Tuesday, April 20, 2010

1 Corinthians 14: 34 -35

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.

35 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.

This is another one of those verses that people look at and feel like the Bible is telling women to 'sit down and shut up'.

I think, in this case, context is important. It can't be said that women are not permitted to speak at all in the church, because, in this same letter, in Chapter 11 (which I talked about earlier), women are instructed to cover their heads when they pray or prophecy. So, clearly, women were and are permitted to speak in church. However, it has a 'place'. Just like *any* layperson speaking in church does.

Do people in your church hollar to one another across the room? Throw paper airplanes with notes? Do they? If they do, you have a problem in your church. Whether or not you believe in the Real Presence, you go to church to worship God. And that *should* demand your respect and therefore respectful behavior.

Anyway. Back then, women and men had very prescribed roles and places in the Jewish faith (according to my understanding.) If you look at the layout of the Temple, the women had a separate 'court' where they stayed while the men were permitted further in and therefore closer (though still far away) to the Holy of Holies.

This same separation was kept in the synagogues. Even today, in some Orthodox Synagogues there is a women's section and a men's section. It may be a simple, women on one side, men on the other, or a balcony room for the women, but they are separated.

So, you have Christianity arising out of Judaism, where the men and the women sit, at least, on different sides of the room. Because, in Christianity, lay men and women are equal, basically, *everything* changed. Women were being called to interact in their new faith in different ways. And they had questions. The men, at that point, were better educated (for the most part) about Torah. They understood, better, the connections between their Jewish faith and Christianity.

I think the women had questions, and had been told, 'there is no male or female in Christ' and there was confusion, as the people were learning. And I think that, in Corinth and probably some other places, there was some disruption - maybe women yelling over to their husbands to ask a question. Maybe just talking amongst themselves (and we all know how disruptive it is when the 'audience' of anything talks amongst itself. They can't hear the speaker.).

And the Church in Corinth wrote to St. Paul, asking for advice. I think that gets forgotten, sometimes, that there was a letter *before* any Epistle. One asking questions. We don't have that. We don't know, exactly what the issue was. Whatever the exact problem was, St. Paul's answer was for the women to keep silent in church, and consult their husbands later. It was the tradition (little 't') of the time. Even so, I'd rather *nobody* spoke in church unless there was call to do so. Responses to the prayers, chanting, singing hymns, yelling 'fire!' if a fire breaks out. Important things. Church is *not* the place to discuss what you did that week. Most, if not all, churches have coffee hours afterward. Discuss your lives then. You're in church to worship, not gossip.


  1. Interesting take. Makes sense.

    I love your last paragraph. I cant stand when people talk through church, or in the mosque during a speech or prayer. So very annoying.

  2. Yes, this is similar to how these verses were explained to me by a friend and it made lots of sense. I'm really glad to read this post. I agree that it's distracting when people are talking when you are trying to focus on worship.

    Good post - thanks!

  3. Yeah, talking in church is a pet peeve of mine. So irritating. It is not a social hour!

  4. Susanne,

    It the most common explanation, and the one that makes the most sense. I did hear another one that claimed that St. Paul was speaking to the pagan practice of having priestesses, but I don't see contextual evidence for that like I do for this.

  5. Thank you for these posts, Amber. I had asked Susanne to offer her pov on these "troubling passages." However, I always read them as the words and opinions of a mortal man who *can* err. So if Paul thought like this, it is OK, he isn't quoting Jesus. He was giving his opinion.

    I love the fact that in Christ we are all equal and that is what matters.

  6. Suroor,

    "I love the fact that in Christ we are all equal and that is what matters."

    I love that, too! This is why I rarely (if ever) feel inferior according to the New Testament.

    Paul said this about us all being equal in Christ

    Gal. 3:28 -- "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

    so that's why I believe Amber is on to something true with her views on these troubling passages. I don't see how someone who declared us equal in Christ and actually had women teacher friends would then go around bashing women as a sexist man would. So that's why I never had a problem with Paul's views of women. *shrug*

    When you asked me about those verses on your blog I was heading out of town the next day. I asked Amber about the verses because I like her opinions on things and I was curious as a fairly new Catholic if she had some interesting insight to share. She so kindly did these posts, and I've enjoyed them a lot!

    So thank you for the good questions and thanks, Amber, for the good replies. And now I feel like Tom Sawyer who was given a job to do and passed it on to another soul. :-D

  7. Suroor,

    Oh, so it's your fault? ;)

    That's also a distinct possibility. There are many places where St. Paul and other writers are clearly giving their opinions. I don't see, clearly, that these are instances of that, though they may be. But they certainly don't mean what some people take them to mean in the extreme.

    'I love the fact that in Christ we are all equal and that is what matters.'

    Despite all the other things that people quibble about, yes, this is truly what matters. :)

  8. Susanne,


    That's okay. Just like the kid who painted the fence, I could have said no. :)

    Plus, I enjoy telling people what I think. It makes me think about things. I still want to look at the other verses you listed, too.

    I actually did have a problem with St. Paul and his view on, umm...well, women and *everything* when I was in my militantly anti-male phase. I saw him as an example of men holding the women down! Oppressing me! (Help! help! I'm being oppressed!) I got over it. :)

  9. Amber, I honestly do understand why people could have a problem with Paul for that. I mean, when I read the verses I can see they seem very sexist and alone I don't care for them. But then when I read them in cultural context and also remember Paul had women friends such as Lydia and that woman who lead Bible studies and **taught Apollos** (what? a man?!)...was it, I looked it up, Priscilla, PLUS see where he said we are one in Christ, I actually like him fine. He's one of my favorites. I adore the book of Philippians especially all the joy in chapter 4! :)

    So, thanks, Fence Painter! :) I look forward to more in this series.


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