1 Cor 14:26-40

Sermon Discussion Questions:

1. Read 1 Cor 14:33-35. How might someone misunderstand this verse? How would you respond to them?
2. What were some of the examples Marc gave that women could use their gifting in the church? Are there any other ways you can think of?
3. Of the four steps Marc recommended at the end (Acknowledge, Pray, Study, Doubt), which do you think is the most helpful for dealing with passages that feel wrong?
4. In what ways is the gospel more offensive than Paul's teaching here? 
5. What should you be on the lookout for when searching the internet for answers to tricky Bible questions like this?

You would be hard pressed to find a more interesting person than Sir Isaac Newton. When he was a student, he was frustrated with the limitations of conventional mathematics, so he simply created a new form entirely: calculus (Something for our students to aspire to, no doubt). But Newton’s interests roamed far beyond mathematics alone. He invented the first practical reflecting telescope, a theory of color and light, calculated the orbit of planets, developed a theory for the speed of sound, ran the Royal Mint for the British government for 30 years, wrote treatises on the Greek text of the New Testament, and calculated the date of the crucifixion of Christ (which he believed to be April 3rd, 33 AD). But, of course, his most famous contribution was his theory of gravitation and laws of movement. He was the first scientist to be buried at Westminster Abbey, alongside kings and queens. On his tombstone at Westminster Abbey, after a lengthy paragraph telling of his scientific achievements, these words are inscribed:


“Mortals rejoice that there has existed such and so great an ornament of the human race!”


High praise. And yet, Newton was also a strange man. Here is how one author describes him:


“Newton was a decidedly odd figure—brilliant beyond measure, but solitary, joyless, prickly to the point of paranoia, famously distracted (upon swinging his feet out of bed in the morning he would reportedly sometimes sit for hours, immobilized by the sudden rush of thoughts to his head), and capable of the most riveting strangeness…Once he inserted a bodkin—a long needle of the sort used for sewing leather—into his eye socket and rubbed it around…just to see what would happen. What happened, miraculously, was nothing—at least nothing lasting. On another occasion, he stared at the Sun for as long as he could bear, to determine what effect it would have upon his vision. Again, he escaped lasting damage, though he had to spend some days in a darkened room before his eyes forgave him.” (Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, p. 46)


Isaac Newton was obviously a brilliant man. But…a strange man. I wonder if that isn’t how we feel sometimes about the apostle Paul. Many times, you read Paul and can be blown away at his sophistication and mind, his insights and courage…and other times it seems like he is inviting you to stare directly into the Sun. Such may be the case with our text today. It may feel like he is just poking you in the eye. But, because Paul is writing to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, his words are God’s words, and God’s words are always for our benefit.


26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. 39 So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40 But all things should be done decently and in order.

(1 Cor 14:26-40)


What Is Paul Saying?


As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (1 Cor 14:33b-35)


Okay, what is Paul saying here? Well, it seems fairly straight-forward: it sounds like he is saying that women must never speak or make noise in church, for it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. But there is a problem with that conclusion. First, in Paul’s other letters he commands the entire congregation—men and women—to sing (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16) and notice that Paul mentions singing here: “Each one has a hymn,” (1 Cor 14:26). How can a woman “keep silent” in church and join in the church’s singing at the same time? But more seriously, earlier, in chapter eleven Paul assumes that women, when adorned properly, should be praying, and prophesying in the church gathering (1 Cor 11:2-16). Perhaps they could be praying quietly, but one cannot silently prophesy. And since it seems incredibly unlikely that Paul would, in just a few chapters, directly contradict himself, Paul cannot mean that if you are a woman you must not speak or make noise in church.


So, if it isn’t total silence, then it must mean that there is a particular kind of speaking that is being forbidden. So, what is it?


Picture chapter fourteen like a kind of comb running through tangled hair. The Corinthian church service has been filled with disorder and disarray and Paul is wanting to bring peace and order to it, to smooth out the knots of confusion. The Corinthians, in their zeal to display and manifest their spiritual gifts, have created an environment that emphasizes personal displays of spirituality over the priority of the edification of the entire church. So, Paul tells those who are speaking in tongues to only speak if there is an interpretation, and only then one at a time. But if there isn’t an interpretation, what should they do? Keep silent (1 Cor 14:28). Then he tells the prophets—which, according to chapter eleven, would have included women—to speak in turn, and when one prophet is speaking, the rest of the prophets must keep silent (1 Cor 14:30). And, without changing the subject, Paul tells us: “As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches,” (1 Cor 14:33b-34a).


