Paul is writing to the local church at Corinth in order to admonish the congregation toward unity in the faith—unity through maturity. He is currently addressing the practice of spiritual gifts—particularly those of prophecy and speaking in tongues. He has admonished the local church to prioritize love, which edifies. He has also instructed the congregation to desire prophecy before tongues because prophecy edifies.
1 Corinthians 14:34-40
34 Αἱ γυναῖκες ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις σιγάτωσαν, οὐ γὰρ ἐπιτρέπεται αὐταῖς λαλεῖν· ἀλλὰ ὑποτασσέσθωσαν, καθὼς καὶ ὁ νόμος λέγει. 35 εἰ δέ τι μαθεῖν θέλουσιν, ἐν οἴκῳ τοὺς ἰδίους ἄνδρας ἐπερωτάτωσαν, αἰσχρὸν γάρ ἐστιν γυναικὶ λαλεῖν ἐν ἐκκλησίᾳ. 36 ἢ ἀφʼ ὑμῶν ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθεν, ἢ εἰς ὑμᾶς μόνους κατήντησεν;
37 Εἴ τις δοκεῖ προφήτης εἶναι ἢ πνευματικός, ἐπιγινωσκέτω ἃ γράφω ὑμῖν ὅτι κυρίου ἐστίν· 38 εἰ δέ τις ἀγνοεῖ, ἀγνοεῖται. 39 ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου, ζηλοῦτε τὸ προφητεύειν, καὶ τὸ λαλεῖν μὴ κωλύετε γλώσσαις· 40 πάντα δὲ εὐσχημόνως καὶ κατὰ τάξιν γινέσθω.
Women in the church (v. 34-35)
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. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
To someone who has been reading the whole of 1 Corinthians, these verses seem uncharacteristic of the rest of the letter. In Chapter 11, verse 5, Paul instructed women concerning their head-coverings while they prophesied and prayed in the context of the gathering. In verse 31, here in Chapter 14, he instructed the church explicitly, “…you can all prophesy…” Now, he claims that women are to keep silent in the churches because they are not permitted to speak. Does Paul contradict himself or is Scripture incoherent?
There is a movement among some modern scholars to remove verses 34 and 35 from 1 Corinthians. Since some manuscript traditions include verses 34 and 35 after verse 40, they see evidence that verses 34 and 35 might be inauthentic. This fact that only very few manuscripts have moved the verses to a different location is not enough evidence to prove them as inauthentic. There are no manuscripts that omit verses 34 and 35, and no scholar has historically treated the verses as inauthentic. Since verses 34 and 35 share the sentiment of 1 Timothy 2:11ff and 1 Peter 3:1, making it both pauline and petrine teaching, there is no reason to treat it as inauthentic. We must still wrestle with the idea of biblical submission.
The women are to keep silent in the churches. Since Paul has already provided for women to speak, even prophesy, in the context of the gathering, we must ask which women he is instructing to keep silent. It is not all of them, else he would not have given them instructions for prophesying in the context of the gathering (cf. 11:5). He could be referring to those who idolaterize the gift of tongues or practice prophecy in an illegitimate way. It could be those who ask disruptive questions (cf. v 35).
Since the gift of prophecy is to be practiced in orderly fashion, “…one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted” (v. 31), this could be a general rule targeted toward certain women who were particularly disruptive while others were prophesying. No one is technically permitted to speak while another is prophesying. Instead, they are to subject themselves as the Law says. What does the Law say about submission?
From the fact that Adam was created the federal head of all creation, including Eve, to the instructions concerning submission in Numbers 30 as affirmed in Timothy, Titus, and Peter, the submission of wives to their husbands is one of the most perspicuous biblical instructions. Throughout Scripture, though, this is not a submission of any woman to every man, but particularly to either her father, brother, or husband. Instead of causing disorder by interrupting the time of prophecy, women are to subject themselves to their husbands. How?
Paul answers. If they desire to learn anything, in this case question the prophecy, let them ask their own husbands at home. It is improper for them to raise questions during the church gathering and so cause disorder and division—to speak in this way in the church.
This instruction in no way limits women who desire to properly practice the spiritual gifts (cf. 11:5; 14:31). It does not restrict women from having women’s Bible studies or holding the office of deacon. It does, however, restrict women who are busy with their words (asking disruptive questions or turning prayer time into gossip hour) from speaking in the context of the gathering. If you desire to learn rather than disrupt, show it by asking your husband at home instead of disordering the gathering. If a man is busy with his words and a busybody, he needs to go home and submit himself to the Lord in prayer.
Don’t make a spectacle in the gathering (public speakers, story tellers, sensationalists should heed these words). Live quietly and humbly. Edify others even by your demeanor. These are the biblical principles every sincere Christian lives by because of the Holy Spirit within him or her. If we resort to spectacle by word, deed, or performance, we are not in line with God’s instruction, here.
Here, we see the same authoritative structure we did in Chapter 11. Christ is the head of the man, who is the head of the woman. Such order seems to be part of God’s design from the beginning, Genesis 1. This is why men die for their wives, being a living sacrifice, and wives submit to their husbands. Speaking with the ladies in my own congregation, they claim that there is a certain freedom in biblical submission they wish most women could experience. This is also why the New Testament teaches that women cannot serve as elders of the local church (cf. 1 Timothy 2:11ff). They can prophesy. They cannot fill the office of elder or fill the pulpit. Why? We believe, like the New Testament human authors (cf. Chapter 11), God created with purpose, intentionally from the beginning.
Recognizing prophets (v. 36-38)
Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only? If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
Paul continues to talk about prophecy. He uses rhetorical questions to make his point. Did the word of God first come from you? Of course not. It first came from God. Well, has it only come to you? Of course not. Everyone who had, has, or will have a copy of Scripture has the word of God. If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual (e.g. a diviner, someone who believes him or herself to hear God or the spirits directly), let him recognize that Paul is writing the Lord’s command. If anyone does not recognize Paul’s words as the Lord’s command, he or she is not recognized as a prophet or spiritual.
Paul essentially gives the criteria for recognizing true prophets. If they recognize Scripture as Scripture and their authority, they might be prophets. If they do not, they cannot be prophets. If prophecy does not exceed what is written (cf. 4:6), then the prophet will not exceed what is written. Scripture is the authority by which he speaks, not divination or the mystical hearing of a disembodied voice. Anyone, then, who does not live by the mantra, Sola Scriptura, is no prophet of the Lord. Consequently, any preaching or teaching that is not expository is not biblical prophecy in the New Testament age—it is, however, speaking into the air (cf. v. 9).
Conclusion concerning spiritual gifts (v. 39-40)
Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.
Paul’s conclusion is not restrictive. Desire prophecy and do not forbid to speak in tongues. Simply be orderly. God is the God of order, and He despises chaos. The way we do church should reveal something about who God is. The way we structure our lives reveals something about the God we serve. Are we in Christ or chaos?
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