Historical/traditional interpretation of women speaking in the church, regarding 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 14:34,35, with 1 Timothy 2:8-15
This document is an addition to the page on Woman Pastors, as it is related to it, as while one may proclaim the word of God to the congregation without being a pastor, yet doing so it infers pastoral sanction, and thus authority over men. The most straightforward and substantiated reading of 1 Cor. 14 (with 1 Tim. 2:8-15) compels a strict view of its interpretation, that by precept and principal women are ordinarily not to give the word of God to the assembled (mixed gender) Christian congregation, whether by tongue, prophecy or any manner of preaching, as this signifies a lack of submission to her head, and in preaching, presumption to an authoritative position not given to the women, due to creational distinctions. Some traditionalists also hold that this distinction also requires women to maintain general silence even as regards vocal communal prayer in the formal assembly, yet a degree of ambiguity exists in the principal texts which makes this stricter position less certain, while liberal ones which make no real functional distinctions between the genders or greatly diminish them are most untenable. My conclusions in this study are not due to personal bias (I am open to warranted interpretations of more liberty), but a commitment to doctrinal integrity, while I myself seek to walk better in submission to Jesus, the head of the body.
1 Corinthians 11:5
As 1 Cor. 11:5 refers to women praying and prophesying, but the location in which they did so is not evident. Most traditionalists argue that this section, up until v. 17, is not dealing with activity in the church, and that Paul's reference to women praying or prophesying is not or need not be that of conduct within an assembly, and cannot be proof of his sanctioning it there. Rather, it would be dealing with female prophesying and noticeably vocal praying, with men and women outside a assembly, which is the only context that women are shown to have prophesied, (Ex. 15:20,21; Jdg. 4:4-7; 2 Kings 22:14; Acts 21:9) while any example of prayer by them in the service is absent as well. What Paul does deal with in 1 Cor. 11 is the manner in which praying and prophesying by women is to be done, which requires women to wear a head covering (or perhaps a equivalent sign) to do so, based upon the transcendent and universal principal of male headship. 1 Cor. 14 deals specifically with giving the word of God by praying in tongues or prophesying, and which weighs most heavily towards enjoining silence upon women in the church assembly.
1 Corinthians 14
1 Cor. 14 deals with disorder in the church service, as prophesying, etc., and praying in tongues were being spoken by many at the same time, and the latter without an interpretation. The apostle Paul responds to this by requiring such speaking to be done by two or three at the most, and that by course, with tongues requiring an interpretation. (1 Cor. 14:27-31) It must be understood that obedience to the instructions here meant that tongues as well as prophecy would be a means of addressing the whole assembly, and giving authoritative Divine revelation, and it is that context that the restrictions on women follow. Also, that while men themselves were creating disorder, Paul does not mandate silence upon them, as he will in regards to women.
The goal of the instructions is to ensure peace (v. 33) while not preventing edifying revelation from being given, and in that interest, and immediately prefaced by “as in all the churches of the saints” (ancient commentators such as Lachman, Conybaere and Howson, as well as some newer ones, see v. 33 flowing into v. 34), 1 Cor. 14:34 then requires the churches (plural) to enjoin their women to keep silence (see below for its denotation) during the meeting. The phrase “your women” in v. 34 (speaking corporately) shows that the address of this letter is most specifically to the men of the church. The command, “for it is not permitted unto them to speak”, is a broad prohibition which is in contrast to the instructions on speaking in order which precede it.
Paul also invokes the law for support in enjoining basic silence upon women, as while the ceremonial law was typological, (Col. 2:14-17; Heb. 9:10; Gal. 4:10) the moral laws of the Old Testament are upheld (though not as means of justification/salvation: Rm. 4; Gal. 3). Paul is not apparently referencing a specific ordinance, but the whole of the law, in which male leadership is established, with only males serving as priests/ministers of the temple, and who alone gave instruction in their assemblies, or lead in prayer. (Lev. 9; Heb. 5:1; 1Kg. 8:12ff; 1 Chron. 29) The foundation for this is that which both Jesus and Paul reference, the creation of women from man and for man. (Gn. 1:26,27; 2:18-24; cf. Mt. 19:4; )
In beginning v. 35, the word “and” can signify a further application (versus it being the application) of this requirement of general silence, that of not disrupting or causing distractions by asking questions of their husbands, as instead the male is required to be the teacher in the assembly and the head of the home.
The requirement of general female quietness is affirmed in 1 Tim. 2:8-15, in which men (using the gender-specific Greek word “anēr” for males) are enjoined to “pray everywhere”, including in a demonstrative manner as it describes here, and being unrestricted to location, while in contrast the women are to “learn in silence with all subjection”, due to creational distinctions.
No such explicit universal affirmation is given for women to pray in a demonstrative manner, or give a word to the formal church assembly, with the non-specific 1 Cor. 11:5 being the only verse which may be seen as sanctioning such. Yet it seems unlikely that “not permitted unto them to speak” and reiterations of such only referred to women asking questions of their husbands. It is less conceivable that the broad command of v. 34 is only referring to a specific manner of speaking, rather than them speaking up as men, in giving a revelation or interpretation.
One argument is that the restriction on women was only against them judging prophecies, not speaking in tongues, however, v. 27 cannot be separated from what follows, and to only apply the “silence” of v. 34 to v. 29 (regarding judging prophecy), is unreasonable.
In looking at the Greek word in v. 34, only words of possible pertinent contention need to be noted, with renderings in the KJV sometimes listed.
1 Cor. 14:34 Let yourG5216 [humōn] womenG1135 [gunē] keep silenceG4601 [sigaō] inG1722 [en] theG3588 [ho hē to] churches:G1577 [ekklēsia] forG1063 [gar] it is notG3756 [ou] permittedG2010 [epitrepō] unto themG846 [autos] to speak;G2980 [laleō] butG235 [alla] they are commanded to be under obedience,G5293 [hupotassō] asG2531 [kathōs] alsoG2532 [kai] saithG3004 [legō] theG3588 [ho hē to] law.G3551 [nomos]
“Humōn” almost always denotes “your”, and is thus translated that way 360 times out of 370 occurrences, and is only translated “among” once.
“Gunē” always means women, singular or plural, both married and single.
“Sigaō” means peace, silence (see below)
“En” is a primary preposition denoting a position, and is sometimes used in compounds, and is most often translated “among,” which can mean “in”, as “in your group, It can be translated different ways, including “therein,” and “openly.”
“Ho hē to” is often translated “which” (often for “that” or “who”) as well as “your, “whosoever,” etc.
“Eekklēsia” basically means “assembly,” and as such almost always refers to the church, and here it presumes the speakers are the regenerate.
“Epitrepō means permit.
“Autos” denotes the object of “not.”
“Laleō” means to speak, say, as well as preach.
“Alla” is rendered as “yea” (17) and indeed (1), “yet” (11) and “nevertheless” (10) “howbeit” [however] (8) and “notwithstanding” (1) , “nay” [rhetorically, as Rm. 7:7] (4), “therefore” (3), “save” [except] (2), “moreover”, (1) “neither” (1) “no” (1).
“Hupotassō” means to subordinate, reflectively to obey.
“Nomos” means “law”, which in its theological use can embody the whole of the Mosaic law, the prophets, and hagiographia, (the rest of the Old Testament writings). The law” is also used to distinguish between the Sacred Writings and the words of the scribes. In v. 21 Paul references Is. 28:11.
In the beginning of v. 35, the word “and,” (de) is variously rendered “now,” (161), “then” (134), “yet” (19), “moreover” (14) “so” (13), “yea” (13), “nevertheless” (11) , “or” and “some” (5), “even” (3), “wherefore” (2), “furthermore”, “howbeit”, “partly”, “therefore”, “truly” (1).
While the idea that Paul is dealing with some pagan tongue speakers is untenable, Tyler, Kingsley, Fisher, and Dwight labored to render “alla” beginning in v.34 (translated in the KJV as “but”) as “except,” so as to render the meaning of v. 34 that women are not permitted to speak, except in obedient subjection to men. (Edward Royall Tyler, William Lathrop Kingsley, George Park Fisher, Timothy Dwight, New Englander and Yale review, Volume 36, pp. 117-125)
However, while this rendering would see 1 Cor. 11:5 as sanctioning women prophesying as long as they have a type of head covering, which Paul therein calls a custom (though the meaning is disputed), yet Paul invokes the law as confirmation of the requirement of female silence, and the law establishes male headship and male-only service in the temple, while lacking any evident provision for, or valid example of, women prophesying in the service. In addition, in 1 Cor. 14:26-32 Paul already established that speaking to the congregation by tongues or prophesying was to be done when it was the persons turn, (v. 30-32) rather than someone on the other side of room deciding it (men and women were separated).
I think a more reasonable understanding of these verses is that the problem of disturbances due to speaking out of order had been already dealt with in vs. 26-32, with the regulations applying to males - these being the speakers consistent with the law - and that the requirement of female submission to males is not in respect to when they may speak to the congregation, but that the law forbade altogether such, with v. 35 dealing with the additional disturbance due to their asking questions.
Also of linguistical inquiry is the the absence of the gender-specific word for men in this chapter (in contrast to 1 Tim. 2:8). Yet the word translated “any” in 1 Cor. 14:37 is sometimes used specifically in reference to a male(s), (Mt. 22:24; Lk. 11:11; 20:28; 1 Cor. 7:18,36; etc.) Nor would a general address to the church prevent men from being the more specific subject of instructions on how to publicly address the congregation, through tongues or prophecy, while in contrast those who are restricted from such are specifically women (goo-nay'), which word includes both married and unmarried women. (Lk. 10:38; Jn. 4:17)
The word for “brethren” (“adelphos”) is used here in vs. 20,26.39, and it must be understood to generally include women in many or most texts. (Mt. 5:47; 25:30; etc.) Yet it may be notable that “brethren” is sometimes used when only males (singular or plural) are the subject, (Mt. 4:18; 10:12; 22:25; Lk. 15:32; etc.) while “brethren” never is used when only referring to females, and a distinction is made between “brethren” and “sisters” or “women”, in certain texts. (Mt. 19:29; Mk. 10:29,30; Acts 1:14; etc.) Men with brethren are listed together (the “and” is not in the Greek) in Acts 1:16; 2:29,37; 7:2; 13:15,26,38; 28:17; etc.
More recently, it has been charged that versus 34 and 35 are an interpolation, a text added by later editors, but this charge has questionable warrant at best, and which idea is a slippery slope, and one which is often used in attempts to negate unwanted portions of Scripture elsewhere as well. Some manuscripts do place vs. 34,35 after v. 40, which is of doubtful help to the more liberal position.
Silence (hēsuchia) in 1 Tim. 2:11 can mean general quietness, in life and tongue. (Acts 22:2; 1Thes. 3:12) However, the word for silence (sigaōin) in 1 Cor. 14:34 is used more for holding one's tongue, including in deference to another. (Acts 12:17; 15:12,13).
Clarke states, in part, “But to be in silence - It was lawful for men in public assemblies to ask questions, or even interrupt the speaker when there was any matter in his speech which they did not understand; but this liberty was not granted to women. (1 Cor. 14:34,14:35 by Adam Clarke. See more here ).
Even if it is granted to a woman to show the sign of prophecy, she is nevertheless not permitted to speak in an assembly. When Miriam the prophetess spoke, she was leading a choir of women ... For [as Paul declares] "I do not permit a woman to teach," and even less "to tell a man what to do." (Origen, Fragmenta ex commentariis in epistulam i ad Corinthios)
In the work, “Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, by Philip Schaff (1819 – 1893), the German-educated Protestant theologian and historian of the Christian church, it is noted regarding 1 Cor. 14: 34,35,
Women might have spiritual gifts, like the daughters of Philip, Acts xxi. 9; but even such are here forbidden to use them in the public worship of the Church. (Schaff, ANF05: “Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix")
VI. We do not permit our “women to teach in the Church, but only to pray and hear those that teach; for our Master and Lord, Jesus Himself, when He sent us the twelve to make disciples of the people and of the nations, did nowhere send out women to preach,.. (ANF07: Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily. Sec. I.—"Concerning Widows.The Age at Which Widows Should Be Chosen")
It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the church; 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35; 1 Tim. ii. 11, 12. but neither (is it permitted her) to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer, nor to claim to herself a lot in any manly function, not to say (in any) sacerdotal office. (ANF04: “Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, Chapter IX. - Veiling Consistent with the Other Rules of Discipline Observed by Virgins and Women in General )”
Having abated the disturbance both from the tongues, and from the prophesyings; and having made a law to prevent confusion, that they who prophesy should be silent when another begins; he next in course proceeds to the disorder which arose from the women, rooting out their unseasonable boldness of speech: and that very opportunely. For if to them that have the gifts it is not permitted to speak inconsiderately, nor when they will, and this, though they be moved by the Spirit; much less to those women who prate idly and to no purpose. Therefore he represses their babbling, and that with much authority, and taking the law along with him, thus he sews up their mouths; not simply exhorting here, or giving counsel, but he even laying his commands on them vehemently, by the recitation of an ancient law on that subject. For having said, Let your women keep silence in the churches; and, it is not permitted unto them to speak, but to be under obedience, he added, as also saith the law. And where doth the law say this? Thy desire 1 Gen. shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. [Gn. 3:16]
Seeth thou the wisdom of Paul, what kind of testimony he adduced, one that not only enjoins on them silence, but silence too with fear; and with as great fear as that wherewith a maid servant ought to keep herself quiet. Wherefore also having himself said, it is not permitted unto them to speak, he added not, "but to be silent," but instead of, to be silent, he set down what is more, to wit, to be under obedience. And if this be so in respect of husbands, much more in respect of teachers, and fathers, and the general assembly of the Church. "
But if they are not even to speak,"saith one, "nor ask a question, to what end are they to be present?" That they may hear what they ought; but the points which are questioned let them learn at home from their husbands. Wherefore also he added,
Ver. 35. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home.
Thus, "not only, as it seems, are they not allowed to speak," saith he,"at random, but not even to ask any question in the church." Now if they ought not to ask questions, much more is their speaking at pleasure contrary to law. And what may be the cause of his setting them under so great subjection? Because the woman is in some sort a weaker being, and easily carried away, and light minded. Here you see why he set over them their husbands as teachers, for the benefit of both. For so he both rendered the women orderly, and the husbands he made anxious, as having to deposit with their wives very exactly what they heard.
Further, because they supposed this to be an ornament to them, I mean their speaking in public; again he brings round the discourse to the opposite point, saying, For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church. That is, first he made this out from the law of God, then from common reason, and our received custom; even as, when he was discoursing with the women about long hair, he said, Doth not even nature herself teach you[1 Cor. 11:14]? (The homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople ..., Volume 2, 1839, p. 520,521)
But from this general privilege he secludes all woman, saying: let women keep silence in the congregation. And why I pray you? was it because that the apostle thought no woman to have any knowledge? no he gives an other reason, saying; let her be subject as the law saith. In which words is first to be noted, that the apostle calls this former sentence pronounced against woman a law, that is, the immutable decree of God, who by his own voice hath subjected her to one member of the congregation, that is to her husband, She that is subject to one, may not rule many whereupon the Holy Ghost concludes, that she may never rule nor bear empire over man...The apostle takes power from all woman to speak in the assembly. (John Knox, “The First Blast to Awake Women Degenerate”)
Women are commanded to be silent in public assemblies, and they are commanded to ask of their husbands at home.
Presbyterian clergyman William Raymond Weeks, D.D. (1783 – 1848), in his volume, “Pilgrim's Progress in the Nineteenth Century" (1849), argues regarding vs. 34,35 through a pseudonym,
I am not desirous of applying the passage to any thing but what was the subject of discourse in the text and context. The apostle was speaking of the order of their meetings for worship, and the manner in which each member should exercise his gifts for the edification of the whole. The subject included praying and prophesying, speaking with tongues, the inspired composition of hymns to be sung, and explanation of the doctrines and duties of the Gospel. If the woman was to be silent as to all these, she would have no opportunity to pray, nor exhort, nor preach, nor direct the hymns to be sung. But yet, she might not be prohibited from joining with others in singing the hymns given out by those authorized to do it, nor be prohibited from answering questions in her examination for church membership, nor in giving testimony before the church. (Weeks, “Pilgrim's Progress in the Nineteenth Century”, pp. 290-94)
Let your women keep silence in the churches,.... This is a restriction of, and an exception to one of the above rules, that all might prophesy; in which he would be understood of men only, and not of women; and is directed against a practice which seems to have prevailed in this church at Corinth, allowing women to preach and teach in it; and this being a disorderly practice, and what was not used in other churches, the apostle forbids and condemns, and not without reason:
for it is not permitted unto them to speak; that is, in public assemblies, in the church of God, they might not speak with tongues, nor prophesy, or preach, or teach the word. All speaking is not prohibited; they might speak their experiences to the church, or give an account of the work of God upon their souls; they might speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; or speak as an evidence in any case at a church meeting; but not in such sort, as carried in it direction, instruction, government, and authority. It was not allowed by God that they should speak in any authoritative manner in the church; nor was it suffered in the churches of Christ; nor was it admitted of in the Jewish synagogue; there, we are told (b), the men came to teach, and the women לשמוע, "to hear": and one of their canons runs thus (c); "a woman may not read (that is, in the law), בצבור, "in the congregation", or church, because of the honour of the congregation;'' for they thought it a dishonourable thing to a public assembly for a woman to read, though they even allowed a child to do it that was capable of it.
“But they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” In Gen_3:16, "thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee". By this the apostle would signify, that the reason why women are not to speak in the church, or to preach and teach publicly, or be concerned in the ministerial function, is, because this is an act of power, and authority; of rule and government, and so contrary to that subjection which God in his law requires of women unto men. The extraordinary instances of Deborah, Huldah, and Anna, must not be drawn into a rule or example in such cases.
On v. 35 he discerns,
let them ask their husbands at home; privately, when retired from the public assembly; for though men might ask one another concerning this, and the other point, in the church, as was usual in the synagogue worship, to which this church at Corinth in many things conformed; yet women were not allowed this freedom, and even in things which belonged to women to do; as for instance, making the cake of the first of their dough, which was to be an heave offering to the Lord, the men were to teach the women at home how, and when to separate it from the rest (d). So the apostle directs women, when they wanted to be informed about any point, to apply to their husbands at their own houses, if they were such as were capable of instructing them; if not, they might apply to other men that were Christian men, and men of knowledge, especially to the prophets, pastors, and teachers of the church, at their habitations:
for it is a shame for women to speak in the church; it is a shame to themselves, as being contrary to the natural modesty and bashfulness of the sex, and a shame to the church, to the non-members of it, and especially to the elders, and more experienced part of it, to be taught and directed by a woman; it is a disgrace to herself and sex, as betraying uncommon pride and vanity, and an unnatural boldness and confidence; and a disgrace to the church to be under such a ministry and conduct. (John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, 1Co 14:34,35)
'As in the case of all other Christian churches, let your women keep silence in the public assemblies.' The fact that in no Christian church was public speaking by women permitted to women was itself as strong proof that it was unChristian, i. e. contrary to the spirit of Christianity. Paul, however, adds to the prohibition the weight of apostolic authority, and not of that only but also the authority of reason and of Scripture.
Hodge affirms that that the apostle Paul,
seems to take it for granted in 11,5 [1 Cor. 1:5] that women might and exercise the gift of prophesy. It is therefore only the public exercise of the gift that is prohibited. (Charles Hodge, An exposition of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 14:34,35,36)
The retiring character of Female Modesty, so beautiful an ornament of the Sex, and so peculiarly characterized to win attention and respect to opinion, when seasonably expressed, should be the study from infancy in Females. The injunction of the Apostle is strong against the forward and assuming character of a Teacher in Public Assemblies, as calculated to lessen the esteem of Man, and as tending to generate Self-sufficiency in young minds of that Sex ; thus throwing them out of their own sphere, and calling them too much from domestic duties, and exciting a desire for display and control, which weakens the bond of intended union between the Sexes ; the most likely to be insured by each observing its own peculiar offices. The same strong authoritative language is used by the Apostle in his Epistle to Timothy, Let the Woman learn in silence with all subjection ; but suffer not a Woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the Man, but to be in silence ~ Tim. ii. 11, 12; and again, Wives submit yourselves unto your own Husbands, as unto The LORD — Eph. v. 22....
Man's physical superiority, and by DIVINE Command, the Rule over Woman, were Appointed to him at the Outset of Creation, Gen. iii. 16. By the Jewish Law even the vows of Daughters or of Wives were liable to be restrained in their fulfillment, if disallowed by the Fathers or Husbands; but in each case Forgiveness from The LORD was Assured them— Numb. xxx. 3 to 12. (Stow, Reflections on the Epistles of st. Paul, and on that to the Hebrews, with Scriptural illustrations, p. 202,203)
Famous evangelical commentator, Albert Barnes (1798–1870) states regarding 1 Cor. 14:34,
Let your women keep silence ... - This rule is positive, explicit, and universal. There is no ambiguity in the expressions; and there can be no difference of opinion, one would suppose, in regard to their meaning. The sense evidently is, that in all those things which he had specified, the women were to keep silence; they were to take no part. He had discoursed of speaking foreign languages, and of prophecy; and the evident sense is, that in regard to all these they were to keep silence, or were not to engage in them. These pertained solely to the male portion of the congregation. These things constituted the business of the public teaching; and in this the female part of the congregation were to be silent. “They were not to teach the people, nor were they to interrupt those who were speaking” - Rosenmuller. It is probable that, on pretence of being inspired, the women had assumed the office of public teachers.
...He here argues against the practice [of women prophesying during service] on every ground; forbids it altogether; and shows that on every consideration it was to be regarded as improper for them even so much as “to ask a question” in time of public service. There is, therefore, no inconsistency between the argument in 1 Cor. 11: and the statement here; and the force of the whole is, that “on every consideration” it was improper, and to be expressly prohibited, for women to conduct the devotions of the church. It does not refer to those only who claimed to be inspired, but to all; it does not refer merely to acts of public preaching, but to all acts of speaking, or even asking questions, when the church is assembled for public worship. No rule in the New Testament is more positive than this; and however plausible may be the reasons which may be urged for disregarding it, and for suffering women to take part in conducting public worship, yet the authority of the apostle Paul is positive, and his meaning cannot be mistaken; compare 1Ti_2:11-12.
He further clarifies this in commenting on v. 35:
For it is a shame - It is disreputable and shameful; it is a breach of propriety. Their station in life demands modesty, humility, and they should be free from the ostentation of appearing so much in public as to take part in the public services of teaching and praying. It does not become their rank in life; it is not fulfilling the object which God evidently intended them to fill. He has appointed people to rule; to hold offices; to instruct and govern the church; and it is improper that women should assume that office upon themselves. This evidently and obviously refers to the church assembled for public worship, in the ordinary and regular acts of devotion. There the assembly is made up of males and females, of old and young, and there it is improper for them to take part in conducting the exercises. But this cannot be interpreted as meaning that it is improper for females to speak or to pray in meetings of their own sex, assembled for prayer or for benevolence; nor that it is improper for a female to speak or to pray in a Sunday School [of children]. (Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, 1 Cor. 14:34,35)
A farther rule is here given by the apostle for maintaining decency and order in the public assemblies; namely, that the women should never presume to speak or utter any thing as public teachers in the congregation; no, nor so much as ask any question publicly. Almighty God having by his law made subjection (not public instruction) their duty, of which silence is a token. Here observe, That it is not the women's speaking in the public assemblies, when they join with the congregation in singing of psalms and prayer, but their speaking by way of teaching and prophesying that is there forbidden. Note farther, That the means of instruction were not denied the women; at home they might put forth questions to their husbands, for their own information and satisfaction; but to do any thing like this publicly was a shame, or indecent thing, both to the church, the husband, and herself. (Burkitt, Expository notes, with practical observations, on the New Testament, p. 212)
Their speaking in public would itself be an act of independence; of teaching the assembly, and among others, their own husbands. 35 This prohibits another kindred irregularity — their asking questions publicly. (Henry Alford, The New Testament for English readers: Volume 2, Part 1; vs. 34,35, “Regulation to prohibiting women to speak publicly in the church and its grounds.
Commentator Matthew Poole, in Annotations upon the Holy Bible (1852), sees a precedent in the cases of Miriam, Huldah and Anna, for allowing women speaking in the case of an “extraordinary impulse or impression” upon them, but that
But setting aside that extraordinary case of a special afflatus, [strong creative impulse] it was, doubtless, unlawful for a woman to speak in the church.
Referring to v. 35, he perceives,
This must be understood of speaking to the congregation, for the instructing them, or speaking in the congregation to the minister, or any of the people, for her own instruction, for the woman might, doubtless, say Amen to the public prayers, and also sing with the congregation to the honour and glory of God. But for her to speak in an ordinary course of prophecy to instruct people, or to call aloud to the minister, or any members in the assembly of the church, to be satiated in any thing wherein she was in doubt, this she is forbidden. p. 591
Similarly, John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodists, held that women were to be silent in the churches, “Unless they are under an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit.” Wesley's disciple, Adam Clarke (1762–1832) more liberally allowed this, “that when a woman received any particular influence from God to enable her to teach, [assuming prophesying was simply teaching]...she was to obey it, and the apostle lays down directions in chap. 11 for regulating her personal appearance when thus employed.” Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) in his commentary, entertains allowing “praying, and uttering hymns inspired” by women, as such “were not teaching”.
However, Miriam, Huldah and Anna were not taking part in formal services, in which the allowance of speaking by the overseer infers sanction, and to provide an exception clause based upon a subjective impression felt by the women is to effectively negate any distinction between her and the men as regards tongues and prophesying, as the latter are also only to speak such as moved by the Spirit.. Therefore, Wesley's and Clarkes positions render the strict and broad injunction, “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak” in v. 34, as only disallowing leading the assembly, or formally occupying the office of a teacher, or asking questions, which v. 35 deals with. While hymns do convey doctrine, if not extensively, Henry is somewhat more restrictive.
A. Hastings Boss, writing in 1870 in the Bibliotheca sacra and theological review, believed “let your women keep silence in the churches” (v. 34a) proceeds from “as in all the churches” (v. 33b), thus rendering it a universal prohibition, and that,
Disorders in the church at Corinth gave occasion, but did not constitute the reason, for the command of silence; for (1) the men, so far as the record goes, were as disorderly in their speaking as were the women. (2) While Paul meets the disorders of the men in one way, he meets the disorders of the women in quite another way ; telling the men to speak " by two or by three, and by course," but forbidding the women to speak at all in the assemblies. (3) No disorder in the church at Corinth could have been the reason why silence had been practised by women in all other churches of the saints. (4) Paul nowhere refers to these disorders as the reason for his prohibitions. Hence we conclude that these disorders in the Corinthian church were merely the occasion, but not the reason, of the commands of silence....and that the injunction of silence is of perpetual obligation. Surely so long as the reasons of a law remain the law exists in force, unless it be expressly repealed.
In response to an argument (advanced by Goodenow, below), he states,
It may be replied that the principle is still in force, though the form of exhibiting it be changed; that women are to be modest, in obedience, usurping no authority over the men, even now while speaking in the assemblies. If Paul meant no more than this, why did he say more ? He told the men to speak in "course" ; why did he not tell the women to speak in modesty? Was speaking then "in all churches of the saints" a sign of equality unbecoming the position of women? So Paul regarded it; and so he forbade it. It was not the manner, but the thing itself, that he condemned; and he condemned the speaking itself, because in its very nature, whatever the manner of it may be, speaking in the assembly is inconsistent with the position of women in the churches.
In 1 Cor. xiv. 26—38, a Christian assembly is described, from which we learn: (a) That men and women and probably unbelievers were present, (b) That the control of the meeting seemed to be in the hands of the membership, and not in the hands of a pastor, no elder or bishop being mentioned, (c) That many, even all males, might take an active part in carrying on the meeting, (d) That women only were forbidden to speak, or prophesy, or teach in it.
Boss did not see this type of meeting in his time, and saw vs. 34-35 as applying to any meeting in which both genders were present. He further contends against arguments which invoke examples of women prophesying:
Boss also finds no sanctioned “instance in the Bible of a woman's speaking in public”, in that of Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and that “If these prophetesses had each been called to public speaking, they would have been exceptions to the general rule, in striking contrast with the conduct of all other women under the law. Certainly no rule could have been or can now be founded upon these exceptional cases.”
In turning to the dispensation of the gospel, he states,
certain women mentioned as helping the apostle much in the Lord; but in no instance are they represented as preaching, or speaking in any assembly of the saints. It is, indeed, an unconscious, and therefore a more humiliating, satire upon our times, that it should be assumed so generally that in those days women could not have been helpers at all without speaking in meeting. Have we come to this, that in the minds of so many the whole of Christian labor is public talk?
Joel predicts [Joel 2:28-32] and Peter quotes [Acts 2:17-21] that "in the last days" God's Spirit should lead "daughters" and hand-maidens," as well as men, to "prophesy"; but neither prophet nor apostle specifies any particular place, as the church, in which it should be done. Now Paul nowhere forbids women to prophesy, except " in the churches." They could have exercised their gift in private, or in a congregation of women, as did the four virgin daughters of Philip...A prophetess would have had enough to do among her own sex, without speaking in the assemblies.
Boss also concludes that Gal. 3:28 is not applicable to the issue of women speaking in the assemblies, due to it having to do with salvation, not positions in service, “that salvation by faith is the same to all mankind, whatever be their race, condition, or sex, though natural distinctions still exist in full force.”
Boss concludes dealing with objections by returning to 1 Cor. 11:5, stating,
It would seem that we have said enough already about 1 Cor. xi. 5; but we are forced to return to it again. According to what law of interpretation or of common sense, can the bare allusion to a practice or statement of a fact be made to reverse a full and repeated prohibition of the practice or denial of the fact?
While Boss raises the volume here, it seems doubtful that Paul would not simply correct the wrong manner in which female prophesying was done without correcting them in regards to the place as well, if indeed this is section is exclusively dealing with church conduct. The fact is that this verse is the most, and indeed the only substantial text for allowing a less restrictive understanding of 1 Cor. 14:34.
Boss expressed that commentators, excepting Clarke, tradionally have upheld his position, and that female speakers were not historically known in churches, including during the revival under Edwards, but were a more recent phenomenon, mainly among the Methodist. However, he does provide some qualifications in response to the objections,
that our argument overleaps itself, that it would stop all singing of women in church and all their teaching in the Sabbath-school. This is a great mistake. Sabbathschools are not the kind of meetings described or referred to. They are not meetings of the churches at all, but schools under the management of the churches for the children....All languages probably have words for singing and totally distinct words for speaking. At any rate the Greek has. And yet Paul does not employ one of them in his prohibitions. The word "silence" does not cover singing, for it was used with express reference to speaking....
