The Role of Women in Worship

There are some Bible passages that I have always avoided when preaching. Today’s passage is one.

1 Corinthians 14.34-36Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says.

If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

How do we understand these verses, when we see the way Jesus valued women in his ministry?

Let’s recall the devoted women who traveled with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.

Luke 8.2-3Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

These women supported Jesus through his long ordeal of the cross and were the first to witness the resurrected Jesus.

Let’s not forget Paul’s message of equality in Christ.

Galatians 3.28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

In 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 Paul gave detailed instructions on how women and men should conduct themselves in worship.

The names of women dot the landscape of Paul’s letters. He viewed them as co-laborers in the Lord.

With that background, how can we understand Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14.34-36?

The debate on these verses is wide and divergent. I believe Ben Witherington has the best explanation.

The form of communication around the Delphic Oracle in Corinth involved asking questions and receiving answers.

Women would ask about the ability to conceive, the success of business ventures, physical health, and more. Then, the oracle would answer.

Witherington believes that Paul did not want prophecy to resemble the pagan oracles of Corinth. He wrote to discourage interruptions of prophets with questions that traditionally were from women.

Bad Results from Wrong Interpretations

Verses like those of our study today have been used to limit the role of women in the church.

They need to be balanced by how Jesus related to women.

If I have to choose between Jesus’ attitudes and actions and an obscure passage in Paul, I will choose Jesus every time.

Jesus is the ultimate interpretation of every passage in the Bible. He placed a high value on women, and so should the church.

Paul’s Summary

Chapter 14 covers many topics that relate to order in worship. Paul summarized his words at the end of the chapter.

1 Corinthians 14.37-39Anyone who claims to be a prophet, or to have spiritual powers, must acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.

Anyone who does not recognize this is not to be recognized.

So, my friends, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues; but all things should be done decently and in order.

I like how Richard Hayes applies Paul’s message to our era.

(1) Building community. The overriding concern of this chapter is that the members build up the church through the participation of each member.

(2) Focus on the message. The church is built up when the gospel is proclaimed and interpreted.

The saying, “That sermon had more heat than light,” speaks to the times when emotions dominate the substance of the message.

The message of the gospel is what transforms humans (Romans 1.16).

(3) Order without hierarchy. Paul envisioned a spontaneous church that was able to retain the balance of order.

I believe small groups that are devoted to prayer and worship are the best environment for this to take place.

(4) Welcoming the Spirit. When we are activated, motivated, and captivated by the Holy Spirit, he can do anything he wants for the good of the body.

(5) Telling the truth to outsiders. The church needs to be sensitive to the outsider who attends our services.

What we do in worship should give the outsider an opportunity to be confronted with the greatness of God’s love.

YouTube Video

Rudy Ross and I tackle this passage with a measure of humor and insight in today’s YouTube video. It is on the Bob Spradling channel.

Please email your prayer request to or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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