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).