In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says that women must be silent in churches and ask questions to their husbands when they get home:

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, NIV)

This is completely ignored in many churches today, with many women being leaders and singers on stage, and many women in the congregation not keeping silent.

This also seems to contradict the passages which say that we are made in the image of God and are equals.

How is this explained, and why do people seemingly pick and choose parts of the Bible to follow?

Was this just Paul's opinion rather than the word of God?

Also, what would unmarried women do?

  • It appears that the edits which people have made to the original question have changed it into a different question. Originally it was more of an accusation and disagreement, with a few questions at the end almost as an aside; something worth a negative vote count. Changed, it is now worthy of a positive vote count (though probably not the 37 it has right now). Just throwing this out there since I think it should be noticed and thought about.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 17:05

4 Answers 4


I have heard two explanations for this. I tend to think the second one is much more sound in the context given but I will offer them both for reference.

First of all, the passage in question is 1 Corinthians 14:34.

The first explanation I've heard is that at the time, most women were poorly educated and had a difficult time participating in the discussions at the church and were holding the men back from delving into the teachings because of the amount of background that constantly had to be given and unrelated questions that had to be fielded. Paul was trying to encourage getting as much teaching out to the men as possible leaving the men to help communicate and teach all the needed background to their wives. I suppose there is some legitimacy to the idea. I've certainly been involved in meetings where some subset of the audience wasn't fully with the program and having to stop for off topic questions all the times really puts a damper on things. My historical knowledge is not good enough to know if this was an issue in the early church but I don't think this is what was going on in the passage.

The second explanation takes into account some other aspects of Scripture including the larger context of the passage at hand.

The immediate context is about orderly worship, but the larger scope of the passage in chapter 14 is talking about prophecy in the church. When someone in the church had a teaching or message to give to the church it was a word of prophecy. Any time some such message was given it had to be tested and evaluated against Scripture to make sure that it was valid. When it was validated it would be considered authoritative and in a sense binding to those who heard it.

The Bible explains in several places are marriages are to work in loving submission to each-other, but with the husband having the responsibility of headship. While a husband may consult his wife and reach a decision together, ultimately he has the burden of being responsible for the final choices made (see Why is Adam considered the original sinner?).

In the context of this church, this means that men have the responsibility of evaluating, approving and delivering teaching to the whole body. Since women do not bear the burden of responsibility in such matters, they are asked not to be the ones voicing concerns or pronouncing judgement when such matters came up.

One must also note that Paul did not restrict women from praying or even prophesying themselves. (See 3 chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 11:5 and Acts 2:17) This is purely an issue of headship and authority, which the Law also spoke to rather than an edict against speaking in a church building and participating in other ways.

Unmarried women are still expected to have some sort of structure around them. This would primarily be the father who is responsible for daughters until they are given over to a husband, but a brother or other family relation could play a similar role.

  • 9
    I cannot resist again pointing out the number of Christians who 'contextualize' this scripture and view it as a command for the time, based on the poor education and circumstances of women, but claim that the command in the same sentence that women should not have authority is binding for all time. Sorry. Rant over. Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 22:45
  • @DJClayworth: Ya same rant here. It's pretty shaky exegesis but it happens all the time. I should probably have made more note of the trouble with that here.
    – Caleb
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 22:47

Order, Authority and Peace

Would you ever dare to mention that the Holy Spirit is subject to the authority and/or control of a Man? If you cannot fathom that the Holy Spirit would ever be subjected to man then you do not understand order and peace.

1 Corinthians 14:32-33 NIV

32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

You see, to be subject to something does not mean that you are worth less, it does not mean that you are not equal, it does not mean that you are dishonored. God is a God of Peace, He is a God of Order.

Woman were created for men, to be their glory!

1 Corinthians 11:7-9 (NIV)

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.

You see, women are the glory of man. Yes, woman were created for man. You will never see a man preaching to God, because this is not the order of it's creation. Jesus Christ was first, and from Christ came everything else after Him. This is the nature of God.

This is why no woman should have authority over man

This idea is not only in corinthians, it is spread throughout the gospel.

1 Timothy 2:12

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

1 Corinthians 11:3

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Ephesians 5:22

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

1 Peter 3:5

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands,

Understand that woman was created to be man's "helper", to be his companion, that a man may rely on his woman for support. This is not a dishonoring role for a woman.

Why is this a source of contention for women?

So now we ask the question, why is this even an area of debate? Why do women refuse to be the glory and support of a man, but instead wish to rule over men?

Genesis 1:6

6 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

God made it clear from the beginning that a men will rule over women, but the women will desire the mans position of authority.

I feel that mans job is more difficult

God commands that women should submit to their husbands, but then turns around and tells the men that they need to love their wives like Christ loves the Church.

To love my wife as Christ loves the church is the most difficult command that I have ever received. I must be strong in my position as husband to retain the respect of my wife and of this household, but I should also be gentle, peaceful, understanding and always loving to my wife. Which is not the easiest thing to do.

