Hi Anne, I read your blog post and other resources on women being silent in church, and I have a question. Is this a command from YHVH? I have a lot of learning to do in Torah yet, but I have not seen this as a command from YHVH in the 613 Instructions He has given. (I found a list of them to print out.) So, this makes me wonder if this is Paul expressing his insight/opinion… and maybe directly to the body in Corinth (maybe because of issues they were having)? Sometimes it seems that Paul is only expressing his thoughts on a matter, such as not-marrying as he didn’t. Clearly non-marrying is not a command from YHVH.
So, I’m confused sometimes with Paul. He was freely allowed to express his thoughts (like on marriage)… yet all of Scripture is inspired by YHVH. I wonder if Paul then is giving wise counsel to some vs. saying that these things are instructions that YHVH is now giving to all. Thank you for reading my question. If you have the time to reply, I would appreciate it.
That’s a great question! I do have some opinions on this. It’s a hard topic, because obviously no woman wants to be told she must always be silent!
First, on the 613 commands. I’m not sure I see Torah like that. I see Torah as “instructions” rather than a list of commands. According to Jeff Benner’s Ancient Hebrew Lexicon, the word torah (translated as “laws”) means teaching.
I see each instruction as having context and a back story, rather than being a straight list of do‘s and don’t‘s. The idea of a list of exactly 613 commands is a rabbinic interpretation, and the number definitely varies depending on whom you’re talking to.
Yeshua used the Torah as a way of filtering every situation of life through how YHVH had designed the world for our good. For instance, when Yeshua was asked about whether it was okay for a man to divorce his wife for any reason (Matthew 19), He didn’t reply with one of the 613 commands.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh‘? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Yeshua replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9).
Do you see how He takes them back to Genesis 1 as a precedent that gives understanding to the laws given to Moses?
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul does the same thing with the headcovering issue, taking his readers back to Genesis 1:27. (See 1 Corinthians 11:7-9.) Headcovering wasn’t something invented by Paul or by the culture of Corinth, but rather, it was an idea reflected in Torah’s account of Creation.
So let’s look at what Paul says about women being silent.
26 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. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
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.
36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached? 37 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. 38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.
39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
Yes, the verses say, “Let your women keep silent.” But yes, there is a context here.
In 1 Corinthians 14, I see him basing it on two principles in Torah, rather than a direct command. Verse 34 is tricky because we don’t have a footnote telling us *where* “the law also says” that women are to be silent. I’ve read quite a few views on it, and one possibility is that he’s referring to Genesis 3, when YHVH is telling the serpent, Adam, and Eve their consequences for sinning.
“To the woman He said:
‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you'” (Genesis 3:16).
Paul refers back to this incident in his first letter to Timothy, which is why I say it’s a possibility.
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:11-15).
See Paul’s pattern here? He refers Timothy right back to the beginning of Genesis.
Now, if you’re anything like me, both these passages rub you the wrong way. Having said that, they both say a woman is to be silent.
I could speculate all day long, and many people have. I will even honestly admit to you that I have been extremely wrong about a situation, or about a person, or about a concept in Scripture (yup, all of those, and more than once), and it was my husband who discerned truth while I was led astray. Ouch, that smarts!
I could also tell you some times when I saw truth before he did, and because I said something to him, we were saved a lot of trouble.
Eve was made to be Adam’s helper in every way. They were one, and YHVH intended them to function as one. This means they needed to communicate with one another clearly and often, and I don’t think the Bible is trying to say that’s not true.
But in both the letter to Corinth and the letter to Timothy, it seems like we’re only reading one side of a conversation, and two-thousand years later at that! We don’t even have the original questions the people in Corinth were asking. However, it seems like God preserved Paul’s letters specifically for Gentile believers, like us, who were living in a pagan, humanistic culture, like we are.
“…consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).
Peter tells us that Paul can be difficult to understand, but he also equates Paul’s writings to the level of “Scripture.” We are to show Paul respect and to take his words as truth.
So for me, it’s one of those things where I might not understand all the reasons why — but my choice is to take him literally and obey, just as I strive to obey the “other Scriptures.” 🙂
Having said that, I don’t think it’s saying women can never speak or even teach. Both 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy are written in the context of a synagogue or local congregation, where men are leading and teaching. Paul clearly tells us that it’s not just the women who have to wait for their turn to speak (later, not while the elders are teaching). Those with words of prophecy and tongues have to wait their turn, too.
It’s all about waiting our turn. It’s about showing respect. It’s about not causing any confusion.
“Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
There is an order to things, which means that I don’t have the right to speak at any time I get the urge. However, I see examples of women teaching and leading in other places, such as my favorite in Acts 18:24-26, where Priscilla’s name is even mentioned first! It’s just that there is a time and a place for it, and a right order for everything.
All my friends know that I’m a talker, and I certainly have strong opinions about Scripture and lots of other things. I see the Proverbs 31 woman as a woman of valor and great skill, and I believe my gifts and talents were given to me so that I could bring Him glory with my life and expand His kingdom.
But when the elders are teaching on Sabbath and I get the urge to start talking, I am learning to jot a note in my journal instead, to “ask my husband at home” rather than pipe up and interrupt the teaching. I do teach the children publicly, and yes, there are men present when I’m talking. I obviously write blog posts and books, and I think a man or two might read these. I’m not shy to speak to the men of our congregation about what I’m learning in Scripture, but I try to just wait until after the congregational teaching time is over. Inviting a family over for dinner is a great time to share what YHVH is teaching me!
And I pray I learn to be comfortable in the place where YHVH made me, safe under my husband’s covering, and humble enough to get his discernment on decisions I make, even when I think I’m smart enough to handle things on my own. My Father designed to Torah as an instruction manual for my good, and even when I don’t understand why, I want to listen to what He’s telling me is best.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this blog post taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.