As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor. 14:34-35 NRSV)
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is addressed to a church that was experiencing many difficulties. Paul’s instruction for women to “be silent in the churches” appears while he is giving exhortations concerning orderly worship, with particular concern that the outsider will be receptive to the Gospel (1 Cor. 14:23-25).
We must read Paul’s instruction for women to be silent in the churches in light of the rest of the letter. In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul writes that women were praying and prophesying in the church. He does not prohibit them from this practice, but asks that they cover their heads while they do so. Surely, praying and prophesying require that a woman speak. Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, Paul cannot be referring to speaking in general, but must be speaking to a specific situation.
Because the major concern of the context of the letter is orderly worship, it is likely that married women were speaking in a disorderly way, which is why Paul would recommend that they ask their husbands at home if they have questions (14:35). Paul’s priority was orderliness in worship, so that others would hear, without disruption, the Gospel. The type of speaking to which Paul was referring was asking questions which were disrupting worship. Thus, the main concern was not that women were speaking but that their speaking was disruptive or disorderly.
For Further Study:
“The Bible and Gender Equality,” by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis
“The Biblical Basis for Women’s Service in the Church,” by N.T. Wright
Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, with Gordon Fee
Equal to Serve: Women and Men Working Together Revealing the Gospel, by Gretchen Gaebelein Hull
Good News for Women: a Biblical Picture of Gender Equality, by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis