In 1 Corinthians, Paul spends time answering questions sent to him by the Corinthians and time responding to reports that he received from members of the Corinthian church who visited him. In chapters 12 through 14, he addresses the issue of spiritual gifts and the church.
The last section of chapter 14, beginning with verse 26, Paul addresses the assembly. The section reads as follows:
“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. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 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. 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. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? 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. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:26–40)
There is some controversy as to whether Paul, in verse 26, is describing the assembly as it is in Corinth or as it should be. Whichever the case, Paul sees the need for correction.
He tells three groups of people that they need to be in control of themselves and be silent at times:
- Tongues speakers
The tongue speakers were to speak one at a time. If no interpreter was present, they were to be silent.
Prophets were to speak one at a time. If another received a revelation, the first was to be silent. Paul reminds them that their spirits are subject to them (same word used for “submit” in other passages); that is, inspiration from the Holy Spirit did not override the ability of the prophets to control themselves.
Women were to remain silent in the assembly. Paul brings back the concept of shame, which he used when discussing women wearing a head covering in chapter 11. It is shameful for these women to speak. They are to ask questions of their husbands at home.
Several things lead us to think that Paul is addressing a specific problem. The instructions come in the midst of teaching about correcting a chaotic worship service. Paul seems to have in mind here women who are shaming their husbands (similar to chapter 11). The commands are somewhat hyperbolic; Paul talks about women being completely silent in the assembly, which would include singing and other activities. Yet as he explains, the problem appears to have been women asking questions in a disorderly fashion.
I don’t believe in pitting one passage against another. The silence imposed on women in chapter 14 wouldn’t keep them from doing the things mentioned in chapter 11: praying and prophesying.
However, we mustn’t overlook the fact that Paul once again has different instructions for the different sexes. Galatians 3:28 doesn’t change that fact, at least it didn’t for Paul. Women were not to shame their husbands; the same instruction could have been given to the men… and it wasn’t.
I agree with Patrick that 1 Cor 14:34-35 should be considered a part of the original text. However, those who take the opposite view aren’t “liberals” or unworthy of fair consideration. Some very conservative scholars who are experts in textual criticism reject these verses as unlikely to have been in the original.
As I mentioned before, these two verses are found in every early manuscript of which I am aware…but not in the same place.
There’s no reason not to deal with these verses. They may occur in a slightly different place, but there is little doubt that they were in the original text.