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Christian Life

Are Women Really Meant to Stay Silent?

The most well-known verse about women staying silent in the churches comes from 1 Corinthians 14:34:

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.

There are three very important things to consider when studying Scripture: cultural context, historical context, and literary context.

  • Cultural context – In Paul’s epistles, the primary culture to consider is Greco-Roman. During the time that Paul’s letters were written, the world was under Roman rule, but many of the Gentiles that Paul writes to were Greek. In ancient Rome, women were treated more like property than people; they were either under the authority of their fathers or their husbands. In Paul’s day, women weren’t encouraged or permitted to learn, so they were less educated than men in scholarly as well as religious subjects. Most Greek women weren’t encouraged to even speak in public.
  • Historical context – Again, we’re talking about a period in history when women were uneducated and treated as property. This was a time when men quite literally ran the world. Christianity also was a very young religion during this time–not even 50 years old! Many people were still suspicious of Christianity and Paul didn’t want the church to do anything that would justify the suspicions of unbelievers.
  • Literary context – Remember, 1 Corinthians is a letter written by the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth. He always wrote to the churches to address an issue that the chuch was experiencing. Paul’s letter circulated among other churches to help those that may be experiencing the same issues or questions as the primary church for which the letter was written. 1 and 2 Corinthians were written to address issues in the Corinthian church–in this case, unity (1 Cor. 1:10-13).

Now that we have the context, there’s one more thing to look at – what is Paul most concerned with when he writes about women in the church? Paul has two concerns in 1 Corinthians: unity and propriety (conformity to established standards of good or proper behavior or manners). If Paul had come right out and said “Hey, let the women teach and talk as much as they want,” two things would have happened: unbelievers would’ve avoided the church because they didn’t accept the authority of women, and believers would’ve been taught false or incomplete doctrine.

Remember, the women weren’t educated in religious matters. When Paul says that “women are to keep silent in the churches” or “a woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness,” it’s because he wants them to learn. That made Paul a bit of a rebel for his time. In Paul’s day, watching silently was how apprentices learned from their masters so they could become masters themselves. That’s what Paul wanted for women–to learn silently from those who know the Scriptures so they could know them too.

I don’t believe that God ever intended for women to stay silent in the church. God didn’t create Eve as a servant to Adam, He created her to be Adam’s partner. When Jesus rose from the grave, He didn’t rush off to show Himself to the men, He appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James – all women! God created you to be more than just a pretty face! In my next series we will look at profiles for many amazing women in the Bible, so stay tuned!

Do you think it is important to learn quietly before beginning to speak or teach?

However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman (1 Corinthians 11:11).

Are you a "quiet" girl?

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Image: Hemera | Thinkstock


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  1. Project Inspired

    Posted by TheWarrior on May 13, 2012 at 11:10

    I definatlly needed this information! thx!

  2. Project Inspired

    Posted by joyfulllarissa on May 9, 2012 at 10:30

    check out, “Who Said Women Can’t Teach– Charles Trombley”

  3. Paris

    Posted by Paris on December 26, 2011 at 20:29

    There is nothing wrong with being quiet,but we must all make sure to speak up for Christ when it is needed.

  4. Project Inspired

    Posted by RachelMarie on December 26, 2011 at 17:01

    I think its good advice. Not that women should be always silent in a defeated sort of way. But (and this goes to all people, not just women, but women are more stereotyped for just speaking their thoughts) sometimes we do need to be silent and just listen, instead of speaking whatever comes to our mind. its good to sometimes be calm and listen to whats going on around us. Especially in church. We don’t go their to listen to ourselves, but to listen to God and what He has to say thru the minister

  5. Project Inspired

    Posted by Theake on December 26, 2011 at 09:33

    I can’t wait for your next series! 🙂

  6. punk4Godx20

    Posted by punk4Godx20 on December 25, 2011 at 22:38

    Thank you for this. 🙂 It really helped clear up a lot of questions I had! God used this article, at the very least, in my life. So, thank you for much for writing this. 😀

  7. kayla.hb13

    Posted by kayla.hb13 on December 25, 2011 at 14:23

    This makes so much more sense! Yes, women are supposed to submit to their husbands, but it does not mean they are not allowed to teach the Gospel or ask questions in church! Thank you, Jenn!

  8. Project Inspired

    Posted by mollyjoy on December 24, 2011 at 13:16

    thank you sooo much for posting this article! my mother takes those bible verses very literally and seriously. so as a result,
    she thinks that women are supposed to do whatever guys say and cook them food and clean up after them and what not. I’m not very domestic at heart- i’m more of a free spirit. but my mother doesn’t understand that and just makes more constricting rules for me. I’m glad someone else understands my perspective!

  9. Project Inspired

    Posted by Amy on December 24, 2011 at 09:18

    LOVE this entry, thank you so much for sharing! I remember when I first read that verse in the Bible, I was like, “What? Women aren’t supposed to share their opinion?” But then my Dad explained the same things you did, about how the culture was different and how women were viewed in that time period. I also believe that ,yes, it’s very important for us to learn and understand something pretty thoroughly before we go and teach it 🙂 Thanks again for sharing, I’m really looking forward to your next articles!

    • Project Inspired

      Posted by joyfulllarissa on May 9, 2012 at 10:25

      I was reading the Bible for the first time… when I read that, I got totally offended, because I thought it was wrong, and there was no way I could do that! Before fully deciding to turn away from God, I decided to ask my dad about it, and he explained it… because of that, I decided to stay with God.

  10. Project Inspired

    Posted by JustTheWayGodMadeMe on December 23, 2011 at 23:59

    Have you read “Why Not Women?” It talks about this chapter and about both what it says in the originally language, and how part of it was mistranslated. It also talks about the culture and stuff. It’s a really good book!

  11. Project Inspired

    Posted by Allison on December 23, 2011 at 23:03

    I don’t like that. I think Women deserve to have every right as men. I think we should be able to preach in churches. I totally respect the Bible, but I don’t have to like everything in it. I mean, as long as you’re using the Bible in the context it’s meant, and not changing anything, then I don’t see anything wrong with talking in a church about God.

  12. Project Inspired

    Posted by luvJesusInHeavn on December 23, 2011 at 18:18

    Thanks for this article! I’ll be keeping this in mind! :DDD