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 Corinthians 14:33-35]
I listened to a sermon recently where a pastor made the claim that the reason St. Paul told the women in Corinth to “keep silent” was because they were being disorderly and disrupting the church services. And that’s not the first time I’ve heard this little bit of cultural insight. I’ve heard this time and time again; where they claim that Paul was addressing either new converts or uneducated women who were disrupting the church service by shouting out questions, of which were often irrelevant. Or they say that because the church in Corinth was so disruptive, Paul had no choice but to single them out. As a result, they would say that this is a commandment for the church in Corinth only.
There’s only one problem. It’s not true. There are no facts to support this. There’s no information in the letters to the Corinthians to support this, nor is there any data in extra-biblical sources such as early writings, letters from the church fathers, apostolic and patristic history, etc to corroborate this. In fact, the only writing that exists which is often used to back up this claim are from Greco-Roman and Jewish writings that talk about the concerns for decency and order in public assemblies. Not one of them mentions any women in any Christian church, and certainly not specifically the church in Corinth. Proving that secular Greeks and Romans desired that their public assemblies be orderly does not prove that the women in the church at Corinth were being disruptive or disorderly.
As it were, this whole theory attempts to make the church in Corinth a special one, when in fact Paul applies his rule to “all the churches” . [1 Corinthians 14:33] and again “in the churches” [1 Corinthians 14:34]. Because of this, his rule cannot be restricted to one local church where there were supposedly problems. Rather though, Paul directs the Corinthians to conform to a practice that was universal in the early church. Moreover, this “noisy and disruptive women” theory either doesn’t make sense of Paul’s solution, or it makes his remedy unfair .
First, it really doesn’t make any sense. If the women were indeed being disruptive, Paul would just tell them to act in an orderly way, not to be completely silent. In other cases where there were problems or disorder, such as with tongues or prophecy or with the Lord’s supper, Paul simply prescribes order. If noise and interruptions had been the problem in Corinth, he would have explicitly forbidden disorderly speech, not all speech. Right? It doesn’t make sense that Paul would tell them to treat a paper cut by putting them in a full-body cast.
Second, it would be unfair. If Paul held this view, then he’s pretty much punishing all women for the misdeeds of some. If there were noisy women, in order to be fair, Paul should have said “the disorderly women should keep silent” not “no woman is allowed to speak”. And so when you say that Paul was telling all women to stay silent, because a few women were acting up, you’re ascribing to him a very unjust and ill-thought prescription. Also, Paul would be unfair to punish only the disorderly women and not any disorderly men. And to say that only women and no men were disorderly and disruptive is again merely an assumption with not a single fact to support it.
And lastly, we need to look at the reason Paul is giving for this instruction. He’s not giving “noisy women” as a reason for his instructions, but rather he references the Old Testament law. He says “For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the law also says. [1 Corinthians 14:34] The law mentioned here is a general reference to the Old Testament law. And so he gives the law as the reason for his statements, and it’s dangerous and just plain bad biblical scholarship to remove from our explanation of Paul’s instruction the reason that Paul does give [the law] and replace it with a reason he does not give [loud, disruptive women]
Paul isn’t saying “let the women be silent, because they should not be asking disruptive questions” or “let the women be silent, because God wants orderly worship services” but rather “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.”
So where is the actual biblical, historical evidence that women were disrupting the worship services at Corinth? There is none. No one has ever found any. The idea is mere speculation supported by frequent repetition but not by one shred of hard historical data.
And as a note, this verse does not mean that women should never say a word in church. That’s not what’s being said. Paul isn’t speaking here about disorder, but about the principle of submission. In this case- submission to male leadership among God’s people. A far better interpretation of this passage comes from the very context of these verses themselves. Paul is speaking in this context about people giving prophecies and others giving prophecies“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.” [1 Corinthians 14:29] In the context of judging prophecies, Paul says “the women should keep silent in the churches” He does not allow women to speak out and judge prophecies in front of the whole congregation, but he leaves that governing task to men, which is consistent with what he says in 1 Timothy 2:12, about women not having authority over a man. The verse says nothing about noisy, disruptive women, but the context clearly talks about judging prophecies.