CONTEXT is Key
Recently, I listened to a pastor describe the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. I was very interested to hear what he had to say since I had never heard anyone explain the context of 1 Corinthians to show how there is support for the silencing of women. I was quite surprised when he claimed the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was 1 Timothy 2. I had heard him emphasize the importance of context, context, context many times. However, his explanation of what qualifies as context was always the same as mine. The context of a disputed verse are the verses and chapters that surround it. It is never a passage in another book. While another passage in another book can be related, it isn’t the context. So I asked him again. Could he please give the direct context from the book of 1 Corinthians that supports the silencing of women. I have not yet heard back from him, but I thought it would be a good idea to go back through the entire book of 1 Corinthians to gather all of the evidence that Paul documents for why the two verses of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 were added to his letter. I found so much more than I expected from looking at a wider context! There is way more material than I could put into one article, so I am going to try to distil the evidence into categories and then I will give a conclusion of Paul’s reasoning. I will challenge anyone who thinks I have not considered the entire context. I welcome you to bring me correction and show me the supporting context from the book of First Corinthians that defines and upholds the silencing of women in the church.
CONTEXT: The Corinthian’s Letter to Paul – Questions and Claims
- 1 Cor. 1:11 Paul reveals there are quarrels among the Corinthians – information passed on to him from Cloe’s people. The key purpose of the book is to deal with these conflicts and quarrels. Watch carefully throughout the book of 1 Corinthians how Paul ties in his correction with the source of the conflicts.
- 1 Cor. 7:1 Paul mentions a letter that the Corinthians had written to Paul. The letter from the Corinthians to Paul plus the report from Cloe’s people bring to Paul information about the quarrels.
- 1 Cor. 7:25 Paul moves on to another area of concern; “Now concerning” virgins.
- 1 Cor. 8:1 “Now concerning” things sacrificed to idols.
- 1 Cor 16:1 “Now concerning” the collection for the saints. All of the “now concerning” references are Paul answering what had been sent to him in writing.
Other comments that Paul makes do not directly reference the letter from the Corinthians, but they appear to answer challenges, claims or arguments. For example, 1 Cor. 6:12 says:
1 Corinthians 6:12 (NASB) All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.
Are “all things” lawful for Paul? The negation that follows appears to be Paul’s answer to the writer of the letter who claims not to be under any law. “All things are lawful for me,” the letter says, but Paul answers “BUT NOT all things are profitable.” Again, “All things are lawful for me,” the writer concludes, but Paul answers, “BUT I will NOT be mastered by anything.” Paul’s testimony in all the churches is that we are under the “law of Christ.” We can fulfill the duty to Christ through love and service to our brother (Gal. 6:2.) Anytime a statement is made in 1 Corinthians that appears contradictory to Paul’s known position we can suspect that Paul is dealing with issues that were presented to him, for Paul does not contradict himself. The fact that Paul consistently speaks about setting aside what is good for oneself and aiming for what is helpful for others as the “common good” should tip us off that the arrogant claim that “all things are lawful” is part of the quarrel among the Corinthians.
CONTEXT: The Same God Indwells All and Works in All
- 1 Cor. 2:12 We have all received the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. The Spirit wants us to know the things that are given to all of us freely by God.
- 1 Cor. 3:16 Each member of the body of Christ is a temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells in each believer. The Holy Spirit dwells in each one, men and women alike.
- 1 Cor. 3:17 The Temple of God is holy. This is about ALL believers.
- 1 Cor. 12:4 While there are varieties of spiritual gifts, it is the SAME Holy Spirit that operates the gifts in both men and women.
- 1 Cor. 12:5 While there are varieties of ministries, the SAME Lord is over all. All have the same Lord.
- 1 Cor. 12:6 While there are varieties of activities, it is the SAME God who works all things in ALL persons. God is working in all believers – both men and women.
- 1 Cor. 12:7 The manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given for each person for the COMMON good. All gifts are for the COMMON good that are in men and women.
