Did the Word originate with you? Are you the only ones it has reached?

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. – 1 Corinthians 14:34-38
Having spent a lot of time in a lot of different churches – I’ve noticed that none of them really obey the clear mandate of these verses. Perhaps that’s because if they did, all of them would have to fold up shop and seal their doors permanently. Men might make the decisions, but it’s the women who keep the churches running at all costs. Every time a deacon or elder was sick and unable to fulfill his obligation, it would be his wife who would step up and teach the material as being the most familiar with it. When our church had lost a pastor, it was a woman who stepped up to become the interim pastor while she was completing her studies to become the pastor of that church. Every time someone came down with an illness or something, it was the ladies who got together and organized some meals so that those going through treatment would have one less thing to worry about. By and large, Sunday school teachers were women who had the patience to deal with unruly children.
I try to imagine what a church would be like where women were silenced. Where the first greeters you meet was a husband and wife couple where the man said, “Hello” and the wife smiled warmly as she handed you the bulletin. Where the only voices that would carry the music were those of men. Where men had varying degrees of success dealing with children, trying to reinforce to the little girls how God wants them to be silent like their big sisters and mothers are. Where only men would give their testimonies or deliver sermons. It’s just how it’s supposed to be. Perhaps women would have this underground texting system set up where they can organize who takes whose meals to whom when – but it would be plainly evident that such a church – however Biblical and Godly it tries to advertise itself doesn’t treat men and women as equals in our modern sense of how it should be.
If I were to say to you: “The law says do not steal.” You’d be able to cite which of the tend commandments I’m referring to, right? Right off, Paul refers to a law that says that women must be in submission which might also be interpreted to say that they must be silent, if such a law existed, it’s not in the Bible. Of all the places such a law could exist – it would likely be in the oral law, which were ideas that were expanded upon by men based on the written law given to Moses by God, but not necessarily God-ordained laws in and of themselves. So we’d have to ask – who is more likely to cite this law – members of a church who are trying to defend their doctrine or a former pharisee who has turned his back on his old theology?
It’s been speculated that the primary reason for this verse is that women were interrupting the church service to ask questions. The setting might have been like this – men and women were seated separately, older boys would sit with the men, but all girls and younger boys would sit with the women. So the womens’ side was always the noisier of the two given that theirs was the responsibility of keeping the noisy toddlers and infants in line and the women would have to shout loudly over them to get answers to their questions, particularly if the division between men and women was that men were in the front and women were in the back. This created a distracting environment whereby the men weren’t learning what they needed to know in order to teach the women who likely had the worst seats and the worst education and weren’t able to learn as much.
But this also stunted a woman’s spiritual education greatly. You see, when Jesus was teaching – he didn’t monopolize the podium to explain truths to a silent audience. In his culture, debate was a primary means of learning something. Even when you look at the oral law, it was primarily recounting debates – such as the one between Rabbis Hillel and Shammai about whether or not a husband can divorce his wife for any and every reason, even if she were a bad cook. That’s how Apollos rose to prominence in the New Testament, vigorously winning debates after Priscilla and Aquila taught him the Bible – then he went on to teach in the Corinthian church that opted to forbid women from teaching. Debate was primarily a men’s arena, as the oral law could be interpreted to view a woman’s voice as disrespectful and it was dishonorable for women to speak to strangers in public. So women weren’t expected to debate and weren’t taught taught to speak up.
Where did the Word of God originate? With men? No, it preceded them. The word of God wasn’t from men and men don’t have authority over it. But it doesn’t seem to matter as men have found a way to interpret that they have ‘priority’ which means whatever it needs to mean in order for an interpretation to mean a specific thing in any given teaching.
Are men the only people the Word of God has reached? Obviously not, the Bible has a long history of God’s word being transmitted through women – like Huldah who was the only one who could certify that Deuteronomy was indeed the word of God. Like Priscilla who taught a student who became a prominent teacher. Women were among the first to have witnessed the Resurrection and were entrusted to deliver letters like Romans to their intended destination.
I guess for me the confusing thing is what Paul says next – “If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.” But just what is the Lord’s command? Would Jesus have silenced Mary from asking any questions at his feet while the rest of disciples could ask him to clarity what he was saying? Would Jesus have told the Syrophonecian woman that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and has no right to talk to him or ask him for anything? Would he have told James’ and John’s mother that the law decrees that she must be in submission and silent?
Perhaps we ignore the “clear mandate” that women must be silent because we believe that God’s word isn’t just spoken from the lips of men alone, that women can voice his truth as earnestly as everyone else and anyone who ignores that ends up ignoring God.


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