Remember one thing, girls; if a man did not stand firm in their position of authority, EVEN YOU would look on them with disrespect.

  • The one point in your answer that sincerely got to the root of the contention, and we understand as servants of Christ that is we do not remove the root of anything about ourselves that is disharmonious with God's purpose, the problem will return and return again; but I loved your response, 'WHY' is this a source of contention, most especially for women of God? Sometimes, the thing that bothers us most about ourselves is the thing we are so adamantly opposed to. Paul did not write in riddles.
    – user4132
    Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 13:52
  • +1 for a truthful answer. As demeaning this is for women, it exactly represents their biblical role. It's disheartening that so many people still want to use the bible as a foundation for morality.
    – kaques
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 18:58
  • 1
    -1 Good verses quoted, but I do not feel you've addressed the original question of why women should be silent in church? Also, there is no distinction made between the relationship of men and women before the fall vs. after the fall.
    – Beestocks
    Commented Dec 11, 2014 at 13:33
  • @Beestocks "Why should they be silent" was not the original question, not even taking the question's edits into account. I agree with your second sentence about pre/post fall.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 17:10
  • 3
    @kaques You just said the opposite of what was in the answer. The answer specifically said this is not demeaning and explained why. The real problem is the way this relationship is not performed correctly anymore. The bible is the best foundation for morality.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 17:12

This is a mixture/edit of answers I've posted to the following questions on BH.SE:

Perhaps Paul didn't mean 'absolute silence at all times' in the churches

Paul permits women to speak elsewhere, and Paul must be read in harmony within the context of his entire letter to the Corinthians. Earlier in his letter, St. Paul exhorts:

...but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven (NRSV).

The context of the verses in chapter 14 are also prophecy (specifically, weighing prophecy).

I have a few notes on various aspects of this text. I will begin with the second half of v. 33 since this is part of the same sentence in v. 34 (verse numbers and chapter divisions as we have them today weren't added to the text until the mid-16th century, so they should not be considered logical breaks in the text when interpreting the text):

  • v. 33b. Paul's use of the phrase ὡς ἐν πάσαις ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις τῶν ἁγίων ("as in all the worshiping assemblies [churches] of the saints") makes it clear that the worshiping assembly at Corinth is not being singled out for this teaching; it is the practice of all assemblies at this time. We should not strictly interpret ἐκκλησία (ecclesia) as 'church,' because the literal meaning at this point in history was "a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly," and this did not always imply gathering for worship. It is very important to note that in 1st century Greek culture, it was customary for women to refrain from speaking in public assemblies (ἐκκλησίαις). It is also important to note that we should not equate early assemblies with 'churches,' and thus this is likely not a transcultural principle. We read our 3rd–21st century bias into the text when we interpret ἐκκλησία as 'church' (and when we refer to buildings in our communities as 'churches,' which would have been foreign to the original hearers, who did not consider ecclesia and synagogues to be an apt comparison).
  • v. 34. The word for 'woman' and 'wife' is the same in Greek (γυνή). Because of the reference to husbands in v. 35, the word may be translated 'wives' here. But in passages governing conduct in assemblies like this (cf. 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:9-15), the general meaning 'women' is more probable.
  • v. 34. Total silence is not implied in other New Testament texts that use the verb σιγάω or the noun-form, σιγή (cf. Luke 9:36; 18:39; Acts 12:17; 21:40-22:2). Nor is absolute silence implied by the synonym ἡσυχάζω (noun form: ἡσυχία), cf. Acts 11:18; 21:14; 22:2; 1 Timothy 2:11-12. 1 Timothy 2:11 is a major point in this discussion because the author (likely not Paul) is making the same argument and yet uses the synonym that does not mean entirely silent. Thus the distinction between these two terms is largely a moot point in understanding this text. However, some scholars take the fact that Paul effectively makes this exhortation three times to mean that it is an absolute silence, which is worth noting.
  • v. 34. In light of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 which allows for women to pray or prophesy in the assemblies, the silence commanded here does not seem to imply the absolute restriction of women speaking in the assembly. Therefore some take "be silent" to mean not taking an authoritative teaching role, and others relate it to the preceding regulations about evaluating the prophets (v. 29). Here Paul would be indicating that women should not speak up during such an evaluation, since such questioning would be in violation of the submission to male leadership that is called for in Old Testament law.

And so it's possible that St. Paul only intended for women to remain silent during the evaluation of prophecy, which is the immediate context of this passage.

Paul may not have said this

Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles is heavily disputed, and so using them as support that Paul made a similar statement in his epistle to the Corinthians is a moot point. These are the only other epistles containing such commandments about the role of women 'in the churches'. Even more interestingly, there is strong support that 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 is an interpolation (that is, a later addition to the text).

I am going to attempt to walk through the major literature in this discussion, which will be a lot of back and forth. I have linked to all the major works referenced, however not all of the articles and books are freely available online (some must be purchased).

