What does 1 Corinthians 14:35 mean?
ESV: 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.
NIV: If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
NASB: If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.
CSB: If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
NLT: If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.
KJV: 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.
Paul is describing ground rules for orderly worship services, including the use of speaking in tongues and prophecy. In the previous verse and this one, he also places restrictions on participation in the service by women. Earlier, Paul has indicated approval of women praying or prophesying in a service (1 Corinthians 11:2–16). His reference to being silent, then, has to apply to some particular context.
At least to some modern scholars, this implies these two verses are directed toward wives and not women in general. These wives are instructed to remain silent, not speaking, in submission to their own husbands. Now Paul adds that if they have questions about what is being taught, they should ask their husbands in the privacy of their own homes. Paul adds that it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Despite modern offense, scholars reject the suggestions these verses were added by someone other than Paul. Also unlikely is that Paul quotes someone in Corinth so they can be refuted. Looking to the prior comments about head covering, in chapter 11, this seems to be more about how a marriage relationship is expressed in public, than about women's roles in the church, per se.
For one thing, Paul clearly allowed for women to participate in services by prayer or prophesying as long as their heads were properly covered (1 Corinthians 11:2–16). For another, the early Christian church countered prevailing Greek and Roman culture, by welcoming women to personal faith in Christ. Radically, Christian women were called to participation in the community with or without their husbands. This seems to have caused backlash against Christianity, as well as causing some women to abuse their freedom in Christ by openly disrespecting their husbands.
Perhaps, then, Paul is commanding wives to be clear about their submission to their husbands, rather than speaking openly in the general conversation of the church service. Doing so may have brought shame on their husbands for an apparent lack of knowledge on his part or lack or authority in his home.
In any case, Paul's commands in these verses are generally not practiced closely in most modern churches, even very conservative ones. The general sense of a woman publicly speaking, even in church, has a cultural meaning very different from that of the era when these words were written. Few believers interpret these words as a blanket prohibition on any speech by a married woman in church.
First Corinthians 14:26–40 includes specific instructions to the Corinthians on an orderly worship service. These meetings should reflect the character of God. Everyone should have an opportunity to bring a hymn, a lesson, a prophetic revelation from God, and even to speak in a tongue if someone is able to interpret. Each must happen one at a time, in turn, and only two or three tongues-speakers or prophets should contribute during a single service. Wives must remain silent and be in submission to their husbands. Only that which builds up the church should be included.
Paul encourages the Corinthians to desire the gift of prophecy, especially, among the other gifts. He shows why its use in the church service is superior to the use of the gift of tongues if nobody is available to interpret. Prophecy benefits everyone; praying in tongues with nobody to interpret benefits only the speaker. Only two or three tongues-speakers should contribute to any service, and only then one at a time and followed by interpreters. The same applies to prophecy and the gift of discerning spirits. Orderliness and building up the church are guiding principles for any worship meeting. Modern churches are divided on the extent to who which these gifts are given, or should be practiced.
1 Corinthians 14 concludes Paul's teaching on the spiritual gifts begun in chapter 12. Between them, chapter 13 declared that Christlike love matters most of all. The gift of prophecy is better than the display of the gift of tongues in worship services unless someone with the gift of interpreting tongues is available. Even then, only those things which build up the church should be included in any service, and everything should be done in an orderly way, reflecting the character of God. The final two chapters of this letter discuss the resurrection of Christ and Paul's concluding remarks.
First Corinthians is one of the more practical books of the New Testament. Paul writes to a church immersed in a city associated with trade, but also with corruption and immorality. These believers are struggling to properly apply spiritual gifts and to resist the ungodly practices of the surrounding culture. Paul's letter gives instructions for real-life concerns such as marriage and spirituality. He also deals with the importance of unity and gives one of the Bible's more well-known descriptions of love in chapter 13.
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