Paul And Women Silence In Church

We are going to be looking at 1Cor 14:34-36 and 1Tim 2:11-12.

“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. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.” (1Cor 14:34-36 NKJV).

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” (1Tim 2:11-12 NKJV).

Notice that each time Paul says women should not speak, he emphasizes “in church”. To understand what this means we would have to look at the meaning of “church”. The Greek word translated as church there is “ekklesia”. The Greek word “ekklesia” first appeared in New Testament when Jesus said, “I shall build my church” (Matt 16:18). In the Greek Bible it is ekklesia not church, however Jesus didn’t speak Greek, he spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, but the New Testament was written in Koine Greek.

The Aramaic word is “Kehala”, and the Hebrew word is “Qahal”. Although ekklesia is the Greek translation of Qahal, however what Qahal means to the Hebrew is slightly different from what ekklesia is to the Greek. These are common things we experience when it comes to translating languages. You can use a word to translate another word, but those two words may not mean exactly the same thing. To the Greek, ekklesia means an assembly, a physical meeting. But to the Hebrew people “Qahal” is not just a meeting, it also refers to the whole community.

To the Hebrews, the community, the people are the Qahal (ekklesia). For example, the community of Israelites walking in the wilderness is a Qahal (ekklesia); the Nigerian people can be called a Qahal (ekklesia). Qahal (ekklesia) refers to a community, a nation, a people. But to the Greek, the people are not the ekklesia, it is the governmental meeting that is the ekklesia. A people walking together in a wilderness, that’s not ekklesia according to the Greek. You cannot call them ekklesia, unless they are actually meeting together to make a decision concerning the community.

In Greek the ekklesia is a democratic system were the adult male citizens of a community come together to make decisions concerning that community. It is a governmental (decision making) meeting, and women were not involved in such decision making. Men are the head of the family, and the role of the head is to make the decisions. This is why women do not participate in the Greek ekklesia. To the Greek the ekklesia is all about making decisions, and decision making is the role of the man, as such only the men participate.

Women can attend the ekklesia meetings, but they were not allowed to speak. In Athens, the men climb up a platform, while the woman stay down, at the back of the meeting. It is also important to note that Corinth is very close to Athens where the idea and practice of ekklesia originated from in Greece. However, Christianity started from the Jews, it started from the idea of the Jews Qahal.

But the closest Greek word to Qahal is ekklesia, so when Jews are speaking Greek and they want to say Qahal, they would use the word “ekklesia”. This means to the Jews ekklesia is much more than making decisions, ekklesia is the whole community. Wherever the community are gathered, it is called ekklesia, whether it’s in the desert, or the mountain, or they are just gathered playing together, or worshipping, it is called ekklesia (Qahal). Now, put in mind that the Corinthians were Greek, they were mostly Gentiles not Jews. And Paul’s letter was written in Greek. He was writing Greek to a Greek people.

So each time somebody says “ekklesia” the first thing that pops up in the mind of a Greek person is, “a decision making meeting”. Now put that definition in your head and read Paul’s words again with the attempt to understand what was in the mind of Corinthians when they saw the word “ekklesia”. I will quote that scripture again, but I will substitute “church” for “decision making meeting” so that you can be able to read from the mind of the Corinthians and understand what Paul was trying to communicate to them.

“Let your women keep silent in the decision making meetings, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in a decision making meeting.” (1Cor 14:34-36 NKJV).

Paul made is appeal to two things; the Jewish law and the Greek tradition. According to the Jewish law the woman must be submissive to the head which is the husband, and the role of the head is to make decisions. According to the Greek tradition women are expected to keep silent in an ekklesia. This is why Paul said to the church in Corinth, “women should keep silent in the ekklesia… for it is shameful for women to speak in ekklesia.” (1Cor 14:34,36). Why did he say it is shameful for women to speak in ekklesia? Because it is a known fact in the Greek world. Women do not speak in the secular ekklesia, women are not allowed to participate. They can come to the meeting, but they cannot participate.

So when Paul said women should not speak in the ekklesia, he was saying women should not participate in the decision making of the community. The Christian church consists of different families coming together to form a community. And since men are the head of the family, it is only natural that the men should be the ones making the decisions. Paul was speaking to a Greek people who’s understanding of ekklesia is that an ekklesia is a system of making decisions, where all the adult male participate, while the women and children (including teens) are to keep silent. It is a direct democratic system.

In our churches today, we are not practicing this direct democratic system. It is the pastors and the leaders that makes all the decisions for us, the congregation does not participate. In fact they are not even present when the decisions are being made. The congregation only come for church service (worship) not ekklesia (decision making meetings). Hence, it is wrong to use this scripture to say women should not speak in church service. Our church service is a worship meeting, while an ekklesia is a decision making meeting. Concerning worship, let’s look closely at Paul gospel, he teaches that in Christ there is no male or female, all are one.

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28).

We are to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). In Christ (in the spirit) there is no male or female. Hence, when we are moving in the spirit (or by the Spirit) we do not segregate whether the vessel is a male or a female, because as far as the Spirit is concern there is no male or female. In 1Cor 11, it is clear that women participated in the Christian worship, they were allowed to prophesy, provided that they cover their head. Women were also allowed to minister. Paul ministered with several women, and it seems one of these women was even an apostle.

“Make sure that my relatives Andronicus and Junia are honored, for they’re my fellow captives who bear the distinctive mark of being outstanding and well-known apostles, and who were joined into the Anointed One before me.” (Rom 16:7).

