Online Bible Commentary
Women are Not to Speak in Church
1 Corinthians 14:33b as in all the churches of the saints. 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 also says. 35 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. 36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 If 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. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to the Christians in Corinth, Greece from Ephesus, Asia (present day Turkey) in A.D. 54-56, during his third missionary journey. These teachings while written to the first century church in Corinth are applicable to all Christians.
Paul has been writing of the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. These gifts ceased at the end of the first century with the completion of the writing of prophecy, the Bible (Jude 3).
In this chapter Paul is writing of the proper order for prophecy (teaching) and tongues to be kept in the church service. In the church service, and in all things, God is not the author of confusion (v. 33a).
In the first century church in Corinth there were abuses in how the worship service was conducted. The lack of established order in the service caused confusion and division between those who believed that speaking in tongues should dominate the service and those who did not.
In this passage Paul continues to address the confusion in the church service. He states that this is not only true in the Corinthian church but in “all the churches” (v. 33b).
The Hebrew and Greek of the Bible were originally written in all caps with no punctuation or chapter and verse divisions. Punctuation was added as far back as A.D. 250 and the first Bible to feature chapter and verse divisions was written in A.D. 1555.
The participle translated “as” in verse 33b is a descriptive genitive which indicates that v. 33b refers to the following (v. 34) and not to the preceding (v. 33). Therefore, in this passage, Paul is now addressing all of the first century churches and not just the church in Corinth.
Part of the overall confusion in the first century churches resulted from people not speaking in turn. At the time of this writing Paul is training up ministers in Ephesus and sending them out to head up churches. These ministers, or lead teaching pastors, were to lead and establish order in the church meetings.
Paul writes that women in the churches are “not permitted to speak”, but are to “keep silent” (v. 34a). The Greek word translated here “to speak” is the word laleo, which indicates speaking out loud, such as to a congregation. It is a reference to teaching, not to whispering or chatter.
Paul wrote of this same church order in a later letter when he wrote “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 be in silence (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
Paul continued by stating “they are to be submissive, as the law also says” (v. 34b). In referring to “the law”, Paul is referring to the first five books of the Old Testament, which is known as the Pentateuch or the Torah. One of the many verses to which he was likely referring was “Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you” (Gen. 3:16).
As if he was not clear enough, Paul then drives home his point. He writes “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” (v. 35). Women, however, are permitted to teach women and children in church (1Corinthians 11:5).
Paul then challenges those who feel like they know better than him on this subject. He states that the “Word of God” does not come from them and they cannot claim a gospel of their own (v. 36).
They are not a “prophet or spiritual” (v.37a). Paul, not them, has apostolic authority to “write to you … the commandments of the Lord” (v. 37b).
Paul continues by stating that those who challenge him on this subject are “ignorant”, uninformed. Not only that, they are to remain “ignorant”, to be ignored (v. 38). Paul is not sugar coating this subject and it is not our right to sugar coat for him.
In conclusion, Paul states that we should “desire earnestly to prophesy”, to teach the Word of God (v. 39a). He also states that the first century churches should “not forbid to speak with tongues” (v. 39b).
After the first century, speaking in tongues was not a part of the church, for the most part. It was not forbidden. The spiritual gift of tongues ceased, was not given by the Holy Spirit, after the first century and the completion of the Bible. All prophecy ended at that time (Jude 3).
Paul then summarizes this passage and the ones that preceded it when he commands to “Let all things be done decently and in order” in the church service. This commandment, like all others, is to be obeyed by Christians as set down by Paul.