- 1 Cor. 12:8-11 Each of the spiritual gifts are given individually as God WILLS – it is His decision.
CONTEXT: One Body of Christ – No Division, All are Needed
- 1 Cor. 1:12-13 The Corinthians are claiming to be “of” a leader such as Paul, Apollos, Peter or Christ. But Christ cannot be divided. There is only one who died for us. We as a body are not to be divided.
- 1 Cor. 12:12 While the body of Christ is only one body, the individual members are many. All Christians are members of the body.
- 1 Cor. 12:14-17 A member of the body cannot be useless just because he or she does not appear to be an important member. Every member is needed.
- 1 Cor. 12:18 It is God Himself who has chosen where each member will be placed in the body.
- 1 Cor. 12:19 The body could not operate if all are placed as the same member.
- 1 Cor. 12:20-21 One member of the body CANNOT SAY they have NO NEED for one particular member of the body. The body is a unity, and a member cannot be excluded.
- 1 Cor. 12:22 The members of the body that SEEM to be WEAKER are NECESSARY.
- 1 Cor. 12:23 The members of the body that SEEM to be LESS HONORABLE receive more honor.
- 1 Cor. 12:24-25 The members of the body that are more presentable do not need more honor. God Himself has chosen to give MORE ABUNDANT HONOR to the member of the body that lacked that honor and all of this is done SO THAT there would be NO DIVISION in the body; so that all members would be cared for equally in the body.
- 1 Cor. 12:26 Honor given to one member brings joy and honor to the entire body. Suffering by one member causes the whole body to suffer. The body is unified in love.
CONTEXT: Paul’s Use of Logical Disjunctives to Rebut Bad Claims
Paul uses logical disjunctives throughout 1 Corinthians. A logical disjunctive is a conjunctive that gives an alternative possibility to the idea to which it is associated or that REBUTS the idea to which it is associated. Paul uses the logical disjunctive in the following instances:
- 1 Cor. 1:12-13 Paul uses the disjunctive to rebut the Corinthians claim to be divided by each belonging to a different apostle.
- 1 Cor. 6:1-3 Paul uses the disjunctive to rebut the evil of the Corinthians who were dragging other Christians into a pagan court. Paul rebuts this act by stating that in the future Christians (men and women) will JUDGE THE WORLD and will JUDGE ANGELS, so Christians need to take responsibility for judging what is right and what is wrong in this life too.
- 1 Cor. 6:7-9 Paul states that it is the Corinthians themselves who are DEFRAUDING and WRONGING their Christian brethren. Paul uses the disjunctive to rebut their ungodly actions by exclaiming “(logical disjunctive) Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
- 1 Cor. 6:12-20 The Corinthians claim that all things are lawful for them, and Paul uses the disjunctive to rebut them by saying that their bodies are members of Christ, and these members CANNOT be joined to a prostitute; it is not lawful. Not everything is lawful for them. They must flee immorality because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
- 1 Cor. 9:1-9 Paul uses the disjunctive to rebut those who are examing him and his claim to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus.
- 1 Cor. 10:14-25 Paul continues to rebut the Corinthian who are saying that all things are lawful for them. Paul uses the logical disjunctive to tell them that they CANNOT drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.
- 1 Cor. 14:34-38 Paul uses the disjunctive to rebut the restriction against women’s learning in the assembly and the restriction against their voices being heard by the church. Paul uses the logical disjunctive in verse 36 against the ones who claim these restrictions challenging them with rhetorical questions. Were these men the ones who first brought (first originated) the Word of God? No, it was Paul as an apostle of Christ who was entrusted with the gospel and first brought it to them. Was the gospel brought ONLY to these men for their benefit ALONE? No! Paul brought the gospel TO men and women alike. If anyone does not recognize Paul’s authority to speak as an AUTHORITY speaking the commands of Jesus (as Paul has given the commands of Jesus throughout 1 Corinthians and especially from the beginning of chapter 14) that one is not approved by God. Those who claim that the gospel is restricted to only some Christians to receive it and to learn from the Word and only some are allowed to preach the gospel for the common good is not the message that Paul has commanded throughout 1 Corinthians.
