Universal or Local?

Universal prohibition?

Q.  Does 1 Co 14:34-35 apply to women in the Corinthian church only or to all churches in the world? Does the question in v 36 apply to women or to the Corinthian church in general?

A. First, let’s read the passage:

  • 1 Co 14:34-36 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. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36 Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?

On the surface, it appears that women are not permitted to speak in churches, not just Corinth, but everything must be interpreted in context. Paul allowed women to pray or prophesy in Corinth:

  • 1 Co 11:5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.
  • 1 Co 11:13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

The condition is that the women must have their heads covered, as a symbol of authority over them. Hence Paul could not have meant absolute silence. What then does he mean? We need to understand the cultural background. In Paul’s days, men and women were seated on different sides of the synagogue. Women were also less educated in patriarchal society. If they did not understand what was being expounded, there were two primary options. One was to wait till they go home and ask their husbands (for the married) or their fathers (for the unmarried). This is proper and what Paul instructed. The alternative was to speak up and ask their husbands or fathers sitting on the other side of the synagogue, which would be improper and disorderly. Paul wanted order, not chaos:

  • 1 Co 14:40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.

That is why he did not permit women to speak up. It was to address the cultural condition in those days, not an universal prohibition for all churches in the world.

With respect to v 36, again context determines the interpretation. The “you” in v 36 refers to the church in Corinth. The word of God did not originate from the Corinthian church, nor did it go to them only, but to all churches. So if they disagree with Paul’s ruling, the problem is with them, not Paul, who had the Lord’s commandment (v 37). V 36 applies to the Corinthian church in particular, but the principle applies to all churches in general.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: