I Corinthians 14:26-40 throws a great deal of light upon the assembly of the early church. First, Paul is stressing order and dignity. Second, the primary purpose for worship is to bring glory to God, edify and teach His followers. The subject is the place of tongues and prophecy in the church. The rules are given to control the assembly services.
The guiding principle, spiritual gifts, is to be used in the church only to edify and teach people (v. 26). Speaking in tongues is to be limited, and there must be an interpreter (v. 27-28). Prophecy is to be limited and discerned (v. 29-33). Women are to keep silent in the church and are not to exercise the gift of tongues or prophecy in the church assembly (v. 34-35).
It seems the Corinthian Christians had allowed women with the gift of tongues and/or prophecy to speak in the church worship assembly. It seems that they thought they had the right to modify God’s law laid out in Genesis 3:16. (Also, see I Timothy 2:11-14). In matters of the church, God has decreed that men must be the leaders.
Paul teaches the rule for women in the assembly of the church, “Let the woman keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak: but let them be in subjection, as also saith the law” (v. 34). In the churches (en tais ekkl-siais) means in the formal assembly when the entire church is present. This command is very clear. No person has an excuse for misunderstanding it. Women are to subject themselves to men during the worship assembly.
Women preachers and women taking leadership roles in the worship service fly in the face of this instruction. Certainly, this verse does not mean that women are never to be heard in the church. If women are never to speak, how could they sing or make a public confession. It is clear that Paul was attempting to correct women who were speaking in tongues or prophesying during the assembly and causing chaotic conditions. Also, some of the women were asking questions during the assembly and disrupting the speakers. For that situation, women were told to wait and ask their husband at home. Paul is telling them that they are not to exercise the gift of tongues or prophecy in the main assembly.
In interpreting verses 34 and 35, we must keep in mind the context of I Corinthians 14. To lift these verses out of context and say that a woman cannot speak in a Bible class (which is an informal setting) violates scriptures. Paul’s point in this matter is because some women were competing with men for time to speak in tongues or prophesy. Paul is telling them to calm down and keep quiet to bring order to the church assembly. Verses 34 and 35 are directed both to the local problem of the Corinthians and to any other church where women or men were abusing the gift of tongues. Gifts of tongues and prophecies were for instruction and building up of the faith.
It would be wrong to take these words of Paul out of the context for which they were written and make them a universal rule that disallows women from participating in a class discussion during Bible study. Paul’s exhortation to the women involves that they keep silent in the church worship assembly, for it was improper for a woman to speak in the worship assembly.
Paul’s final charge concerning spiritual gifts involved that they desire earnestly to prophesy while not forbidding to speak in tongues. However, let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner.
The admonition to us is do not take a general principle and make it into an iron-clad rule for the church by taking the scriptures out of context.