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Topic 35: 1 Cor. 14:26-39: Part 4: Silent and Speaking


 In 1 Corinthians 14:34 Paul says that “the women should keep silent…”  How is this to be understood?

◆ “It should be noted in this connection that Paul uses the Greek word laleo for ‘speak’ in 1 Cor. 14:34, which frequently means to ‘preach’ in the New Testament (See Mark 2:2; Luke 9:11; Acts 4:1; 8:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Cor 12:19; Phil. 1:4; et al.), and not lego, which is the more general term … Thus, Paul is not here demanding that women should be silent at all times or that they cannot express their sentiments and opinions at church assemblies.  The command that women keep silent is a command that they not take charge of the public worship service, specifically the teaching-learning aspects of the service” (LCMS’ Commission on Theology and Church Relations, “Women in the Church” [Sept. 1985] pg. 33).

◆ “I Cor. 14:34f., too, is designed to prohibit the woman from proclaiming God’s Word in the worship service of the church.  Any other interpretation appears to be extremely artificial and improbable.  The whole chapter deals with participation in the worship service.  All the decisive words used in this connection (“be silent”, “speak”, “church”) Paul used immediately preceding in the same chapter (vs. 27-30), and it is quite clear that we are dealing here with the right publicly to participate in the worship service and there to speak of God’s ways.  For this reason alone the claim that the word in v. 34 (lalein) has a different meaning and refers only to disturbing chatter, is extremely improbable” (Giertz, Springfielder, March 1970, pgs. 14-15).

Thesis: The verb sigao (“...the woman should keep silent…”) means “hushed silence” and is never used as a reference indicating “no public preaching.”

(A) “[vs 34] … the women should keep silent …”: What does the verb sigao mean?

(1) Can this mean “totally silent”?  No, compare 1 Corinthians 11:5.

(2) Can this mean she cannot pray or preach?  No, compare 1 Corinthians 11:5.

(B) How is the verb used here?

(1) There are 10 uses of sigao in the New Testament.

(2) The Greek word suggests a voluntary, as opposed to a commanded, silence.  “This is the type of silence that is called for in the midst of disorder and clamor” (Bristow, pg. 63).  “Each one of these, in context refers to ‘keeping the mouth shut’ — in actual silence, so as not to be a disturbance, not to refrain from public preaching of the Word” (Dinda, “WORD STUDY: 1 Cor. 14:33-35 AND 1 Tim. 2:8-12,” pg. 4).

(3) The verb sigao (“to be silent”) is used three times in 1 Corinthians, all in chapter 14:                                            vs. 28: “if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent

vs. 30: “if a revelation is made … let the first be silent

vs. 31: “… one by one ..[vs 34] … women should keep silent

(4) Verse 28 means “say nothing, keep silent.”  The second, verse 30, means to “stop speaking, become silent so to let the revelation be heard.”  If these two passages refer to literal silence (to stop disruptive speaking), it seems reasonable that the verb sense would remain the same for the third one.

(5) The context in verse 35 has Paul forbidding women even from “asking questions”; this would indicate that behavior, not a doctrinal question, is still the subject.  Clearly  he is using the verb in verse 34 the same way that he does in verses 28 and 30, and that the sense has not changed significantly for verse 34.  The instruction “to be silent” is directed against chattering confusion and disruption.  “Instead of causing chattering confusion in the assembly, please do the chattering at home” (vs 35).

(6) In both 1 Corinthians 14:28 and 14:30, the one told to “keep silent” is masculine in gender.  Even if this is gender “inclusive,” it still means men are being asked to keep silent.  Paul has not singled out women alone.

(7) Sigao  — here [in verse 34] is a present or durative infinitive — to keep on talking or chattering in church.  Note: no direct object” (Dinda, pg. 8).

(8) Compare 1 Corinthians 12:7-11: No gender designations are given.  Women receive the gifts of the Spirit, wisdom, knowledge, tongues, interpretation – gifts which would hardly be shared unless women could use them and speak.

(9) If Paul gives permission to everyone, including women, in verses 26-32 of responding to the Spirit’s prompting (“[26] … each one has a hymn … [29] let two or three prophets speak [which includes women; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:5] … [vs 31] for you can all prophesy one by one…the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets …”), he is not going to turn around and take it away in the next verse [34].  Would Paul contradict himself thus?

(10) Paul is concerned about women interrupting teaching, not women engaged in teaching.

◆ “The command that women keep silent is a command that they not take charge of the public worship service, specifically the teaching-learning aspects of the service” (CTCR-WIC, pg. 33).

◆ “The main application of these passages in the contemporary church is that women are not to exercise those functions in the local congregation which would involve them in the exercise of authority inherent in the authoritative public teaching office (i.e., the office of pastor)” (CTCR-WIC, pg. 38).

◆ “Secondly, it must be underscored that Paul’s prohibition that women remain silent and not speak is uttered with reference to the worship service of the congregation (1 Cor. 14:26-33)” (CTCR-WIC, page 33).

(11) Can anyone show from any Greek lexicon that the word sigao ever means “should not take charge” or “should not preach” as the CTCR-WIC suggests?  Does this happen to be a unique use of that word in the Scripture?  “We cannot just arbitrarily give meanings to inspired words, otherwise we can make the Bible say anything we wish it to say.  What if we allowed the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper to be defined arbitrarily?” (Concord, May, 1965, issue).

(12) To say, as does CTCR-WIC, that “women are not to exercise those functions in the local congregation which would involve them in the exercise of authority inherent in the authoritative public teaching office” is to load sigao with freight it nowhere else bears and to read into 1 Corinthians a subject that is not even addressed in this passage.

(13) So, we conclude that “keep silent” is directed toward a confusion at this point; Paul is not addressing a question of abuse of a teaching, preaching, or pastoral office; rather, he instructs about worship which is being disrupted by some extraneous conversation, or by speaking in tongues, or by questions raised spontaneously, or by loud talk regarding revelations given by the Spirit in the congregation (verses 13-19), just as he instructs all others to be silent in verse 30.  “The apostle is simply preventing women from taking the initiative in speaking, but allows exceptions where there is genuine pneumatic endowment” (TDNT, I, pg. 787).

(14) Paul’s call for women “to be silent” was a particular silence while their husbands’ prophecies are being tested.  This call does not ask for “total silence,” as verses 28 and 30 do not, nor is it a law forbidding worship leadership participation and teaching.

(15) “The juxtaposition of the two chapters [1 Corinthians 11 and 14] demonstrates at the least that this command to silence is not an order for every situation and for all times, for it is limited even in the same letter by adjacent material in ch. 11” (Reumann, “What in Scripture Speaks to the Ordination of Women,” pg. 19).

(16) How does this text help interpret the phrase “women should keep silent”?  Jesus certainly was pleased with and approved that women should be bearers of the sacred Word.  John 4 does not support the contention that women should not preach or teach.

◆ “It should be noted in this connection that Paul uses the Greek word laleo for ‘speak’ in 1 Cor. 14:34, which frequently means to ‘preach’ in the New Testament (See Mark 2:2, Luke 9:11, Acts 4:1; 8:25; 1 Cor 2:7; 2 Cor 12:19; Phil. 1:4; et al.), and not lego, which is the more general term.  The claim that Paul has a different meaning in mind and that he uses it here to prohibit disturbing chatter is extremely improbable.).  When laleo has a meaning other than religious speech and preaching in the New Testament, this is usually made clear by an object or an adverb … ” (CTCR-WIC, page 33).

◆ “The contrast in the Greek sentence marked by the ou gar … alla sets in opposition lalein and hypotassesthosan, speaking and being subordinate.  A speaking is involved which is the opposite of being subordinate, a speaking with authority, teaching, preaching with the implicit demand for obedience” (Hamann, “The New Testament and the Ordination of Women, pg. 5).

Thesis: “[vs 34]… for they are not permitted to speak …” is a reference not to eligibility for pastoral office, but “to prattle.”

(A) What does the verb here, lalein, mean?  Does it necessarily pertain to public preaching as the CTCR-WIC suggests? Or to a “speaking with authority” as Hamann suggests?