Both Gordon D. Fee and Philip B. Payne are notable scholars who believe that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation. Other scholars who hold this position include Straatman, Fitzer, Barrett, and Ruef. In his article entitled Fuldensis, Sigla For Variants in Vaticanus, and 1 Cor 14.34–5, Payne points out that

"...scribes in that period simply did not take the liberty to rearrange the argument of Scripture in this manner. We do not have even a single parallel example of a scribe rearranging the sequence of an original text of any of the NT letters to make it more logical. Furthermore, even if Bishop Victor felt he had the authority to rearrange the sequence of the text, there is no adequate reason why the text would make more sense reinserted at the end of the chapter."

In his article MS. 88 as Evidence for a Text Without 1 Cor 14.34–5, Payne claims that

"The evidence that ms. 88 was copied from a text of 1 Corinthians 14 without vv. 34–5 provides additional external support for the thesis that vv. 34–5 were not in the original text of 1 Corinthians 14."

Curt Niccum wrote an article entitled The Voice of the Manuscripts on the Silence of Women: The External Evidence for 1 Cor 14.34–5 that claimed the bar-umlauts themselves were added to the text at a later date and are thus not indicative of an interpolation, but rather of a paragraphos (marginal note).

Payne co-authored an article with Paul Canart entitled The Originality of Text-Critical Symbols in Codex Vaticanus where they argue their point based on new findings concerning the ink used in the Codex; from the introduction to the paper:

"The discovery that the ink of text-critical symbols in Codex Vaticanus matches the original ink of the codex breaks new ground for textual criticism. A scribe in the Middle Ages, apparently concerned with fading, traced over the original ink of every letter or word of Vaticanus unless it appeared to be incorrect. Thus, unreinforced letters and symbols reveal the original ink of the codex. The most obvious examples of the original ink are the few places its scribe inadvertently duplicated a word, phrase or clause. In these cases the reinforcer traced over only one of the duplicates, so the other reveals the original ink."

Payne and Canart make the case that this finding further proves that the original manuscript omitted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

Payne based some of his beliefs about these texts being an interpolation on the work of J. Edward Miller who had posited that various umlauts (distigmai) might have been an indication of scribal uncertainty concerning the authenticity of these passages. However, after Payne cited Miller's work, Miller wrote an article entitled Some Observations on the Text-Critical Function of the Umlauts in Vaticanus, with Special Attention to 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 to refute Payne's position, arguing that Payne misinterpreted his findings. Payne wrote a followup article in response to this entitled The Text-Critical Function of the Umlauts in Vaticanus, with Special Attention to 1 Corinthians 14.34-35: A Response to J. Edward Miller, where he makes the case that the bar-umlaut does indeed have a special meaning.

Further work was published in 2007 studying umlauts in Codex Vaticanus, although it is not specifically related to the text in question (but sheds light on it). Unfortunately the work was published in French (and I am not aware of an English translation).

In 2009, Payne published his book Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters which contains his most current thoughts and most compelling arguments for 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to be considered an interpolation, along with his views on all of the other passages dealing with gender roles in Paul's letters. The book is very scholarly and does a great job considering multiple viewpoints, employing both historical-grammatical interpretation and textual criticism to make his points.

Despite Payne and others scholars' findings concerning distigmai in the text, conservative scholars still insist that this is insufficient evidence that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation. Daniel B. Wallace summarizes this perspective in an article entitled The Textual Problem of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, where he argues that despite the variance in where verses 34-35 are placed in the text, they must have been a part of the original text because they exist in all of the early manuscripts. Wallace makes the case that the Apostle Paul himself added the paragraphos.

In summary, there has been significant research conducted on both sides of this issue. Future work remains to be done concerning the meaning and dating of distigmai in manuscripts. Even so, the internal and external evidence for an interpolation is weighty and must be considered even at the present state of research into such manuscript features.


Why don't many churches obey Paul's command that women must be silent in church?

1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

In context Paul is talking about confusion in the church. The comment about women is almost an aside.

1 Corinthians 14:35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

This is not so much an insult to women as it is an admonition to men that they should not neglect their duty to be teachers in their home.

Some similar verses add an interesting perspective.

1 Timothy 2:11-14 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

If the teaching in the early church was following the lecture format we use today, there would be no need to tell the women to remain silent, because today everyone is silent. The early church must have been based on questions and answers. Both in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians the circumstances regarding silence for women deal with "learning".

Paul gives two reasons for women not to have authority over men. The first is primacy. This is not simple seniority. It reflects that man was created first and woman was created to help the man. The second reason is that women are more susceptible to deception than men. This may reflect their greater ability to trust that makes them more effective helpers.

There are two basic reasons why some churches do not follow Paul's restriction.

  1. What teaching is given is in lecture format and as such the asking of questions by women or men is moot.

  2. Many pastors are in a tenuous position as franchise brand holders for their denominations as well as being aware that their employment is contingent upon the will of their members. In a time of ascendency for "consumer Christianity", it would be expected that church practice will often follow what the marketplace demands.

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