What does this really mean?

1 Corinthians 14:33-34 (AMP)–For He [Who is the source of their prophesying] is not a God of confusion and disorder but of peace and order. As [is the practice] in all the churches of the saints (God’s people), the women should keep quiet in the churches, for they are not authorized to speak, but should take a secondary and subordinate place, just as the Law also says.

So, I have mentioned before how I did not grow up a Christian.  I was a pretty independent young woman with certain ideas about how the world worked (or how it should work).  I had a lot of feminist and liberal leanings, which I won’t go into detail on.  Suffice it to say that I thought that I was just as good, just as smart (usually smarter), just as capable as any man and I was never going to subject myself to anyone, but especially not a man.

I took this idea of not being “womanly” (read: weak) further than I should have.  I didn’t like girls.  I didn’t like doing the things that girls did (cooking, sewing, crafting, caring for children, etc.).  I wasn’t going to follow “the rules.”  I was never going to get married, have children, become domestic.

Well, I’ve obviously changed my mind about most of those things.  I am married with two children.  I am a stay-at-home mom.  I love to cook.  I own a sewing machine (although, I’m still working on learning how to use it).  I do lots of things that I never thought I would ever do and I am exceptionally happy doing them (most of them . . . cleaning house still isn’t one of my favorite things).

So, having said all of that, let’s talk about this passage in 1 Corinthians.  I accept that it is a part of the Bible and I submit to God’s Word.  I have no problem with the fact that it is there, but I do take issue with the way that a lot of people interpret it BECAUSE IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE WITH THE REST OF THE BIBLE.  Let me explain.

The Fundamentalist take on this passage: women shouldn’t have authority over men in any aspect of church life (and sometimes in other aspects of life).  They cannot be pastors, teachers (except to children or other women), leaders (prayer leaders, worship leaders, deacons or elders, ministry leaders that would place them in authority over men), and many other things.  Women can be leaders only when men are not involved.  Their husbands can be leaders and they can influence the church only through their husbands.  This is a very literal interpretation of this passage, which is the way that Fundamentalists interpret the Bible: literally.

The Liberal take on this passage: women can do anything in the church.  This passage applies specifically to the Corinthian church at that time and discusses cultural issues that arose in that specific church.  The part of this passage that still applies today is the part speaking about orderly worship (because that is the context).

[An aside: I have no problem with submitting to my husband.  I also don’t have a problem with women not being pastors or elders.  My issue is where people decide to draw the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable for women to do.  It just seems so arbitrary at times.  But, I digress.]

I think they both miss the mark.  I’m pretty moderate, so, naturally, my take on it is somewhere in between.  I’m not saying that I’m right (I’m no expert), but I think that in order to accept either of these extreme interpretations you have to ignore a lot of what the Bible says about the matter.

Where Fundamentalists miss the mark is in their failure to recognize the examples in the Old and New Testaments of women taking on these and other roles that they deny women today.  The Amplified Bible footnote for Judges 4:4 has this to say about the Judge and Prophet Deborah:

According to Num. 11:25, the prophetic gift has its source in the “Spirit of the Lord.” The prophet is a spokesman of God and for God. Miriam was the first prophetess who praised God before all the people (Exod. 15:20). Deborah was not like Miriam, the sister of such men as Moses and Aaron. The objective Spirit of her God elevates her above her people, above heroes before and after her. Not only the ecstasy of enthusiasm, but also the calm wisdom of that Spirit Who informs the law dwells in her. Of no judge until Samuel [the last of the major judges] is it expressly said that he was a “prophet.” Of none until him can it be said that he was possessed of the popular authority necessary for the office of judge. The position of Deborah in Israel is therefore a twofold testimony: it proves the relaxation of spiritual and manly energy, and, secondly, the undying might of divine truth, as delivered by Moses, comes brilliantly to view. History shows many instances where in times of distress, when men despaired, women arose and saved their nation; but in all such cases there must be an unextinguished spark of the old fire in the people themselves. Israel, formerly encouraged by the great exploit of a left-handed man–Ehud (Judg. 3:15), is now quickened by the glowing word of a noble woman (J.P. Lange, A Commentary).

