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In 1 Cor. 14:34,35, was Paul establishing a new legalistic command to the Church, with respect to women speaking in the church?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 34 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. 35 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 donít think that was his intent. To me, based on the context of the chapter he was addressing issues related to maintaining order in the public gatherings. There are some important cultural issues to consider with regards to this passage though. Most all of the early churches in the Gentile world began through evangelism in the synagogues. These synagogues were primarily composed of Gentiles who were converted to Judaism through the evangelistic efforts of Pharisees. Belief in the Messiah was a natural transition and so you normally had converted Jews as a majority in the early churches. These would be people who were heavily involved in the legalism taught by the Pharisees that would naturally produce a profound sense of religious pride. This pride, in conjunction with some of the traditional practices could lead to a great deal of confusion in a church now being established on the basis of the New Covenant.

The law stirs up sin, and a woman who tries to live a life in obedience to the law is going to be consumed with religious pride. She will not be able to be submissive to her husband as God intended and will naturally become disrespectful to her husband and others around her. I have encountered many ladies who appear to have this expression of sin, having its origin in their perceived obedience to other laws. They really believed they needed to live in obedience to the law and they were the most disrespectful people I had exposure to. On several occasions I wanted to tell them to ask their husbands the questions they were asking me just because they were being disruptive in the group I was teaching in. I believe this is what Paul was encountering when he was trying to help the church transition from law to grace, just as I have been trying to help others transition from law to grace.

There are however some very practical aspects to an admonition such as this. If a man is to be the leader of his home, he needs the voluntary submission of his wife. The wife can choose to usurp the leadership of her husband very easily, and will be inspired to do so if she is living under the law. The end result for her husband will always be one of three conditions. Heíll be a wimp, a wife beater, or heíll leave his wife. Those are the only options when a wife does not respect her husband. For a wife to ask a question publicly desiring to learn something is to publicly declare that she does not accept the answer from her husband. He may not know the answer to the question, but her asking him inspires him to fulfill his God given role by finding out what the answer is. He may try to discover what the answer is by making a public inquiry on behalf of his family to know the truth. However, for a wife to do this is to make a public statement of disrespect for her husband by saying that he is not fulfilling his obligation as a priest and leader of his home.

Now, having said all of that, I encourage women in the church that I Pastor to speak and ask questions. The reason why is because these are women who have a clear understanding of the differences between law and grace. Their comments and questions are clearly not motivated out of disrespect for anyone, especially for their husbands. They are generally spontaneously inspired by the present discussions and contribute to the topic at hand in a meaningful way. Therefore, I would say that an admonition such as this does have some very practical value in many circumstances but we should recognize that there are mature circumstances when this would prevent spontaneous contributions in an appropriate setting.

Aaron Budjen

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