In our previous post, we noted the first 4 regulations for speaking in tongues in worship (1 Cor. 14). These are the rules of (1) edification and (2) interpretation, the rule of (3) 3, and then the rule of (4) 1 at a time.
(5) The rule of stop speaking. “But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church” (1 Cor. 14:28, NKJV). The tongues-speaker must stop if no one will interpret it. People who continue to speak in tongues, even when no one is interpreting, already break God’s Word.
This rule of keeping silence applies to 2 kinds of tongues-speakers in Corinth. It refers to: (1) those who keep talking in tongues even when nobody was interpreting it. They should stop speaking, Paul said. It also refers to: (2) women who spoke in tongues and prophesied, while others were speaking and prophesying also.
Paul wrote, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (1 Cor. 14:34, NKJV). “Keep silence” is from sigao, “be silent; become silent, stop talking” as an intransitive verb.
(Concise Greek-English Dictionary, s. v. σιγαω) (Having no direct object in the Greek, “keep silence” is an intransitive verb.) Thus, Paul is saying that women should become silent or stop talking in the churches.
Consider the background of the Corinthian practice of speaking in tongues. We infer from Paul’s regulations that nobody was interpreting it (1 Cor. 14:27). More than 3 people spoke in tongues (1 Cor. 14:27). They were all talking in tongues simultaneously at the same time (1 Cor. 14:27-28). Most likely, some were out of control (1 Cor. 14:34). Some were women (1 Cor. 14:34). Against this confusing and disorderly situation, Paul said, that the women are to stop talking and become silent, while others were speaking.
Why the women? It is not because Paul was single and didn’t have any girlfriend. It’s not because he was a chauvinist. Most likely, the majority of the tongues-speakers were women. They were speaking at the same time, thereby causing confusion. They needed to stop speaking while somebody else was speaking. For how can they edify the others when nobody understood them for lack of interpretation? And how can they build up others when everybody else was confused by the simultaneous speaking in tongues? So they needed to stop speaking while others were also talking or prophesying. Furthermore, the apostolic rule and practice of the churches at the time is that women should not exercise pastoral teaching authority in the church (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Against this background, women—esp. women who were probably exercising pastoral teaching authority—should stop speaking.
Some cite 1 Cor. 11:5 as apostolic approval for women prophesying in church. Yet it does not mention whether Paul approved or disapproved of women prophesying. If he did permit women to prophesy, then it would contradict his rule in 1 Cor. 14:34 and 1 Tim. 2:11-12. Most likely, Paul allowed women to prophesy to unbelievers or believers who are women or children, but not to the church as a whole.
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