CONTEXT: God’s Choice
- 1 Cor. 1:27-29 God has chosen those things that many identify as “foolish” in order that God may shame the “wise.” God has also chosen the things that the world sees as “weak” in order to shame the strong. God has also chosen the things that are despised by the world so that the things that are seen as important are nullified in His kingdom. The term despised means to be treated contemptuously as if it is completely worthless or despicable. The Jews regularly thanked God that they were not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. All of these were looked down upon and despised by the religious Jews. A woman’s voice was seen as shameful to the ultra-religious Jews.
- 1 Cor. 12:18 God has chosen where the members go in the body. It is His desire and His choice.
CONTEXT: God’s Gifts
- 1 Cor. 2:12 We have all received God’s Spirit in order that we may know the things that are freely given to us.
- 1 Cor. 2:13 Those who have received God’s Spirit are taught by the Spirit.
- 1 Cor. 12:31 Paul commands ALL to earnestly desire the greater spiritual gifts.
- 1 Cor. 14:12 Paul tells the Christians also to seek to abound in the spiritual gifts for the purpose of EDIFICATION of the CHURCH. Abound means to be abundant or plentiful.
- 1 Cor. 14:19 Paul says that speaking words in the church that are understood is instructing others.
CONTEXT: Servants of God work together
- 1 Cor. 3:5 Those who teach are servants who are given the opportunity to serve.
- 1 Cor. 3:6-9 Some servants plant, and some water, but God causes the growth. Servants are fellow workers.
- 1 Cor. 14:24 If all prophesy, their prophesying will convict an unbeliever and call him to account. They work together.
- 1 Cor. 14:26 In the assembly ALL work together with their gifts to edify the church.
- 1 Cor. 14:28 If there is no interpreter of tongues, the tongues speaker is to be silent so that only acts of EDIFICATION will be done that will profit ALL.
- 1 Cor. 14:30 If God gives a revelation to someone who is seated, the one who is standing (and who has the floor) needs to be silent to allow someone else to edify the church. The purpose is not to silence a person, but to be silent to allow someone else to give God’s Word.
CONTEXT: Spiritually Minded vs Natural Wisdom
- 1 Cor. 2:14-16 A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. The natural man sees them as foolish. The one who is a spiritual man appraises all things. Appraises means to form a critical opinion of something (either positive or negative) by examination or scrutiny. We have the mind of Christ.
- 1 Cor. 3:1-3 Paul said that the Corinthians were FLESHLY not spiritual men.
- 1 Cor. 10:24 No one is to seek their own good, but the good of his neighbor.
- 1 Cor. 10:31-32 All things are to be done to the glory of God. No OFFENSE is to be given to Jews or to Greeks or to the church. That would include all members of the church including the women.
- 1 Cor. 14:19 In the church a few words of instruction are more profitable than many words in an unknown tongue.
- 1 Cor 14:20 Be mature in your thinking.
CONTEXT: Strengthening the Church
- 1 Cor. 14:3 The one who prophesies speaks for edification, exhortation, and consolation.
- 1 Cor. 14:4 The one who prophesies EDIFIES the CHURCH.
- 1 Cor. 14:5 Paul wishes that all of them would prophesy so that the church would be edified.
- 1 Cor. 14:6 Edification of the church comes through 1. revelation 2. knowledge 3. prophecy 4. teaching.
CONTEXT: No Boasting
- 1 Cor. 1:28-29 God has chosen the DESPISED things so that no man may boast before God.
- 1 Cor. 4:6 Paul writes that through Paul’s example, the Corinthians are to LEARN not to go BEYOND what is WRITTEN so that none of them will become ARROGANT AGAINST ONE ANOTHER.
- 1 Cor. 4:7 There is no one superior. All have received from God and therefore none can boast as if their gifts belonged to them.
