What kinds of speaking out in assemblies would a woman not be permitted to do?


I appreciate you posting the Questions and Answers to Facebook. I think it is an excellent resource for evangelism and a great way to draw attention to it. I was reviewing the answer "My congregation is becoming more unscriptural. Should I find another one?" you posted on Facebook to this fellow's question about a woman confessing her sins before the public assembly and had some concern with it.

If I understand correctly, I am curious as to how your answer fits with the immediate context of I Corinthians 14? The immediate context of that passage deals with assemblies that have grown disorderly (i.e., tongue speakers without interpreters and done out of turn, prophesying all at once instead of one at a time, women speaking out of turn and perhaps even asking questions in a disruptive way in the assemblies) and the remedy for that acute problem. Paul does not only instruct women to keep "silent" in the church, but men as well, in the cited circumstances (note I Corinthians 14:28,30). To apply this passage the way you and the fellow who sent you the question suggests would mean a women cannot sing in the assembly. I mean, if she can't repent of sin before the church in the fashion the fellow is offended at, then she can't sing either (singing even involves teaching and admonishing). If not, why not?

Not only that, but if she can't speak in the church, how can she confess Christ (Romans 10:9-10)? If she can't publicly confess sin in the assembly based on I Corinthians 14:34-35, then she can't publicly confess Christ in the assembly based on the same reasoning. If not, why not? I think it more accurate to understand I Corinthians 14:34 as an elliptical statement (i.e., "not . but" passage). Paul is denying the lesser (the "not" portion of the statement - a woman speaking in church) to emphasize the greater (the "but" portion of the statement - a woman being in submission). This passage cannot be taken literally, as it would contradict other clear passages of scripture (as cited above), but instead must be understood as a figure of speech and in the clear light of its context. It is much like when Jesus said, "Do not labor for the food which perished, but for the food which endures to everlasting life" (John 6:27). If we take this literally, then it is a sin to work for our food. Since we are commanded to labor for our food (II Thessalonians 3:10), we know we must understand that Jesus is employing the same kind of figure of speech and its context will help our understanding of the statement.

Lest it be presumed I am advocating women speaking out in some kind of leadership capacity in the church, I am not. I Timothy 2:11-12 clearly governs the general conduct of a woman and I Corinthians 14:34-35 would prohibit her from being disruptive during an assembly and from usurping authority from the men during the assembly, which also prohibits leadership roles for women in the church (as you well stated). However, I believe to derive a prohibition there of a women speaking at all or "period" (i.e., being completely silent) when the church is assembled is an untenable position as it would make that command in direct conflict with other clear commands that apply to both men and women (e.g., to sing praises that teach and admonish one another, to confess Christ, etc., etc.).

If I am mistaken, please correct me. If I am not mistaken, I think the man who received the answer to your question should be more correctly taught on that passage.


I do appreciate the correction. Reviewing the answer, I see that I did word it more forcefully than I intended and as a result it could be construed that I was saying that a woman could not make any sounds in the assembly. I've gone back to reword the answer. For what I have taught in the past about this passage to show that "no sound" is not my position, see "Silent in the Churches."

While I mostly agree with your conclusion, I must disagree a bit with the approach. There is a "not ... but" in I Corinthians 14:34 but it isn't an ellipse. An ellipse requires an element of a full grammatical sentence to be left out. Typically in a "not ... but" a shared verb is left out in the second half. For example,

"Do not let your adornment be merely outward--arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel-- rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (I Peter 3:3-4).

The "let" after "rather" was inserted by translators. It doesn't actually appear the Greek, that is why this statement is called an ellipse.

hon esto ouch ho exothen empiokes trichon kai peritheseos chrusion e enduseos himation kosmos all ho kruptos tes kardias anthopos en to aphtharto tou praeos kai hesuchiou pneumatos ho estin enopion tou theou poluteles

(whose) (let it be) (not) (the) (outward) (of braiding) (of hair) (and) (putting around) (of gold) (or) (putting on) (of garments) (adorning) (but) (the) (hidden) (of the) (heart) (man) (in) (the) (incorruptible) (of the) (gentle) (and) (quiet) (spirit) (which) (is) (before) () (God) (of great price).

The word esto (let it be) is shared by the "not" with the "but" that comes later. When such appears you can insert the idea of "only" or "merely" in the "not" phrase and "also" in the but phrase to get the English meaning of what is being stated. You can see in the New King James Version that I quoted that the translators did add "merely" to the "not" phrase to add greater clarity.

In "not ... but" ellipses the statement is not an absolute but an emphasis on relative importance. So the beauty of a woman is not merely seen in outward things like hair, jewelry, or clothing, but more importantly in the inward character of the person. In comparison between what contributes to a woman's beauty, the external things are far less important than the internal things.

However, I Corinthians 14:34 is not a "not ... but" ellipses. There is no absent but shared verb. "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" (I Corinthians 14:34). "Not" modifies "are permitted" while "but" goes along with "are submissive" -- two different verbs. You can also see this if you try adding "only" and "also" to the phrase: "Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not [only] permitted to speak; but [also] they are to be submissive, as the law also says." We end up with a contradiction in the same statement.

The "but they are to be submissive" is a qualifier on "for they are not permitted to speak." It is speech where submission is not shown that is forbidden. Nor is it all speech, for a location is given "in the churches." This rule applies to the worship assemblies, not to daily life, which is why Paul tells women with questions to save them for when they get home. "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" (I Corinthians 14:35). One might think that asking a question during worship is not harmful, but Paul states that it cannot be done because women are not permitted to speak in the assemblies. Again, notice that the reason questions by women can't be asked during the worship assembly is because women are not permitted to speak.

This rule doesn't apply to singing because such is joint speaking. "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). All Christians are speaking together in harmony. It is not a case of a woman speaking to the assembly. Singing is a unified action where all are submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21).

It doesn't apply to when a woman is replying to a question asked of her, such as when Peter had asked Sapphira, ""Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much"" (Acts 5:8). The answerer is submitting to the questioner by replying. For a woman to reply to the question "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God?" is not an act of non-submission. Quite the opposite. The reply is submitting to the question.

But in the case presented, I'm going by what was said. I wasn't there so I don't know all the details. A woman came forward to confess her sins to the brethren. While we make opportunities for such to be done, there actually is no hard requirement that sins must be confessed before the church. The actual command is expressed on an individual basis (James 5:16). We make it available during worship assemblies because it is an expedient way to let all the brethren know at once. The elders had her stand before the congregation to make her statement. She wasn't answering a question. She wasn't in joint participation with the rest of the congregation. She was speaking of her own initiative. It is for that reason that I see it violating what Paul stated.

Understanding this passage cannot be complete without considering what Paul said prior.

"Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged" (I Corinthians 14:29-31).

The same Greek word for "silent" is used in this passage as the one for women in I Corinthians 14:34-35. Here the rule is that one prophet is to yield the floor to another prophet when the second has something to say. No one prophet is to dominate the assembly, they can each take turns. Notice, too, that those not speaking are judging what the speaking prophet is saying.

In contrast, women are told not to speak in the assembly. They can't question what is said while the worship assembly is in progress, they must wait until later (unlike the prophets). The silence for the prophets was a "take your turn" command, but such is not the case for woman in the worship assembly.

Women cannot present a lesson because that would teaching (an authoritative position - I Timothy 2:11-12). They cannot lead a song or a prayer because they would be leading the congregation. What I would argue is that anytime a woman stands before a congregation to address it, whether it is in reading a Bible passage or speaking about her sins, she is given the floor and put into a temporary position of authority. Paul states that such is not permitted in the worship assembly.