Women and the Word, Part IV

Over the past several weeks, we have looked at key passages from the Bible that deal with the role of women in leadership.  These selected texts are often quoted to deny women from being in positions of leadership, teaching, and influence.    I have sought to illustrate the textual meaning (what does the text actually say), the contextual background (In what context or situation was the written word addressed), and the culture (the expected roles, responsibilities, and relationships) of the era.  Thus far we have talked about Jesus' specific teachings (Part 2) and one of the seemingly prohibitive scriptures for women leadership in I Timothy 2:11-15 (part 3).  Thus far, we have seen that Jesus places no obstacles from women being full disciples and demonstrates prominent roles for women in ministry.  We say that in I Timothy2, the text speaks against women manipulating men, but does not speak against women teaching in the church.

In light of this, we look at another scripture written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth.

1 Corinthians 14:33-35

As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 If 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. NIV

This scripture appears to outlaw women speaking in churches in general.  However, there is more going on here than meets the eye.
1. This text is part of a larger section on worship (I Corinthians 11-14).  The larger context of this message is on the orderly running of a worship service (see I Corinthians 14:32).  What the Apostle is addressing is the rules for running an orderly worship service.
2.The word translated "women" (gunaĆ­kes) is often frequently used to describe wives.  In fact, in the same letter, the Apostle Paul uses the same word when he is speaking of wives, not all women (I Cor 7:3, 10, 18).  The sentence structure makes more sense if the word is translated as wives as opposed to women.  All women would not have husbands to go home and ask questions of (I Cor 14:35).
3. The Apostle has already communicated and assumed that women would prophecy and pray in church service (I Cor 11:3-6).  A sweeping command for all women to be silent in the churches will be inconsistent with his earlier teachings in the same letter.
4. The Apostle states that women should be silent "according to the law".  There is no commandment in the Hebrew Scriptures that commands women to be silent in worship.  The law and the prophets speaks of general respect and the silencing that comes with the awe of God (Ecc 5:2, Hab 2:20, etc).  This phrase makes more sense when looking at the overall understanding that worshipers in general should approach worship with reverence and submission.
5. In the Corinthian world, there was a cultic practice of ecstatic worship, typically headed by women.  It is unclear whether the Apostle was addressing that specific situation in this text, but it could be likely.
6. The last phrase stating that wives should ask their husbands at home, rather than disturbing worship helps to frame our understanding of the "disgraceful" act.   The Apostle is upholding the traditional understanding of the male responsibility of teaching his family the ways of God.  Keep in mind that many women were illiterate during that time. The disgraceful thing is not women speaking in general, but women speaking out of ignorance and interrupting the worship service.  It is a disgrace because they are to be taught at home.
So, does this scripture speak of prohibiting women from leadership. Absolutely not.  It again upholds the orderly flow of worship.
If you are still unconvinced that Jesus is empowering women for roles of leadership and influence, take time to read Judges 4-5 and come back next week.
May God bless you all,
Pastor M Traylor
Dr. M TraylorComment