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Should Women Preach? Part 3 -1 Corinthians 14:34-35

At the heart of the question, should women preach, are two passages of scripture, the first from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and the second from Paul’s address to Timothy. Those who support the idea that women should not preach point to these verses as straightforward and without exception. Those who defend a women’s place to speak and teach often get accused of ignoring scripture.

I intend to show that as one who supports women in the church as preachers and teachers, I am not ignoring scripture. I don’t throw them on the shelf or ignore them, but I take these passages very seriously, and I hope to give an understanding of what I believe Paul is saying. You may still disagree, and that is fine. However, I ask that you read through and examine my thoughts before dismissing them outright.

what about female preachers

In my introduction of this, I want to point out something important. It is hazardous to build a doctrine on one verse or passage of scripture. For something to have validity, there should be multiple references, ideas, and examples from scripture to support it. For the most part, the question of should a woman preach comes down to these two passages that I have referred to. However, as you will see, I believe these passages are not specifically related, in the first one, Paul is rebuking the church for their treatment of women. In the second one, Paul instructs a young pastor concerning problems he was facing. Therefore, in my mind, there is only one passage that remotely supports the idea that women should not preach or teach. We will start with the passage from Corinthians.

What About Female Preachers?

Part 3 - Examining 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Throughout the book of Corinthians, Paul addresses different problems that have come to light in the church. Here is a quick list of some of the issues he highlights and brings correction to:

  • various factions that came up within the church

  • sexual immorality

  • communion

  • confusion in their worship services

  • speaking in tongues

  • prophecy

From reading 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul highlights another problem so that it might be addressed and corrected. Let’s read it.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Let your women remain silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak. They are commanded to be under obedience, as the law also says. If they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

It would seem pretty straightforward. Women should not preach. The Bible is very clear. Further to this, if we pull this passage out and take it literally, it says that women are to remain silent. If we wanted to be honest and have a literal interpretation of this passage, we would have to question whether women can sing, pray or prophecy in the church. I have heard of churches that suggest this and even say that if a woman receives a prophetic word, she is to speak it to a man who will then proclaim it to the church body. Gladly, this is not what God is saying.

We must be cautious about systematically looking at verses/doctrines within the whole counsel of the Bible in the context of scripture. Given that in 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul talks about women praying, and prophesying a literal application is not his intent. He was addressing his comments to a specific situation, and his words are limited to that.

In 1 Corinthians 14, I believe that Paul, in verses 34-35 is summarizing the policy/practice of the Corinthian church. This is often interpreted as Paul making a demand on how the church is to function. People read it, "women remain silent," therefore women should not preach. I believe Paul is highlighting a statement, not a command. The church has demanded the very things Paul is quoting.

There is a very telling reason for this, and it is found at the end of Verse 34. –“as the law also says”. In my opinion, this is a pivotal point to this whole passage of scripture.

Some suggest this phrase Paul used means the submission of all women to all men (wives to husbands). Note: This is why I started this series with the leadership in the home.

However, the Old Testament does not require all women to submit to all men, nor does it require them to be silent. There is no trace from Genesis to Malachi of any such law that forbids women to speak, that it is a shame to speak, or that women are to be silent in the congregation. Paul's writings are quite specific when referring to the Old Testament to prove his point, but he doesn't mention it here.

Some suggest this is speaking to submission to Roman civil law that restricted women’s roles in public settings.

There was also submission to Oral law. I believe that Paul is refuting oral traditions that entered the Corinthian church. Jesus said in Mark, “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men”. We sometimes think traditions are a new thing. They also had traditions, and I believe Paul was addressing one of them. Many of the traditions came from the Oral Law. The oral law was Jewish customs that eventually became known in written form as the Talmud. It is in the Talmud that we find the following laws regarding women:

“A woman’s voice is prohibited because it is sexually provocative”

(Talmud, Berachot 24a).

“It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men”

(Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin).

Does it not sound similar?

Another thought

Paul never appealed to the "law" for the guidance of the Church of Christ. He fought against the religious zealots (Judiazers) of his day who tried to impose the requirements of the Old Testament's written and oral laws on New Testament believers.

So would Paul, in writing his letters, really intend to impose a new, much stricter Law on the people of the New Covenant -- particularly with regards to women's behavior -- than ever was pronounced by Moses to the people of the Old Covenant?

On the contrary, he declared that believers were dead to the law by the body of Christ (Romans 7:4) so that they might serve in the newness of spirit and not the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6). We have been liberated from the law. Since Paul claims that we have been liberated from the law, how could he appeal to it?

Would the apostle Paul appeal to the law to silence women in the church? I don’t believe so. Would the apostle Paul agree with the prejudices of his day to impose oppressive oral traditions on Christian women? I don’t think so. In his letter to the Galatians, he wrote,There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, and there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

So what is Paul’s response?

When it came to Paul’s attention that some men were attempting to prohibit women from speaking (specifically prophesying and speaking in tongues) in church, this was his response:

1 Corinthians 14:36-38 What? Did the word of God come from you? Or did it come to you only? If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that what I am writing you is a command of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

Verse 36 begins with a rebuke, and Paul is rebuking the "tradition" (verses 34-35) that was being used to prohibit women from speaking in church. No rebuke was too strong for the church. Are you the authors of the Christian system that you are to lay down rules about it? The obvious answer is no.

In my examining this passage of scripture, it is not possible to use it to question should women preach or force them into silence. To do so is to misuse and impose a law, a tradition of man, to restrict and silence women, which is unbiblical.


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