Yesterday we noticed the Corinthian Christians engaged themselves in these specific activities in the context of their general assemblies: hymns, lessons, revelations, tongues, and interpretations (1 Cor. 14:26). But it’s important to notice that Paul couched all of these activities in the context of exercising spiritual gifts–specifically the gifts of prophecy and tongue speaking.
We noticed from other scriptures that Paul does not forbid women from speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, even though he specifically uses a hymn as one of his examples in this chapter. What is different between this person bringing a hymn to the service (the rest keeping silent–14:29-30) and the whole congregation speaking a hymn to one another (Eph. 5:19)? It must be because of this specific context of Holy Spirit revelation in this section. This would have been a hymn quite literally and supernaturally “laid on his heart.”
One of the major points Paul states in this paragraph is in verse 32: “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” In other words, just because you have a word from the Holy Spirit does not mean you have to share it! You, man, control your mouth, and you can control your body to sit silently and wait your turn. And you, woman, can control your mouth to not speak from the Spirit at all.
One of the spiritual gifts was that of discerning or distinguishing between spirits (1 Cor. 12:10). In this way, some would pass judgment or weigh what the speaking prophet was saying (14:29). Consider the difficulty in understanding verse 35:
If there is anything they [the women] desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.
Continuing to read this passage in the specific context of the exercising of spiritual gifts, it could have been that this asking of questions was a technique used to test the spirits.
It seems reasonable to me to continue to understand this verse in the context of the exercising of spiritual gifts, however it is specifically applied. Just as 1 Corinthians 11 applies to the women who prophesy or pray (I believe she would be the one actually speaking the prayer or prophecy, not merely participating in a group in which some were praying or prophesying), so chapter 14 applies to women who wish to take some part in the speaking of tongues or prophesying in the assembly of the saints. Paul forbids them from taking part in this venue.
The big question is are there applications for us today? Many godly women believe they should apply this to any kind of leading in the general assembly of the saints. For instance, they do not think it proper to ask questions any time the whole church is gathered together. Some of the churches in Birmingham I know believe it’s wrong for a woman to answer a man’s question or read a Bible passage out loud during these assemblies.
These are intensely personal questions, and I admire the women who take a stand and walk in their faith on these things. Personally, I don’t think 1 Corinthians 14 limits a woman from speaking aloud to the whole group in the assembly, as long as she continues to walk by the general life principle of 1 Timothy 2:11-12:
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
I am interested to hear your thoughts. I understand this is a tough and heavily-contested passage, so feel free to raise questions or add comments to mine.