If women in Biblical times could be prophetessess, deaconesses, doorkeepers, and hold other positions in the temple and the churches, I find it hard to accept that they cannot do the same today.  But, before you get too upset with me . . .

Where Liberals miss the mark is in their insistence that men and women are the same.  They were created different, a fact that we cannot ignore.  Even science can’t ignore the fact that men and women are different (recent studies including this one have shown sex specific differences in the brain transmitted through epigenetic mechanisms).  Women have never been priests or elders, which (I believe) translates to women not being pastors or elders in the modern church.

I don’t want to be accused of ignoring passages like 1 Corinthians 11:3-12 and 1 Timothy 2:11 that point out how men and women are different and should worship differently.  I acknowledge that men and women are different.  I fully accept that there are reasons for women not taking on the role of pastor or elder, but I cannot accept that God doesn’t want women to share the gifts that He gave us.  Some women are gifted musically, in teaching, leadership, administration, and many other areas.  They should use those gifts to edify the body of Christ.

There is a lot more that I could say on this topic, but I’ll just leave it there for now.  PLEASE, feel free to disagree with me.  Like I said before, I don’t have all the answers.

So, what do you think?


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Linden Wolfe
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 17:10:28

    I consider myself somewhat of “complimentarian” on such matters. But I agree with you – outsdie of the role of Pastor or Elder, women shoudl be free to use their gifts to edify the Body of Christ. That does in now way diminish or demean the value of women in the church – see Acts 17 for the story of the founding members of the church at Philippi. My Complimentarian friends may disagree, but I have pesonally been touched by the ministry of godly women teaching and serving.as they have been called by God to their specific roles in His church. Thanks for the stimulating and well thought out post, my friend!


  2. Linden Wolfe
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 17:12:09

    Sorry for the misspellings and poor syntax – my cat was in my lap as I typed -:)!


  3. Lisha
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 19:59:15

    This is such a great topic to talk about.

    The Lord did indeed call Deborah to be judge over Israel, but His choosing a woman to lead was not the norm. God allowed her to be rise to a place of leadership because Barak refused to carry out his duties – and even then she repeatedly exhorted him to take what the Lord has given into his hand – she deferred to him. And though Jesus welcomed the women who poured out their lives, hearts, and perfume for him – He did not in one instance choose a woman to be one of His disciples. He did not mean for women to be the shepherds of His flock. And even in Acts 16 where the church at Philippi is founded – there aren’t any verses that lead one to believe that there is a woman teaching. She opens her home to the church, but that does not mean she is a leader there. And in Acts 18, where Priscilla & Aquila teach Apollos about the Christ – she is doing so with her husband. It is not solely a woman teaching a man; it is God using a husband and wife team to teach. Priscilla is not mentioned in the role of leadership apart from her husband; she’s his helpmeet.

    I think the reason that God forbids the leadership and authority of women over men in the church can be found in 1 Tim 2:12-14: ‘And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.’ Women, by design, are more likely to be deceived. God says so and He gives us a way to be protected from it – to graciously submit to His will, which is that He has relieved us from the burden of being in authority over men.

    Our church does not allow women to lead in the roles of pastor, elder, or deacon; we are not permitted to teach Sunday School classes where both men & women are present. That said, there is no dampening or quenching of the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given the ladies in our body. We serve as ‘deaconesses’ [NOT an equivalent to a deacon; they mostly take care of baby showers, bridal showers, receptions, housewarmings, making meals, hospital visits, etc for the ladies in our church], we serve as mentors to the teen ladies; we serve in the nursery and the kitchen; we teach Sunday School for children and/or women’s classes and help with AWANA and youth group; we hold home Bible studies for ladies and there are a few women who do one-on-one biblical counseling or discipleship. There are ladies on the Missions board, ladies who help with the music part of the worship service, ladies who take care of the seasonal ministries (Operation Christmas Child, Angel Tree, etc), and who help with VBS. No woman is denied an opportunity to use her gifts – in the context that God has laid out in His Word. And He clearly has spoken that a woman teaching a man is not part of His plan for the church.

    Something else to consider: by submitting ourselves to this idea that woman should not be in a position of authority at all over a man, and by pouring our energies into ministering to and teaching women sound doctrine and encouraging them in the faith, we are able to (indirectly) exhort and edify the men in the body. If I am counseling a wife who is struggling in her marriage and teaching her what God’s Word says about being a godly wife, I’m teaching her husband in a roundabout way what a godly wife looks like (and, hopefully, he’ll want to be a more godly husband). God allows us to influence others that way. He blesses our faithfulness to His Word, when we do it His way, by reaching others through us.

    Does that mean that when I post my morning Scripture on Facebook that a man can’t look at it and be edified? No; but I am not in that moment in a position of authority over him; it is not my goal to be teaching him; I’m sharing what’s on my heart. Same with casual conversations – I can certainly speak truth to a man; it is just about the intent behind it.

    I’d suggest looking up the Greek word for “speak” used in 1 Corinthians 14:34. Taken literally in the English translation, it would come across as sin for a woman to make an announcement, or sing, or lead a shout of praise during the service. My guess is that it has to do with a sense of authority – that a woman should not be preaching the Word. …I’m going to go look it up now. 🙂

    I hope that’s helpful. Thanks for putting this out there. It’s a timely topic, and an important one!


  4. Lisha
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 20:21:19


    Here’s the Greek word that is translated “speak” in 1 Corinthians 14:34! I think I’ll do some more word searching tomorrow – this is really interesting and not what I expected. 🙂 Thanks!


    • Stacy
      Sep 08, 2011 @ 20:54:01

      Yes, it gets way more interesting when you get into the Greek.

      How do I reconcile this with 1 Cor 11:2-16 in which Paul talks about women praying and prophesying in the church?


  5. Lisha
    Sep 09, 2011 @ 05:48:03

    In the KJV, I don’t see that it indicates that these events take place in a church, so I would think there’s no need to reconcile – he’s just saying that if a woman is praying or prophesying, her head should be covered.


    • Stacy
      Sep 09, 2011 @ 09:07:58

      This is such a good exercise for me. Yes, in the KJV it does not indicate that these things take place in public, but in other translations it does. I generally think it is talking about orderly worship, but I definitely could be wrong about that.

      This raises other questions. Verse 6 (KJV) reads: “For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” So, is it a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven? If it is, should we, then, be wearing head coverings while we pray, teach, prophesy, etc.? I don’t, but I know women who do.

      I’m not exactly sure what I think of this whole thing, except that I think it is more complicated than most people want to make it out to be. I’m still trying to work it out for myself and I appreciate you helping me do that. Thanks.


  6. Lisha
    Sep 09, 2011 @ 19:50:29

    It’d be a lot easier if it were…easier. 😛

    Check this article out. I just found it today, and found it helpful!

    Just curious – which translation do you prefer to read?

    I am so grateful that the total sum of our salvation is what Christ has done for us, and not that we do everything right. And that the Lord allows us to grow in the knowledge of the Word over time. I used to be really indignant about everyone thinking the same thing as me because *obviously* my interpretations were the best ones (okay…I still do that, sometimes, especially when it comes to parenting and homeschooling. It’s pride!). As God has softened my heart (but not my passion for pursuing Truth), He’s taught me that people grow at different rates and that He is more interested in their (and my!) hearts being sold out completely to knowing and worshipping Him than He is that everything thinks the same way I do! Which is good, because a lot of times it turns out that my ideas are off base, or heinously incomplete at the very least. I’ve also learned that the Word has to be the standard for everything. To use the world’s measuring stick against God’s Word is such a silly thing to do.

    I hope the article is helpful to you. I liked the cultural clarifications. It doesn’t answer everything you’ve put out there, but it does a thorough job of putting 1 Cor 11 into historical context.

    As an aside – I have recently seriously started considering wearing a head covering. Not because I think every woman should, but as a tangible reminder to me that I am under my husband’s authority (um. because…I very rarely ever remember on my own. I’m kind of bossy and pushy and like to be in control of…everything around our house)…

    Thank you, too!


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