…It is shameful for women to speak…

William Stewart

In last week’s article, we focused on 1 Timothy 2:11-12. We discussed the fact that Paul’s command there is not an injunction forbidding women to speak while assembled with God’s people, but rather a discourse on the nature of a woman’s participation in the church. This week, we continue our study, primarily looking at the instruction given in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

1 CORINTHIANS 14:34-35
“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. 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.”

The fact that women are excluded from speaking in the church in this text is evident. The word ‘silent’ is translated from the Greek word sigao. Hesuchia, as is found in 1 Timothy 2, refers to a spirit of quietness rather than complete silence, however, sigao carries with it the idea of absolute silence.

It is evident from the context of 1 Corinthians 14 that the setting in which these instructions apply is the assembly of God’s people. How do we reconcile it with Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 2, since there he did not prohibit women from speaking, but rather spoke of the manner in which they are to speak? The text in Corinthians clearly indicates that “…it is shameful for women to speak in church.” I suggest that the purpose of the commandment here has been missed by some, as the text has been yanked from it’s context and thrust into the face of women. To take the verses for what they say, aside from the context, women would be excluded from singing, as Ephesians 5:19 says that we are “…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” If 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 excludes women from all speaking during the assembly, then we must conclude that they are not permitted to sing. If the injunction does not bar women from all speaking during the assembly, then what speaking are they forbidden to do? The context holds the answer.

1 Corinthians 14 is the third of three chapters (12, 13, 14) wherein Paul discusses spiritual gifts. In chapter 12, he introduces the gifts and speaks of the distribution of them. In chapter 13, Paul speaks of the duration of these gifts, and then inchapter 14, the use of the gifts in the assembly. Notice below (at the end of the article), the entire chapter has been provided. Each occurrence of the word“speak” has been underlined, each reference to a spiritual gift appears in bold, and each occurrence of the word “SILENT” (Gr. sigao) is shown in CAPITAL LETTERS.

It is noteworthy that every appearance of the word “speak” in the text is in reference to a spiritual gift or used in some way regarding the use of spiritual gifts. From verse 1 through verse 40, the apostle is addressing the assembly of the saints, and specifically the role of spiritual gifts in it. It seems quite odd, that in a context about spiritual gifts, these two verses (34-35) should stray from the topic of spiritual gifts.

The word ‘silent’ appears 3 times in the chapter, verse 28, 30, and 34. In each case, it is the Greek sigao. Not only are the women commanded to remain silent, but also male tongue speakers, if there is no interpreter present (v 28), and male prophets, if another prophet should have a revelation (v 30). As the word“speak” is used in relation to the gifts, likewise, the word “silent” is used relative to spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts were not possessed solely by men. We read, “…I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…”(Acts 2:17). Mention is made of prophetesses (2 Kings 22:14; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9). In context, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 forbids women from using their spiritual gifts in the assembly of the saints. Any conclusion but this would avoid the context of the statements, and leaves the text open to misuse and abuse.

Does this make 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 a useless passage, since the time of miraculous spiritual gifts has passed? Certainly not. This text is a specific application of the general principle which is introduced, and which we discussed last week from 1 Timothy 2:11-12. The use of a woman’s spiritual gifts in the assembly would cause her to be teaching (authoritatively) a man, and thus exercising authority over the men present. It was forbidden to be so. The principle stands today, and demands our consistent application, that the Lord’s word might be kept and His name be glorified.


  • Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

  • For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.

  • But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

  • He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.

  • I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesiesis greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.

  • But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speakto you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?

  • Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played?

  • For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?

  • So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.

  • There are, it may be, so many kinds of languages in the world, and none of them is without significance.

  • Therefore, if I do not know the meaning of the language, I shall be a foreigner to him who speaks, and he who speaks will be a foreigner to me.

  • Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.

  • Therefore let him who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.

  • For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful.

  • What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.

  • Otherwise, if you bless with the spirit, how will he who occupies the place of the uninformed say ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks, since he does not understand what you say?

  • For you indeed give thanks well, but the other is not edified.

  • I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;

  • yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

  • Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.

  • In the law it is written: ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear Me,’ says the Lord.

  • Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe.

  • Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and the come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

  • But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.

  • And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you.

  • How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

  • If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let oneinterpret.

  • But if there is no interpreter, let him keep SILENT in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

  • 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.

  • And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.

  • For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?

  • If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

  • But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

  • Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.

  • Let all things be done decently and in order.


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