And I quote… “Women should be silent.”

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. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Did Paul command women to be silent in church? What law tells women to be in submission and silent? Does it apply to women today? How can Paul change his mind so quickly? In chapter 11, he wants women to pray and prophecy. Now he tells them to not talk? Can’t he make up his mind?

Paul does not hate women. Quite the contrary. Paul liberates women from the social confines of his day. But the way his words have been translated into English, you might get the opposite impression of his strong language. Because not everything attributed as Paul’s words, were actually his.

Paul quoted others.

Written Greek does not use punctuation. No handy quotation marks designate another speaker source. Yet, Paul quotes slogans or the words from letters in a number of places in 1 Corinthians. Here are a few examples:

I have the right to  do anything,—but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Really? Paul has the right to do anything? Do we have the right to do anything we want, too? Of course not. “I have the right to do anything” is a Corinthians slogan, not Paul’s declarative statement. Some English translations help us see this by encasing the slogan in quotes.

Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both. The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the  Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians 6:13

Does Paul liberate our stomach, yet restrict our body? No. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both” was what the Corinthian church believed. Paul was setting them straight. English punctuation helps clarify Paul’s original intent.

Now for the matters  you wrote about: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. 1 Corinthians 7:1

Wait. Sex isn’t good? But I thought Paul wants those who desire sex to get married 35 verses later? Is he flip-flopping on this issue too? Nope. “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” was what the Corinthian church was asking. It is good! And here Paul references the Corinthian’s question, so we know quotes are in order.

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 1 Corinthians 14:34

Silent? But he tells the women to pray and prophecy in chapter 11! And Paul wants us to follow the law?  That makes no sense according to his letter to the Galatians and Romans. So, what if Paul never declared any of these things about women? Instead, he quotes the words of others?

Quotations in English translations

Quotation marks and speaker designation are added to some English translations of the Bible and not to others. It is a matter of interpretational clarity. Since we can’t know for certain if Paul was quoting another source, due to the lack of original quotes, it requires study and judgment to know what to attribute as his words.

What if Paul was quoting a slogan when he said women should be silent? Not declaring a command for women, but refuting one?

Silent Women contradicts other Scripture

In Acts 2, men and women spoke freely as the Spirit came upon them. In fact, it was fulfilled prophecy that women would speak as well as men. (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29) Priscilla was not a quiet-ask-questions-of-her-husband-at-home, kind of woman, was she? She was a teacher; able to persuade and debate with learned men. (Apollos) Jesus encouraged women to learn – where? At home? No. At his feet, in public. Did he silence them? NO! He opened their mouths and encouraged them to tell others.

Neither is there an Old Testament “law” regarding the silence of women in worship, nor for women to be submissive to their husbands. If it was written there, Paul always indicates its authority with the words, “It is written.”  And he never asks Christians to base their behavior on law keeping. This appeal to the “law” is not consistent with Paul’s previous handling of Old Testament Scripture.

Next ask yourself this question: If this one only utterance of St. Paul’s is to be set up as a Scriptural “law” to silence women, then what is to be done with the hundred and one other “laws” in the O. T. opening the mouths of women, such as “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,” “Praise ye the Lord” (repeated about a hundred times in the Psalms alone), “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” “Declare His doings among the people,” “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord,” “Tell of all His wondrous works”? For it is simply impossible for men to set up an effectual claim, that all these admonitions and exhortations in the O. T. were meant for themselves only.  (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, para 200.)

But this “law” is consistent with either the Jewish oral traditions that were misogynistic toward women or popular Greek philosophy that was equally biased toward females. It is likely Paul was quoting a slogan from one of these sources that held influence over his Corinthian readers.

Adam Clarke (1762-1832) represents one of the earliest post-reformists biblical scholar who said that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 “was a Jewish ordinance” because “women were not permitted to teach in the assemblies or even to ask questions.” (source)


How does Paul respond to this oral law about the silencing of women? Read verse 36.

What! Came the word of God out from you or came it unto you only? (KJV)

Did men alone receive the Spirit at Pentecost? Is the Word of God for men only? Hogwash. The totality of Scripture and Paul agree. Women should NOT remain silent. Let the redeemed of the Lord, speak!

Further reading from a better article than mine!

11 thoughts on “And I quote… “Women should be silent.”

  1. While Payne’s work on this has been criticized, I think he is right that it is an interpolation. I think we see a similar thing in evidence in a manuscript of Romans. See my blog post:


  2. THere is strong evidence, according to Dr. Philip Payne, that these 2 verses are interpolations. Dr. Payne was so famous in his work with original manuscripts that he was invited to go to the Vatican and examined all known ancient manuscripts that contain these 2 verses. ( its is a BIG DEAL to be invited to do this scholarly work ) ALL the manuscripts that he examined have an “obelisk” (sp?) in front and at the end of the 2 verses, indicating that it was inserted into the text. Of course no-one knows if the author or someone else inserted them. He explained this at a workshop in the CBE conference July this year, in Seattle. I was at the workshop. He said he wrote a paper on this and will try to get the paper published. Almost no-one gets to go to the Vatican to examine old manuscripts. The man responsible for keeping the manuscripts personally invited Dr. Payne, and of course you need special equipment to even read those old manuscripts. That man also saw the evidence and he agreed that these 2 verses had been added. However, it is possible that Paul added it himself. Or, someone else did. No-one can prove one way or the other. But the curious thing is, ALL manuscripts show “obelisks” in front and behind the verses. BTW, Dr. Philip Payne spent 30+ years studying the gender question and changed from a traditionalist to an egalitarian. Please read his book Man and Woman, One in Christ. A few of us egalitarians have invited Dr. Payne to come to Houston to speak at a one day conference that CBE and Fuller will co-bring to Houston. It will be at the Heights CHurch of Christ, April 27-28, 2012,. For anyone interested in hearing Dr. Payne in person, please stay tuned.


    1. Kay, if you’re interested in the subject, you should take a look at Philip Payne’s work. The evidence he’s pieced together makes a really convincing argument that in this case it’s not in Paul’s original text. He lives in Edmonds and I’m friends with his son so I’ve had a chance to talk with him in person about it. Very cool stuff.


  3. Isn’t this passage too long to be a Corinthian slogan? We have good evidence of misogynist corruptions of scripture, so I prefer the interpolation theory, though I am open to persuasion.


    1. Is there a limit on how long a quote, saying or slogan can be? 🙂

      I am always reticent to go with interpolation – an interpolation is when matierial is inserted into the text that is not original, usually from a scribal/marginal note. There is definitely enough evidence to make scholars doubt the authenticity of these verses. (Another reason why we shouldn’t bar half the human race from speaking in church!) There is external evidence from the manuscripts and internal evidence which I stated in my post.

      Whether its interpolation or Paul quoting another source, the conclusion is the same and that is whats important… God does not want women to be silenced.


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