I just came across an article entitled “What Paul Really Says about Women in Ministry” It is at the Assemblies of God website. You can see their article here.
The author, George Wood, argues for the egalitarian position, which is the view that men and women, while having differences, are to have equal teaching and authority roles in the local church.
I’ve written about these passages in a prior blog (see here). In today’s blog, I simply wish to comment on a bit of sloppiness often found in discussions of 1 Cor 11:5.
I wish to focus specifically on the argument Wood makes about 1 Cor 14:34, which says, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.” (See this Orthodox Presbyterian article which argues that the end of v 33 should be included in the start of v 34: “As in all the churches of the saints, let your women keep silent in the churches…”) I don’t see how Paul could be much clearer. Women are to keep silent in church; they are not to speak. Wood, however, like all egalitarians, looks to 1 Cor 11:5 to explain what 1 Cor 14:34 cannot mean. He writes,
“Interpreted absolutely, this prohibition contradicts Paul’s permission of women’s praying and prophesying in the church (1 Corinthians 11:5). Since neither complementarians nor egalitarians believe that the inspired and inerrant words of an apostle can contradict themselves, we cannot interpret this prohibition absolutely. In other words, it does not prohibit speaking per se. Rather, it only forbids certain kinds of speech” (p. 6 of 15, emphasis added).
Notice the three words I italicize above: “in the church.” In 1 Cor 14:34 Paul wrote “Let your women keep silent in the churches…” (emphasis added). But those words are not found in 1 Cor 11:5, though Wood implies that they are. What Paul wrote was this: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head…” (1 Cor 11:5). The words in the churches are not found anywhere in 1 Cor 11:5.
Likewise, in a gotquestion.org article (see here), the author also implies that 1 Cor 11:5 specifically refers to women praying and prophesying in church. Commenting on 1 Cor 14:34, the author writes: “…earlier in the same epistle (1 Corinthians 11:5), Paul mentions situations where women are allowed to pray and prophesy in the assembled congregation.” But there’s a problem here, namely, the words in the assembled congregation are not found in 1 Cor 11:5. https://www.gotquestions.org/women-silent-church.html
In my opinion, if 1 Cor 11:5 is talking about women praying and prophesying in church, then Paul does contradict himself three chapters later (and in 1 Tim 2:11-12). A woman can’t be silent if she is praying or prophesying. But Paul does not say that. We should avoid attributing to a verse something which is not there. There is no reference to “in church” or “in the churches” or “in the assembled congregation” in 1 Cor 11:5. Our observations of the text should be accurate. The easy harmonization between 1 Cor 11:5 and 1 Cor 14:34 is that women should be silent in church, but are free to pray and prophesy outside the meeting of the church. (Of course, if prophesy is not a gift today, then today women would be free to pray and teach outside the church meeting.)