Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 14:34
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, September 25, 2009 at 8:02pm
A RECENT REQUEST ASKS, “Could you point me to some literature regarding Paul’s intent with his comment in 1 Corinthians 14:34 and what we are to make of it today? I am just now beginning a study on this and wanted a place to begin. Also, what is your take on this text?”
MY REPLY: The place to begin on this or any similar text is at this web site: www.cbmw.org . This is the site for a scholarly evangelical non-feminist organization (for which I am on the board of directors) called Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. When the web site comes up, find the white search block in the upper right corner and type 1 Cor 14:34 ; then click go. A long list of on-site materials citing this verse will appear; the first one is very good. You can search through the rest as time allows.
My take on the verse is that Paul is here prohibiting women from using their supernatural spiritual gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues in the Christian assembly (but not in private). This is part of the overall instruction on how to use such gifts in the assembly “properly and in an orderly manner” (v. 40). Verses 26-33 give other rules about such speaking and silence; v. 34 is just a continuation of instructions on how to use these gifts. For further such instructions, the women are told to ask their husbands at home (v. 35).
One clue pointing to this meaning is that the word for “speak” in vv. 34-35 is “laleo,” which is the same word used in the previous verses for speaking in tongues and prophesying: vv. 27, 28, 29. Also, the word for “keep silent” in v. 34 is the same used in vv. 28, 30. The word is “sigao,” which means literally not to speak. This is different from the word used in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, which is “hesuchia,” which means “quietness,” i.e., in a quiet manner. There is no prohibition against women speaking in the assembly as such.
First Corinthians 11:5 allows women to prophesy and speak in tongues; however, this verse is not about the assembly, but is about private use of the speaking gifts. Verse 11:18 shows that Paul begins to speak about problems in the assembly at that point.
That women are prohibited from using these speaking gifts in the presence of men is probably related to the creation order set forth in 1 Cor. 11:5, that in general “the man is the head of a woman.” See my lengthy discussion of this verse in my book, “Headship, Submission and the Bible” (College Press, pb., 334p), chs. 20-22. (For a shorter version, go to the CBMW web site and type my name in the search block; then click on the second resource that shows.)
Other non-feminists take slightly different approaches, as does the author of the first resource under the CBMW site for 1 Cor. 14:34 given above. The general conclusion is usually the same, though.
If one believes (as I do) that the Holy Spirit is not giving such supernatural speaking gifts (tongues, prophecy) to anyone today, men or women, then this verse, 1 Cor. 14:34, will have no application at all today. (My reasons for rejecting such supernatural gifts today are set forth in my books on the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study” (College Press, pb, c. 120pp.), chs. 8-10; and “Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit” (College Press, hb, c. 500pp.) ch. 11.