As in all the churches of the saints, let the women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law (1 Cor. 14:33, 34).
The implication of this passage has been variously understood. Some have taken this to mean that women are not to say anything in the assembly at all, but to remain completely silent at all times. But such an interpretation would make it impossible for women to speak one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). What then does this passage mean?
In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is discussing the use of miraculous gifts of the spirit, particularly the gift of tongues and of prophecy. The phrase keep silent in the church is used not only in reference to women, but also directed to men in the use of tongues in the assembly. Paul says, if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church (14:28). In other words, he is not to use those tongues in the assembly if there is no interpreter.
It seems clear enough that this instruction to women is a part of that discussion. We know that some women did have miraculous gifts of the Spirit (for instance, Philip had four daughters that prophesied, Acts 21:9). Now we find that there are further restrictions placed upon women within the assembly, that is, they are to be in subjection. Hence, the phrase let the women keep silence in the churches prohibits a woman from saying anything that would usurp the headship of man. This would especially relate to the use of miraculous gifts.
There were special challenges for women that had miraculous gifts in the first century. Among those was making sure that they observed God’s arrangement of headship. Paul makes it clear that the head of the woman is the man (1 Cor. 11:3), and that every woman using miraculous gifts (praying or prophesying, v. 5) was to wear a veil to indicate her subjection to man even though she had gifts some men did not have. Now in chapter 14 he emphasizes their subjection even further instructing them to remain silent, not saying anything that would usurp man’s headship. This means then, that a woman cannot preach, or teach, or lead a public prayer, or lead the singing, or preside at the Lord’s table with men present, for to do so would violate God’s arrangement of headship.
This teaching presents a particular problem for many in our society today. Women preachers (pastors) and church leaders are now common place in many denominations. There are even some Churches of Christ that are following suit as women are taking a much more public role in the leadership of churches. In fact, it was recently reported that one of the churches of Christ here in Tyler is soon to appoint deaconesses.
In an attempt to bring equality, the women’s lib movement of the last 35 years has so effectively dissolved the distinctive roles of men and women that not only the home but the church is feeling the impact. The fact is, whether we like it or not, God has placed women in subjection to men and that headship is not to be usurped. May God help us all to realize the unique roles God has defined for us and to limit ourselves to His authority.