1 Corinthians 14

34 These verses, along with 1 Tim 2:11-12, have caused much controversy in the Church, especially in modern times as women's rights and abilities have become more recognized throughout the world. It would appear from a cursory reading that women are never to speak or teach in the church. Further examination of the verses in question reveals that the interpretation is not that clean.

The first question is about who the women were. An observant reader will notice that the passage addresses married women. The first evidence is the reference to the Law, which commentators agree is Gen 3:16. The second bit of evidence is that curious women were to ask their own husbands when they have religious questions. Obviously, a single and widowed woman would not have a husband, although some might argue that she would then be subject to her father or closest male relative.

Another question that is raised frequently is whether this was a cultural prohibition. However, Paul was exposed to both the restrictive Jewish culture as well as the more open Greek culture, and the Corinthian community in particular would have likely tended on the open side. Thus, this was likely intended to be a universal statement.

The gist of this verse is that married women are to voluntarily submit to the authority of the church leadership and their husbands in spiritual matters. They are to allow, and even encourage, the men to lead.

35 A contradiction seems to show up when considering 1 Cor 11:5, where women are allowed to pray and prophecy as long as they are properly attired. Thus, the prohibition against speaking is not absolute. 1 Tim 2:12 requires that women be still, but the word used there does not mean silent. However, it does prohibit a woman from teaching men, and that is likely what Paul is referring to here. In the typical synagogue of the day, the men were seated near the teacher while the women were in the back, often separated by a physical barrier. The men were allowed to interact, interrupt for questions, and even argue with the instructor during the lesson. Paul's prohibition against speaking most likely would prevent women from instructing or participating in these debates. If she did so, she would be exerting authority against the men.

Women were allowed to speak and ask questions outside of the church setting. It is important to note that there was no prohibition of women learning about the Scriptures and their religion. For Paul's day, this was a radical departure from the Jewish norm. He was likely familiar with the rabbinical cliche, "a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff." One Rabbi reflected on the common sentiment by stating, "Let the words of the law be burned, rather than that they should be delivered to women." Thus, this verse allowing women to ask questions, and the implication that her husband was to answer, shows that Christianity recognized a woman's worth and ability far beyond her "property value" in the cultures of that time.