“It is shameful for a woman to …”
We reflected at length on the verse that includes the above quotation in reading 1 Corinthians 14 today. So many churches, apart from the Catholic Church, now allow women to speak*, and in some cases take quite prominent roles. The words,
“it is shameful for a woman to speak in church”
are in verse 35.
Have we taken the quotation out of its context? The previous verse says,
“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”.
We conclude this means ‘silent’ in the sense of not addressing the congregation. Verses 29-33 are about “prophets” speaking
“and let the others weigh what is being said”.
Do we understand what prophets were in the early church? While there are one or two occasions where there is a prophet in the New Testament that predicted the future (Acts 21:10,11), its primary meaning, as is the meaning here, is the expounding of God’s word. He says,
“you can all prophecy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (verse 31).
Returning to our thoughts on the role of women, we see the part they played in the life of Jesus, noting that all his disciples were men and he sent as many as seventy-two out two by two to preach (Luke 10). There is just one passage which seems to be constantly quoted by those who seek to justify seeing an equal role for women in the church.
This is Galatians 3:27,28 where Paul writes,
“For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
What does he mean “neither male nor female”? We noted he also said, “neither slave or free”.
Does a slave, when he or she is baptised into Christ now have equality in this life with those who are free? Of course not, it is clear that the sense in which they are one, is that they together have all become children of God and are all heirs together “of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7). The same principle applies to men and women.
Finally, the last verse in today’s reading tells us,
“all things should be done decently and in order”.
We must respect the order that was established in that first generation that laid the foundation for us to follow today.
“It is shameful”
that so few now follow the foundation that was established in the first century.
- Note from the Belgian editor
In Belgium in the Catholic churches since a few years (from the 1970ies in the Charismatic Catholic church and from the end of the 20° century in the Roman Catholic church) you may find women speaking and taking important roles, even leading a service.