Probably one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament is the one in 1 Corinthians about women speaking in Church. This is difficult for one main reason–Paul had already spoken in the same letter about how women should be when they pray or prophecy in Church. Not only that, but at the end of Romans, Paul lists several women who are leaders in the Church (deacon, apostle, and others).
So, here is the passage that seems different:
32 And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 33 for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?
This comes at the end of a long passage concerning orderliness in worship, with only one prophet speaking at one time, and only one speaker of tongues speaking at one time (and even then only if someone could interpret the tongue for the rest of the congregation). Then there is this passage. Some segments of the Church have used this passage as one of their essential texts for preventing women from doing anything in a worship service. Never mind the fact that women are obviously prophesying and praying in the Church. This passage forbids it, they say.
Or does it?
Interesting thing about our English Bibles, they are all translations based upon what the translators believed the text to mean. All of the modern translations go back to the original Greek and translate it fresh, so the anti-Christian criticism that “the Bible has been translated so many times there is no way to know what the original said” is completely ridiculous and false. Nevertheless, each translation team has to make certain judgments about the text when they translate. Case in point is this passage.
When Paul wrote his letters, there were no upper case and lower case letters; there were only upper case letters. Likewise, there was no punctuation. Nor were there any spaces between words. The text flows on and on in a long string of capital letters across the page. This means we have to make a judgment call on how to break up the text to translate it into English. Look at this example:
Does that say God is now here or God is no where? We have to make a decision. It is the same with the above passage. The phrase as in all churches of the saints is a dependent clause. It can be attached to an independent clause and make a complex sentence. It can be attached to any independent clause. These translators have chosen to attache it to verse 34 so it reads As in all churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. Yet it could equally be attached to verse 33 so it reads for God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. If the punctuation was there, then it adds emphasis to the argument Paul was making that worship ought to be orderly in the churches in Corinth because it is orderly in all the other churches of the saints.
If it is placed there, then the following injunction to women becomes a very specific and targeted statement to a specific group of women in Corinth, not a universal declaration across all time and churches. There was one group of women disrupting the worship service by simply talking or asking questions. This would obviously not include the women who were praying or prophesying in church, nor would it include female deacons or apostles (see the link at the top of this post). This was a specific instruction for a specific group of women in a specific city at a specific time.
Given the fact that elsewhere Paul also declares that there is, in Christ, no male or female, I would also venture to say that this injunction would also apply to men who would disrupt the worship service by needless chatter or questions. This passage is not a blanket condemnation of women speaking in Church. Rather, it is an injunction for certain women to pay attention during the worship service.