(B) The basic sense of the word does not mean official speaking or preaching: “laleo and related words like the Lat. lallus (the ‘nurse’s crooning’), lallare (‘to lull to sleep’), the Germ. lallen and the Eng. ‘lull’ imitate the babbling of small children.  Hence to use the word of speech of adults is a sign of either intimacy or scorn: ‘to prattle'” (TDNT, IV, page 76).

(C) In this sense, Paul uses lalein when referring to speaking in tongues (e.g. 1 Corinthians 13:1, 14:4), “because such speaking to people without interpretation is child’s prattling and babbling” (Dinda, pg. 7).

(D) In the New Testament lalein is used many different ways other than preaching:

(1) Mark 7:35: “and he spoke plainly…”

(2) Mark 1:34: speaking in contrast to silence

(3) 1 Corinthians 3:1: simple conversation

(4) Matthew 10:20: a more official authoritative kind of speaking

(E) When lalein is used to mean preaching, the verb has a direct object, usually “the Word,” behind it (Dinda, pgs. 6 and 7); compare the passages the CTCR-WIC document (page 33) cites:

(1) Mark 2:2: “he was preaching the Word to them …”

(2) Luke 9:11: “and spoke to them of the kingdom of God

(3) Acts 4:1-2: “speaking to the people .. teaching the people and proclaiming …Jesus...”

(4) Acts 8:25: “and spoke the Word of the Lord …”

(5) 1 Corinthians 2:7: “but we impart [speak] a … hidden wisdom of God..”

(6) 2 Corinthians 12:19: “we have been speaking in Christ…”

(F) 1 Corinthians 14:34 does not include a direct object after lalein.  If it did include a direct object after the verb, for example, “it is disgraceful for a woman to speak the Word in church,”  a strong case could be made for no woman functioning in a pastoral office and for lalein be an equivalent to “preaching.”  But there is no direct object and nothing else in this context to indicate pastoral roles.   The CTCR’s argument, pg. 33, does not hold.

(G) If the Apostle intended to prohibit preaching and teaching, two other words were available to him, either one of which would have put the matter beyond question: kerusso and euaggelizo.

◆ “The command that women keep silent is a command that they not take charge of the public worship service, specifically the teaching-learning aspects of the service” (CTCR-WIC, page 33).

(H) Verses 39 and 40, in which the apostle sums up this chapter, do not contain a statement about women’s participation in worship leadership, only a word about behavior and unseemly words and acts, that is, worship etiquette.

(I)  There is here no express word that indicates this text speaks to eligibility for church office.  Paul here never uses the word for pastor or any New Testament synonyms for it. The context indicates Paul uses the word λαλειν in a wider, more general sense, and not as “preaching.”

◆ “Why are they told to ask their men (andras) at home if they are free to take an active part in the discussions of the assembly? (1 Cor. 14:35)” [argument against women suffrage] (LCMS’ Pittsburgh Convention Workbook, 1992, pg. 199).

(J) Paul seems to be telling the disruptive women, “If you can’t speak in a manner that edifies others in this community of faith, then keep silent until you get home.”

(K) Another view: “In light of the discussion of pagan prophecy above, it is very believable that these women assumed that Christian prophets or prophetesses functioned much like the oracle at Delphi, who only prophesied in response to questions, including questions about purely personal matters … Those asking questions were not yet educated enough in the school of Christ to know what was and was not appropriate in Christian worship.  Paul affirms their right to learn, but suggests another context.  In any case, Paul is correcting an abuse of privilege, not taking back a woman’s right to speak in the assembly, which he has already granted in ch. 11.  The adversative particle e (‘or’) in v. 36 does not imply that Paul is rejecting a statement that he has quoted in vv. 34 f. — it is his own statement.  He is, rather, anticipating opposition to his ruling and forestalling it in v. 36″ (Witherington, Conflict and Community in Corinth, pg. 287).

(L) Another perspective: “Again one is reminded of the Megillah’s concern for disgracing the dignity of the congregation should a woman be permitted to read Torah aloud” (Mollenkott, Women, Men, and the Bible, pg. 100).

(M) Another perspective: If the congregation were following the Synagogue pattern of women sitting separately from men, calling to the husbands or men across the gathering would be highly disruptive.  So, Paul’s advice, “Talk at home.”