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1 Corinthians 14:26-40


1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Teaching Moments


This text contains the difficult and hotly debated text about "women" and "silence" in the assembly. I will attempt to explain this text and apply it in the discussion before the class. However, in your discussion in the groups I would be careful that you do not engage in a debate. Let everyone express their opinion, and let everyone put their points on the table. However, this is not an appropriate forum for debate. Rather, use the time to gather the varying viewpoints, seek applications, and look at the main point of the text--edification and order. The gender text is only two verses, and it applies the general principle of "order". So, don't lose sight of what is really important in this text. What is Paul correcting? He objects to the disorder in the assembly. Try to stick to applying what "order" means for us at the Cordova church. Of course, it is appropriate to inquire and discuss what "order" means in terms of gender. Be sure to respect everyone's opinion and permit an openness in the class. But also keep the larger issue of the text in mind and do not get pinned down in only talking about gender. Gender, after all, is not Paul's main is a subpoint and application of his main principle which is order in the assembly is necessary for the edification of the body.

1. Paul does not condemn the sorts of things the Corinthians are doing as described in 14:26. He simply wants them to do it with the goal of edification. Note the list of things that are appropriate in the assembly. In particular, each one may have a hymn which probably refers to "solos" or someone sharing with the congregation a hymn they have written or a Psalm they have chosen to sing/chant before the church.

2. Paul is convinced that the goal of edification necessitates some "order" (14:40) in the assembly activities because God is the God of order (peace) rather than disorder (14:33).

3. Paul corrects three kinds of disorder in this text.

a. First, tongue speakers were speaking without interpreters and they were all speaking at once. Paul wants only two (and at the most three) to speak. If there is no interpreter, then the tongue speaker should be silent (14:28). Tongue speakers should control themselves.

b. Second, prophets should control themselves and speak in some kind of order. Two or three should speak while the other judge their prophecies. If any prophet receives a revelation, the others should be silent (14:30). Prophets should control themselves.

c. Third, women should maintain order as well by being silent. Just as in the case of the tongue speakers and the prophets, this is not total silence. Just as the tongue speakers could still sing, pray, etc., so could the women. Silence is enjoined in a specific situation which is alluded to in verse 35. Women should not act in an insubmissive (disruptive) manner. See section below for more on the gender problem here. Women should control themselves.

4. Paul addresses three specific examples of "disorder" that were present in the Corinthian assembly. He corrects each disorder. But these corrections were for the Corinthians and were not intended to be universal and normative. For example, were all churches limited to only two or three tongue speakers or two or three prophets? In the same way, not all churches were limited by Paul's instruction to the women here. Rather, Paul is applying the principle of order. Order means that the disorder of the Corinthians must be corrected. God is the God of order in all the assemblies of the church (14:33, and 33b belongs with verse 33a rather than with 34). Part of the "order" is that women act consistently with the "law" (Old Testament), that is, women act in a submissive manner. Order means that women do not violate God's intention for male "headship" which Paul has already discussed in 11:3-10. The Corinthian women were violating that "order" and thus Paul wants them to stop speaking in disruptive or insubmissive ways.

5. God demands order in all his assemblies because he wants his assemblies to serve the goal of edification. Order is necessary for edification. The Corinthian assemblies had sunk into disorder and this is what Paul corrects.

6. Paul is clear that order is a divine intention. The Corinthians are not the standard (14:36--the word of God did not originate with them, nor are they the only one's who have received the word). Rather, Paul's instruction is a standard--it is the commandment of God.

7. Paul's summary point in 14:39 points us to an emphasis on prophecy, but it does not forbid tongues. Tongues may be pursued, if interpreted, but prophecy is more valuable because it edifies the body. Thus, everything must be done in a fitting and orderly way because this will provide the best occasion for edifying the body.

The Gender Text: 14:34-35

1. Interpretative Options: What does this text mean?

a. The text does not apply today because it deals with miraculous gifts that are now unavailable, but this fails to recognize that Paul is applying a principle based in the law. The principle has a broader application than this situation.

b. Commands women to be totally silent in the assembly (e.g., no singing, no confessing, no praying, etc.), but this does not recognize the specific situation of this text and it contradicts 11:3-6.

c. Prohibits women from leading the assembly in any kind of public speaking (e.g., they may sing but not lead singing), but this also fails to recognize the specific situation of this text and it contradicts 11:3-6 where women prayed and prophesied in the assembly. Does Paul forbid in 14:34 what he permitted (even regulated--stating the clothing they should wear for the sake of honoring their "heads") in 11:3-6?

d. Prohibits women from either (or all of the below):

(1) asking their husbands questions during their prophesying, or

(2) disrupting the judging of the prophets by asking questions, or

(3) disrupting the assembly by insubmissive behavior.

2. Observations

a. Deals with disorder in the worship assembly of the Corinthian church (14:26-40).

b. Commands silence in specific situations for tongue-speaker, prophets and women.

c. The law says women should be submissive which means that they should be silent in that specific situation--the nature of the silence is demanded by the principle of submission. The situation demands silence because speaking in the way they were was an act of insubmission. The law does not command silence. Rather, it commands submission. Silence is an application of the principle of submission in this specific situation.

d. The advice to ask husbands at home indicates the nature of the silence commanded--it prohibits disruptive speaking, not speaking in general. Verse 35 defines the nature of the silence prescribed in verse 34, that is, a questioning, judging or disruption of the assembly.

e. Most probably, Paul is prohibiting women from either (or all of the below):

(1) asking their husbands questions during their prophesying, or

(2) disrupting the judging of the prophets by asking questions, or

(3) disrupting the assembly by insubmissive behavior.


1. What are the range of activities that are part of the Corinthian worship assembly? Does this include solos (as in 14:26--each one have a hymn, where the word "hymn" is the noun of the verb "sing" in 14:15)? [Activities include: multiple speakers, questioning/judging of speakers, teaching, tongue/interpretation, singing, prophesying/revelations.] What does this say about the "range" of activities in our assemblies?

2. What is the overriding principle(s) of this text? What principles must guide the conduct of any worship assembly? [Such as: edification, order]

3. Why are tongue-speakers told to be silent? [because there is no interpreter] Why should they be silent when there is no interpreter? [because the church would not be edified]

4. Why are prophets told to be silent? [because another receives a revelation] Why should they be silent when another receives a revelation? [because the church would be edified by that revelation]

5. Why are women told to be silent? [because it is a shame for them to speak in the assembly] Why is it a shame for them to speak in the assembly? [because it dishonors their husbands when they disrupt the assembly]

6. What does "silence" mean here? Does it mean that a woman cannot sing? That she cannot confess Christ? That she cannot make announcements? That she cannot offer a prayer request or a testimony about what God has done in her life? Should not "silence" be defined so that it does not contradict 11:3-6 but it fits the instruction for women to "ask their husbands" at home?

7. How do we square 1 Corinthians 11:3-6 (where women are permitted to pray and prophesy in the assembly) with 14:34-35 (where they are told to be silent)?

8. Why is order so important for Paul? What does he mean by "order"? Does he mean an "order of worship" so that everything that happens in the assembly is predefined? Can nothing be spontaneous?

9. How do we balance "spontaneity" in worship and "planning" in our worship?


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