Bible Question:

I lead a Wednesday night prayer service in my church. I asked a woman to give the opening prayer from the pulpit. The pastor said that it was okay for the woman to pray but she had to do it from the pew. I am going nuts and have read several pieces of scripture. I find nothing to say that a woman cannot lead a prayer from the front. He cited 1 Corinthians 14:34. Interested in your opinion.

Bible Answer:

The passage you have asked about is 1 Corinthians 14:34.

The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. (NASB) 1 Cor. 14:34

In order to understand this verse, we need to understand the context surrounding verse 34. That is, what has Paul been talking about before and after it? If we look at 1 Cor. 14: 26, we discover that, Paul is talking about the different events that were occurring in the Corinthian church service such as singing, teaching, prophesying, and tongues. If we quickly look at verse 40 we discover that Paul is addressing abuses in the church in this passage of scripture (1 Cor. 14:26-40). So the setting is like this. Women and men are in the church service together, and abuses are occurring which Paul addresses. Paul implies that all are singing together, but we will address abuses related to teaching, prophesying, and tongues. That is the starting point.

Now if we read verses 27-28, we discover that Paul talks about abuses related to tongues first. In verses 29-33 he talks about abuses related to prophesying next. Notice that he has addressed tongues and prophesying in the reverse order in which he mentioned them in verse 26. So when we come to verse 34, we can conclude that he is probably addressing abuses related to teaching. In fact, verses 35 and 36 imply that is exactly what Paul did. In verses 35-36, Paul clearly commands the women not to speak in the church service. The Greek word translated as “silent” means to be “silent, to conceal, keep secret.” The idea is to be so silent as to be hidden. That is, Paul told the women not to talk. If we look at verse 35, we discover that apparently some women were asking questions during the church service and disturbing others or maybe the entire congregation. Therefore, they were told to ask their questions at home rather than disrupt the teaching ministry (v. 35). Verse 36 could have been a rebuke to some women who might have been correcting the speakers. The message is clear. The women could probably sing and join in others aspects of the worship. But when it came to the ministry of the Word of God, they were to be quiet. In many churches today, both men and women do not talk during the ministry of the Word of God. Everyone abides by Paul’s instruction.

Can Women Pray?

Some believe that 1 Cor. 11:5 indicates that women can pray and prophesy in the church as well as sing. While it is true that 1 Cor. 11: 18 refers to conduct in the church, it is not clear that verses 1-16 are about conduct in the church. If we did assume that verse 5 is talking about praying and prophesying in the church, it is not clear that it means praying and prophesying can occur when men are present. Did the women have their own Women’s Ministry? Did the women ever get together to talk and pray? Did they ever teach one another? Can you imagine women not doing those things, even in the early days? Women have a great gift for serving others and the Lord.

It is an error to use one verse to conclude that women can or cannot pray in the church at all. 1 Cor. 11:5 is a difficult passage to use. We never want to use one verse to establish a doctrine or guidance. We do not want to be guilty of claiming that scripture lays down any rules on this topic. Yet, 1 Cor. 14:34-36 is clear that women are to be quiet during the ministry of the Word of God. We have not addressed the issue of women teaching in the church. Therefore, you might be interested in 1 Timothy 2:12 which is the decisive passage prohibiting women from teaching men.

Uneducated Women?

Unfortunately, there are some new, highly regarded books in print which refer to cultural background information which supposedly supports the view that Paul is addressing the issue of uneducated women in 1 Cor. 14:34. That is, Paul prohibited the uneducated women from teaching. They believe that Paul is prohibiting the women from asking questions and that these women were less educated than the men. They cite ancient records in support of their view which appear convincing. However, their ancient sources do not support their conclusion. That is a serious problem. They have not done their homework. Historical records show that there were both uneducated women and men as well as educated women and men – just like today. The historical records do not support the claim that the issue in Corinth or in Ephesus was uneducated women. The issue in the Corinthian church was not uneducated women (Role of Women in the Church). If we were to assume the issue was uneducated women, then we must ask, “Was it okay for uneducated men to teach?” Paul did not command uneducated men to be silent in any passage. He is not addressing an issue related to uneducated women. Clearly, Paul is addressing a different issue.

Conclusion:

What can a woman do in the church service? Women can do everything but teach men and serve as elders in the church. It would appear that women can pray and sing in the church service. They cannot teach nor interrupt the teacher or pastor. In fact, no one should in my opinion. Otherwise, women can do anything else.

Reference Links:

The Role of Women In The Church
What does the Bible say about women teaching men?