It is Shameful for a Woman to Speak in Church

"As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached? If any one thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized" (1 Corinthians 14:33-38).

This command of the Lord is not difficult to understand.

It is difficult for some people to accept, however.

When a female cleric was asked on television what she thought of this passage, she replied: "I wipe my feet on it." At least she was frank.

Some try to get around this clear statement of God's Spirit in a more subtle manner.

Recently I heard the claim that 'remain silent' here means 'stay calm' and that 'speak' means 'speak noisily', and that women may therefore speak if they speak calmly!

Let us carefully examine the meaning of these words. First I might mention in passing, however, that this claim clearly conflicts with the context. Is it acceptable then for men to speak noisily? The passage refers to a difference between men and women (shown by the fact that women are to ask their husbands at home). Are men then not required to stay calm?

The Greek word here for 'remain silent' is SIGATOOSAN, the present, imperative form of SIGAOO. What do Greek lexicons say? Analytical: 'To be silent, keep silence'; Thayer: 'To keep silence, hold one's peace'; Arndt & Gingrich: 'Be silent, keep still ... in the senses: a. say nothing, keep silent ... b. stop speaking, become silent ... c. hold one's tongue, keep something (a) secret.' A.&G. classify 1 Corinthians 14:34 under meaning a. 'say nothing, keep silent'.

Here are all passages in the NT where SIGAOO is found:

  • Luke 9:36 - "And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen."
  • Luke 18:39 - "And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent."
  • Luke 20:26 - "But marveling at his answer they were silent."
  • Acts 12:17 - "But motioning to them with his hand to be silent..."
  • Acts 15:12 - "And all the assembly kept silence."
  • Acts 15:13 - "And after they finished speaking..."
  • Romans 16:25 - "Kept secret for long ages".
  • 1 Corinthians 14:28 - "But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church" [referring to speaking in foreign languages].
  • 1 Corinthians 14:30 - "If a revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent."
  • 1 Corinthians 14:33,34 - "As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches."

The Greek word for 'speak' ("For they are not permitted to speak," "For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church") is LALEIN, infinitive of LALEOO. Anyone who has studied even a little Greek, knows that this is the common word for 'speaking'. It does not have the special meaning of 'speaking noisily'.

The Greek word for 'church', EKKLEESIA, means 'assembly' both in the actual sense and in the definitive sense. Someone who speaks in an unknown language must "keep silence in church" unless there is a translator (1 Corinthians 14:28). This refers to the actual assembly. That "the women should keep silence in the churches" (1 Corinthians 14:34) and that "it is shameful for a women to speak in church" (1 Corinthians 14:35) also refer to the actual assemblies. In 1 Corinthians 14:33 we also find the difinitive sense ("As in all the churches of the saints") followed by the actual sense in verse 34 ("the women should keep silence in the churches"). Thus, "all the churches of the saints" does not refer to the actual assemblies, but to all local churches of Christ. In other words, in all churches of Christ the women remain silent in the assemblies.

A spiritual person will acknowledge that what Paul writes here is a command of the Lord, and anyone who does not recognize this, is not recognized in the churches of the saints.

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive