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Should women keep quiet in church?

In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 the Apostle Paul addresses a particular problem in the Corinthian church. He cannot mean that women should always be silent in church as he has already mentioned women praying and prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11:5.

However it seems that some of the married women in the church were not being respectful to their husbands. We can’t be sure about the details but it reads as though they were interrupting the church meeting by gossiping together about the teaching being given in the church instead of respectfully asking their Husbands to teach them after the service. So Paul writes that if the women want to enquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home for they must be in submission to their husbands.

So in the church of Corinth the wives were not submitting to the headship of their husbands (which of course goes against God’s Creation Design (or God’s Law as Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 14:34). Instead of respecting their husband’s headship these women displayed a spirit of defiance and began to think that they had the right to decide matters of church order and doctrine for themselves which of course goes against the principle of male headship (see Ephesians 5:23 and 1 Timothy 2:12-13).

When Paul speaks about the role of women in the church he doesn’t restrict women from being involved in church leadership roles, or teaching roles (see Titus 2:3-5) but his restriction is that the head of the church should be a man and that women should not have authority (in teaching) over the men. The pattern the Bible teaches is that God is the ultimate head over all things. God delegates headship to Christ:

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:22-23 (NIV)

And Christ delegates headship to the husband:

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Ephesians 5:23 (NIV)

1 Corinthians 11:3 gives a helpful summary:

Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (NIV)

Women will often have a significant leadership role in the home, in raising children, and also in positions of authority in the workplace and there is no problem in Paul’s teaching with women having leadership responsibilities in the church as well (see Romans 16:1 for an example of such a woman).

However God has delegated the role of headship to men so it is not right for women to seek to take the headship that rightfully belongs to a husband or presume to have headship in the church.