Women Keeping Silent?

Denny Burk interprets the text (original source here:
https://cbmw.org/topics/complementarianism/must-women-really-keep-silent-in-the-churches/ )

The interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 has proven to be more than a little controversial over the years. The reason for that is due in no small part to the clash that this text brings to modern egalitarian sensibilities. Paul writes,

33b As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

What is going on in these verses? Does Paul really mean to say that women must never say anything in a worship service? That is how some people have read these verses over the years, but I think that is a misreading of the text. Why? For starters, it would create a hopeless contradiction with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:5, which indicates that women were “praying and prophesying” in the church. Paul doesn’t rebuke their praying and prophesying in church. On the contrary, he gives them instructions on how to do it in the right way! In a way that allows them to speak but that at the same time honors male headship.

Women prophesying in the assembly was in keeping with what the apostle Peter said was characteristic of the New Covenant gift of the Spirit predicted in Joel 2, “‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…’” (Acts 2:17). Who’s going to prophesy? Sons and daughters.

So if you take verse 34 to be an absolute prohibition on women speaking at all in a worship service, then you have adopted an interpretation that makes chapter 14 to contradict chapter 11. And that cannot be, because God cannot contradict himself.

This apparent contradiction has led some interpreters to suggest that verses 14:34-35 were not really written by Paul. They argue that some scribe must have come along after Paul and slipped these verses into Paul’s letter. The only problem with this view is that every single Greek manuscript of 1 Corinthians that we have includes these verses. There are a handful of manuscripts in which the verses appear after verse 40. But that is not evidence that verses 34-35 aren’t original to Paul. It’s evidence that some scribes sought to preserve the flow of Paul’s argument about prophecy by moving these two verses to the end. They were wrong to do that, but we would be doing worse than they did to rip them out of the text altogether.

No, these verses are original to Paul. So does that mean we have a contradiction with chapter 11? No, it doesn’t. If we read these verses in context, it’s very clear what is going on here. Paul is commanding the women to keep silent in a certain context—during the judgment of prophecies. Remember what Paul just said in verses 29 and 32:

29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said… 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.

Prophets are not only supposed to prophesy but also to evaluate other prophesies to see whether they are true. Why? Because the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. A prophet must submit to the evaluation of other prophets.

But this creates a potential problem. What happens if a husband prophesies, and his wife is a prophet as well? Is the husband supposed to be subject to his wife during the judgment of prophecies? Are husbands and wives supposed to suspend male headship during corporate worship? Paul’s answer to that question is a clear no.

Paul does not want anything to happen during corporate worship that would upset the headship principle that he so carefully exhorted them to obey in 1 Cor. 11:2-16. For that reason, he enjoins women in this context to refrain from the judgment of prophecies. He’s not commanding an absolute silence on the part of women. Indeed he expects them to be praying and prophesying. He does, however, command them to be silent whenever prophesies are being judged. And the women are to do so out of deference to male headship.

Notice that the explanation in verse 34 indicates that headship is indeed the issue: “The women… should be in submission…” The Greek word translated as “submission” is the same one from verse 32. A woman cannot be subject to her husband while simultaneously expecting him to submit to her judgments about his prophecy. To avoid this conflict, Paul says that while women may prophesy, they may not participate in the judgment of prophesies (see D. A. Carson, RBMW). In this case, the judgment of prophecies is tantamount to teaching, which Paul absolutely prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12.

Paul then instructs:

 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

If a woman has a question about a prophecy, she should reserve all discussions for private conversations with her husband. She shouldn’t raise questions or objections during the worship service. Why? For it is shameful for her to “speak” in any way that might suggest a subversion of male headship. The word translated as “shameful” is only used one other time in 1 Corinthians—in chapter 11:6 where Paul once again is talking about potential violations of male headship.

Again, Paul is not against women speaking altogether. He acknowledges that they are praying out loud and prophesying out loud in the assembly (1 Cor. 11:5). He simply does not want them to evaluate prophecies in the assembly because that would violate the headship norm.

If this interpretation is correct, then there are at least two implications that we should heed during worship with our own congregations. First, we go beyond the example of scripture if we foreclose what Paul clearly allows—women praying and sharing God’s revelation during worship services. I happen to be a cessationist, which means that I do not believe that prophecy is an ongoing experience in Christ’s churches (go here for my defense of cessationism). Having said that, God’s revelation still has a place in our worship services through scripture. Today, reading aloud God’s revelation from scripture is the functional equivalent of prophesying God’s revelation in Paul’s day. Biblically speaking, it would be totally in keeping with Paul’s instructions for women to be reading scripture and praying during the gathered assembly of God’s people. Both of those things can be done in a way that honors the headship principle (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2-16).

Second, it would be a violation of headship for women to teach or to exercise authority in corporate worship. Teaching is explaining and applying an already-given revelation. The judgment of prophecies would have included evaluations which are the functional equivalent of teaching. And that is why Paul does not wish for women to judge prophecies in the gathered assembly. It would be like allowing them to teach and to exercise authority—something that he clearly prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12“I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”

Paul has one last item that is worthy of commenting on:

36 Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached?

Remember that Paul begins his command with an appeal to how things are done “in all the churches” (v. 33b). Why was that a relevant consideration? The word of God is not the exclusive domain of any one church. The word of God did not originate in Corinth, nor was it the only place that it came to. The word of God is abroad in the churches. The Corinthians need to pay attention to how the Spirit of God is moving and working in all the churches. If all the churches are hearing from the Spirit one thing, but the Corinthians are practicing another thing, then that’s a good indication that the Corinthians are the outliers, not everyone else. Everyone else is observing male headship. So also should Corinth. As Paul writes about headship in 1 Corinthians 11:16, “We have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.”

Paul wishes to emphasize that his teaching about male headship is not something that is good for some people but not for others. No, it is a part of God’s creation design, and it is the pattern that must prevail in every church. Verse 36 confirms that the word of God is not the exclusive domain of the Corinthian church. God’s word came to them and to all the other churches. If that is true, then the Corinthians ought to be honoring male headship just as all the other churches do.

People attempt to suppress Paul’s teaching about headship in a variety of ways. Some say that “head” doesn’t really mean authority. Others say that these verses aren’t really written by Paul. Others dismiss “headship” as “white” theology or some other cultural construct. All of that is rubbish. Paul says that the headship principle is recognized in all his churches. And so it must be in ours.

Justification & Adoption

That justification—by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance for the future—is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing, because it meets our primary spiritual need. We all stand by nature under God’s judgment; his law condemns us; guilt gnaws at us, making us restless, miserable, and in our lucid moments afraid; we have no peace in ourselves because we have no peace with our Maker. So we need the forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God, more than we need anything else in the world; and this the gospel offers us before it offers us anything else…

But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with the God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.

Grieving a Miscarriage

Article by Rev. Ian Macleod, graduate of PRTS and currently pastor of the Free Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids.

In trying to emphasize the unbreakable love and faithfulness God has to His people, the prophet Isaiah contrasts it to the strongest human affection he can find: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isa. 49:15). The contrast is so powerful precisely because of the strength of the mother-child bond. Therefore, what could be more unnatural and painful than that this bond should be intruded upon by death? Words fail to adequately express the aching loss a mother and a father experience in the death of “the son of her womb.” These are difficult questions: How do we learn to grieve a miscarriage? What comfort is there for those who have experienced the pain of miscarriage?

The answer to these questions is found in the Word of God. The loss of miscarriage throws up many hard questions in the minds of grieving parents. Why did this happen? Why now? It seems that most of the time the Lord answers these questions in a way similar to the way Jesus once replied to Peter : “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13:7). Yet the Lord repeatedly reminds His people in Scripture: “My dear child, what I am doing is good, it is for the best, and even when you do not understand why, understand that behind everything I do is infinite wisdom coupled with covenant love.” This is how believing parents are able to say, even from the depth and confusion of miscarriage grief, “In the multitude of my thoughts (anxieties) within me thy comforts delight my soul” (Ps. 94:19).

There is perhaps one question above all others to which the aching heart of the mother and father crave an answer: Is my child in heaven? The Bible says, “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17); “Hear and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:3). The parent might reason: “But my child never heard the gospel. He or she never had the capacity to hear the word and exercise faith. Is it not just wishful thinking therefore to say my child is in heaven?” What comforts does the Word of God give to parents concerning the salvation of their child?

A first comfort to remember is that our children are conceived in sin. At first glance, this seems entirely paradoxical. How is this any comfort? Well, every comfort in the Word of God is based in truth. It is no comfort to say, “Your child is in heaven because they are innocent; they never committed any sin.” This is not true and so is no real comfort. Remember David; he was a child of the covenant, born in the tribe of Judah, born in the very line from which Christ would come, the man after God’s own heart, the sweet psalmist of Israel, and yet he confesses in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Before we receive any gospel comfort, we must acknowledge this hard, hard truth: even our unborn children deserve everlasting death.

A second comfort is to remember the sovereignty of God. Because you believe your child is guilty of sin and deserves to die, and yet will never actually hear and respond to the gospel, you might well ask, How then can they be saved? But remember that, because God is sovereign, He works “when, and where, and how He pleases” (WCF 10:3). The great proof text for this is John 3:8: “The wind bloweth where it [wishes], and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” This truth reminds us that while God’s ordinary way of saving sinners is through using the means of grace, yet He is able to save sinners without these means as well. In the case of elect infants therefore, God works regeneration “by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit on their souls.”1

A third comfort is to remember that salvation is by grace. Salvation does not depend on our effort or performance. No one is even saved because God realized they would believe. It is just as impossible for a sinner to believe God by his own strength and effort in his 40s or 50s as it is for a baby in the womb. But here is the great gospel truth that applies equally to elect infants as to the whole election of grace: “[God] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). The principle of salvation by grace alone is one of the most wonderful and undervalued doctrines in the whole Bible, and it is of immense comfort to grieving parents. God does not save us because of our good works; He saves us by the free gift of grace alone in Christ alone.

A fourth comfort to remember is that God is the covenant God. God’s covenant arrangement provides for the children of believers. His covenant promise is that “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). Of course, children of believing parents must be born again (John 3:3, 7). But we have already seen that God is able to work regeneration in the womb. When you take this truth alongside God’s covenantal commitment to be a God to believers and to their children after them, we find the strongest encouragement to believe that when the ordinary means of grace are denied to these children, God will work in an extraordinary and immediate way to save these children.

A fifth comfort is to remember the conception of Jesus Christ. The early church father Irenaeus said that Jesus Christ passed through every stage that He might sanctify sinners of every stage. Jesus needed no regeneration, but He is still the one who comes to sing to His heavenly Father, “I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly” (Ps. 22:10). No matter the age or the stage of life we are considering, it can still be said of Jesus, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). We can say even of our precious children who die in the womb, “These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God” (Rev. 14:4b–5).

When we combine all these comforting biblical truths, we conclude that the children of believers are not without God. In the case of children of believers, it must be true that before death intrudes into this child’s tender life, our faithful covenant God first interposes the precious blood of Jesus Christ, which washes the child’s sins away as far as the east is distant from the west (Ps. 103:12) and clothes him or her with the perfect righteousness of the Holy Child Jesus. Then, in a wave of sanctifying grace that makes the child perfect in holiness, his or her soul immediately passes into glory, and the little body, still united to Christ, rests in the grave until the resurrection (WSC 37). “Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:15–17).

In conclusion, all the doctrines of covenant love and grace combine to give the strongest encouragement for believing parents to believe that their children who die in infancy are saved by grace in Christ. This is a most marvelous exhibition of the redeeming covenant love and grace in Christ that saves sinners before they are conscious of existence. Believing parents who have lost precious children in the womb or in infancy can take great comfort and strong consolation. Indeed, as Vance Havner said, “When you know where something is, you haven’t lost it.”2 “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul” (Ps. 94:19).

1. John Dick, Lectures on Theology (Philadelphia: Greenough, 1840), 3:265. 2. Quoted in Warren Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1993); 2 Sam. 12.