Veiled and Silent: A Call to Relook at the Functioning of Women Within the “Assemblies.” By Kent Young. Tallahassee, FL: N.P., 2015. 82 pp. Paper, $6.99.
In this short book, Kent Young re-examines Paul’s two commands to women to keep silent and to wear head coverings. He also examines how Plymouth Brethren assemblies have interpreted those passages. In sum, Young argues that Paul did not universally ban women’s speech in the meeting. On the contrary, he assumes they will pray and prophesy. Instead, Paul forbade women both from teaching and from interrupting or interacting with a teacher in the presence of their husbands. Head coverings are only to be worn in the meeting, especially since women would be permitted to pray or prophesy.
In chapter 1, Young summarizes the issues and shows how Brethren commonly apply these commands. Against those who claim Paul was making culture-specific requirements that no longer apply today, Young points out that Paul “appeals to no Corinthian, Jewish, or other first century custom, but to the unseen spiritual world (1 Corinthians 11:10) and to nature (11:14)” (p. 9). Furthermore, he argues that Paul made the commands binding on all the churches (p. 14), leaving no room for ignoring them. “There is really no justification for one who believes in the authority of the Scripture to consider either of these commands as being somehow inapplicable to believers today” (p. 15). Young sees the central problem as trying to reconcile Paul’s command for women to be silent with his order that they wear head coverings while praying or prophesying (p. 16), which suggests they are not always quiet.
In chapter 2, Young presents three harmonizations by John Calvin, David Bercot, and Rusty Entrekin. For example, Bercot says the two commands have different social settings. Whereas women must remain silent in the meeting of the church, they can pray and prophesy elsewhere (p. 20). Young finds that explanation unconvincing because Paul is not describing what women should do in private, but the practice of “all the churches of God.” Young then summarizes Entrekin’s argument that Paul was referring to a local problem with Corinthian women speaking in a disruptive manner. Entrekin argues that the Greek word for silent (sigaō) is not absolute but specific to not interrupting a public speaker, as in Acts 12:17 and 15:12-13 (p. 22). And the present tense for speaking (laleō) indicates the Corinthian women had been talking while the speaker was addressing the assembly. In sum, Entrekin concludes that Paul was not commanding women to be absolutely silent but forbidding them from carrying on a conversation during a teaching time. Young favors aspects of Entrekin’s interpretation but goes further in the next two chapters.
In chapter 3, Young argues for a chiastic pattern in 1 Cor 14:26-35 that clarifies in what sense women should be silent. Just as languages (tongues) without interpretation require silence, and prophets without revelation should be silent, women (wives?) should be silent regarding the teaching given. What does that mean? For Young, it could mean that Paul was forbidding women from functioning as teachers over men, or he could be restricting women from asking questions of teacher while in the presence of their husbands. Young leaves the question open but is sure that “Paul had no intention of placing a universal restriction on women from all verbal participation in the meetings of the saints…There are times when they are to be silent and there are times when they can speak” (pp. 43-44).
In chapter 4, Young comments on Paul’s saying that women should keep silent “as the law also says” (1 Cor 14:34). What law is that? Young concludes that while women in the OT were allowed to pray and in front of men, they were forbidden from teaching the law. Hence, Young understands Paul to be saying that only men can be teachers. But can’t women at least ask questions? Young further notes that while NT teaching was often dialogical, the only recorded interactions we have in Scripture are questions being asked by men, not women, even though female disciples were present. Young says, “there are no examples, so far as I am aware, of women publicly questioning that which is being taught” (p. 59). Hence, Young takes the command to be silent to include refraining from asking questions during a teaching time.
Despite having written a short book, Young still manages to make a cogent case for his position. However, it did leave me with several questions, especially about the apostolic reasons why women should be banned, not just from teaching, but from even interacting with a teacher. In all my years of school, I have never noticed a particular problem with women asking questions. Why would God object to that? Moreover, I firmly believe that dialogue and discussion are essential for learning to occur.
Young could not think of examples where women publicly questioned what was taught, but Jesus often dialogued with women about spiritual matters (e.g., the Samaritan woman or Martha or the woman caught in adultery or the woman with the issue of blood). They asked Jesus questions. There are also examples of women who taught men in some sense, such as Priscilla with Apollo (Acts 18:24-26). Perhaps those are all examples of something that happened in private, not in the meeting of the church. But if women or wives cannot interact with a teacher, what about unmarried women or women whose husbands are not believers or women whose husbands do not have answers to their questions? It seems that, in those cases, women will suffer if they cannot ask a teacher questions. Is that God’s design?
In sum, I recommend this book for conservatives struggling with questions about the role of women and of head coverings in the church.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society