The question we are left asking is: silent, how? In what way were women to keep silent?


How are the women to be silent?

Let me make a little practical aside here: if you come across a passage like this and are stumped, you might go on the internet or TikTok and type the passage in and you may be flooded by numerous, contradicting, and interesting answers. If you do that, and you have to sift through them, here are two things to look out for: (1) be cautious of answers that seem to always align with the spirit of our age (You probably thought that Paul forbid women from speaking in churches, but that is WRONG, Paul was actually held all the same progressive views on gender that we do today). If you had a friend who always told stories that seemed too incredible to be true, at a certain point you would start to wonder if these stories were true, or if they were just making them up. Be suspicious of the pastor or theologian or Youtuber who always seems to find a way to make Paul in our own image. That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily wrong—sometimes Paul does align with some of our modern sensibilities, but be on the lookout when someone seems to be able sand off all sharp edges of the Bible. (2) Search for the answer that can provide the most satisfying explanation of all the data in front of you. Sometimes, in an effort to escape a conclusion they don’t like, someone may provide an answer that seems to clarify things, but only by excluding certain data in the Scripture. So, I tried this out myself this week to see what would happen. I went on to YouTube and typed in “does Paul forbid women to speak in church?”


Here are a couple of the most popular explanations that seem to escape the scary conclusion Paul is making: some posit that the women in the Corinthian church must have been unusually talkative and—like the tongue speakers and impatient prophets—were interrupting the worship service. See, Paul isn’t saying that women are inherently not allowed to talk, this only applies to those chatty Corinthian ladies. Or, they may say something like: perhaps the Corinthian women were influenced by false teaching or were uneducated and so were spreading heresy in the church, so Paul forbids them from speaking in the church—but today, women are better educated. What’s the problem with that? First, Paul doesn’t limit this teaching only to the circumstances of Corinth: he says that this is a universal practice in all the churches (1 Cor 14:33b). And, second, in verse 35 Paul rather starkly says: It is shameful for a woman to speak in church (1 Cor 14:35b)—not, it is shameful for an uneducated woman, disruptive woman, or heretical woman—but it is shameful for a woman to speak. So, unless we are prepared to claim that Paul believes that all women in every church are either too ignorant, too disruptive, or too heretical, (which appears to be, ironically, a rather sexist argument to make) this approach doesn’t seem very persuasive.[1]


But that brings us to consider what the silence is that Paul is referring to. If women were praying and prophesying in the church, then in what sense are they not permitted to speak? This tells us there is a certain kind of speaking--not all speaking--that is off limits for women, and we get a clue as to what that is by looking again at verse 34, “For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says,” (1 Cor 14:34). Here, the speaking that Paul is forbidding is not contrasted with silence, but submission. This tells us that the kind of speech that Paul is focusing on is a speech that implies authority. What kind of speech is that in the church?


Most commentators now argue that the kind of speech being forbidden here is the sifting and evaluating of prophecies mentioned just prior: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said,” (1 Cor 14:29). So, as we spoke about last week, the early church was given the gift of prophecy—both men and women (cf. Acts 2:17-18). The gift of prophecy in the church is speaking on behalf of God, speaking God’s words. But, with the presence of a gift like prophecy there is always the danger of false prophets. The New Testament is replete with warnings of false prophets, false apostles, and false teachers (cf. Matt 7:15-20). So, when someone shared a prophecy, they had to be evaluated—their manner of life, their doctrine, and the veracity of their previous prophecies (cf. Deut 13:1-3; 18:20-22; Matt 7:15-20; 1 Thess 5:20-21). And it is directly after Paul’s teaching in weighing prophecies that he gives his command for women to keep silent in the church. For them to participate in the evaluating of prophecies implies authority and a casting off of submission. The submission here could be a general submission to the authority of the elders, but it is more likely the submission to their husbands that is in view, since Paul brings in their husbands in vs. 35, “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home,” (1 Cor 14:35a). Much like the dilemma taking place back in chapter eleven, where women were failing to wear the sign of their submission to their husbands while praying and prophesying in the church—their head covering (cf. 1 Cor 11:4-6, 10)—so too, here they are attempting to usurp their husband’s authority by evaluating the prophecies, some of which may have been their own husbands’.


So, let’s attempt to recreate the scene to see if this interpretation makes sense of all the data presented to us in 1 Corinthians 14. The Corinthians have thrown off God’s Word in the name of their own spiritual experiences—life in the Spirit can’t be constrained by structures and order! So, they all speak in tongues at the same time, regardless of interpretation, they all prophesy out of turn, and the women are weighing and judging the prophecies—they are prophets, after all, who says they can’t? They are speaking the Word of God, right? So, Paul responds with some sarcastic questions:


36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” (1 Cor 14:36). In other words, Do you guys get to make up the rules now? Are you in charge? Since you are the only church who behaves this way, are you the only true church?


37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. 38 If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized,” (1 Cor 14:37-38).


So, just to reiterate, when Paul says women must keep silent in the church, he is not referring to silence in general, but is referring to women speaking with authority, evaluating the prophecies of the church.


Why Does Paul Tell Us This?


Why does God forbid women from speaking authoritatively in the church? Why is that “shameful”? Let’s look back again to vs. 34, “For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says,” (1 Cor 14:34). “As the Law also says…” what is Paul referring to here? Where in “the Law” does it say that women are not permitted to speak? What is “the Law” that Paul is referring to?


Most of the time when we hear “the Law” we think of the Ten Commandments, books like Leviticus or Deuteronomy, but Paul can refer to anything from the Old Testament as “the Law” if it has binding moral authority in the life of the church. For instance, in chapter nine he cites “the Law” about not muzzling an ox while it treads out the grain to teach the church that they should pay their pastors (1 Cor 9:8-9). And earlier in chapter fourteen he cited the prophet Isaiah as “the Law” when teaching the church about speaking in tongues (1 Cor 14:21). So where does the Old Testament teach us about women speaking in church? Paul is likely referring to the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve and is inferring his commands about the role of women in the church from that.


We can be confident of this for two reasons.


First, because this is the same place Paul goes to back in chapter eleven. In chapter eleven, Paul is similarly dealing with right behavior of men and women in the worship service. Women are praying and prophesying, but are doing so with their heads uncovered. And if you are now wondering What on earth does that mean? Let me encourage you to go to our website and find the sermon on head coverings from chapter eleven. There, Paul explains that is proper for a woman to have her head covered as a sign of her submission to her husband because of the order of the creation account in Genesis. Man was created first, then woman.


Second, this is also the same place Paul goes to in his letter to Timothy addressing a very similar issue: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor,” (1 Tim 2:11-14).


Sometimes Christians read this and assume that being made first means you are more important, but if that were true than that would mean that fish and birds and snails were even more important, since they were formed before Adam. Paul’s point in Adam being formed first can’t be about being superior, then. Similarly, sometimes people assume that Paul’s comment that Adam was not deceived, but the woman was, tells us that Paul believes women to be more naïve or gullible than men. But, in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 Paul identifies Adam alone as being responsible for the fall of mankind. Whatever Paul means by “Adam was not deceived” it cannot mean that he was not at fault or not vulnerable to the wiles of Satan. So, what is it about?


In the creation story, God creates Adam first and then gives Him a charge, and a warning. First, Adam is commissioned by God to work and keep the garden, to protect it and keep it safe, and to feel free to eat from every tree of the garden (Gen 2:15-16). But then He gave Adam a warning: there is one tree that you must not eat of, and if you do, you will die (Gen 2:17). All of this takes place before Eve is created (cf. Gen 2:18). Meaning, Eve was not there to hear this directly from God. Nowhere in the Genesis account are we told that Eve is given the commission to work and keep the garden, and nowhere are we told that she receives the same instructions from God. So, we are left to assume that Adam was responsible to teach his bride the blessings and warnings God gave him. But in the deception, the exact reverse happens: the woman speaks the serpent’s words to Adam, and Adam obeys (cf. Gen 3:17).


Thus, Paul infers from this creation design that in the church, God is restoring humanity back to what was lost at Eden. This is why Paul teaches what he teaches here: he does not permit women to teach God’s word to men, for to do so would be to undermine God’s original design, to take something that He said was good, and to call it bad. So, at our church, this is why the office of the teacher in our church, the pastor/elder, is restricted to men, and why we do not have women preach on a Sunday, and why we are careful about positions of leadership in the church that would skirt close to the function of teaching to men and women, like small group leaders.



But, on the other hand, because we want to be consistent with Pauline teaching, and Paul tells us that women are to pray and prophesy in the service as well, we want to maintain the same balance that Paul has. What does that look like for us? This is why we often have women read one of the Scriptures from our liturgy readings in our service and, while we don’t have multiple prayers in our service, it would be totally fitting for women to lead a church in prayer in their Sunday service. We want women in our church to learn God’s Word, to be like Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet to learn from Him. We want women to use their teaching gifts in the way that Paul tells Titus, having older women teach younger women, to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive (Titus 2:3-5). We want women to serve as deaconesses or missionaries, as Phoebe does in Romans 16:1-2. We want women to use their giftings to teach women’s Bible studies, to lead book studies, and to counsel other women. We want the voice of women to be heard when we share testimonies during our member’s meetings and during small group discussions, to share their insights on God’s Word, and even correct others’ misunderstandings, as we see Priscilla and her husband Aquila do with Apollos in Acts 18:26.


We may be tempted to think that by Paul limiting women from serving in a teaching role in the church he is reducing the influence women have, they are being relegated to a status that is “less than.” But that is Corinthian thinking, not Pauline. The Corinthians are the ones who think that certain gifts and certain roles bestow status and importance. Paul does not. Every member of the body is necessary. And the distinctions and differences between them do not convey value or importance. In all of P


What is Paul saying? Women are not to teach in the church.

Why? Because this was God’s design back in Genesis.


What Do We Do with Passages Like This?


Hopefully I have persuaded you what Paul is saying and why he is saying it. But perhaps it still feels like Paul is poking a needle in your eye. It is something you admit is true, but you don’t like it. Or maybe you have felt that about other passages, other doctrines in Scripture. What should you do with that?


Our aim is not a begrudging submission to truth that we don’t love, the way a child chokes asparagus down because mom told them so. God doesn’t want us to say: Fine, I’ll agree, but I hate it.


  1. Don’t ignore it, don’t push it out of your mind. If you do, you may be subtly reinforcing the idea that truth is determined by what you feel—that something is only true if you like it. But truth is truth, no matter what we feel about it.

  2. Confess to Him that there is something that He has said is good that doesn’t feel good to you. If you find that you have felt hardened your heart over it, that you feel morally superior to Him, then ask for His forgiveness. And ask Him to tune your heart to sing His grace.

  3. There is a chance that you may be misunderstanding what is being said. For instance, maybe you thought that Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14 was unqualified silence for all women, but through study found it that this was not the case. Remember the story of Abraham in Genesis 18, who upon hearing that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, said to God: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked…” (Gen 18:25). Abraham assumed that God was about to do something immoral: kill the righteous alongside the wicked. Abraham was both right and wrong. It would have been wrong for God to treat the righteous just like the wicked—he is right. But he was wrong—there were no righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah. Sometimes when we come across a passage of God’s Word, we may take something we know to be true about God—His righteousness and justice and love—and then feel lost as to how God could say or do what we read about in the Bible. But we, like Abraham, could just be mistaken about the details. So we need to study.

  4. If you have done all the above and still find it difficult to love the truth of God, then begin to investigate where your feelings and assumptions are coming from, and start using some healthy doubt: Why do I feel this way? Where does that feeling come from? We are all more affected by the world, by our culture than we think. Do you know that most Romans in the first few centuries were turned off by Christianity by how pro-woman it was. The early church was constantly mocked because it was full of women and its virtues of love, mercy, and care for the poor were derided as womanish. Likely, if you were a typical Roman living back then, your culture at the time would push you away from the faith, would create this internal feeling of this can’t be right precisely because of how affirmative and ennobling it was for women. That seems patently ridiculous to us now. It is very obvious to us that the Church was fundamentally right and Roman culture wrong. But if we can look back at that and claim that the Church’s willingness to fly in the face of wicked cultural customs and morays, is a testament to its power and truthfulness…why would we assume that there wouldn’t be aspects of the faith that don’t fly in the face of our own cultural customs?


Lastly, remember that the Gospel itself is offensive. If we push back the medicine of God’s Word on this, what do we think we will do when the open heart surgery of the gospel comes along?


[1] If Paul was only concerned with people speaking disruptively in the service, why doesn’t he condemn talkative people in general? Why only women? Or, similarly, if the women were spreading false teaching, why doesn’t he condemn false teachers in general? Are we going to claim that it was only women who were naïve enough to be deceived by false teaching? Or, similarly, are we to believe that it was only women who were overly talkative and interrupting the service? Further, if Paul isn’t inherently forbidding women from speaking in church—only the disruptive ones or false teachers—why not say that women who are speaking out of turn shouldn’t talk in the church, or women who are false teachers aren’t allowed to speak in church? Why exclude all women? Unless we are prepared to say that all of the women in Corinth were either insufferably disruptive or heretics. D.A. Carson points out that those attempting to defend Paul from sounding like a chauvinist here rely on some of the most sexist reasoning to make their point.