- 1 Cor. 4:18-19 Some have become arrogant, and Paul intended to come soon to examine the ARROGANT.
- 1 Cor. 8:1 Paul writes that knowledge makes one arrogant, but LOVE edifies the church.
CONTEXT: The Wisdom of the World
- 1 Cor. 3:18 If one is “wise in this age” he must become “foolish” in order to be spiritually wise.
- 1 Cor. 3:19-20 The wisdom of the world is foolishness before God. The reasonings of the wise are useless.
CONTEXT: Paul’s Teachings and Correction
- 1 Cor. 4:17 Timothy was sent to Corinth to remind the Corinthians of PAUL’S WAYS which are in Christ. Paul teaches these ways EVERYWHERE in EVERY church.
- 1 Cor. 4:21 Paul needs to correct the Corinthians. It is their choice whether he comes to them with gentleness or with the rod.
- 1 Cor. 7:4 Neither husband nor wife has authority over their own body. The authority belongs to the wife or the husband. Women have authority from God that was not allowed in the Jewish Pharisaical system or the worldly system.
- 1 Cor. 7:6 Paul gives some things as a CONCESSION, as they are not commands of God.
- 1 Cor. 7:16-17 Each individual Christian is to walk in the manner in which he/she has been called. Paul gives this direction in ALL the churches.
- 1 Cor. 7:34-35 Paul promotes undistracted devotion to the Lord for the woman who is unmarried.
- 1 Cor. 7:39-40 Paul encourages widows to remain single.
- 1 Cor. 11:2 Hold firmly to the traditions that Paul delivered to the Corinthians.
- 1 Cor. 11:3 Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that Christ is the head of every man.
- 1 Cor. 11:5 A woman is shown as praying and prophesying in public.
- 1 Cor. 11:7 The woman is the GLORY of man.
- 1 Cor. 11:10 The woman ought to have AUTHORITY to make decisions regarding her own hair and head covering.
- 1 Cor. 11:14 Does nature teach you that men and women are born with a difference of the hair on their heads?
- 1 Cor. 11:16 Literal wording says “no such practice.” Paul and the apostles have “no such” practice, nor do the churches of God have such a practice. (head covering)
- 1 Cor. 11:17 Paul does not praise the church for their gatherings are used to promote divisions and factions rather than the church coming together for edification.
- 1 Cor. 11:22 The Corinthians were despising the church of God by HUMILIATING some of the members of the body.
CONTEXT: Love is the More Excellent Way
- 1 Cor. 13:1 Without LOVE one’s words are like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
- 1 Cor. 12:31 EARNESTLY DESIRE the greater gifts, and there is a still more excellent way.
- 1 Cor. 13:4 God’s LOVE is kind and not jealous and is not arrogant. We must also be kind, not jealous, and not arrogant.
- 1 Cor. 13:5 God’s LOVE does not act in an unbecoming way; God’s love does not seek to have His own way, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.
- 1 Cor. 14:1 PURSUE LOVE, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts ESPECIALLY that you may prophesy. (The spiritual gifts MUST FLOW from the pursuit of love.)
- 1 Cor. 14:36 Are you arrogantly claiming that you ORIGINATED the teachings of God’s Word? Are you arrogantly claiming that the Word COMES ONLY to YOU?
- 1 Cor. 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.
- 1 Cor. 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus, that person is to be accursed.
CONTEXT: God is Not a God of Confusion – There is No Indistinct Sound in God’s Commands
- 1 Cor. 14:7-9 If lifeless things like the bugle have an indistinct sound, how will anyone know to prepare himself for battle? If you utter words that are not CLEAR, how will anyone know what you have spoken? Any indistinct sound is useless.
- 1 Cor. 14:11 If I do not know the meaning of the language, the one to whom I am speaking will have no edification.
- 1 Cor. 14:33 God is not a God of CONFUSION. God is the God of peace. This is what Paul taught in all of the churches.
