Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak. Paul was emphasizing the fact that the principle of women’s not speaking in church services was not local, geographical, or cultural, but universal, in all the churches of the saints. Though it embraces tongues, the context here refers to prophecy. Women are not to exercise any such ministries.
The women who joined in the chaotic self–expression which Paul has been condemning not only added to the confusion but should not have been speaking in the first place. In God’s order for the church, women should subject themselves, just as the Law also says. The principle was first taught in the Old Testament and is reaffirmed in the New In reflection of that principle, no women were permitted to speak at the Jewish synagogues.
One of the designs of creation, as well as one of the primary consequences of the Fall, was the submission of women (Gen. 3:16). Paul reflected that principle explicitly when he said, “Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1 Tim. 2:11–12). Paul’s argument was not based on cultural standards but on two historic and foundational facts: (1) “Adam … was first created, and then Eve” and (2) “it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman” (vv. 13–14). Men are to lead in love; women are to submit in love. That is God’s design.
It is not coincidental that, like Corinth, many of the churches today that practice speaking in tongues and claim gifts of healing also permit women to engage in speaking ministry. Many charismatic groups, in fact, were begun by women, just as many of the cults that have sprung from Christianity were founded by women. When women usurp man’s God–ordained role, they inevitably fall into other unbiblical practices and delusions.
Women may be highly gifted teachers and leaders, but those gifts are not to be exercised over men in the services of the church. God has ordained order in His creation, an order that reflects His own nature and that therefore should be reflected in His church. When any part of His order is ignored or rejected, His church is weakened and He is dishonored. Just as God’s Spirit cannot be in control where there is confusion and chaos in the church, He cannot be in control where women take upon themselves roles that He has restricted to men. It is improper [aischros, “shameful, disgraceful”] for a woman to speak in church. That statement leaves no question as to its meaning.
If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home. The implication is present in this statement that certain women were out of order in asking questions in the church service. If they desired to learn, the church was no place for them to express their questions in a disruptive way. Paul also implies, of course, that Christian husbands should be well taught in the Word. Many women are tempted to go beyond their biblical roles because of frustration with Christian men, often including their own husbands, who do not responsibly fulfill the leadership assignments God has given them. But God has established the proper order and relationship of male–female roles in the church, and they are not to be transgressed for any reason. For a woman to take on a man’s role because he has neglected it merely compounds the problem. It is not possible for a woman to substitute for a man in such things. God often has led women to do work that men have refused to do, but He does not lead them to accomplish that work through roles He has restricted to men.
There are times in informal meetings and Bible studies where it is entirely proper for men and women to share equally in exchanging questions and insights. But when the church comes together as a body to worship God, His standards are clear: the role of leadership is reserved for men.