Paul said something profound in 1 Corinthians 14:39 that goes against the grain of the hierarchical mindset. Paul said “forbid not to speak…”
This is not an issue of whether tongues is valid today or not. What is the issue is the command to “forbid not” to speak in the assembly. Let’s walk through this passage to see how it is all connected together.
In 1 Cor. 14:34 it says women are “not permitted to speak” in the churches. The Greek word is “epitrepetai” and it means to give liberty to, allow, give permission, entrust to. So according to verses 34 & 35, speaking in the assembly is forbidden because there is no permission given to allow women to speak and a “law” is appealed to that takes away the ability for women to speak in the assembly. Verse 36 is set up as a contradiction of verses 34 & 35. Paul answers by stating “n” which is a disjunctive conjunction which is used “to distinguish things or thoughts which either mutually exclude each other, or one of which can take the place of the other” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon. Thayer’s lists 1 Cor. 14:36 as an example of “n” used “before a sentence contrary to the one just preceding, to indicate that if one be denied or refuted the other must stand”
What then is being denied by the “n” in verse 36? It is the command in verse in verse 34 & 35 that women are to be silent. How does Paul deny this command and the appeal to the law of men? (see The Elusive Law and Is a Woman’s Voice Filthy? for further information on why these two verses are to be considered a quote from the Corinthian’s letter to Paul and not the actual words of Paul himself.)
Paul demands to know if the word of God comes only through them (the men demanding the silencing of women) and he demands to know if only they are to receive God’s word. In other words, Paul is demanding to know if God only speaks through men and God only gives his word to men and does not speak through women and to women. Remember that the command to silence women also denied their learning in the assembly. If they wanted to learn anything, they were commanded to learn at home. Paul in essence asks where is this God’s word? Where are women forbidden to speak God’s words and where are women forbidden to learn God’s words? It is certainly true that in the oral law of the Jews women were forbidden to speak in the assembly and women were forbidden to be taught God’s word. For a father to teach his daughter the Torah was considered immoral by the Jews because women were forbidden to handle God’s word and so there was no need to learn it.
Paul then goes on to say:
if anyone is thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write you are the Lord’s commandment.
Obviously those who wrote to Paul about the silencing of women believed that they were spiritual conveyors of God’s “laws”. Paul says that if they presume to be spiritual guides and prophets giving out God’s words, then they must recognize that the things that Paul has written are the commands of the Lord Jesus.
What are the commands that Paul is referring to? Let’s look back in the chapter to find Paul’s commands. “Commands” here is in the plural, so we should expect to find several commands.
In 1 Cor. 14:1, Paul says “pursue love”. This is in the imperative and it is a command. Paul also says “desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy”. This too is a command.
In 1 Cor. 14:12 Paul says:
So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts seek to abound for the edification of the church.
Paul then is commanding us to seek to have an abundance of our gifts so that we may edify the church. This too is a command to edify the church. Then in verse 13 Paul commands those who speak in tongues to pray that they may also interpret the tongues. Why? So that the person may edify the church.
Another command is in verse 20 where Paul tells that “do not be children in your thinking, yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”
In verse 26 Paul commands that the things that each one does is to be done for edification of the church and this again is in the imperative. There is a command in verse 28 for people to be quiet regarding tongues if there is no interpreter. But remember that Paul has previously commanded them to pray that they will be able to interpret the tongues that God has given them, so he isn’t stopping them from speaking. He is only stopping the unintelligent speech that has no interpretation. The purpose is so that there will be edifcation the church.
In verse 29, Paul commands that only two or three prophets speak, and the command is attached to the command that the rest of them must be judging the words of the prophets. This is another example of edifying the church and making sure that what is said is edifying.
Paul also gives permission for all to prophesy one by one (1 Cor. 14:31) and he gives the reason to be so that all may learn.
Now consider this. Paul has just said that all may prophesy and all may learn. Now we come to verses 34 & 35 where learning in the assembly is forbidden for women and speaking in the assembly is forbidden for women. This is the focus of the disjunctive conjunction in verse 36. It distinguishes thoughts that mutually exclude each other. You cannot silence women and stop them from learning in the assembly and at the same time say that all may prophesy and all may learn. You also cannot silence women from speaking in one verse and then say “forbid not from speaking…” in a couple of verses down. They are mutually exclusive. They are opposing commands and Paul has set his commands in direct opposition to the command in verses 34 & 35.
Some of these Corinthians who were experts in the Jewish oral law have drawn a line in the sand. They believed that they are the ones who spoke for God and they were the only ones whom God gave his word to and through. But Paul said that their man-made laws are in opposition to the commands of the Lord. The commands of Jesus include the command for everyone to desire spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophesy so that all may bring edification to the body of Christ.
1 Cor. 14:12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts seek to abound for the edification of the church.
Should women seek to speak forth the word of God in the assembly as they have been commanded to or should they obey the “law” of men that says that women are to be silent?
Paul ends this chapter with two important things. He repeats the command for all to earnestly desire to prophesy and he commands “forbid not” to speak…(one of the spiritual gifts).
This is God’s law. All are to use their gifts for the edification of the church and this is for the common good (see 1 Cor. 12:7).
What does Paul say should be done regarding those who forbid women from speaking in the assembly? Paul says that anyone who says they are a Prophet or that they are spiritual and God speaks through them needs to recognize and acknowledge that the things Paul has commanded are the commands from the Lord Jesus. If they fail to recognize this, Paul says they are not to be recognized.
1 Cor. 14:38 But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
The ISV says:
1 Cor. 14:38 But if anyone ignores this, he should be ignored.
On Friday, September 19th, 2008 I was publicly identified on the radio as someone who is obstreperous, by a person who publicly opposes women in ministry and who had promised to stop criticizing me in public. This was said because I continue to teach that we need to obey Paul’s commands in 1 Corinthians 14 and that women are allowed to speak forth God’s gifts in the assembly for the common good of all. Obstreperous means someone who is resisting control or restraint in a difficult manner, hard or impossible to manage, stubbornly disobedient.
Paul’s words apply here. Those who refuse to recognize that Paul’s commands throughout 1 Cor. 14 are the commands of the Lord Jesus and are to be applied to all of the church are themselves to be ignored. I will not be controlled by someone who believes that because I am a woman that I need to be silent. I will not pay attention to someone who calls me obstreperous when I do not obey his effort to try to take authority over me. I stand on the word of God and I stand on the commands given by Jesus through Paul. Paul gives me permission to speak and he commands me to seek earnestly to prophesy for the edification of the church. Those who forbid me from speaking need to pay attention to Paul when he says “forbid not…”