- 1 Cor. 14:37 If anyone thinks he is a spiritual person then he must RECOGNIZE that ALL the things Paul wrote are for the members of the body of Christ ministering to each other with their spiritual gifts for the COMMON GOOD. This is the COMMAND of the Lord Jesus.
- 1 Cor. 14:38 If anyone does not recognize that all the commands throughout 1 Corinthians 14, calling for full body ministry, are actually the commands of the Lord, then that person who thought they were a spiritual person, is not recognized by God as a spiritual person. That person is to be ignored.
- 1 Cor. 14:40 All the things that Paul commanded for the common good, for the edification of the church, are to be done properly and in an orderly manner. One by one each member can share.
Paul has emphasized body ministry. All are to share in the ministering of their gifts for the common good. The purpose of the spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ in love. Every member is needed in building up the body, and no one is to be disregarded and shamed as if the person and their gifts are not needed.
God has taken women who were considered as the weak and despised of the world, in a shame-based worldly system, and He has placed them into the body of Christ by His will. Even though some men were prejudiced against women because they followed the proud worldly system, God placed His Spirit within women just as He placed His Spirit within men in order to shame those who arrogantly claimed superiority. Women’s voices are not filthy and indecent as the “saying” of the Corinthians was quoted by Paul in 1 Cor. 14:34-35. Paul immediately rebutted the oral law that was created by mere men. Paul refuted the “saying” by his use of the logical disjunctive. Paul refutes the claim that these men are superior and that they alone can preach the gospel and that they alone can learn from the Word. They are fleshly men following a faulty system that shames women and refuses to allow women’s spiritual gifts to be heard in the assembly. However, Paul’s argument from the beginning of 1 Corinthians is that it is the SAME God, the SAME Lord, and the SAME Spirit who distributes all the spiritual gifts. It is God who places men and women in the body of Christ, and it is not man’s prerogative to stifle and silence the Holy Spirit’s voice just because He speaks through a female temple of God.
Paul lays out the “more excellent way”. That way is love, care, not seeking one’s own way, and honoring those who seem to have little honor. The quote that Paul gives from the Corinthians DIVIDES the body of Christ between those who are allowed to LEARN in the church and those who are NOT WORTHY TO PUBLICLY LEARN. The quote further divides the body of Christ by claiming superiority for some of the fleshly temples of God, allowing them full access to learn and to teach, while claiming that the voices of the other fleshly temples of God are disgraceful. The sound of arrogance, pride, disrespect and a failure to LOVE are clearly opposite of what Paul declared are the commands of God. Those who will not love God by refusing to love the members of the body of Christ are not speaking for God. Their voices are to be disregarded. The clear voice of Scripture is that all are commanded to pray that they can edify the church. All are given authority to pray that they may edify the church and all are given permission to learn in church. Paul tells widows that they should serve the Lord as they are. If they needed a man to go home to in order to learn the Word, Paul would have told them they must marry to fulfill the law to learn at home. The divisions that pride caused in the Corinthian church that was forcing women to submit to a man-made law and this brought shame to the Corinthians and no praise from Paul. A spirit of arrogance puffed up through “worldly knowledge” separates and divides. But true godly love edifies. All things are freely given to men and women alike from the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 2:12.) We are all the temple of God and all are to be vessels of honor.Today, as in Paul’s day, some men claim that they have no need for women teachers. They already have the BEST in men teachers, and women are not needed. But the eye cannot say to the hand “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor. 12:21) When the church allows both men and women to boldly and freely serve the body of Christ in love, this will be the day that we are one step closer to true unity in the Spirit.
A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God. A natural man does not accept that God’s Holy Spirit can work through a woman for the common good of the body. A spiritual man appraises all things and accepts the instruction of the Lord.
If you believe that I have missed the clear Word of God in 1 Corinthians that silences and stifles women’s ministry in the church, please show it to me from the context of 1 Corinthians. If I am wrong about the context, show me where I am wrong. If I am not wrong, are you willing to help to stop the division in the church and accept women as fleshly temples of God who are worthy of the Holy Spirit speaking through them to edify the church?