Women, be silent… or not?

I’ve heard this taught a few places, but never seen it online in any format, so I’m going to lay this out for anyone who hasn’t heard this.

You know the verse I’m talking about, right?

It comes at the end of a chapter where Paul is talking about the practicing of supernatural gifts of the Spirit- prophecy and tongues and all kinds of “messy” things that the church in Corinth was “getting out of order” about. (Mostly because they were lacking in love, but I digress.)

Anyway, along in verse 34, he makes this (highly quoted) statement:

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

1 Corinthians 14:34

And here we are, 2000 years later, and the majority of people who believe the gospel are like, look, it literally says women shouldn’t speak at church. LIKE READ THE BOOK.

And then there are all these questions regarding it like- idk, well, can they teach Sunday school? Can they share their testimony? Can they speak on Mother’s Day? If they’re silent, should they not be singing? If they teach children, should it be only to a certain age? What if it’s in a foreign country, and the woman is a missionary?

Does this mean the woman can’t serve in any leadership capacity? She shouldn’t be a deaconess (even though there’s one in the bible), She shouldn’t be on any committees? Or… wait, she’s allowed to speak at a committee meeting or in a small group study, just not ever from the pulpit?

As I’ve been around, it feels like most American churches interpret it as this:

Let your women never speak behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning, for it is not permitted for them to preach, for they are commanded to be under obedience (to any other man) as the Old Testament says (somewhere, I can’t specifically find it but this verse is saying it’s there so it must be.)

ANYWAY. Instead of arguing how to live out “what this verse means,” which means, assuming it means what we think it means (women should be silent, at least in some way.) Let’s actually look at the verse in context.

1 Corinthians 14:34 in the KJV :

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

What! came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

Paul, outraged.

Guys. Do you know what that word “What!” is? In the Strong’s, it’s numbered g2228, it’s a single Greek particle that looks like this blue N with a few dashes above it. It’s pronounced: “ay” As in, “Aye?”

What?” It looks like this:

Let’s see where else Paul uses it.

How about Romans chapter 6. Here he’s coming from the end of chapter five, where he is talking about how the more sin there was on the earth, the more powerful the grace of God was proven. And he gets to chapter six, verse one, and he says this:

 Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

Romans 6:1

Is this a literal invitation to come commit sin? No. It’s a kind of paradoxical question that he asks so that he can refute it. The immediate verses following are:

God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?

Romans 6:2-3

Okay so remember g2228, that “What?!” It doesn’t happen to be translated as “What” in English here, for some reason, but it’s actually in the greek right before “Know ye not.” So it could read-

“What!? Know ye not that…”

It’s a piece of language that signifies that he’s exclaiming “huh?!” “What?!” AYE!? in reponse to something that he finds WRONG or INCORRECT or stupid or false or whatever. And guess what! Paul does this A LOT.

Here’s another place: Romans chapter nine.

This time, Paul is talking about questioning God. He says in verse 20

…Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why has thou made me thus?

Okay, so again, he’s saying something that he doesn’t agree with. He responds to his own writing with the contradictory:

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

(Romans 9:21, KJV)

His second statement refutes the first statement. This is a common mode that Paul uses in writing, all the time!

Once again, g2228 is listed in the Greek right before the responding question. The translators did not choose to write the word “What?” because the question itself makes it quite obvious that he is refuting the previous question.

Let’s go on to the book of First Corinthians itself. Let’s look at this verse: 1 Corinthians 11:21.

In this verse, Paul is in the middle of addressing problems with the Lord’s supper. He makes this statement:

For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.

Now, is he saying that this is the way it should be? When you take communion, some should be hungry and some should get drunk? It literally says this in this verse, right? Oh, wait. Look what comes after it:

What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

Can you see g2228 there?

What I’m trying to show you is that Paul uses this mode of writing many times. He makes a statement or asks a question and then refutes it, often using this g2228 Greek participle to signal his refuting statement.

There are plenty of other places this is true, if you want to look at them yourselves, here’s a list:

  • Romans 2:4
  • Romans 4:9
  • Romans 6:3
  • Romans 6:16
  • Romans 7:1
  • Romans 11:1
  • 1 Corinthians 1:13
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9
  • 1 Corinthians 6:16
  • 1 Corinthians 6:19
  • 1 Corinthians 9:6
  • 2 Corinthians 11:7
  • Galatians 1:10
  • Galatians 3:3

These aren’t the only places where g2228 used, but they’re the places that it’s the most obvious.

Paul likes to make a statement and then immediately question it with almost an incredulity. We see it and understand it other places, and we have no problem with it. But for some reason, in this instance, we don’t “See it.” And why not?

Let’s look at it again. 1 Corinthians 14

(34) -Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

(35) – And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

(36) -What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?

Can someone tell me, please, why we would ever make the argument that verse 36 is NOT refuting verses 34 and 35? Can any complementarian explain that? Because it looks to me that he’s talking to men, saying-

“Are you men the only ones that God has used to share the gospel? Are you men the only ones who have received it?”

And the obvious answer is: No. In Christ there is neither male nor female.


One more thing: can we talk about “as also saith the law?”

Can anyone find a cross reference in the Old Testament for this?

I don’t think you can. Because the law that Paul is referring to is a Roman Law:

In multis juris nostri articulis deterior est conditio foeminarum quam masculorun,; l. 9, Pap. Lib. 31, Quaest. Foeminoe ab omnibus officiis civilibus vel publicis remotae sunt; et ideo nec judicis esse possunt, nec magistratum gerere, nec postulare, nec pro alio invenire, nec procuratores existere; l. 2, de Reg. Juris. Ulp. Lib. i. Ad Sab. – Vid. Poth. Pand. Justin., vol. i. p. 13.

“In our laws the condition of women is, in many respects, worse than that of men. Women are precluded from all public offices; therefore they cannot be judges, nor execute the function of magistrates; they cannot sue, plead, nor act in any case, as proxies.” They were under many other disabilities, which may be seen in different places of the Pandects. But to be in silence – It was lawful for men in public assemblies to ask questions, or even interrupt the speaker when there was any matter in his speech which they did not understand; but this liberty was not granted to women.

Adam Clark Bible Commentary

You guys, as clear as I can see it, Paul was stating, and then refuting, a Roman law.

I have heard these thoughts and ideas from several people during podcasts, in books, and on video feeds from classes I’m taking. This is not my brilliant idea.

I’m just writing this out because I can only recommend books and sermons and classes to so many people, and this idea is such a mind-blowing paradigm to this issue that I wanted to share it in a more succinct manner. I would like to give the honor of discovering it to other people than myself. However, I am a little loathe to list the specific people here, because I would like this idea to stand on it’s own merit and not be immediately dismissed because of the labels that people get.

Okay, that’s all. Have a nice day! Be nice if you comment, because we’re all brothers and sisters in the Lord!




  1. Good article but it doesn’t seem like he’s being…sarcastic (for ease of comparison the word fits) even in other versions…in the same way that his somewhat incredulous/sarcastic remarks do in other passages. Also, I do see an Old Testament precedent for men leading in the actual temple, and never women. But, women were leaders in other areas as you said.
    26What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.
    29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.
    34Women f should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. g
    36Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. h
    39Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
    29Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. 30But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. 31In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. 32Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.h
    34Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. 35If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.i
    36Or do you think God’s word originated with you Corinthians? Are you the only ones to whom it was given? 37If you claim to be a prophet or think you are spiritual, you should recognize that what I am saying is a command from the Lord himself. 38But if you do not recognize this, you yourself will not be recognized.j
    39So, my dear brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and don’t forbid speaking in tongues. 40But be sure that everything is done properly and in order.
    26How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for [h]edification. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33For God is not the author of [i]confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
    34Let [j]your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.
    36Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. 38But [k]if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
    39Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40Let all things be done decently and in order.

    Liked by 1 person

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