.91.) For his own part, K. L. Schmidt,
who cited Jehle's article, wrote,
Whether Paul and other Greek speaking Christians were
thinking of those "called forth" when they used the word
EKKLHSIA, we cannot tell. It is not impossible, but not
probable. (TDNT, vol. 3, p. 530.)
That God's people are called out of darkness is incontrovertible. But in the
first century, there was no thought of "called out" in the word EKKLHSIA,
whatever its derivation may have been. If EKKLHSIA was in fact derived from
the expression "called out," we can see all the more why the Holy Spirt saw
fit to use this word. However, we must always keep in mind the meaning which
the word had in the first century.
Why should the word "assembly" have been used? First, because the one
church, the one body of Christ, is a people spiritually assembled in the
mind of God, indeed, having been called out of darkness into his marvelous
light (1 Pt. 2:9). Hebrews 12:23 speaks of "the general assembly and church
(EKKLHSIA) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." In this sense,
EKKLHSIA is used in Matthew 16:18 and Ephesians 1:22.
But the word is also used of Christians who literally, physically assemble.
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul not only has reference to such Christians, but to
their being assembled. He says, "if therefore the whole church be come
together into one place..." (1 Cor. 14:23).
Some speak as if it is unrealistic to be able to know what is an assembly
and what is not. Particularly as we begin to consider 1 Corinthians 14:34f,
some suppose that we really cannot ever prohibit speaking on the part of
women for we cannot ever know with certainty that the whole church is come
together in one place. Such reasoning is to mock Paul and the Holy Spirit,
for 1 Corinthians 14 presupposes that we can know.
The church was an identifiable group, not just a random gathering of saints.
Paul could address the "church of God at Corinth" and it's particular
problems. Similarly, those occasions when the church (assembly) is assembled
are scripturally identifiable. They are not unidentifiable, nor are they to
be arbitrarily identified.
The Whole Church, Assembled for Various Purposes
(Acts 6, Acts 14, Acts 15, Acts 20, 1 Cor 5)
Churches in the New Testament assembled for various purposes. First of all,
consider Acts 6, where the "multitude of the disciples" were called together
in order to choose out seven men. Consider also Acts 14:27 where they
"gathered the church ( EKKLHSIA ) together" so that Paul and Barnabas could
report on the things God had done with them. Consider Acts 15:22 where "it
seemed good to the apostles and elders, with the whole church ( EKKLHSIA )"
to send men to Antioch with a letter. Consider 1 Corinthians 5:4, where
Paul admonishes the Corinthians to note the fornicator, delivering him to
Satan, "ye being gathered together." And of course, the disciples at Troas
"were gathered together to break bread" (Acts 20:7).
In What Assembly are the Women to Keep Silent?
As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep
silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them
to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the
law. And if they would learn anything, let them ask their
own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman
to speak in the church. (1 Cor. 14:33b-35)
Some suppose this instruction was a unique limitation made necessary by
circumstances peculiar to Corinth. But it begins, "As in all the
churches..." Furthermore, the words, "for it is shameful for a woman to
speak in the church" are stated as a fundamental fact, not as a
circumstantial judgment. And finally, Paul says, "let them be in subjection,
as also saith the law." These are hardly words indicating a unique
limitation made necessary by circumstances peculiar to Corinth.
The appeal to the law is not a reference to some Old Testament passage that
required women to refrain from speaking. When Paul said, "as also saith the
law," he was not talking about application, but principle. The law was
subjection. The principle of subjection holds even though varying settings
may call for a varying applications. For example, the wife is to be in
subjection at home just as certainly as she is to be in subjection in the
assembly. And yet the application of the principle is different. What she is
told to do at home, she is forbidden to do in the assembly. "Let them ask
their own husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the
church." If the principle of subjection had the same application everywhere
and in every relationship, then if asking a question in the assembly was a
breach of subjection, it would be also at home.
Now, if the application of the principle can vary from assembly to home, it
can also vary from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and yet the
principle be constant. No, I don't believe I can show that Israelite women
were to be silent in the holy convocations of the Old Testament, or in
whatever might be construed to correspond to the assembly in 1 Corinthians
14. However, it is the principle, not the application, wherein Paul finds
common ground with the Old Law.
Having said that, Paul does not give us the latitude to apply the principle
however we see fit. Paul, writing by the Holy Spirit, tells "all the
churches" what application to make: "Let the women keep silence."
Notice that the passage does not say, "In the worship service..." It says,
"in all the churches" i.e., in the assemblies. It is not "worship" that
defines the occasion when the limitation applies, but assemblage. Paul
stresses the idea of the assembled assembly by his redundant way of speaking
in 1 Corinthians 11:20 ("assemble...together" - how else would a group
assemble?) and in 1 Corinthians 14:23, where the KJV properly reads, "the
whole church be come together into one place." That's not talking about an
hour during which some of the saints are in the auditorium, some are in this
room, some in that, and each group unaware of the activities of the others.
Hence, a woman speaking in one of several Bible classes, while others of the
congregation are in various of the other Bible classes, is not speaking in
the "assembly". But there is no distinction whereby we might suppose that
women are to be silent on one occasion when the church is assembled, and be
permitted to speak on another such occasion.
The Activities of an Assembly:
"5 Acts" are Neither a Maximum nor a Minimum
To assert that we only have an assembly of the church when all "5 acts of
worship" (itself, a phrase and a concept which is contrary to scripture), is
to assert what one cannot find in scripture. Is the Lord's Supper mentioned
in 1 Corinthians 14? No. And yet what is discussed there is an assembly
wherein the women must be silent.
To assert that we only have an assembly when we only worship is to
misunderstand the meaning of worship. From the standpoint of New Testament
authority, to speak of worship meaningfully, one must associate this English
word with one or more of the Greek words translated worship. The verb most
frequently translated worship is PROSKUNEW ("W" used for the Greek letter
omega). But this verb is too narrow to include much of the preaching that is
included in assemblies. On the other hand, perhaps we would have in mind the
verb LATREUW, which is translated "worship" four times in the King James
Version of the New Testament. However, this word, also translated serve, is
can encompass more than the so-called "five acts of worship." Paul was
"serving God night and day." The fact is, it is not possible to come up with
a scriptural definition of worship that will include preaching, and
collecting funds, but exclude choosing deacons, or dealing with the
unfaithful. The presence of "five acts of worship" is an arbitrary and
unscriptural criterion for recognizing something as an assembly, and it is
an arbitrary and unscriptural criterion for determining when women are to be
My preference is to use the English word worship to represent the Greek
PROSKUNEW, and then to use it only with respect to those actions properly
denoted by that verb. Thus, we worship in singing hymns of praise, but not
in listening to a sermon. We may worship God as we praise him in prayer at
the beginning of a Bible class, but not in everything that is said during
the ensuing discussion. If this be how we use the word worship, then the
gathering for the purpose of "breaking bread" (Acts 20:7) or the gathering
of the church for some other purpose (whether to choose deacons, deliver one
unto Satan, hear a report) is not characterized exclusively by worship, nor
ought any of these be void of worship. Therefore, on what scriptural basis
could we allow women to speak in one setting, but not the other? If someone
wishes to speak of worship more broadly, only let him not be arbitrary in
his use of the word, and he will still find it is applicable to the
activities of any of these assemblies. Again, It is not "worship" that
defines the occasion when the limitation of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 applies, but
It is the church's business to do those things which the Lord has authorized
it to do. If it is doing those things at a time when it is assembled, or in
Paul's words, when "the whole church be come together into one place" (1
Cor. 14:23, KJV), why is that not an assembly? Or to be more clear, why is
that not the "assembly" assembled? When there is a matter that scripturally
is the concern of the whole congregation (whether to address the need for
deacons, to deliver a fornicator unto Satan, to hear a report, etc.) and the
whole congregation is assembled, let the women heed the instruction of 1
Corinthians 14:34ff. To put it another way, whenever the church is purposely
assembled for a purpose which God has given it collectively, let the women
heed the instruction of 1 Corinthians 14:34ff.
(...to be continued in a 2nd post)
(from MARS-List Digest 4010, March 19, 2003)
Re: I Corintians 14: 34, 35
Wed, 19 Mar 2003 12:34:16 -0500
"Jeff Smelser" <email@example.com>
Jeff Smelser with the 2nd of my 2 posts...
PART 2 - Does Silent Mean Silent? (1 Corinthians 14:34)
But several questions arise. What does "keep silence" mean? Which women are
to be silent? Is the teaching that women are to be silent applicable today?
SIGAW means "keep silence"
What we are going to find is that "keep silence" well conveys the meaning of
the Greek word, SIGAW, which it represents. That is why the translators have
so translated the passage! Now the English word silent does not mean, "speak
in a non-authoritative manner" or any such thing. And yet some have supposed
that is what "let the women keep silence" means. We will see that neither
the word itself nor the context of 1 Corinthians 14 calls for such a
Let us consider each of the ten passages where SIGAW occurs in the New
Testament. The last of these is 1 Corinthians 14:34. We will see that in
every case, the word means not to speak, and that it usually means to be
silent with reference to something, e.g., some particular occasion,
audience, topic, or time frame. Then we will note that the occasion under
discussion in 1 Corinthians 14 is the assembly, and the audience is the
assembly. With reference to speaking out in the assembly, whether in the
form of a question or otherwise, women are to be silent. In short, Paul is
saying women should not take the floor in the assembly. They should not
speak out. Not a word. Paul's occasion for stating the prohibition is to
apply it to the use of spiritual gifts, but that is only one application of
what Paul affirms is a general prohibition against women speaking in the
We recall Peter's inclination to speak, even "not knowing what he said,"
when Jesus was transfigured and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. In
Luke's account of the transfiguration, we read,
And when the voice came Jesus was found alone. And
they held their peace, and told no man in those days
any of the things which they had seen.
The phrase, "held their peace" represents the single word, ESIGHSAN, which
is simply the 3rd person plural aorist active indicative, of SIGAW. Does
this mean that Peter, James, and John continued to speak in a
Luke tells of a certain blind man who called after Jesus, saying, "Jesus
thou son of David have mercy on me." The crowd rebuked him, telling him
"that he should hold his peace [SIGHSHi ("i" used to represent Greek iota
subscript), 3rd per sing aor act subj. of SIGAW]." Did they mean that he
should not say a word to anyone? That is doubtful. But they certainly did
not mean that he should call after Jesus in a non-authoritative manner. They
meant, with reference to calling out to Jesus, he should not speak; he
should be silent.
It is worth noting that, contrary to the crowd's rebuke, the blind man
continued to cry out. His words were reverent, pleading, and not at all
authoritative. Nonetheless, he was not holding his peace. He was not being
When Jesus answered the question about giving tribute to Caesar, Luke says,
"they were not able to take hold of the saying before the people: and they
marvelled at his answer, and held their peace." Now I don't suppose it is
necessary to understand that those who had asked the question ceased to talk
at all. However, with reference to arguing the point with Jesus, they quit
talking; they were silent; they didn't say anymore, not a word.
When Rhoda, the maid, excitedly announced that Peter was at the gate, the
brethren who had gathered to pray were incredulous, some supposing that, "It
is his angel." When they saw Peter with their own eyes, they "were amazed."
Luke says, Peter, "beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace,
declared unto them how the Lord had brought him forth out of the prison."
The picture is clear - he held his hand up, perhaps palm down, raising and
lowering the forearm, motioning for his excited brethren to be quiet so that
he could speak. When Luke says that Peter signaled them to "hold their
peace" he certainly does not mean that Peter wished they would speak in a
non-authoritative manner. He means that Peter wanted them to quit talking
and listen, so that he could speak to them.
In the context of the meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the teaching that
Gentiles needed to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, Luke writes,
"And all the multitude kept silence and they hearkened unto Barnabas and
Paul..." This is getting redundant, but once again, did that mean the
multitude spoke in a non-authoritative manner? No, it meant they got quiet
and listened, so that Paul and Barnabas could speak. While Paul and Barnabas
spoke, a woman in the audience might have told her child to sit still, but
the people in the audience allowed Paul and Barnabas "to have the floor."
Women, and for that matter, men, were not speaking out with comments or
questions. They held their peace. They were silent.
Then Luke writes, "And after [Paul and Barnabas] held their peace, James
answered..." Now it was James' turn to speak. Paul and Barnabas quit
speaking. Paul and Barnabas did not continue to recite, in a
non-authoritarian manner, what God had wrought among the Gentiles. Paul and
Barnabas "gave up the floor." Paul might have whispered a comment to
Barnabas as James spoke, but with reference to speaking out before the
audience, Paul and Barnabas were silent.
Paul's reference to "the mystery which hath been kept in silence through
times eternal" does not indicate that if the revelation of the mystery had
been previously made, it would have had to be made in a non-authoritative
manner. God did indeed speak in Old Testament times, but with reference to
revealing the mystery, He did not speak; He was silent.
1 CORINTHIANS 14:28
The man who has the ability to speak in a tongue is to "keep silence in the
church" if there is not one present who can interpret. This does not mean
the tongue speaker can continue to speak in his tongue as long as he does so
in a non-authoritative manner! Of course, it also doesn't mean that he can't
lead a prayer if he does so in the common language. It means that, with
reference to speaking in some other tongue, he is to refrain from speaking;
he is to be silent. He is not to say a word.
1 CORINTHIANS 14:30
One man is speaking what has been revealed to him. "But if a revelation be
made to another sitting by, let the first keep silence." That does not mean
the first can continue to speak, ask questions, etc., as long as he does so
in a non-authoritative manner. It means he is to shut his mouth.
Now in all of this, notice that siga/w means "be silent". It does not mean
talk in a meek voice. Contrary to some who argue that
the word does not mean be silent, let me say that it means
precisely that. Now this silence is usually silence with reference to
something, e.g., some particular occasion, topic, or time frame. But with
reference to that occasion, topic, or time frame, it means not to speak.
1 CORINTHIANS 14:34
In this passage as well, when the women are told to keep silence, that means
they are not to speak. Indeed Paul, says, "for it is not permitted unto them
Does it merely mean she cannot speak in an authoritative manner? That the
word itself doesn't mean that is clear from all the passages where it is
used, which we have discussed. Now let's turn our attention to the context,
and see if there is anything in the context which suggests Paul means, be
silent with reference to speaking in an authoritarian manner.
The meaning of 1 Corinthians 14:34f
If the context of the whole chapter is considered, we recall that Paul was
not saying the tongue speaker could speak in a non-authoritative manner in
the absence of an interpreter, nor was Paul saying the first prophet could
continue speaking if he did so in a non-authoritative manner when one
sitting by received a revelation.
In the immediate context, notice that the women were not even to ask
questions: "If they would learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at
home." Nothing in the context suggests that Paul's command to be silent only
had reference to speaking in an authoritative manner.
Do notice that in the context, Paul does have reference to speaking out in
the assembly, to "taking the floor," to speaking out so to have the
attention of the assembled brethren. That's what he was talking about in
verses 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 16, 19, 26, 27, 28, 29, and really, throughout the
whole chapter. The instruction regarding the women is in this vein.
Therefore, this passage does not prohibit the woman from whispering to her
child that he needs to sit still. Nor does this passage prohibit the woman
from adding her voice to the chorus of voices that offer praise to God and
edification to one another. But with reference to speaking out in the
assembly, she is to be silent, absolutely silent. She is not even to ask a
I believe it can be maintained that the admonition, "let them keep silence"
particularly has in view prophesying and speaking in tongues. After
discussing the proper use of the gifts, it naturally follows that if women
were not permitted to speak generally in the assembly, a special admonition
should be given them lest they suppose their gifts exempted them from this
prohibition. Concerning prophesying or speaking in tongues in the assembly,
the women are to "say nothing, keep silent" (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich, 2nd
Nonetheless, Paul gives the reason: "for it is not permitted unto them to
speak." Paul's prohibition that the women not use the gift of prophecy or
tongue speaking in the assembly is based on the general principle that
the women are not permitted to speak in the assembly. Therefore,
this prohibition against speaking cannot be limited to the exercise of
spiritual gifts. The general principle even precluded asking a question.
Paul writes, "And if they would learn anything, let them ask their own
husbands at home: for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church."
Some stumble over this sentence, noting that not all women have husbands,
and miss the point. Paul is talking about asking questions, and forbids
women to do this in the assembly! How can it be construed that Paul is
only speaking of the exercise of spiritual gifts when he speaks of seeking
What about the problem that not all women have husbands? It is as in 1
Corinthians 11:34, where Paul wrote, "If any man is hungry, let him eat at
home." This was not to say that home is the only place a man could satisfy
his hunger. But it was to say that a man should not construe the Lord's
Supper as a meal to satisfy hunger, that there are other occasions where it
is appropriate to satisfy hunger, and Paul mentioned the most obvious: "at
home". So also in 1 Corinthians 14:35. Paul does not mean to say that a
woman may not privately ask one of the elders, or an older woman, or
whomever. But he makes it clear that she should not ask her question in the
assembly, that there are others besides the assembled church to whom she can
address her question, and Paul mentions the most obvious: her husband.
(from MARS-List Digest 4010, March 19, 2003)
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[Editors Note: This is one of the most in-depth, comprehensive studies between brethren on the issue of whether the women in the "b" part of verse 35 of I Corinthians 14:34,35 is "all women", including women today, or whether those women were only the "prophets wives". We hope all readers will continue to study all Bible topics with open minds, willing to conform to God's Truth. Thanks for reading! - Mark J. Ward firstname.lastname@example.org]
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