A gracEmail subscriber asks, “What does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 when he says that women are to keep silent in the church?”
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Even if this text did not have a context (which it does), and if it were intended to say women cannot speak at all “in church” (which it was not), its most literalistic interpretation would still not prevent women as well as men from acting as ushers, serving the Lord’s Supper or taking up the offering, to name just a few silent areas where women often are not permitted to serve. In fact, the larger context shows that both women and men exercised speaking ministries in the first-century Christian assemblies by both praying and prophesying (1 Cor. 11).
We will later examine First Timothy 2, the only other biblical passage sometimes thought to restrict females from fully exercising their giftedness by the Spirit of God. However, even if that text set out a universal prohibition of women exercising authority over men (which I believe a closer look shows not to be the case), there is absolutely nothing “authoritative” about reading Scripture, commenting on the Lord’s Supper or praying audibly to the Father.
It is unhealthy to allow our thinking to be shaped by culture rather than by Scripture — especially if Scripture happens to go counter to that particular culture. On this subject, that can occur in either of two ways. It can occur if Scripture language, properly understood in context and in intent, prohibits women from exercising their gifts, and we then reject that Scripture teaching because our “secular” culture disapproves of any “inequality” between men and women. It can also occur if Scripture language, properly understood in context and in intent, permits women to fully exercise their gifts, and we then reject that Scripture teaching because we have inherited a “secular” culture (now abandoned everywhere except in church) that sees women as inherently inferior to men and therefore relegates them to inconspicuous, passive or private roles.