We have been going through 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, the passage that appears to silence women in the church to see how carefully Paul has constructed his words in 1 Corinthians 14:36 to contradict the silencing in verses 34 & 35. (For past articles on this topic, please see the 1 Corinthians 14 section).
Now we come to Paul’s conclusions and in keeping with the force of the commands that Paul has given throughout chapter 14, Paul ends with two commands that completely blow away any misunderstanding that verses 34 & 35 are Paul’s words to the church instead of a quote from the Corinthian’s letter to Paul.
What is “therefore” there for?
Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:39 “therefore” my brethren… The word “therefore” is a conjuction that joins together Paul’s words in verses 36-38 with the commands in verses 39 and 40. All of this directly contradicts the injunction found in verses 34 and 35. Let’s see how Paul concludes his contradiction of the silencing of women.
1 Corinthians 14:39 Therefore my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy…
The first command of Paul’s in his summary is a repeat of what Paul had already commanded in verse 1. Paul writes in Philippians 3:1 that repetition is for our safety. The body of Christ is to desire earnestly to prophesy and this repetition at the end of the chapter is to make sure that we “get it”. Remember that Paul gave the reason why they were to desire earnestly to prophesy and the reason is for the edification of the church (1 Cor. 14:3, 4)
Speaking forth and keeping silent
Now let’s have another look at the entire chapter of 1 Cor. 14 to see what pattern is set forth regarding speaking and not speaking so that we can completely understand Paul’s summary.
“Speaking forth” allowed:
- All commanded to seek spiritual gifts especially prophesying in the assembly (verse 1)
- Prophesying in the assembly edifies, exhorts and consoles (verse 3)
- Prophesying in the assembly edifies all (verse 4)
- Gifts for use for the common good are greater than a gift that only edifies one’s self (verse 5)
- Revelation, knowledge, prophecy, teaching are all public gifts that edify the church (verse 6)
- Public speaking for the edification of the church is a good thing (verse 12)
- The one who has the gift of tongues is to pray for the ability to use this gift in the assembly by praying that he may interpret the tongues (verse 13)
- The public prophesying for the benefit of all blesses even unbelievers who come into the assembly (verse 24)
- Public assembly is for the public gifts that edify (verse 26)
- The public use of tongues is allowed as long as no more than three speak and there must be an interpreter (speaking forth is allowed with a condition) (verse 27)
- Two or three prophets are to speak and the rest judge the prophecies that the prophets have given (verse 29)
- No limit on the number of people who can prophesy one by one because it fulfills the mandate to bring public edification (verse 31)
What can we learn from Paul’s command about speaking forth? We can learn that all may participate so that all may learn because the edification of the church is the intention and the key to public speaking.
“Speaking forth” not allowed:
- Speaking in tongues is not edifying to the entire church as a whole (implies that if one isn’t speaking for the common good but speaking only to God it should not be done in public) (verse 2)
- One who speaks in a tongue edifies only one (implying that the gift by itself is not edifying to all and so the speaker should be silent in public) (verse4)
- Gifts for use in the public are greater than a gift that only edifies one (speaking forth is encouraged for public gifts, silence in public is implied for gifts that edify only one) (verse 5)
- Speaking in a tongue does not profit the church (implies that unprofitable things should not be public) (verse 6)
- Something must be able to be discerned and tested to be profitable to the public (silence is implied for things that are not profitable)(verses 7 and 8 )
- Indistinct speaking is not profitable to the church (silence is implied) (verse 9-11)
- If no interpreter is available, the one who speaks in tongues must keep silent in public (verse 30)
- If a revelation is given to one who is not speaking, the one who is speaking should graciously be silent and allow the revelation to be spoken by the other. (silence fulfills the mandate to submit to one another)
What do we notice from the silence commanded? We notice that silence is commanded only when the words spoken cannot edify the entire church. This is not an injunction to stop the speaking in tongues, but only to stop the tongues that are without a corresponding interpretation that would edify the church. Silence is also commanded so that a person should willingly defer to another person who has been given a revelation by God to speak forth. We notice that the silence spoken of here is not for a particular group of people but for a particular gift. Gifts are silenced only if they are not edifying. The purpose of the Lord’s command is common edification and common participation of all that is accomplished in a proper, orderly manner.
Contradicting the law of silence:
Lastly, Paul gives a negative command that counteracts the Corinthian’s letter to Paul where some are requiring women to be silent.
1 Corinthians 14:39 … do not forbid to speak in tongues.
If a person has a message in tongues and there is an interpreter available, then Paul forbids the public silencing of the one who has the gift of tongues. The only rule is that there should be only two or three speak in tongues in a meeting just as there should be two or three prophets speak in a meeting. The reason? For the benefit and edification of the church. If there are more than three prophets speaking, it is difficult for the church to take in such extended speaking. Also too many speaking in tongues would be hard to keep focused because the actual speaking in tongues isn’t edifying until the interpretation comes.
We can see that all speaking is not silenced, only speaking that isn’t edifying for the common good.
So how does this contradict verses 34 and 35? The prohibition of 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35 removes the ability for women to fulfill the commands made by Paul throughout chapter 14. These two verses also completely contradict verse 39 where Paul commands that there be no forbidding to speak with public gifts (speaking in tongues + interpretation = prophesying). Remember that speaking in tongues without interpretation is not a public gift.
Paul cannot contradict himself, however he is certainly able to contradict the Corinthians and that is exactly what he did in 1 Corinthians 14:36.
When is silence commanded?
Silence is only commanded when the congregation cannot be edified by the gift. Otherwise Paul commands that all may participate so that all may learn.
We must not take verses 34 & 35 outside of the context of the entire chapter. Paul is not silencing women. Paul is releasing women to use their gifts for the common good and he is silencing the opposers of women.
Paul silences the opposers
While Paul releases women to use their gifts in the assembly for the common good throughout chapter 14, Paul silences the opposers who think of themselves as the only ones who God speaks to or through. Paul says:
i Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things I write to you are the Lord’s commandment (original is plural commandments)
1 Corinthians 14:38 but if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
The Amplified Bible says that anyone who doesn’t recognize the Lord’s commandments (throughout chapter 14) is to be disregarded and not recognized. The ISV says he should be ignored.
Those who refuse to acknowledge that it is the command of the Lord Jesus to give women a voice to speak forth the gifts of the Spirit for the common good are indeed to be ignored. As for us? We will serve the Lord and follow HIS commands.