Women Teachers #2
1 Corinthians 14:34-35:
Is it Binding Today?

by Arthur M. Ogden

"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. 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" (1 Cor. 14:34-35). These are the words of the apostle Paul as directed to our brethren at Corinth. That was over 1900 years ago. Is it still binding today? This is the question before us in this study.

Many brethren do not believe the passage under consideration is binding today. I am not of this persuasion. Being of a conservative mind, I find it difficult to deny the binding force of any passage, and be consistent in recognizing the binding force of other passages. Not only is that true, but I refuse to join the crowd of liberal thinkers in the church and in the denominational world who have thrown this passage and others to the wind, and are now permitting woman to have an equal role with men in religious service. This passage is not a threat to Christian women who desire to serve God in their proper realm. To the contrary, it helps to define for us the lawful realm of their activity and enhances the truth. I will think a long time before I turn loose of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

A Universal Command

While the 1 Corinthian letter was written to the church at Corinth, it is universal in nature and application. "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth . . with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2). The commandments of this epistle are the same as those taught by Paul in every church (1 Cor. 4:16-17). Even the regulations of 1 Corinthians 14 "are the commandments of the Lord" (14:37), and applicable "in all churches of the saints" (14:33). It could not possibly be more generic than that, so therefore, the commandments of 1 Corinthians 14 are applicable today.

I realize that some of you are saying that since Paul was discussing spiritual gifts in this chapter, which gifts have been done away (1 Cor. 13:8-10), that the commandments given to regulate those gifts likewise ceased. If that is what is under consideration in the chapter, I too agree, the commandments ceased, but I challenge the accuracy of the assumption that Paul is regulating spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14. Here are my reasons:

  1. All needed regulation of the gifts were given to each individual endowed at the time the Holy Spirit gave the gifts. The Holy Spirit determined which one, how many, and how much of the gifts would be given to each individual (1 Cor. 12:11). The commandments of chapter 14 had nothing to do with regulating those gifts.
  2. The gifted individual himself regulated the use of his gift once he had received it. This is evidenced by Paul's statement, "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Cor. 14:32). Each person endowed had the power over his gift to control it, or God would have been the author of confusion (14:33). That is why they were called gifts. They were given to each individual to use at will within the proper confines of law.
  3. The regulations of chapter 14 are designed to control the individual who had the gift; not the gift itself. Paul's charge, "if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church" (14:28) was designed to control the man who had the gift of tongues when he was in the assembly of the church. The same thing was true also of the prophets (14:29-30). Paul did not regulate the gifts in the chapter, but rather those endowed with the gifts who were participating in the service herein described. The gift was not curbed, but the man possessing it was curbed while in the church.
  4. Not all of those regulated had spiritual gifts. To say that the women of verses 34-35 were inspired, is assumption pure and simple. It is not inferred, much less necessarily inferred. If they were inspired, then every Christian woman was inspired, because Paul said, "it is a shame for women (generic) to speak in the church" (14:35). Every Christian woman was under the restrictions of this passage.

The Purpose of These Restrictions

I believe that a careful examination of the text of 1 Corinthians 14 will show that Paul was regulating order in the assemblies of the church. He said, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (v. 40); that there be no confusion (v. 33); that all things might be done unto edifying (v. 26); "that all may learn, and all may be comforted" (v. 31). Is it not necessary to likewise maintain order today? If so, by what rule; and if not, why not?

It is often reasoned that the commandments of 1 Corinthians 14 are not binding today, but that certain principles do apply. May I ask, what principles apply, and are they binding today? and if so, are those principles "the commandments of the Lord" (14:37)? Does the principle "if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church" (v. 28) apply today if one from a foreign country desired to address the whole church in a foreign tongue, and if so, is it a commandment of the Lord? Does the principle of one speak at a time apply today (v. 27, 29), and if so, is it a commandment of the Lord? And if these principles apply today, does not the principle of verses 34-35 likewise apply today, and if it does, is it not a commandment of the Lord? Most will agree, but what point have I made, if I say, "1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not binding today," and then turn around and say that its principle is binding? You only meet yourself coming back.

I maintain that there is no essential difference in their assemblies and ours today. While it is true that many of the participants in those services were miraculously inspired, for this was their only means of receiving the revelation, we can do the same things in the assemblies nonmiraculously today that they did by the Holy Spirit. One may speak in a foreign tongue. One may edify, exhort, and comfort (14:3) as the prophets of 1 Corinthians 14, delivering the same message on the same occasion, and for the same purpose by using the inspired Word, the perfect revelation. I cannot think of one single reason why a man possessing a spiritual gift would need to be regulated when speaking in the assembly of the church, that would not also be true of the man today speaking the same message from the inspired Word of God. The Christian man must be regulated in the assembly of the saints regardless of where he gets his revelation.

It is Specific and Generic

"Let your women keep silence in the churches ... for it is a shame for women to speak in the church" (v. 34-35) is both specific and generic. It is specific as to where she is to keep silent, in the assemblies (that is: those under consideration), but it is generic as to who. All Christian women are under the commandment, and in all such like assemblies. The generic nature of the command covers every Christian woman in every place that compares specifically to that restricted (cf. v. 23). Therefore, every Christian woman today when "in the church" is commanded to "keep silence."

Someone will say, "women cannot sing, then." If we are going from the sublime to the ridiculous, we had just as well say, "she cannot sneeze either," or "whisper to her baby." The truth of the matter is that Paul was discussing those who addressed the assembly, and this is the thing under consideration. If the commandment to "keep silence" forbid her to sing, it would likewise forbid the prophets and the tongue-speakers to sing, for both of them are commanded to "keep silence under certain conditions (v. 28, 30). The context determines the matter in which women were to keep silent. "It is not permitted unto them to speak." They were not permitted to address the assembly.

Women in Submission

Paul said, "they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law" (v. 34). Women are still to be "under obedience" today. (1) They are to be obedient to God (Heb. 5:8-9), (2) recognize the general headship of man (1 Cor. 11:1-5; 1 Tim 2:11-12), and (3) submit to the rule of their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6). God's law relative to a woman's relationship to Himself and to Man has not changed. She is still under the same charge to be "under obedience" as she was then. Therefore, from the standpoint of her relationship to God and Man, she is still under commandment to "keep silence in the churches . . . for it is a shame for women to speak in the church."

For these and other reasons, I believe that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is still binding today. "Let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing" (Phil. 3:16).

Next article "1 Corinthians 14: Truth, The Roadblock To Error."


This article originally appeared in Truth Magazine, October 21, 1976.
This page is Copyright 1998 by Alex Ogden, All Rights Reserved.
This page was last updated on Friday, July 03, 1998.


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