1 Corinthians 14:33-34, Women Must Be Quiet In Church!

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

//Much is made of this passage, particularly since in the other writings that scholars agree are authentically authored by Paul, he seems to grant women equality with men. Why this exception at Corinth?

Paul’s words do appear severe. I cannot explain it with complete confidence, but we can make a guess at what was going on. This command is given in the context of instruction to those who speak in tongues and prophesy. The verses actually appear a bit out of place, hard to fit within the context. What does permitting women to speak have to do with prophesying?

Remember, Paul is writing to Gentiles, in a Gentile land. These women appear to be interrupting the service by asking questions, but why would Gentile women be asking questions during the time of prophesy?

Because that’s what Gentiles did when they went to visit the nearby oracle of Delphi. Prophets were seen as providing a consulting service, so that’s where you went to ask fundamental questions about life: Who should I marry? Will I escape poverty? How long will my daughter be sick?

Maybe these women simply assumed that Christian prophecy worked like Greek prophecy. Paul tells them to shut up and ask those sorts of questions to their husband at home.


  1. I don’t usually comment to provide a link, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Gordon Fee, in his commentary (NICNT) on 1 Corinthians, argues that this passage is an interpolation. I cite him and comment briefly here.

  2. Lee Harmon

    Thanks, Henry! I’ve pointed the stance of textual scholars out as well in the past, here: http://www.dubiousdisciple.com/2012/05/1-corinthians-1434-35-gals-you-gotta-be-quiet-in-here.html

    Today’s opinion actually comes from Ben Witherington. Ah, this diversity of opinion keeps the study of the Bible alive, eh?

    • Well, my wife would provide yet another opinion. She thinks Paul just had a problem with women. That didn’t mean he didn’t preach the gospel, but we just have to adjust for the fact that he couldn’t quite handle that issue!

      So in good “southern speak” she’d say, “Paul just didn’t like women talking in church, bless his heart!”

  3. Another possible answer to this text could be found in the verses that precede it. Especially when Paul addresses his readers as “brothers” in 14:26, where he says each one has something to share with the rest; in 14:31 he says they can all prophesy one by one, so all may learn and be encouraged. Elsewhere (note Rom. 16:1-16, followed by “brothers” in 16:17), Paul includes women as among the “brothers,” so it’s actually “brothers and sisters.”

    So perhaps the women of 1 Cor. 14:34-35 are not sisters, but the women/wives of (male) brothers, who accompanied them to the meeting, and sometimes said shameful things (like “Jesus is cursed,” from 1 Cor. 12:3, which introduces this section of chapters 12-14 about gifts of the Spirit). If they want to learn more, they should (submit and) listen to the (true) prophets who spoke, and then ask their husbands at home if they want to learn even more.

  4. Lee Harmon

    Interesting observation, thanks, Lucas!

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