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Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. — 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

...

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. — Timothy 2:11-12

Does the context of these two passages or the words used for "silence" in them provide any limit upon how silent women are to be in churches? I, for example, heard one pastor say that, in 1 Timothy 2:11, women are only commanded to be silent in relation to usurping authority over the man, and so they may speak in other instances.

Thank you.

  • Women tend to be chatty. Men, on the other hand, tend to be sparse with words. The Apostle is gently correcting human behavior, so as to avoid commotion in public gatherings. See also 1 Corinthians 14:19, and the preceding verses. – Lucian Dec 21 '18 at 21:17
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I have read/heard/studied various commentaries on these passages, and two of the most common are the following (and I will just address the 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 passages):

1) The first view is that verses 34 and 35 are to be taken "in context" of what has already been spoken by Paul; in other words: the context here is "prophesying" (preaching) in the context of the whole "tongues" issue. The issue is: "preaching in another language," and according to 1 Timothy 2:11-15, to intermingle the two passages, it speaks of the idea that no women should be allowed to preach in the pulpit in a church, and many have said that women that claim to be "women preachers in a church" have, in essence, "disobeyed God" according to the scriptures (as well as interconnecting the 1 Timothy 2 reference).

2) The second view is that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a mere admonition by Paul for the Corinthians (in light of speaking in tongues, etc.) to be observing what "the customs" were at this particular time, and not to essentially conform and erroneously spurn the adopted ideas/philosophies of the time (the Greeks were adamantly teaching in those days that women were to be obstructed from saying anything in a public space; Plutarch had several quotes about this very issue, as well, etc.) Many of the women in the 1st century were uneducated and illiterate, so this doesn't come as any surprise in the sense of what Paul admonishes in the sense of "the customs." The argument by some commentators make in regards to this issue is that the Greek verb 'laleo' (which is used 300 different times in the New Testament) means: 'talk, question, argue, chatter', etc., which, from their views, from this understanding, means that these passages in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 has absolutely nothing to do with praying, preaching, singing, etc., but that the issue of "public speaking" seems to be the primary argument or issue here.

Also of note that these same commentators make (in light of "view #2) is that, at the time, there was a particular pattern in the synagogues where all of the women would be on one side of the aisle, and all of the men would sit on the other side of the aisle. The reason for this is that it would discourage the women from asking their husbands questions during 'the service', which would henceforth create a distraction.

It would seem that the words "keep silent" is a restraint for women to "pass judgment" upon men, which, interestingly, is a pattern that one can grasp from Genesis 2:18-24.

There are other views, but these two views shared above tend to be the common perspectives.

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Paul's concern in 1 Corinthians 14:34 is not the prohibitions of the Torah but rather Roman laws governing public gatherings:

In his commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12 Adam Clarke writes:

Nor to usurp authority - A woman should attempt nothing, either in public or private, that belongs to man as his peculiar function. This was prohibited by the Roman laws: In multis juris nostri articulis deterior est conditio foeminarum quam masculorun,; l. 9, Pap. Lib. 31, Quaest. Foeminoe ab omnibus officiis civilibus vel publicis remotae sunt; et ideo nec judicis esse possunt, nec magistratum gerere, nec postulare, nec pro alio invenire, nec procuratores existere; l. 2, de Reg. Juris. Ulp. Lib. i. Ad Sab. - Vid. Poth. Pand. Justin., vol. i. p. 13.

“In our laws the condition of women is, in many respects, worse than that of men. Women are precluded from all public offices; therefore they cannot be judges, nor execute the function of magistrates; they cannot sue, plead, nor act in any case, as proxies.” They were under many other disabilities, which may be seen in different places of the Pandects. But to be in silence - It was lawful for men in public assemblies to ask questions, or even interrupt the speaker when there was any matter in his speech which they did not understand; but this liberty was not granted to women. See the note on 1Co_14:34, 1Co_14:35 (note).

This seems to be what is meant by "as the law also says" rather than the Torah:

NASB 1 Cor 14: 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.

Westcott and Hort / [NA27 variants] Αἱ γυναῖκες ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν, οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν· ἀλλὰ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει.

So while Paul in other places appeals good order in God's government and to the original design of creation or godly examples of submission here he's concerned about Corinthian chaos, where their gatherings were in danger of becoming a public embarrassment and even becoming chargeable in a Roman court for disorder in a public assembly. So the extent would be for the women maintain their submissive decorum.

  • Thank you for your answer, but what is to be the extent of the silence? Moreover, "as also saith the law" seems to have been added in passing, with Paul's main statement that women are to be silent being supported on its own, also although supported by this law that he speaks of, which might be the Roman law, as you've argued. – CMK Dec 16 '18 at 11:04
  • From the Clarke quote: "...It was lawful for men in public assemblies to ask questions, or even interrupt the speaker when there was any matter in his speech which they did not understand; but this liberty was not granted to women...". Paul agrees with Roman law that women are to behave as at a lower station than men and with speech and behavior that is becoming to that status. Equality was a stench in Paul's nose. – Ruminator Dec 16 '18 at 11:13
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    Thanks. Does this mean, then, that women would still be able to say things like, "Amen"? – CMK Dec 16 '18 at 14:59
  • I don't have any particular insight into that level of things. – Ruminator Dec 16 '18 at 16:01
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    Alright. Again, thank you for your answer. – CMK Dec 17 '18 at 1:05
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In the interests of common decency and peaceful conduct...

Firstly, we need to keep in mind that the letters to Timothy were not intended as God-given commandments or teaching for the general congregation, but as personal letters from one church leader to another. The author also begins this particular instruction with οὐκ ἄνθρωπος (ouk epitrepo - 'I do not permit'), expressing what can be interpreted as his own personal strategy in response to what was probably a question about a particular situation.

In fact, much of the instruction to Timothy with regard to women is expressed as a personal opinion and subsequent approach backed by the author's own interpretation of scripture, rather than as a truth or command from God:

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Timothy 2: 14-15)

The word in 1 Timothy 2:12 translated to 'silence' is hésuchia (ἡσυχία) - which more accurately means 'stillness', not speechlessness or silence. While Paul's church communities appeared to recognise a woman as a person in her own right, the line was drawn at permitting her to express that autonomy in a way that offended the public sense of common decency. This meant that she was expected to behave in a calm and quiet manner at all times - to be a passive participant in the church, quiet in mannerism, not permitted to teach or to lead men, but not necessarily silent in speech.

This advice to Timothy (based on the author's personal opinions and interpretation of scripture) is an attempt to 'keep the peace' within the church. This is apparent as the paragraph begins with the author's intentions: to prevent anger or quarrelling in church:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; (1 Timothy 2:8)

The author follows immediately by advising specific behaviour expectations for women that can be easily enforced to reduce instances of anger or quarrelling in church:

also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence [stillness] with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent [to be in stillness]. (1 Timothy 2: 9-12)

Women at the time this letter was written were considered an extension of man - either a product of their father or a possession of their husband. This was in keeping with a limited knowledge of biology and the apparent origin of women as described in Genesis: as created from man's own flesh. The Old Testament often portrays the wife as an extension or voice of her husband's flesh - acting or speaking in conflict with his spirit. So, to allow a woman to speak up in church would be to give free rein to your own (sinful) flesh in public.

While these new Christian communities strove to emulate Jesus in promoting a certain level of equality and recognising women as individuals, the freedom this recognition afforded them to speak on their own merits - even have a mind of their own - may have come across as disorderly or even indecent or offensive by society's standards at the time.

This same interest in 'common decency' is expressed in the first letter to the Corinthians:

all things should be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)

'Decency' refers to appearance or behaviour that is considered acceptable by society. When Paul talks here about prophesying and speaking tongues in the church, he is reminding the community to behave within the church in a way that common society (of his time) considers to be 'decent'. This includes speaking or listening in turn, having someone available to interpret when one speaks in tongues, and women remaining silent in church.

Likewise, anyone gifted from the Spirit with speaking in tongues or with prophesy would have been overly eager to show it off at any opportunity. This chapter paints a picture of church gatherings as full of noise and confusion, with everyone trying to speak at once - many in tongues.

Paul's instructions here are an attempt to restore the appearance of order and decency to the church in Corinth. He calls on them to not be 'children in your thinking', and reminds them that their purpose in speaking up is to edify the church, not themselves. Otherwise they should be silent, and listen to others, giving each other a chance to speak. He then follows immediately with instructions to particularly restrict the behaviour of women:

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law 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 Corinthians 14: 33-35)

The word translated here as 'keep silence' is sigaó (σιγάω). This word comes from sigé (σιγή), meaning 'hush, silence', and specifically refers to no sound.

Conclusion

The letter to Timothy advises a demeanour of stillness, while the letter to Corinthians expressly forbids speaking in church, and demands silence.

However, both verses follow immediately from an expressed intention to control instances of general disorder in the church, whether anger and quarrelling (1 Timothy 2) or speaking out of turn (1 Corinthians 14).

Where the author says 'I desire' certain behaviour from men, he then says 'I do not permit' certain behaviour from women. The difference is in the locus of control - the men were not under his authority, so he could only instruct them in their behaviour. It was accepted in society at the time, however, that women were under the authority of either their husband or father and brothers, so their behaviour could easily be pulled into line by restricting what they were 'permitted' to do.

The intention was not to advocate the oppression of women - they were already oppressed. The intention was simply to restore order to the church.

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