Junia is a female name, it was probably referring to a lady who was an apostle. Another thing we must understand about the first century Christianity is that ministry is different and separated from the local assembly. Unlike today that we’ve joined the two together. Ministry is a service, a work that a believer carry out by the Spirit among the body of Christ. While the local assembly is a community of believers. Jesus did ministry, he didn’t plant churches. Apollo also did ministry, he wasn’t doing church. His was a teaching ministry, he was going about from one local assembly to another, teaching and equipping believers.

Timothy and others that worked with Paul had an apostolic ministry. They were going about from one local assembly to another equiping them. Theirs is like the work of a doctor, treating the defects of local assemblies and equipping them through teaching and structuring in order to make them a healthy assembly. This structuring involves appointing spiritually healthy and mature elders/bishops/pastors (in the first century the elders were the bishops and pastors) in each assembly in order to make them strong. Paul taught in the synagogue which is basically a hall, but the ekklesia is held at the homes of the believers.

In Ephesus Paul rented a hall to do ministry, but the ekklesia were still meeting at home. Each time Paul is ministering in the synagogue or in the hall that he rented, the believers would go to Paul in order to be equipped by his ministry. After the ministry, they returned back home and hold ekklesia meetings. I emphasize again; In the hall they sit under a ministry, but at home they hold community meetings (which is called ekklesia). They go to the hall or synagogue on Saturday, then on Sunday they met at home and held the ekklesia.

In this ekklesia they discussed and made decisions concerning issues such as welfare and community stuff. And they also worship. The purpose of the meeting in the hall/synagogue is not for fellowship, neither do they worship in the hall, it’s mainly for teaching purpose. Worshipping in ekklesia is unique to Christians, the secular Greeks don’t worship in their ekklesia, they only come to make decisions. But along with the decision making, the Christians also worship and fellowship together as they meet at home. So one can say their meeting at home can be divided into worship session, fellowship session, and then the decision making session which is the real ekklesia according to the Greeks.

Note: The whole meeting is informal, so it is not outrightly divided into these sessions, I just asserted them for the sake of explanation.

In the first century women were ministers. They were very active in the world of ministry, they were teachers, prophets, evangelists, apostles, and assisted other ministers in various ways. In worship, women were also very active, they prophesied, sang and discussed the word of God. But when it comes to practical and logical things like making decisions concerning the community, women must be silent and allow the men make the decisions as the head. The decision making session is the real ekklesia according to the Greeks. Every other thing apart from that session is just family bonding together and worshipping God as the bride. Now let’s go to 1Tim 2.

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” (1Tim 2:11-12 NKJV).

Let’s look at other translations of that scripture.

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (ESV 1Tim 2:12).
“I don’t let women take over and tell the men what to do.” (1Tim 2:11-12).

The word “teach” as used here is not referring to teaching the Bible. Remember, they didn’t have the Bible during this time. It was actually referring to teaching instructions, or giving orders and commands. That’s why that scripture connected “teach” with exercising authority. The teaching here is about giving orders, which is a function of exercising authority. Only those in authority give orders, and women are not the ones in authority. They are not the head, men are the head. As such men should be the ones giving orders, not women.

Paul didn’t say women should not be teachers. Pricilia, the wife of Aquila, helped to teach Apollo and update him on the gospel of Christ. There were women teachers in the first century. Women can be anointed by God for ministry, and as long as they are moving under the anointing of that ministry they are free to do as the Spirit leads. In ministry women can even instruct men and give orders to men. Deborah was used by God to instruct men. Under the move of God, women can do anything because God is not a respecter of any person, he could use either man or woman. There is neither male or female in Christ.

But in an ekklesia meeting where decisions concerning the community are being made, then the woman must keep quiet. Making decisions for the family (community) is not a ministry, no woman is anointed to do that. The moment a woman is chosen by God and called into a ministry in Christ, then she has all the authority to function in that ministry. Women that were called into ministry go out of their communities (church/ecclesia) and begin to move from one locality to another location, from one Christian community to another Christians community, ministering. In the first century ministries do not hijack Christian assemblies like we do today.

In the first century nobody owns the assembly, it is an independent body ruled by the people themselves under a system of direct democracy not the autocratic system we practice in our churches together. So in the first century ministers were “set apart” and send forth from their local assembly to go and do the work God had called them to do.

“As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:2-3).

A minister does not stay in his local assembly and take over it in the name of ministry. Rather he is sent away to go outside and do ministry. This means once a woman is called into ministry, she goes out to do that ministry. She does not remain in her local assembly and begin to order her husband and other men around. The ministry is taken outside, and only within that ministry does she has authority. Outside the ministry — whenever she comes to fellowship (not minister) in her local assembly — she and the other women must keep quiet during decision making in the local assembly.

They can participate in worship and even prophesy when moved by the Spirit, but they cannot participate in the decision making session of the Christian meeting. The local assembly is all about mutuality, everyone is allowed to share, whether men, women, or even children. They all sit together and discuss like a family, they learn Christ together. Real teaching only takes place when there is a teacher in town holding a program (a teaching ministry). Then different local assembly in that town would go and sit under the ministry of that teacher. And when the program has been concluded, the teacher will move on to the next town and minister to believers there.

That was how it was in the first century. Women participated in worship, they were used by God in ministry, and they were very active during fellowship. But during the decision making of the community they are to keep silent and let their husbands make decisions for the community. There are so many things about the first century Christianity that we don’t understand today because we are practicing a different version of Christianity. The way we practice Christianity today is different from how it was done in the first century, and most times we try to project our practice of Christianity into what we see in the Bible. As such we come out with a wrong interpretation of what the Bible is saying. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *