“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10,11).


How do we handle difficult passages, especially ones found in the NT?  Difficult passages are one reason why we have hermeneutics. I have written about hermeneutics in past posts. The definition I initially offered for hermeneutics was “the process for interpreting Scripture” for the sake of simplicity. However, let me expand on that definition a bit, and mention that hermeneutics comes from the Greek word ἑρμενεύω, which means to “interpret” or “translate;” therefore, hermeneutics denotes the principles one uses to interpret or exegete. In this post, I am going to tackle 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, but before I can jump right into the text, there are a few matters that need to be recognized.

Digging Deeper

In their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart present a robust discussion around the nature of epistles, including a consideration of historical context that uses 1 Corinthians as an illustration. An epistle, 1 Corinthians is an occasional letter, as in it was prompted by an occasion or situation. Authorship is traditionally attributed to Paul, the congregates are predominately Gentile, and the major issues that Paul addresses include: church divisions (1:10-4:21); the discipline of a member engaging in incest (5:1-13); lawsuits among believers (6:1-11); sexual immorality (6:12-20); marriage and virgins (7:1–40); food sacrificed to idols (8:1–11:1); issues regarding proper worship, the Lord’s cupper, and spiritual gifts (11:2–14:40); the resurrection of believers (15:1–58); the Jerusalem collection (16:1–11); the return of Apollos (16:12); and concluding exhortations (16:13–24). 2. Paul’s response fluctuates between rebuke to appeal, and finally, exhortation; what is more, the apostle advises that he has been informed by people from Chloe’s household, and later indicates that he received a letter from the church: “Now for matters you wrote about” (1 Cor 7:1). In total, instead of two, there may have been at least as many of four to five letters between Paul and the Corinthians, and that number comes directly from a careful study of the text itself. I wrap up this paragraph by saying that the Corinthians were a mess, and if that were not enough, the text indicates that there may have been some kind of falling out between the church and Paul (cf. 4:1-5,18-21).[1]

Now that I have provided some context for 1 Corinthians, I am ready to examine 14:33-35 with my hermeneutical tool box in hand. First, let us read the passages as rendered in three translations:

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor 14:33-35, ESV)[2]

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (1 Cor 14:33-35, NIV).

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people. Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings” (1 Cor 14:33-35, NLT).

If we take a step back and consider these passages with those that immediately proceed and those that follow, the text is clear that disorderly worship is the overarching issue being addressed in this section, not women. Although a biblical author is addressing a specific audience in a specific place and time, which may or may not be entirely applicable today, there is also a theological application that is both timeless and boundless; therefore, Paul said what he said, and we cannot just dismiss these verses simply because they do not line up with our modern, Western notions of equality. No, we have to dig, and come to terms with whatever we unearth, because it is the Word of God.

Now that I have established the overarching issue Paul is addressing here is disorder in worship, let us take a step back at the issue of women in other Pauline letters. The common go to passage in support of the conclusion that Paul’s intention is that women should not speak during worship is 1 Timothy 2, but in my opinion, drawing a comparison between 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 to reach a general prohibition on women speaking during worship is perhaps like comparing red apples and green apples; they are similar situationally, but the overarching issue Paul is instructing Timothy about is criteria for holding various church offices, i.e. authority, which changes the conversation a bit. The word translated “speak” (laleō) in verse 34 does not mean to chatter in Koinē Greek as is commonly proposed, as the same word is used of God in verse 21 within the same chapter as well as in Hebrews 1:1.[3] Whereas, in classical Greek, the word laleō may have included idle chatter, by the NT era, the word took on a more dignified, authoritative usage;[4] therefore, though still not lined up with our modern view on the sexes, it does change the context of the conversation away from that of a total prohibition on public speech.

There is that thing about examining the surrounding text for context, and a real concern raised by scholars is that a general prohibition of women speaking in public worship is contrary to Paul’s instructions elsewhere within the same letter in which the apostle speaks of women praying and prophesying (cf. 11:5). Although some seek to answer this by suggesting that these verses denote private prayer and prophesying, and that chapter 14 addresses praying and prophesying during public worship, but then opponents of that view ask “when do we encounter prophets prophesying and to whom else would they prophesy than to other believers?”[5] What is more, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that there is quite a bit of debate about whether or not these verses are Pauline at all,[6] though I have yet to be personally persuaded of that theory. Still others argue that women in the Corinthian congregation are contributing to the problem of disorderly worship by asking their husbands questions, and as a result, Paul is simply instructing them here to stop interrupting the church. Leon Morris writes, “We must bear in mind that in the first century women were uneducated. The Jews regarded it as a sin to teach a woman, and the position was not much better elsewhere. The Corinthian women should keep quiet in church if for no other reason than because they could have had little or nothing worthwhile to say.”[7] Therefore, if the intent is as Spurgeon and Morris posit, then the instruction regarding women given in verses 34 and 35 are situational and cultural, and thereby applicable to either men and women, alike, whom are disruptive. 


Seeing as I can provide any number of citations of credible scholarly work in support and probably just as many against, as I have surveyed a variety of opinions, I had no grandiose illusions that I was going to settle any debates here. Instead, my objective in writing this post is to demonstrate how important it is to dig deeper into Scripture, while setting our personal biases and agendas aside, and I purposely chose a controversial passage to explore and illustrate this point. “The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:10,11).

[1] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 65.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

[3] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 1135.

[4] Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. “laleō.”

[5] Andrew B. Spurgeon, “Pauline Commands and Women in 1 Corinthians 14,” Bibliotheca sacra 168, no. 671 (Jul–Sep, 2011): 319.

[6] Ibid., 320.

[7] Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1985), 197-98.

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