Let it be understood that these commands of silence are general rules for fully constituted churches. They admit of exceptions in the case of weak churches composed almost entirely of women, and of female teachers of the ignorant negro and heathen. It is not only permitted to women, but it becomes their duty, to do in such cases what it would be improper for them to do in well constituted churches. When men fail, or are incompetent, let the women build the walls of Zion, let them proclaim the riches of redeeming love. These rules of propriety give place to a higher law in such exigencies; but in the churches fully constituted, the command of silence is in force. (Boss, “The silence of women in the churches —objections considered,” Article viii; Bibliotheca sacra and theological review, Volume 27, pp. 739-763)
Thus Boss sees the silence of women as pertaining to their speaking up during the service of normal congregation, while allowing an exception clause regarding that, as well as permitting participation in singing, and teaching children.
In the New Englander, 1877, Issue 138 (January, 1877), S. B. Goodenow concedes the problematic nature of the Corinthian text, stating,
Even so learned a man as Dr. Edward Beecher, publicly stated in Illinois five years ago, that " there are grave difficulties about this passage, and all that I can do is to wait for light."
He rehearses the two main arguments against a strict interpretation as being,
1. Some, more flippant than reverent, assert, that this passage is only the unadvised utterance of "an old bachelor," in which Paul without divine warrant gives his own ascetic notions, begotten of his celibate habits; whereas we are better situated than he to judge what is right in the case.
2. Others assert, that the command was only a temporary and local one, growing out of the peculiar habits and circumstances of the Corinthian church; and that therefore it has become obsolete, and has no binding force on us.
Goodenow's response to the first concludes, “When we treat one passage thus, we have nowhere to stop till we reject the whole Bible. Of course, no true disciple of Christ can wittingly maintain this view.” To the second he notes the universal nature of the address, “to all the churches”, and that “The passage ends with a severe rebuke (v. 36-38) of any one who should reject this teaching, concluding with this decisive language: " Let him acknowledge, that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord."
Proceeding on, it also finds unwarranted the argument that attempts to limit the prohibition to public meetings, or to business meetings, but that “Whatever is here forbidden, is just as wrong before a Sunday-school or a concert, as before any other church gathering. The error here attempted is sufficiently exposed in the Bib. Sacra, 1870, p. 743.”
The position that the word "speak," in v. 34 only means to preach, or as meaning only to babble, is also negated, stating that “neither of these theories can make any headway, as their very contrariness indicates.” Instead he concludes (as seen in my condensed summation) that
"Let your women keep silence in the churches." As already stated, it is conceded by all that this does not mean absolute silence. In 1 Tim. ii, 11, 12, we find the same requirement, of silence in a limited sense, that is relative silence, for woman, everywhere; abstinence from authoritative teaching, or self-assertion over man....not—" keep entire silence with this or that exception,—except in singing or except in something else,"—as most interpret it....But the meaning is simply this;—" keep the silence of subjection, the womanly quiet and reserve which is everywhere enjoined,—keep this same in the church, as it is required at home and in all places.".. he only says, she is to be quiet, or " hold her peace," or pause when others wish to talk, and not to speak except in a way of disrespectful subordination—doing all further needed discussion out of meeting,—because a bantering with women in church is shameful or shaming, as tending to disorder. (Rev. S. B. Goodenow, New Englander and Yale review, Volume 36, pp. 113-132)
However, if this were all it meant, then the restriction of women to the home as being her place to ask questions would not have been given, or “at home” would be eliminated, or the command of v. 34 would be, “Let the women keep silence in the churches as in the home,” though there they could ask questions. Their thus argument depends upon rendering words such as “alla” (but) differently.
On the whole, the polemic is based upon the doubtful presupposition that it is unreasonable, or unimaginable, that it is not given to women to give the congregation a prophetic utterance, or a word through a tongue. And that if vs. 34-35 does not mean an absolute silence, then it cannot be restricted to the type of vocal expressions in the assemblies which are at issue.
Henry Martyn Dexter, in “Congregationalism: what it is, whence it is, how it works, why it is better ...” (1874) describes a controversy regarding whether women could vote in the church, and in so doing provides voices of different authorities, along with his own conclusions, condensed below:
One of the earliest records of the views of the fathers of New England on this subject which has been preserved, occurs in the Ansiiacr of the Elders, A.D. 1643, written by Richard Mather. The sixteenth of the two and thirty questions sent over from England by" divers Ministers " for answer, was this: "Whether do you not permit Women to Vote in Church matters?" to which the following reply was made [p. 60] : —
The rule is express and plain that women ought not to speak in the Church, but to be in silence (i Cor. xiv : 34; I Tim. ii: II, 12). And therefore they ought not to vote in Church matters; besides voting imports some kind of government, and authority and power: now it is not government and authority, but subjection and obedience which belongs unto women, by the rule, and so is the practice of women amongst us.
John Cotton, in his Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, A.D. 1644, alludes to the subject only incidentally — as, with his views of Church power, he could hardly have been expected to do so directly — in replying to an objection urged against telling offences to the whole Church. The objector says : in the Church a woman may not speak — but if offenders may give an account of their offence to a whole Church they may be obliged to speak, as they may be offenders. To which Cotton says [p. 44] : —
When the Apostle forbiddeth women to speak in the church, he meaneth, speaking partly by way of authority, as in publick praying or prophesying in the Church (i Tim. ii: 12); partly by way of bold inquiry, in asking questions publickly of the Prophets in the face of the Church (i Cor. xiv: 34). But to answer it: If the whole Congregation [i. e. of the Church] have taken just offence at the open sin of a woman, she is bound as much to give satisfaction to the whole Congregation, as well as to the Presbyterie.
With such a platform it would be impossible not to infer how vigorous Cotton's condemnation would have been of the bare proposition that women and children should take upon themselves the power of voting in the Church.
Dexter also records Thomas Hooker judgment,
that of the whole body of New-England ministers, who accepted and indorsed his book before its publication, as well — as follows [Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline, &c., 1648, Part I. p. 132] : —
Delegated publike power is committed by Christ to persons capable thereof, which women and children are not; the women by their sex, children for want of exercise of their understanding being excluded. . . . The wise God provides that the votes and judgments of these should be included in the male and chief of them, and in them they should be satisfied, and therefore the wife is appointed to ask her husband at home.
Increase Mather, in his Order of the Gospel in New England, has two passages bearing upon this subject. This was published in 1700. One is where he contends that all that contribute to a pastor's maintenance ought not to have power to vote in his election, for [p. 68] : —
Then many women must have that Priviledge, for they may Contribute to the Maintainance. But this the Apostle allows not of.
And so, further on, he states distinctly who have the right to vote in the New-England Churches, quoting thereon the decision of a Synod, thus [p. 71] : —
One of our Synods in New England, viz. that which met at Boston in the Year 1662, does Expressly declare, That the power of Voting in the Church, belongs to Males in full Communion, and that others are to be debarred from that Power [Prop. iv. p. 18].
Another and earlier Synod indeed had made another utterance on the general subject. On the 22d Sept., 1637, as Winthrop tells us, it was decreed by it [Journal, i: 240] : —
That though women might meet (some few together) to pray and edify one another; yet such a set assembly (as was then in practice at Boston) where sixty or more did meet every week, and one woman (in a prophetical way, by resolving questions of doctrine, and expounding Scripture) took upon her the whole exercise, was agreed to be disorderly, and without rule.
It would be easy to continue these quotations almost indefinitely, in proof that, from the very beginning down to the present generation, the authorities of Congregationalism have been all on one side in this question, and have with united judgment condemned the exercise by females — and infants (using that term as the civil law employs it) where their case has come into consideration — of the prerogative of voting, or of speaking in the Church. This has been the direct outgrowth — as will have been manifest — of their reverence for the word of God, and their opinion that, in the two passages upon which the question hinges, viz., I Cor. xiv: 34, 35, and I Tim. ii: 12, 14, the Bible does not merely discountenance, but forbid it.
Dexter also notes the words of John Calvin, as regards the basis for male headship,
As Calvin explains it: "Moses shows that the woman was created afterwards, in order that she might be a kind of appendage to the man; and that she was joined to the man on the express condition, that she should be at hand to render obedience to him." Then, further, the fact that no ministerial office was assigned to woman under the Old Dispensation is significant in the same direction.
In the second place, there can be no question that when the New Testament was given, and the Christian Church was founded, the presumption arising from the invariable past feeling and usage of the nation, and from the customs of the day and the traditions of the Jewish Church, was against the elevation of females (and children, as well) to an equality of privilege with adult male believers.
Yet he also adds,
What now, do we find in the Gospels and Epistles that bears directly or indirectly upon the subject? We find that many women followed Christ, and believed on and loved him, of •whom some were last at the cross and first at the sepulchre ; we read of " devout" women, of women that " labored much " with the apostles, of women "professing godliness," — "elder," " aged," and " younger," — and of " holy " women.
And that as far as personal salvation are concerned, there is equal ground at the foot of the cross, and in essential spiritual oneness.
Dexter goes on to include the position of more ancient authorities:
Tertullian says [De virgin. vel.]: —
It is not permitted to women to speak in the Church, nor to take upon herself any function belonging to man or to the ministerial office — neither to exhort, nor to baptize, nor to officiate.
Origen says [Caten. p. 276] : —
It is an unseemly thing for a woman to speak in the Church; a precept violated by Priscilla and Maximilla, the followers of Montanus. But they ' say, had not Philip the Evangelist four daughters who "prophesied"? (Acts xxi: 9.) Yes; but not in the public assemblies of the Church. We never hear that Miriam, and Deborah, and Huldah prophesied to the people publicly as Isaiah and Jeremiah did.
Their practice — which is the most effectual proof of their belief on this subject — is made apparent in the testimonies of the historians.
Coleman [Ancient Christianity, p. 352] says: —
The apostolic rule forbidding a woman to teach was most cautiously observed. . . . The Fourth Council of Carthage (c. 99) decreed " let no woman, however learned or pious, presume to- teach the other sex in the public assembly."
Neander speaks in several places with utmost distinctness : —
Only the female members of the church were excepted from this general permission [i. e. to edify the church by word]...— [Planting and Training; (ed. 1865) p. 149 ; see also pp. 154, 236.]
[Philip] chaff says [History of the Apostolical Church, p. 508] : —
Paul directly forbids women taking any part in the public services of the Church. . . . Every public act of this kind implies, for the time being, a superiority of the speaker over the hearers, and is also contrary to true feminine delicacy.
(2) The opinion of later expositors is almost entirely uniform,..
Calvin says, on I Cor. xiv: 34, 35 : —
It appears that [among other faults which needed rebuke] this Church of the Corinthians was infected with this fault too, that the talkativeness of women was allowed a place in the sacred assembly, or rather that the fullest liberty was given to it. Hence he forbids them to speak in public, either for the purpose of teaching or of prophesying. This, however, we must understand as referring to ordinary service, or where there is a Church in a regularly constituted state; for a necessity may occur of such a nature as to require that a woman should speak in public; but Paul has merely in view what is becoming in a duly regulated assembly.
For how unseemly a thing it were, that one who is under subjection to one of the members should have preeminence and authority over the entire body! If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. ... It is the dictate of common sense that female government is improper and unseemly. . . . Paul's reasoning, however, is simple, — that authority to teach is not suitable to the station that a woman .occupies, because, if she teaches, she presides over all the men, while it becomes her to be under subjection.
To this he adds, on i Tim. ii: 12: —
Not that he takes from women the charge of instructing the family, but only excludes them from the office of teaching, which God has committed to men only.
After Dexter also examines 1 Tim. 2:12-15, he concludes,
Looking, now, at these two passages as together presenting to all who receive the word of God as an inspired rule of conduct, its definite and connected doctrine of woman's right and duties, and inquiring what is taught in them, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that they declare the essential subordination of woman to man in the churches, by forbidding her to teach, to exhort, or to do any thing which assumes authority over him ; enforcing it by the reasons that woman was created to hold a secondary — or rather supplementary — place to man, and was confirmed in that condition on account of her peculiar relation to the first sin.
Dexter sees 1 Cor. 11:5 as referring to the impropriety of uncovered females praying and prophesying in general, while dealing in cp. 14 with the unlawful practice of women prophesying and vocally praying during the church meeting, with the instructions in 1 Tim. 2:8,9 negating her publicly leading prayer or speaking. (Henry Martyn Dexter, Congregationalism: what it is, whence it is, how it works, why it is better ... , Female and minor suffrage in Congrgational churches pp. 310)
The silence enjoined refers not to singing or devotional responses; these were not under discussion. Speaking in the religious services was the point under consideration, and the silence enjoined can logical!y refer only to this. It would seem that this thrice-uttered command should put the question beyond dispute. It should be noted further, however, that the Spirit of God, in forbidding woman to speak, uses the most generic word in the Greek language as expressing vocal utterance (λαλέω) [G2980], as if to forbid to woman all manner of speaking, which would be appropriate to a minister in a religious assembly. Had he used κηρύσσω, καταγγέλλω, εὐαγγελίζω [G2784, G2605, G2097], all of which words express the idea of preaching, then the prohibition would have referred to technical preaching. But λαλέω has no such limitation; it comprehends all forms of address...So that every conceivable form of speech allowable in a religious meeting to man, is forbidden to woman, in the use of λαλέω.
As to whether this enjoined silence may have “referred strictly to public worship on the Sabbath where an apostle or regular pastor was present, and where, of course, it would have been inappropriate for laymen to speak whether men or women?”, he states that,
In the subsequent part of the discussion now under consideration, (1. Cor. xiv. 34, 35) Paul forbids altogether their participation in the official services of the church.”
That the silence enjoined refers to all religious assemblies for worship is seen in the established use of the word employed.
"It is a shame for women to speak in the church," ἐκκλησία. This word translated "the church," occurring 114 times, is not restricted in New Testament usage to any one specific kind of religious assembly, but covers all places where chur6h services were held, and all meetings of a religious nature.
Here then is a thrice-repeated prohibition to all forms of speech, whether prophesying, exhortation, prayer, in any formal religious gathering which could in the wide use of the word be called a "church." This appears to us perfectly conclusive so far as the church at Corinth was concerned. They could have had no doubt of Paul's meaning when they read his letter. The Corinthian sisters must keep silence in the meetings of the church.
Having invoked 1 Tim 2 in support, he concludes (before moving on to philosophical arguments),
It would seem impossible to express more unequivocally and absolutely the mind of God in human language, than it is here expressed. 'Woman may not teach,' 'must be silent," 'must not assume the headship which belongs to man,' ' must observe the law of subordination.' And this repeated injunction of silence, refers primarily in this passage to public prayer. Prayer, prayer by men (ἀνήρ), in all worship, prayer for all classes, had been enjoined in the preceding verses. In like manner women (γυνή) were enjoined to appear in modest and befitting apparel, and to be silent.* The silence evidently and properly referred to prayer in the church services, as well as to teaching. And because the one who officially leads the devotions of the congregation in prayer, whether written or extempore, occupies the position for the time being of headship, of authority, is the mouthpiece of that people to God. A woman cannot do this and " be in silence with all subjection." This passage settles the question beyond controversy for the Ephesian church, as did the preceding for the church at Corinth...This law of silence is not. then, limited to Corinth and Ephesus—it is a general law for all the churches established by the apostles. Wherever the saints meet there let this law of silence be observed. (J. M. Stevenson, D.D., Art. III.—“WOMAN'S PLACE IN ASSEMBLIES FOR PUBLIC,” Princeton review of 1878, Volume 2, pp. 48-61)
It will be observed that in each of these cases we have a distinct and specific enactment. It is not a mere passing allusion, or an incidental reference. We are not left to inferences from the apostle's reasoning upon other subjects. He lays down a definite law. He utters an inspired and authoritative command. Women, he says, must keep silence in the churches. They are not permitted to speak. It is a shame for them to speak in the church. He does not suffer a woman to teach. She must be in silence in the public assembly. She must learn in silence with all subjection. She may not even ask publicly for information, but must wait and ask her husband at home.
It goes on to argue,
If we should concede to our opponents what they claim, but what is not very gallant towards the sex whose rights they are so sedulously guarding, that the women were the chief or even the exclusive offenders in this supposed disturbance of public worship; this would not account for the apostle's peculiar language. Under those circumstances he might be expected to say "Let your women keep silence in the churches," but why should he add, "for it is not permitted unto them to speak?" Notice the force of the ''unto them" which clearly limits the prohibition to women. If the apostle had been speaking of indecorous talking or disorderly interruption of public discourse, which would have been as improper in a man as in a woman, he would have said "let your women keep silence for it is not permitted any one to talk in church."
The article also records, that
As early as the year 1832, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in this country, in a pastoral letter to the churches in reference to dangers to be avoided in revivals, calls attention to a tendency then just beginning to appear, and uses this strong language (Baird, Digest, p. 220), "Meetings of pious women by themselves for conversation and prayer, whenever they can conveniently be held, we entirely approve. But let not the inspired .prohibitions of the great apostle of the Gentiles, as found in his Epistles to the Corinthians and to Timothy, be violated. To teach and exhort, or to lead in prayer in public and promiscuous assemblies, is clearly forbidden to women in the holy oracles."
However, it evidences some degree of Presbyterian wavering on the issue, leading in 1880 to,
the Synod of Texas, asking, [the General Assembly] "Do our standards forbid the introduction of women to our pulpits ? and if not, is it an offence according to the definition in the Rales of Discipline, Chap. III., Art. I., for a minister or church session to permit a woman to preach in one of our churches ?" To this the Assembly returned the following answer (Alexander, Digest, p. 31): "Inasmuch as the public preaching of the gospel is a branch of the ministerial office, to the authorization of which ordination or licensure is essential, and inasmuch as inspired Scripture, as interpreted by our standards, nowhere in the case of women sanctions such a solemnity, but, on the contrary, does clearly prohibit it, this Assembly does therefore declare the assumption of this sacred office by women to be opposed to the advancement of true piety and to the promotion of the peace of the church, and this to such an extent as to make the introduction of women into our pulpits for the purpose of publicly expounding God's word an irregularity not to be tolerated."
It also proceeds to document formal provisions which were made for the service of women:
III. Having considered the spheres from which woman is excluded, it may be well to look for a moment at some of those departments of effort which are open to her, but in which her agency has not been as fully recognized or as thoroughly and systematically developed as it might have been.
This included the,
introduction of an order of deaconesses in that church, [Methodists] whose duty it shall be " to minister to the poor, visit the sick, pray with the dying, care for the orphan, seek the wandering, comfort the sorrowing, save the sinning, and, relinquishing wholly all other pursuits, devote themselves in a general way to such form of Christian labor as may be suited to their abilities."
A similar declaration was given by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, adopted in 1883, while a committee of the General Council of the Presbyterian Alliance in London issued a unanimous recommendation,
(1), "That in every congregation all women should be enrolled who are engaged in the service of Christ in connection with the church, and also all who desire to be taught and trained to serve the Lord Jesus Christ;" (2), "That such as have had successful experience in work should be enrolled by the kirk-session as those to whom others might naturally look tor help. This enrollment would include experienced Sabbath-school teachers and visitors, nurses, teachers of Bible classes, and heads of temperance organizations, workers in the service of song, makers of clothing for the poor, those who bring up friendless children," etc.; (3), " That after several years of experience or training, those womenworkers who are willing to devote their lives to Christian work in connection with the church should be set apart and enrolled under the sanction of the courts of the church as deaconesses... (“Women in the church,” The Presbyterian quarterly, Volume 3, NO. 8.- April, 1889. pp. 166-179)
Here, then. we have the perfectly clear, the perfectly unequivocal teaching of St. Paul. Here we have the first, the most impressive lessons learned by an English boy or girl in that all important branch of ethics which deals with their mutual relations. They are so simple that an infant running may read them, and so positive that they leave no room for the ingenious subtleties by the aid of which many passages of Scripture are habitually tortured into conformity with modern thought. No intelligent child would be taken in by sophistical attempts to explain them away—such as those, for instance, by which the Quakers seek to justify the ministry of women without abandoning the theory of verbal inspiration...
Christianity, then, is opposed to the elevation of the woman, to a condition, not of petty rivalry with the man, but of honourable and companionable association with him. And when persons holding the opinions expressed by R. C. T. and H. in the columns of the Daily Telegraph proclaim the fact in so many words, affirm that the notion of equality is " inconsistent with our Bible," and pronounce any revision of the marriage service impossible except on the lines of the " Pauline doctrine of the wife's subjection and the husband's lordship," it is they, and not the casuists who try to reconcile orthodoxy with the woman movement, who have the truth on ther side. (The Westminster review, Volume 131, 1889 , pp. 143-144)
American theologian and commentator Archibald Thomas Robertson (1863 – 1934) comments on his Co 14:34 in “Word pictures in the New Testament”, stating,
Keep silence in the churches (en tais ekklēsiais sigatōsan). The same verb used about the disorders caused by speakers in tongues (1 Cor. 14:28) and prophets (1 Cor. 14:30). For some reason some of the women were creating disturbance in the public worship by their dress (1 Cor. 11:2-16) and now by their speech. There is no doubt at all as to Paul’s meaning here. In church the women are not allowed to speak (lalein) nor even to ask questions. They are to do that at home (en oikōi). He calls it a shame (aischron) as in 1 Cor. 11:6 (cf. Eph. 5:12; Titus 1:11). Certainly women are still in subjection (hupotassesthōsan) to their husbands (or ought to be). But somehow modern Christians have concluded that Paul’s commands on this subject, even 1 Tim. 2:12, were meant for specific conditions that do not apply wholly now. Women do most of the teaching in our Sunday schools today. It is not easy to draw the line. The daughters of Philip were prophetesses. It seems clear that we need to be patient with each other as we try to understand Paul’s real meaning here.
...the Bible places a restriction upon women in regard to the business management of the Church. This is the Scriptural injunction: "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 anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (1 Cor. 14, 34. 35.) The Apostle Paul makes mention of this again in his letter to Timothy, where he says: "Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence; for Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived, was in the transgression." (1 Tim. 2, 12—14.) The Bible says nothing about a woman teaching women, or a woman teaching boys and girls; but it plainly tells us that a woman should not assume the place of a teacher of men. Many denominations have simply ignored this Scriptural injunction, regarding it as Paul's personal opinion or as a custom of his age; but Paul is not teaching anything new or at variance with the place given by the Bible to woman since the days of the Fall. (The Lutheran witness, Volume 34, p. 296)
The noted commentator Benjamin Warfield, wrote in 1919 concerning 1 Cor. 11:5 and 1 Cor. 14:34,35,
Precisely what is meant in I Corinthians 11:5, nobody quite knows. What is said there is that every woman praying or prophesying unveiled dishonors her head. It seems fair to infer that if she prays or prophesies veiled she does not dishonor her head. And it seems fair still further to infer that she may properly pray or prophesy if only she does it veiled. We are piling up a chain of inferences. And they have not carried us very far. We cannot infer that it would be proper for her to pray or prophesy in church if only she were veiled. There is nothing said about church in the passage or in the context. The word "church" does not occur until the 16th verse, and then not as ruling the reference of the passage, but only as supplying support for the injunction of the passage. There is no reason whatever for believing that "praying and prophesying" in church is meant.
Neither was an exercise confined to the church. If, as in 1 Corinthians 14:14, the "praying" spoken of was an ecstatic exercise — as its place by "prophesying" may suggest — then there would be the divine inspiration superseding all ordinary laws to be reckoned with. And there has already been occasion to observe that prayer in public is forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2:8, 9 — unless mere attendance at prayer is meant, in which case this passage is a close parallel of 1 Timothy 2:9. (Benjamin B. Warfield, "Paul on Women Speaking in Church" The Presbyterian, October 30, 1919.)
In these public assemblies Paul forbids the women, not only to prophesy, but to speak at all, 14:34-36, and assigns the reason for this prohibition just as he does in 1 Tim. 2:11, etc....Paul writes "praying and prophesying" with reference to the woman just as he does with reference to the man. The public assemblies of the congregation are, however, not among these opportunities -- note en tais ekklesiais, "in the assemblies," 14:34. At other places and at other times women are free to exercise their gift of prophecy. In the present connection [11:2-16] Paul has no occasion whatever to specify regarding this point ... The teaching ability of Christian women today has a wide range of opportunity without in the least intruding itself into the public congregational assemblies. (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1963), pp. 436-7)
In his careful analysis of 1 Cor. 14, the Lutheran scholar and famous teacher Walter A. Maier states,
The exact significance of women keeping silent at worship according to Paul's thought may be found by considering the Scripture section at hand in relation to the prior context. Keeping silent in the worship assembly is considered as the contrast to speaking in the assembly. Paul writes in verse 34: ou gar epitrepetai autais lalein, "it is not turned over to [or allowed] them to speak." In the previous paragraph verse 27 uses lalein. Paul states, eite gloossee tis lalei, "if anyone speaks in a tongue," and indicates that the tongue-speaker may do so in an orderly manner at public worship, providing that an interpreter is present to translate what the tongue-speaker has said, so that the congregation may receive benefit. Otherwise, according to verse 28, the tongue-speaker is to remain silent (sigatoo) in the assembly and speak (laleitoo) to himself and to God. Verse 29 begins: propheetai de duo ee treis laleitoosan, "let two or three prophets speak" in the course of the worship service, and let others possessed of the gifts of prophecy and discernment attest the truth of what each prophet sequentially utters. Paul adds in verse 30 that, if one prophet is speaking and something is revealed to another, ho prootos sigatoo, "let the first one keep silent." In this way the prophets can declare their messages in turn, and each edify the church. We see in these passages that the verb laleoo surely signifies special types of speaking in the worship service-in tongues or in prophecy-and that these kinds of speaking are placed in contrast to the opposite of each, namely, to keep silent, a form of the verb sigaoo being employed. The significance, then, of Paul's directive that women keep silent in the worship services, is, according to the immediate and decisive context, that they not do a particular kind of speaking, that is, in tongues or prophecy; that they not, one after another, each be a separate tongue-speaker or be a separate prophetess who herself communicates the word of God to the others present at worship and serves as a teacher of the truth to men.10 Paul writes in I Timothy 2:12: didaskein de gunaiki ouk epitrepoo, "I do not turn it over to a woman to teach," that is, in the worshipping assembly. The point is Paul does not turn this activity over to women, because "it is not turned over to them" (1 Corinthians 14:34), namely, by God who has expressed His will in this matter through Paul and other proclaimers of His truth. Walter A. Maier, An Exegetical Study of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-38
Concerning Maier's exegesis, the Department of Exegetical Theology of Concordia Theological Seminary stated that it,
...unanimously concurs in the conclusion drawn herein that verses 34 and 35 clearly require a negative answer to any question of the permissibility of women reading the Scriptures to the congregation at worship or assisting in the administration of the sacrament of the altar; the department, accordingly, beseeches all the churches of Christ by the mercies of God to remain faithful to the necessary implications of the divine word.
More recently, D. A. Carson (1946 — ), notes that the address in v. 34 is plural, “to all the churches”, that being, “of the saints”, so that Paul would not be dealing with a unique Corinthian situation. (“Showing the Spirit: A Theolgoiical Ex[oistion of 1 Corinthians 12-14, p. 22)
Evangelical, Pentecostal theologian and author Wayne A. Grudem (1948 —) also sees v. 34 as flowing from “as in all the churches” (v. 33b), and rejects the hypothesis that Paul is responding to the problem of loud shouting in worship by women, or of them asking their husbands questions, stating
there is simply no evidence in verses 33b-35, or in the rest of the letter, or in any writing inside or outside the Bible, which indicates that disorder among women was a problem specifically in the Corinthian church...Of course, we can find evidence of wild behavior by women in pagan religious rites at the time. But there is also evidence of wild behavior by men.
Grudem also rejects the argument that what was being prohibited was incoherent babbling, while laboring to justify that the restriction on women was only against them interpreting prophecies, or asking questions relative to such. (Grudem, “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today”, pp. 185-192) However, v. 27 cannot be separated from what follows, and to essentially only apply the “silence” of v.34 to v. 29 (regarding judging prophecy), is unwarranted.
The mention of women's praying and prophesying is sometimes used to prove that Paul acknowledged the right of their teaching, preaching, and leading in church worship. But he makes no mention here of the church at worship or in the time of formal teaching. Perhaps he has in view praying and prophesying in public places, rather than in the worship of the congregation. This would certainly fit with the very clear directives in 1 Corinthians (14:34) and in his first letter to Timothy (2:12) ... Women may have the gift of prophecy, as did Philip's four daughters (Acts 21:9), but they are normally not to prophesy in the meetings of the church where men are present. (John MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), pp. 256-7.)
For more information see the Bible Researcher, which is a primary source for many source quoted herein, and which concludes after weighing different arguments,
The major implication is that nothing prevents us from taking 14:34-35 in its plain sense as a prohibition of women speaking to the congregation at all.
Also substantial is Walter Maier's exegesis referenced above.
That women are at least forbidden to speak revelation or otherwise teach an assembled (mixed gender) congregation, or be in leadership over them, with some seeing a requirement of total general silence, has been the more historic position. Other such men, relatively more recent, allowed that women were to be silent in the churches, except for joining in praying, and “uttering hymns inspired”, as such were not formal teaching. (Henry), or “unless they are under an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit” (Wesley). Warfield rightly points out the problem with this impression-based allowance [and which makes no real distinction from the men], and the trend today is to exalt the subjective over the objective immutable authority of the Scriptures, and while faith and obedience in the latter leads to the former, such impressions must be tested by Scripture and its means of verification. It should be said that the injunction against women pastors and teacher does not mean than none of are able to do so, and indeed they may to a degree within the realm that is allotted to them, but leadership
In conclusion, while I look to and trust God for more light on the matter, I presently see the leadership of the male being upheld in only sanctioning them as authorized to give the word to the assembly, and which context denotes church sanction, while 1 Cor. 11:5 and Acts 21:9 approves of Spirit-led expressions by women outside the formal church gathering. (Acts 21:9) This can include public praise (Ex. 15), all in the manner and spirit described in 1 Cor. 11, in recognition of the headship of the male, from whence she came, and which is patterned after the Divine order. (1 Cor. 11:3) For the more specific issue of women pastors, see here.