Women, Quietness, & Silence: 1 Tim. 2:12 & 1 Cor. 14:34
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 12:39pm
A RECENT QUESTION: In your book “The Faith Once For All” you say that “hesuchia” in 1 Timothy 2:12 does not mean “be silent” (as the NIV translates it), but that it means to have a quiet demeanor or attitude. I was wondering if the word “sigao” in 1 Cor. 14:34 has a different meaning; and if so, what is Paul saying there? Also, how does this fit in with 1 Cor. 11:5, where a woman is pictured as praying and prophesying?
MY REPLY: This question refers to Paul’s instructions to women in 1 Tim. 2:11-12, which says (in the NASB, 1995), “A woman must quietly [“en hesuchia”] receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet [“en hesuchia”].” Here is my comment on v. 12 in “The Faith Once for All” (p. 438):
“Hesuchia does not mean ‘be silent’ (as the NIV translates it), but to have a quiet demeanor or attitude. Apparently this was an important point for Paul, because he gives the same instruction in v. 11, ‘Let a woman quietly receive instruction.’ Thus Paul opens and closes this two-verse instruction to women with an emphasis on a quiet spirit. This suggests that the Ephesian women did have a problem that Paul is addressing here, namely, that they were dutifully learning Christian doctrine but were not doing so in quietness and submission (v. 11). Rather, they were seeking to use their knowledge in an improper way, i.e., in teaching and having authority over men. This would explain Paul’s emphasis on a quiet, submissive attitude.”
In 1 Cor. 14:34 Paul says something that sounds similar: “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.” How is this different from 1 Tim. 2:12? Here Paul is talking specifically about church assemblies, and he is talking about the use of the spiritual gifts of prophecy and tongues in the assembly (see vv. 20-33). Also, the word for “keep silent” is different; here he uses “sigao,” which means literal silence, “do not speak.” The point is that even if a woman has the gift of prophecy or tongues, she is not to exercise it in the assembly.
But how is this consistent with 1 Cor. 11:5, where women are pictured as “praying and prophesying”? This seems to refer to a woman’s use of the gifts of praying in tongues and prophesying, but in private devotions or small groups, not in the public assembly. I base this conclusion on 1 Cor. 11:17-18, where Paul’s instructions for conduct in public assemblies seem to begin. Here he says “when you come together as a church,” and says “in the first place.” Thus in the prior discussion (including 11:5), he does not seem to be speaking of the assembly. In chapter 14 it is clear that he is speaking of the assembly. SO: even though some women had the gifts of prophecy and tongues (11:5), they were not to use those gifts in the assembly (14:34).