(OK, I admit I was partly inspired to write this post when watching the excellent live-action remake of Aladdin – specifically in the climax when Jasmine sings the inspiring song “Speechless“, which brought to mind certain attitudes toward women that some claim is Biblical.)
The Bible is filled with examples of women of faith who held leadership roles in both secular and religious contexts, who commanded men, had ministries, etc. Deborah, Esther, Priscilla, Hulda, Judith, etc are good examples. Deborah is a particularly striking example, as she was a government leader.
The Bible is similarly full of statements such as “There is neither… male nor female, for you are all one in Yehoshua [Jesus] the Messiah” (Galatians 3:28) or “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them”, clearly showing that gender should be about as much a consideration for anything in the Body of Christ as it is in the secular world – that is, it’s hardly a consideration at all. It’s undeniable that the world at the time – frequently including Israel – was male-dominated, but it’s equally obvious that that was not God’s intention.
Yet, there are many who, whether consciously or unconsciously, try to use the Scriptures to suppress and/or silence women. Many sincerely believe this to be what God wants, and don’t believe it falls within the mantle of misogyny. Most only apply it to church, and are fine with female breadwinners, CEOs, politicians, presidents, queens, etc, but freak out at the thought of a female pastor or bishop, no matter how qualified they are, and no matter how filled with the Spirit they may be. They’re of the wrong gender, so not up for consideration.
And then there are those who not only bring these attitudes to the clergy, but into the home, and use common claims about the Biblical position of women to justify chauvinistic and/or outright toxic and abusive behaviour, guilt-tripping and brainwashing their poor wives into thinking they’re defying YAH/God and the Bible if they dare to disagree with their husband. Having personally witnessed & grown up with such behaviour, combating these claims is a very personal mission.
(And if you think that’s never been mainstream, just check out the disgusting quotes about women from Martin Luther and some of the Church Fathers.)
There are 3 or 4 main Scriptures used to justify this, each of which I will address.
WOMEN AS A “HELPMEET”
In Genesis 2:18, describing God’s decision to create Eve for Adam, we read, “And YEHOVAH ELOHIM [The Lord God] said, ‘It is not good that the human should be alone; I will make for it a helper counterpart to it.'”
What’s the problem, and how on earth does this passage justify sexism? Well, most translations have YEHOVAH say that He will create “a help meet” or “a helpmate” for Adam, and that’s interpreted as meaning that womankind was created to be mankind’s subservient helper.
The only problem here is that the phrase translated as “help meet” in most translations (“helper counterpart” in mine) doesn’t imply any such thing. The word translated as “helper”, ezer, is used a number of times in Scripture to refer to God’s help, and the whole phrase ezer kenegdo means an equal, not a subordinate.
Usages of ‘ezer in the Old Testament show that in most cases God is an ‘ezer to human beings, which calls to question if the word “helper” is a valid interpretation of ‘ezer in any instance it is used. “Evidence indicates that the word ‘ezer originally had two roots, each beginning with different guttural sounds. One meant “power” and the other “strength.” As time passed, the two guttural sounds merged, but the meanings remained the same. The article below by William Sulik explains this point quite well. He references R. David Freedman and Biblical Archaeology Review 9 : 56-58).
“She was to be his “helper”–at least that is how most of the translations have interpreted this word. A sample of the translations reads as follows:
‘I shall make a helper fit for him’ (RSV); ‘I will make a fitting helper for him’ (New Jewish Publication Society); ‘I will make an aid fit for him’ (AB); ‘I will make him a helpmate’ (JB); ‘I will make a suitable partner for him’ (NAB); ‘I will make him a helper comparable to him’ (NKJV).
[Source: Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser, Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred Brauch]
However, the customary translation of the two words `ezer kenegdo as “helper fit is almost certainly wrong. Recently R. David Freedman has pointed out that the Hebrew word ezer is a combination of two roots: `-z-r, meaning “to rescue, to save,” and g-z-r, meaning “to be strong.” The difference between the two is the first letter in Hebrew. Today that letter is silent in Hebrew; but in ancient times, it was a guttural sound formed in the back of the throat. The “g” was a ghayyin, and it came to use the same Hebrew symbol as the other sound, `ayin. But the fact that they were pronounced differently is clear from such place names which preserve the “g” sound, such as Gaza or Gomorrah. Some Semitic languages distinguished between these two signs and others did not. For example, Ugaritic did make a distinction between the `ayin and the ghayyin; Hebrew did not. (R. David Freedman, “Woman, a Power Equal to a Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9 : 56-58).
It would appear that sometime around 1500 B.C., these two signs began to be represented by one sign in Phoenician. Consequently, the two “phonemes” merged into one “grapheme.” What had been two different roots merged into one, much as in English the one word “fast” can refer to a person’s speed, abstinence from food, his or her slyness in a “fast deal,” or the adamant way in which someone holds “fast” to positions. The noun `ezer occurs twenty-one times in the Old Testament. In many of the passages, it is used in parallelism to words that clearly denote strength or power. Some examples are:
“There is none like the God of Jeshurun, The Rider of the Heavens in your strength (`-z-r), and on the clouds in his majesty.” (Deut. 33:26, [author’s] translation)
“Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is the shield of your strength (`-z-r) and the sword of your majesty.” (Deut. 33:29, [author’s] translation)
The case that begins to build is that we can be sure that `ezer means “strength” or “power” whenever it is used in parallelism with words for majesty or other words for power such as `oz or `uzzo. In fact, the presence of two names for one king, Azariah and Uzziah, both referring to God’s strength, makes it abundantly clear that the root `ezer meaning “strength” was known in Hebrew.
Therefore, could we conclude that Genesis 2:18 be translated as “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding to man.” Freedman even suggests on the basis of later Hebrew that the second word in the Hebrew expression found in this verse should be rendered equal to him. If so, then God makes for the man a woman fully his equal and fully his match. In this way, the man’s loneliness will be assuaged.
The same line of reasoning occurs with the apostle Paul, who urged in 1 Corinthians 11:10, “For this reason, a woman must have power [or authority] on her head [that is to say, invested in her].”
This line of reasoning, which stresses full equality, is continued in Genesis 2:23 where Adam says of Eve, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” The idiomatic sense of this phrase “bone of my bones” is a “very close relative” to “one of us” or in effect “our equal.”
The woman was never meant to be an assistant or “helpmate” to the man. The word “mate” slipped into English since it was so close to the Old English word “meet,” which means “fit to” or “corresponding to” the man which comes from the phrase that likely means “equal to.”
What God had intended, then, was to make a “power” or “strength” for the man who would in every way “correspond to him” or even “be his equal.””
The Torah Study for Reform Jews says, “From the time of creation, relationships between spouses have at times been adversarial. In Genesis 2:18, God calls woman an ezer kenegdo, a “helper against him.” The great commentator Rashi takes the term literally to make a wonderful point: “If he [Adam] is worthy, [she will be] a help [ezer]. If he is not worthy [she will be] against him [kenegdo] for strife.” This Jewish study also described man and woman facing each other with arms raised holding an arch between them, giving a beautiful picture of equal responsibility
Another good discussion can be found here:
“YOUR DESIRE WILL BE TOWARDS YOUR HUSBAND, BUT HE WILL RULE OVER YOU”
This is taken from Genesis 3:16, part of God’s pronouncements after Adam and Eve sinned. Speaking to Eve, He said, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in sorrow you shall bring forth children. And your desire shall be toward your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Many interpret this as a statement of God’s ideal role model, BUT IT’S PRETTY FRIGGIN’ OBVIOUS THAT IT’S A CURSE THAT GOES AGAINST HIS INTENDED SITUATION!
1 TIMOTHY 2
In 1 Timothy 2:12, in most translations, Paul states: “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”
This is possibly the most commonly used verse in the debate. The first and foremost problem with this is that in the original Aramaic, the word translated as “authority” is MAMRAHA, the root of which has to do with insolence and BULLYING. The Greek word used, AUTHENTEIN, has to do with domineering or even forcing someone to do something against their will.
In other words, Paul’s talking about common decency in marriage THAT APPLIES TO BOTH genders. He’s not restricting women.
ADDITIONALLY, when Paul says “I do not allow”, the word translated as “allow” is EPITREPO, which in the NT is consistently used when giving or withholding permission IN A SPECIFIC AND LIMITED SITUATION – NOT WHEN GIVING UNIVERSAL COMMANDMENTS.
Additionally, whereas “men” and “women” were mentioned in the plural form in the preceding verses, Paul suddenly switches to referring to them in the singular in verses 11 & 12.
IN OTHER WORDS, 1 TIMOTHY 2:12 IS A REBUKE OF A SPECIFIC LOCAL WOMAN AND NOT AN ECCLESIASTICAL COMMANDMENT FOR THE REST OF US.
Fifth is the question of whether the words didaskein (“to teach”) and authentein are tied together to form a hendiadys. A hendiadys is where two words or two phrases combine to form one idea. Hendiadyses are common in the Old and New Testaments.
If 1 Timothy 2:12 contains a hendiadys, then Paul was not simply prohibiting a woman from teaching a man; rather, he was not allowing a certain kind of teaching from a woman. Perhaps he was not allowing a dominating kind of teaching. Perhaps he was not allowing the kind of teaching Jezebel of Thyatira was engaged in. (Revelation 2:20, which mentions “Jezebel”, contains a hendiadys: “teaching and leading astray.”)
If, on the other hand, 1 Timothy 2:12 does not contain a hendiadys, then didaskein (“to teach”) is not grammatically connected to the word for “man”; only authentein is connected to “man.” This is because didask– verbs typically take an accusative object, while authent– verbs take a genitive object, and the Greek word for “man” in 1 Timothy 2:12 is in the genitive case, andros. (More on authentein here.)
Note also that didaskein (“to teach”) occurs at the very beginning of the first phrase in 1 Timothy 2:12, in the Greek, while authentein andros occurs at the end of the phrase and is separated from didaskein by five words:
διδάσκειν δὲ γυναικὶ οὐκ ἐπιτρέπω, οὐδὲ αὐθεντεῖν ἀνδρός.
If 1 Timothy 2:12 does not contain a hendiadys and “to teach” is not connected to “a man,” then the prohibition of a woman teaching has nothing to do with the idea that women can’t teach men. Furthermore, since 1 Timothy 2:11 states that a woman must learn, it is reasonable to assume that the woman in question (or women) was not yet qualified to teach anyone: men, women, or children.
Whether 1 Timothy 2:12 contains a hendiadys or not, there is nothing to suggest Paul was disallowing sound teaching from an educated, well-behaved woman.
ADDITIONALLY, “be quiet” is a mistranslation; the Greek word simply means to be calm or relaxed.
(Additionally, Acts 18:26 clearly states that Aquila AND PRISCILLA taught a man the Gospel in private. A woman taught a man. And it was perfectly fine.)
1 CORINTHIANS 14:34-35
This passage’s common application is particularly malicious. “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
If this verse’s common interpretation is true, then Paul is a hypocrite – he mentions women praying AND PROPHESYING in church. And he was completely fine with it.
Marg Mowczko provides an excellent discussion of this chapter and the pros and cons of the various interpretations – and why the traditional interpretation is shaky at best.
… the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but are to submit [or control] themselves, as the law also says. If they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home, since it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.1 Corinthians 14:34-35 CSB
Several New Testament passages are regarded as critical in the current debate about the roles of women in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is one of these passages. Throughout the Church’s history, many explanations have been offered by biblical scholars about how 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is to be interpreted and applied. The purpose of this article is to present brief summaries of some of these interpretations by a few well-known classical and contemporary scholars, as well as to determine what 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 might mean and how it might be applied in contemporary church life.
Women must be Completely Silent during Church Meetings
At first glance, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 seems clear: women are not permitted to talk in congregational meetings and must be silent. This is the stance many have taken throughout much of the Church’s history.
From Tertullian to Thomas Aquinas, commentators concluded that women could not even sing or pray audibly among men. Although the Reformers relaxed some of these restrictions, as late as the 1890s certain Presbyterians still forbade women’s singing in the context of church worship. (Grenz 1995:121)
Silence is called for three times in 1 Corinthians 14: in verses 28, 30 and 34. In 1 Corinthians 14:28 and 30, silence is called for in specific situations to regulate congregational contributions to the meetings. (The “silence” in verses 28 and 30 is not gender-specific.) It is likely the silence called for in verse 34 is also addressing a specific situation and is not meant to be a blanket statement to silence all women for all time in church meetings.
In fact, Paul’s intention could not have been to silence women at all times during church meetings. In 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul acknowledges that women prophesied and prayed aloud in church, and he doesn’t silence them.
Paul not only approved of praying and prophesying by women in the assembly but he encouraged it! Reading 1 Corinthians 11:10 with the literal, active voice (“has authority”) instead of the presumed, passive voice (“sign of authority”), Paul states that a woman has authority (has the right!) to pray and prophesy . . . (Hicks 1990)
If Paul condones verbal ministry from women in chapter 11, it is unlikely that he censures it in chapter 14. It is more likely Paul was prohibiting a certain form of speech from the women in 14:34-35. Several theologians have tried to identify the type of speech that Paul appears to be disallowing.
Women must not Engage in Idle Chatter in Church Meetings
In his Homily 9 on First Timothy, Early Church Father John Chrysostom refers to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. His view was that some women were treating congregational meetings as an opportunity for socialising and recreation. He mentions that women chatted more during church gatherings than they did in the marketplace or the public bath. Chrysostom wrote that it is this idle conversation that brings confusion into church meetings.
Chrysostom, among others, believed that the instructions in verses 34-35 were designed to prohibit nuisance chatter from the women. To support this understanding, some people have interpreted the Greek word laleō, used in both verse 34 and 35, to mean “chatter” or “babbling.” Laleō, however, is a common word in the New Testament and simply means “speak.” Moreover, in the immediate context of verses 34-35, Paul used the word laleō three times to refer to the speaking ministries of tongues and prophecy, and not to chatter (1 Cor. 14:27-29).
If, however, the intent of verses 34-35 was to silence women who were disrupting congregational meetings with inconsiderate chatter, then these verses cannot be used to silence women who have a valid speaking ministry.
Women must not Disrupt Church Meetings with Rudimentary Questions
1 Corinthians 14:35 begins with, “But if they [the women] wish ‘to learn’ (Greek: mathein) . . .” Craig S. Keener, who takes into consideration the culture of learning in the first century, believes that the problem being addressed in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was that women were interrupting the flow of congregational meetings by asking too many rudimentary questions. He writes, “Throughout the first-century Mediterranean world, novices were expected to learn quietly, but more advanced students were expected to interrupt all kinds of public lectures with questions.” (Keener 2001:50) Keener believes that the Corinthian women may not have realised that interrupting the meetings with their basic questions was culturally inappropriate, even shameful.
According to Keener’s explanation, 14:34-35 was intended to silence ignorant questions posed by uneducated women. But today, in most churches in the western world, spontaneous questions from the congregation are dissuaded, and women are mostly well-educated, so if Keener’s explanation is correct, 14:34-35 has little application in contemporary church life.
However, it is difficult to see how verses 36-37 follow on from the idea of ignorant, nuisance questions, unless the women were monopolising the meetings with their questions and were also behaving arrogantly. Verse 38, on the other hand, fits well with the idea of ignorant people with ignorant questions: “But if anyone ignores this [or, is ignorant], they themselves will be ignored” (1 Cor. 14:38 NIV 2011) Keener’s interpretation is plausible, especially as the idea of ignorance is emphasised in verse 38.
A popular view, somewhat similar to Keener’s explanation, is that men and women were segregated in the Corinthian church that met in a synagogue, and that women were calling out questions to their husbands seated some distance away, thus disturbing the meeting. However, there is no historical or archaeological evidence that supports the idea that men and women were segregated in church or synagogue meetings at that time. Moreover, while the Corinthian church started in a synagogue (Acts 18:4), at the time of Paul’s letter, the church met in homes (Acts 18:7). (Keener 2004:161)
Women must not Evaluate Prophecy Audibly
1 Corinthians chapter 14 is largely advice concerned with the regulation of prophetic speech in church meetings. In 14:29 Paul wrote, “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” With this context in mind, Wayne Grudem proposes that Paul’s intent in 14:34-35 is to silence women from evaluating prophecy.
On this view, Paul would be saying, “Let the others [that is the rest of the congregation] weigh what is said [by the prophets . . . but] the women should keep silence in the churches.” In other words, women could not give spoken criticisms of the prophecies . . . (Grudem 1988:220-221) (His use of square brackets)
Grudem goes on to say that women may evaluate prophecy silently in their own mind, but cannot voice these evaluations audibly as this requires spiritual authority. He acknowledges that Paul allows women to pray, speak in tongues, and prophesy aloud in church meetings, yet he maintains that women may not minister in any way that can be construed as exercising spiritual authority.
Prophecy is arguably an influential ministry that can carry a great deal of spiritual authority. Paul lists the ministry of prophecy before the ministry of teaching in the lists of ministries in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and in Ephesians 4:11 (cf. Eph. 2:20a; 3:5b). So it is unclear why Grudem considers the ministry of prophecy as lacking spiritual authority. Wayne Grudem is well-known for espousing a hierarchical complementarian ideology regarding so-called gender roles. It seems he has manufactured the idea that the ministry of prophecy lacks spiritual authority simply because the scriptures show that prophecy is a ministry open to women.
Grudem claims his interpretation of verses 34-35—that women cannot evaluate prophecy audibly—is consistent with the context of Chapter 14, but it is difficult to see how verse 36 fits. The subject shifts suddenly from instructions about women (in verses 34-35), to a reprimand to a group which, according to the Greek grammar, includes men or consists only of men (in verse 36). (More on this below.) Grudem’s view is not as neat as he claims it to be.
Women must not ask Personal Questions of the Prophets
Ben Witherington takes into account the broader Corinthian culture in trying to determine the meaning of 14:34-35. Witherington believes it is likely that the Christians in Corinth, in particular, those with pagan backgrounds, had incorporated inappropriate pagan worship practices into Christian worship. (Witherington 1995:274; cf. Keener 1992:78; Kroeger 1978)
Since the sixth-century BC, Greece was famous for the oracle at Delphi. In the Temple of Apollos at Delphi, a prophetess called the Pythia would respond to questions asked from inquirers. In ancient times, people travelled great distances to ask the Pythia questions. With this in mind, Ben Witherington (1995:287) suggests this following context for 14:34-35:
It is very believable that these women [in the Corinthian church] assumed that Christian prophets or prophetesses functioned much like the oracle at Delphi, who only prophesied in response to questions, including questions about purely personal matters. Paul argues that Christian prophecy is different: Prophets and prophetesses speak in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, without any human priming of the pump. Paul then limits such questions to another location, namely home.
If Witherington’s suggestion is correct, the women were mistaking the true function of prophets and were hampering the ministry of Christian prophecy by asking questions about personal, and possibly domestic and mundane, concerns that would not have been edifying for others. If Paul is silencing the women from asking personal questions of the prophets then, again, 14:34-35 cannot be used to silence gifted women with a valid speaking ministry.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a Quotation
While many of the scholars mentioned so far have tried to determine the meaning of 14:34-35 by exploring the broader sociological context of the first-century Corinthian church, others have focussed on the text of 14:34-35 in trying to determine how to interpret and apply these verses.
First Corinthians was written in response to a verbal report from Chloe’s people (1 Cor. 1:11) and in response to a letter Paul had received from the Corinthians asking his advice (1 Cor. 7:1). At times it is evident in his letter that Paul is quoting from the Corinthian’s letter as he deals with its contents. Some of these quotations include, “It is not good for a man to touch a woman” (1 Cor. 7:1); “We all possess knowledge” (1 Cor. 8:1); “There is no resurrection” and “Christ has not been raised” (1 Cor. 15:12, 14). Some scholars believe that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 may also be a quotation. This would account for the way it does not seem to fit with what Paul is saying in the surrounding verses.
1 Corinthians 1:10ff tells us that there were competing factions in the Corinthian church (cf. 1 Cor. 11:18-19). It is possible that one of these factions was trying to silence women in church meetings. This would have been a real concern for women like Chloe. Perhaps Paul quotes the faction’s injunction for women to be silent in 14:34-35, but then reprimands the faction, which includes men, with, “What!” Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?” (cf. 1 Cor. 14:36 KJV and 1 Cor. 14:36 NRSV). The Greek adjective monous, which occurs in verse 36 and is translated as “only ones” in the NRSV, is grammatically masculine. According to Greek grammar, this adjective cannot refer only to women. The masculine gender of “only ones” in verse 36 does not seem to follow logically after 14:34-35 and its instructions to women, unless verse 36 is a reprimand to a group of men that wants to silence women.
The view that 14:34-35 is a non-Pauline quotation is one of the few that offers a plausible explanation for the jarring change of tone which verses 34-35 bring into the text, as well as the subsequent abrupt change of topic, tone, and gender in verse 36. If this explanation is the correct one, then Paul is not silencing women in 14:34-35. Rather, Paul quotes and then rebukes the people who are trying to silence the women.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an Interpolation 
As noted, verses 34-35 sit uncomfortably within 1 Corinthians 14, both grammatically and hermeneutically. In fact, if you skip over verses 33b-35, and go straight from verse 33a to verse 36, the passage flows and makes good sense. Furthermore, because of the existence of textual variations involving verses 34-35 in several early manuscripts of 1 Corinthians, some scholars, notably Gordon D. Fee and Philip B. Payne, suggest that 14:34-35 may have been inserted into the text of Paul’s letter by an unknown author at a very early date.
In several early (mostly Western) texts of 1 Corinthians 14, verses 34-35 are located after verse 40. Metzger (1994:499) offers an explanation for the different location of these verses: “Such scribal alterations represent attempts to find a more appropriate location in the context for Paul’s directive concerning women.”
The sixth-century Codex Fuldensis is especially ambiguous in its treatment of verses 34-35.
The Latin text of 1 Corinthians 14 runs onward throughout the chapter to ver. 40. [But] following ver. 33 is a scribal siglum that directs the reader to a note standing in the margin of the page. This note provides the text of verses 36 through 40. [But omits verses 34-35.] Does the scribe, without actually deleting verses 34-35 from the [main] text, intend the liturgist to omit them when reading the lesson? (Metzger 1994:499) [My square brackets.]
These textual variations, plus others, suggests that 34-35 may not be original. If 14:34-35 is a non-Pauline interpolation, then the scriptural authority of this verse is dubious and its use to silence women is questionable.
“Women are to subject themselves, just as ‘the law’ also says.”
Apart from the uncertainty as to what sort of speech is being prohibited, another significant problem with understanding the intent of 14:34-35 is knowing what is meant by the “law” (nomos) mentioned in verse 34. Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible, often referred to in the New Testament as “the Law” (nomos), does it command or instruct women to be silent or to be in submission. Yet Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and many other theologians took nomos in 14:34-35 to refer to the Old Testament and, specifically, to Genesis 3:16. (Krizo 2009:33)
Grudem, however, is careful to distance himself from linking the complementarian concept of male authority with Genesis 3:16 and the Fall. Grudem claims that “the Law” probably refers to the Old Testament in general and Genesis 2 in particular “where Adam is the ‘firstborn.’” (Grudem 1988:223) Hierarchical complementarians use the created order of Adam first, and Eve second, to support their view that God has ordained men to have authority over women. [I have written about “the Created Order” here.]
Other theologians suggest that Paul is referring to a Rabbinic Law. Still others suggest that Paul is referring to a Roman Law. There were many Roman laws that governed various religious observances in the Roman world. Richard and Catherine Kroeger (1978:9) believe that Paul is referring to laws passed by the Roman Senate that were designed to curb women from engaging in wild, orgiastic Bacchanal worship. The Kroegers believe the Christian women in Corinth may have imitated Bacchanalian worship styles in church meetings, and so Paul instructs them in 14:34-35 to be silent, control themselves, and stop acting disgracefully. Grudem (1988:223), however, notes that “in the 119 occurrences of the word “law” (nomos) in Paul’s letters it never unambiguously refers to either Rabbinic law or Roman Law.” Cynthia Long Westfall (2016:237, fn85), on the other hand, states that nomos is used here with “its most common meaning ‘rule, principle, norm.’” According to this understanding, talkative women were to be quiet and behave according to the cultural norms of the day.
As already noted, the Hebrew Bible contains no instructions, or even encouragements, for women to be silent or submissive. Jim Reiher (2006:83) suggests that since the Greek Christians in Corinth would not have known the Jewish law as well as the Jewish Christians, it is possible the Corinthians may have simply been mistaken on this issue of “the Law.” Or perhaps the people who were trying to silence women in the Corinthian church mentioned “the Law” speciously to support their view.
The ambiguous reference to “the law” is a hindrance to understanding the real meaning of 14:34-35. The verb “be subject” (or “be submissive”) is less ambiguous. Nevertheless, some people assume that the submission called for in verse 34 is the submission of wives to husbands. Some apply it even more widely and believe that Paul was directing women, as a group, to be subordinate to men, not just to husbands. Importantly, however, the same verb is also used two verses earlier, in verse 32, where it says, “The spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets.” The Kroegers (1978), and others, believe that Paul is using the word “subject” to mean “control,” and that Paul is instructing the prophets to control their spiritual gift of prophecy and not get carried away like some pagan prophets. The NIV conveys this meaning in its translation of verse 32: “The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of the prophets.” (My italics.) Similarly, the use of the word “subject/submit” in verse 34 may be an injunction to the women to exercise control in the manner they speak (restraint in asking questions?), and not get carried away.
Chloe of Corinth
One woman who may have ministered in the church at Corinth was Chloe. In the opening chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that he has learnt that there are problems and factions within the Corinthian church from some people who had come from Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11). These people somehow belonged to Chloe. They may have been members of her household and members of her church. 
Chloe may have sent these people to Paul. Sending a delegation is clearly something only a person functioning as a leader can do. Considering the purpose of the delegation, and assuming Chloe is a Jesus’ follower, it seems she was a church leader. Perhaps Chloe’s people did not just bring a verbal report to Paul about the problems in the Corinthian church, perhaps they also brought the letter which Paul responds to in 1 Corinthians. Could Chloe, as a concerned church leader in Corinth, have written this letter?
In New Testament times, most Christian congregations met in homes, and some house churches were hosted, cared for, and led by women. Nympha was the host of a house church (Col. 4:15), and so was Priscilla, with her husband Aquila (1 Cor. 16:19). It is unlikely that Paul would restrict Christian women from ministering in their own homes, especially as the New Testament provides ample evidence that Paul greatly valued the ministry of his female colleagues. Knowing that some early churches were hosted and led by women, makes the interpretation that women were not permitted to speak in church meetings unlikely.
The summaries presented in this article are a sample of some of the better-known interpretations of 14:34-35. Still more interpretations have been proposed by respected scholars. Because of this variety of interpretations, it is difficult to know precisely how to understand and apply these verses, especially in the context of the contemporary church.
One thing is certain however, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 cannot be used to completely silence women from speaking in church meetings, as Paul condones the verbal ministries of prayer and prophecy from women. Taking into account that Paul condones women who prophesy, it is difficult to see how 14:34-35 can be used to exclude women from other equally influential and authoritative speaking ministries in the church. Furthermore, the meaning, intent, and even the authorship, of 14:34-35 is uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, we need to be wary about using these verses definitively in the continuing debate
Assuming the passage is authentic and not a quotation of a false doctrine, Marg has some interesting points:
Surprisingly for me, a few Christians are still using 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to silence intelligent, godly and gifted women in church meetings. Someone left a comment yesterday in response to my article “Did Priscilla teach Apollos?” and quoted 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in full, implying that Priscilla could not have taught Apollos because Paul did not allow women to speak in church.
I wrote a reply which I have edited and added to, and I’ve posted it here.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is not about prohibiting women from teaching. I suggest it is about silencing certain women in Corinth who wanted to learn but were asking too many basic or, possibly, personal questions during church meetings. Paul’s solution to this problem is that these women ask their, typically, more-educated husbands later in the privacy of their homes.
Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians is all about maintaining order and decorum in church gatherings and silencing the disorderly talk from some tongues-speakers, prophets, and women. The same imperative Greek verb for “be silent” is used for each of these three groups of people.
~ A tongues-speaker, male or female, is to be silent (sigaō) and stop speaking in tongues if there is no one to interpret (1 Cor. 14:28 ESV).
~ A prophet, male or female, is to be silent (sigaō) and stop prophesying if someone else receives a revelation (1 Cor. 14:30).
~ Women are to be silent (sigaō) and stop asking questions if there is anything they want to learn (manthanō); they should keep their questions for home (1 Cor. 14:34-35). These questions may have been directed to the men and women prophesying: prophecy was so that everyone could learn (manthanō) and be encouraged. See 1 Corinthians 14:31 CSB.
All these people need to hold their tongues and stop speaking in these situations. But 1 Corinthians 14 is not about silencing tongues-speakers, prophets, or women altogether.
1 Corinthians 14:26-40, which contains verses 34-35, is book-ended by verses which show that the issue in Corinth was unruly, unedifying speech. These book-ended verses also promote edifying, gifted speech and they encourage orderly participation, regardless of gender (1 Cor. 14:26, 39-40 CSB).
In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul acknowledges that Corinthian women prayed and prophesied aloud in church gatherings, and he doesn’t silence them (1 Cor. 11:5). Furthermore, in chapters 12 and 14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions several ministries, some of which are vocal, without saying that they are only for men (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 28; 14:26 CSB).
Bring on woman pastors. Bring on woman breadwinners. Bring on woman bishops. Bring on woman priests, archbishops and cardinals. Dare I say, bring on a female pope? The traditional patriarchal interpretation and role model is wrong.
The movie scene that partly inspired this post (very applicable):
The full song: