As in all the churches of the saints, 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. 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. (1 Corinthians 14:33-35)
To understand what Paul is saying in these verses, we need to look at the whole argument that the verses are a part of. 1 Corinthians 14 is a discussion on prophecy, speaking in tongues, and the use of spiritual gifts in public worship.
The first section (v. 1-25) talks about the proper use of prophecy and speaking in tongues. Then Paul transitions to order in worship (v. 26-40). His is arguing that the church of Corinth has too much chaos during their public services. Too many people prophecy at once and no one is able to gain understanding from them. Also, when someone speaks in a tongue, there is no one to interpret, so that no one can learn either. Then he makes this comment about women being silent.
There are a few things to understand about this section:
- the judgment of prophecy was reserved for the leadership of the church; they did not allow the congregation to argue about what prophecy was or was not true.
- the greek word used for the verb “speak” in v.34 more correctly translates to “argue” or chatter. So, he is more likely talking about disruptive speech during the worship meeting.
- there is also a cultural setting that needs to be taken into account.
- Jewish synagogues had men and women sitting on opposite sides during public worship.
- Many early Christian churches adopted this practice and Corinth is believed to be one of them
- Many of the members were Gentile and not Jew, and were not aware of the custom.
Given this information, we see Paul is correcting a chaotic church congregation. The women are chatting to each other during the meetings and trying to talk across the room to their husbands. This is why Paul says that “if there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” (v. 35)
Paul is saying that the women should not be disruptive during public worship, just as hes is telling the general congregation that their current practices of spiritual gifts are disruptive.