As a woman preacher, I am only too aware of what some consider a mandate for all women, for all time, to be silent in the church (1 Cor. 14:33-36). This is sometimes interpreted to deny that woman are called to be preachers, teachers, and leaders of the church. While, I, myself, have learned from some great men of God, I have equally been enlightened by the preaching of some great women. I also can say with some confidence that both men and women have benefited from my preaching of the word as well. It goes against the teachings of scripture for called women to suppress their God-given gifts to preach and teach, so I cannot be silent. I must continue to avail myself of all opportunities to preach God’s word. It is not a calling I chose, but one given to me by God. If I do not exercise my gifts, then I am not participating in the building up of the body of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth—the entire church comprised of both women and men. Prior to these verses in 1 Corinthians 14 regarding women being silent, Paul has written to the women and men in Corinth to encourage all of them to use their spiritual gifts, highlighting that the gift of prophesy and not speaking in tongues is to be more highly sought (1 Cor. 14:1-25). The gift of tongues is obviously an issue that is causing disruption and contention within the church. It is this theme on using our gifts for the purpose of building up one another that is the primary focus of the chapter.
Paul repeatedly addresses the recipients of his letter as “brothers and sisters,” therefore, it is clear that both males and females are considered to be those who can be gifted with speaking in tongues and prophesy (1 Cor. 14:6; 14:20). In light of this, Paul goes on to say, “What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26 NRSV). Paul is clearly mandating that both women and men (my friends) are to participate through singing, teaching, interpreting, etc. “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (1 Cor. 14:31). As Paul is not likely contradicting what he has just explicitly stated in regards to allowing women to speak and teach and interpret in church gatherings, his instructions for women to be silent needs to be more carefully considered.
It seems highly plausible that since the context of the passage is focused on orderly worship and avoiding disruptions (1 Cor. 14:26-33) so that the building up of others will not be deterred, Paul is addressing a problem in the church at Corinth where some women are asking questions during worship service to a point that it is causing a major distraction. Paul is stating that women “who desire to learn” and have questions, should ask these questions at home and not distract those who are gathered to worship, which included the teaching and preaching of women and men in the church. So, Paul’s instructions were not to keep women from participating in worship, nor to establish a doctrine that excludes women from teaching or preaching in the church. Paul clearly embraced women in all aspects of church ministry, including leadership, and these few verses about women being silent were not intended to keep called women from proclaiming the word of God. We are not commanded to be silent.