In the church today there are views to one extreme or another regarding women’s role in the assembly. Women are either completely silenced in the congregation or are put behind the pulpit or any number of situations can occur. But what does scripture have to say? Does the original language convey the same meaning as what the English translations convey? The first verse we should look at is I Corinthians 14:34; “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but they are to be submissive as the law says”. This verse seems absolute, but let’s first take a closer look at the context of what was going on with the Corinthians. Then we’ll look at the Greek words used along with the meaning they covey.
When we read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we get an idea that there were some real problems in the assembly. They were arguing about which apostle they were following or in what name they were baptised. He chastised them regarding sexual immorality. And gave instructions regarding who we are in Christ and how to live our lives, among other things. He also gave instruction as to orderly behavior in the assembly. He does this from Chapter 11 through 14 in I Corinthians.
Giving instructions for an orderly assembly is the setting from I COR. 14:26 –33. Paul is giving instructions in regard to speaking in tongues or giving prophecy in a way so that the whole body could be edified. In verse 33 he sums up the idea by saying “for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints”. Paul continues the theme of keeping order in verse 34: “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but they are to be submissive as the law says”.
Let’s look at the original Greek for two key words here to see what idea Paul is conveying. The Greek word for keep silent is the word sigao. Strong’s dictionary explanation says “Hold Peace”. Vines Expository Dictionary agrees with this meaning of holding peace. Let’s also look at the Greek word for speak. This word is laleo. It conveys the idea of “an extended or random harangue or a lengthy, loud or vehement speech, tirade”. Vine’s Dictionary states that it is an injunction against chattering. Now bringing in verse 35, which says “and if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” This word speak is the same as above, laleo. I believe what Paul is saying is that there is no place for women to be chattering, gossiping, causing any kind of disturbance in the assembly. If they want to be disruptive, let them stay home and learn something where they can’t be disruptive. Let it also be noted that it’s not women, but wives. Because they are to ask their own husbands rather than cause a disruption in the assembly. Remember in I Corinthians, Paul is hammering home the idea of order and peace and a place for the leading of the Spirit. Now let’s read on to see if we can build on this.
Reading from I Timothy 2:11-12; it says “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to learn in silence”. Focusing on the word silence in both verses, the Greek word is hesuchia. It is described as stillness, ie. desistance from bustle or language. Vine’s Expository further explains the word as meaning “a tranquility arising from within, causing no disturbance to others.” I believe Paul is again instructing that women, still yet being allowed in the assembly, need to have a peaceful, tranquil spirit about them when something is being taught. Paul reiterates this thought in verse 12 in saying that women aren’t allowed to teach, but to remain in a peaceful spirit in the assembly causing no disruption. I don’t think this disallows a woman from speaking at all. What if the Holy Spirit wants to communicate with the assembly by prophecy and chooses a woman as the vessel? God through the prophet Joel said women could prophecy.
28 “ And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:28
It should also be noted that in the verses under study in both I Corithians and I Timothy, the Greek words being translated for woman or wife is gyne and the word for man or husband is aner. Context can be key. The verses in I Corinthians seems to lend its context to husbands and wives whereas I Timothy’s context seems more generalized.
If this idea of the Corinthian women being disruptive is true; and Paul is giving Timothy instructions that women should learn in a peaceful tranquil way; does that preclude one to ask questions or make comments on what is taught? How is one to learn if they do not ask questions in a learning process? I think it would be foolishness to think otherwise. I think it yet important to mention what Paul also taught the Corinthians, that the head of every man is Christ, the head of wives is their husband and the head of Christ is God. (ICor. 11:3)In stating this, the assembly is still led of the Holy Spirit through men and women as He wills and not as man wills, but Paul is showing forth the example of order. For we are all filled with the same Spirit but serve different functions according to the order set by God Himself. If we are all of the same Spirit then what would keep a woman completely silent if questions and comments are spoken with respect to and for those teaching.
In Conclusion Paul is teaching that all women, as long as they are willing to remain tranquil, peaceful, undisruptive, may be present in the assembly and able to speak at appropriate times in an appropriate manner fitting of the assembly led by Christ. This would then lead one to study and seek the Lord’s guidance on what roles are allowed for women in the assembly. And I don’t think it’s watching the kids or setting up for the monthly potluck.