“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.” (1 Corinthians 14:33–35, KJV)
Sometimes you look at things and have to scratch your head. This is one of those passages. There are a variety of interpretations that scholars have developed for this passage. Moreover, I have looked in one highly respected commentary only to find that the commentator skipped over these verses completely. So, let us consider the section in context.
The issue at the church in Corinth was one of order in their corporate assemblies. In dealing with order, in particular now as it regards those giving a prophetic utterance, Paul brings up an issue with women. He seems to tell them not to speak but remain silent. The only firm conclusion we can make is that there was some sort of an issue with the way some women acted in the corporate assembly. We do not have any real information as to what the issue was other than it had to do with how they spoke out in their gatherings.
Now the issue cannot be a blanket statement. Earlier in the letter Paul wrote regarding women praying and prophesying with her head covered (1 Cor 14:5-6).
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 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.” (1 Corinthians 11:5–6, KJV)
Here too, in context, Paul wrote in reference to the married women. Women were to cover their heads and the men were not. This is a passage that clearly places a demarcation between a man and a woman in corporate gatherings. The wearing of head covering by a woman is a picture of the orderly submission that must exist between a husband and wife. There Paul wrote, “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Corinthians 11:3, KJV)
Therefore, the issue is one of orderly submission as defined by God’s creative order. Reading between the lines, it is likely that the women were out of order and taking the lead role spiritually, which created some confusion and added to the disorder. Paul wrote to the wife that they needed to demonstrate godly and orderly restraint in the assembly so that they would not publicly usurp the authority of their husbands. They were to remain silent and if there was an issue with something in the church’s teaching, they were to discuss it with their husbands at home.
I have seen this in churches where the wife speaks out and in doing so usurped and demonstrated disrespect for her husband in the church. Ultimately, there are serious consequences of this. One is the disorder that is developed in the group gathered. The second is that the husband feels disrespected as the wife begins taking the leadership role. When the wife disrespects the husband, it erodes the love in the relationship and can ultimately result in divorce.
“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33, KJV)