1 Corinthians 14:34-40

Growing in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
1 Corinthians 14:34-40

Who could Adam not live without? Eve. Who kept God from killing Moses? Miriam. Who hid the spies in Jericho? Rahab. Who led Israel when they had no king? Deborah. Who brought the Christ-child into the world to save it? Mary. Who did Jesus reveal He was the Messiah to first? Woman at the well. Who did Jesus appear to first after He was raised from the dead? The women.

The Scriptures do not diminish women. The Scriptures are not hostile to women. The Scriptures honor women.


1 Cor 14:34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.

What kind of silence? Absolute? Qualified?

It cannot be absolute. He has already plainly said that women can prophesy and pray in church. It must be a qualified silence.

For women to take upon themselves the role of instructors would have seriously discredited Christianity in the eyes of the Greek world at the time. Indeed, among the Greeks, women were discouraged from saying anything in public.

Plutarch, Gk philosopher, said “virtuous women ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders” (Advice to Bride and Groom, 31), again, “a woman ought to do her talking either to her husband or through her husband” (ibid, 32).

Paul is calling on Corinthians to be sensitive to their culture by following its customs when possible to earn a hearing for the gospel.

The law he refers to without any citation. We understand it to mean the creation standard of male headship from Adam.

1 Tim 2:12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.

Paul is not discussing whether women are qualified to preach or govern in 1 Cor 14. He is explaining how they should learn.

1 Cor 14:35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

In the 1st century, most women were not allowed any kind of formal education. Their primary roles were domestic, so their religious activities served as rare opportunities for learning.

During the worship services some of the women were speaking out – asking questions out loud – maybe even inappropriate questions – and the meetings were being disrupted.

They were not free to speak this way, because a wife’s public disagreement with her husband in the A.N.E. would be viewed as dishonoring to him.

Those asking questions were not yet educated enough in the school of Christ to know what was and was not appropriate in Christian worship.

It is not affirmed nearly enough that from the beginning, the Christian faith welcomed women to learn God’s truth the same as men.

Luke 10:39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word.

Paul affirms their right to learn but simply suggests another context and perhaps a different location. They should ask their questions of their husbands at home so they will no longer disturb the assembly. Everything decently and in order to edify.

He is correcting an abuse of privilege. He is not taking back a woman’s right to speak in the assembly. He has already granted them that earlier in the letter.

1 Cor 11:5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.

1 Cor 14:31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

It is difficult to imagine how Paul could have written those instructions and then, just a few paragraphs later, have written that “it is shameful for women to speak in church.” How is this not a contradiction?

Furthermore, are there not several examples in Paul’s other letters of women who played active roles in teaching and prophesying in those churches?

Phoebe – commended by Paul as a deaconess and someone who helped many in the church (Rom 16:1-2); Priscilla who (along with her husband Aquila) hosted a church in her home, risked her life for Paul, and taught sound doctrine to Apollos the evangelist (Rom 16:3-4; Acts 18:26); Junia – Paul calls her an apostle! (Rom 16:7); Euodia & Syntyche – labored with Paul in the gospel (Phil 4:2-3); Lydia – hosted the church in Philippi in her home and arranged for her entire household to be baptized (Acts 16:15).

It is the correction of a certain problem in a specific congregation.

Paul is not really prohibiting women from praying and prophesying in the assembly. Rather, he is addressing a particular problem in the Corinthian church.

The problem was unnecessary disruption of the church meeting.

The apostle is restricting certain kinds of unruly speech, such as chattering and asking questions during times of instruction and prophesying in the church meetings.

“If you can’t learn it in church except the way you’re doing it, you need to ask your husbands at home.”


1 Cor 14:36 Or did the word of God come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?

Here, Paul anticipates opposition to his ruling. After painstakingly explaining the theological reasons for his instructions about worship in this section (chs.12-14), Paul seems to be running out of patience.

The Corinthians have proven to be full of religious pride. They are acting as though they have received words from God so powerful as to override the standards of discipline common to “all the churches of the saints” (v.33).

With biting sarcasm, Paul replies (paraphrase), “Oh really? That’s funny: in all the other churches of the saints, it seems that God is a God of order and peace. Or perhaps you are the only ones who have really heard the word of the Lord?”

They must not think that they alone know what is Christian and what is not.

1 Cor 14:37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

Paul could not possibly make a higher claim of his own teaching. Here is one of only two times where Paul uses the word “commandments” for his own words (Col 4:10).

Some of the Corinthians claimed to have spiritual discernment. Let them show it by recognizing God’s inspiration in Paul’s words.

A public speaker’s task is to persuade, using arguments, emotion, and charisma. Commanding should only be used as a last resort when using rhetoric.

For Paul to suggests that he was now speaking the commands of God would certainly have demanded their attention. He must have shifted into the most serious tone he could take in written form. Something is different now.

Could there be consequences for ignoring his instructions?

If I disagree, my problem is with God not with man.

1 Thess 4:7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.
1 Thess 4:8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

The point is clear: any spiritual person will recognize the voice of God in what Paul says and will ignore this at his own peril.

1 Cor 14:38 But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant.

Paul is telling other members of the Corinthian church not to recognize the person who rejects his teaching.

In fact, he is suggesting serious consequences on those who reject this word of the Lord written by him to be fulfilled in the last days. He borrows the idea from Jesus Christ Himself.

Mark 8:38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

This requirement to receive the Lord’s word from His spokesperson, whether Prophet or Apostle, or face severe judgment originated in the OT.

1 Sam 15:26 But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

These sanctions are invoked against a circle of people in the Corinthian church who have persistently set themselves up as too high to listen to Paul or to concern themselves with the problems and needs of other believers in their congregation.

1 Cor 14:38 If he does not acknowledge this, God does not acknowledge him. (New English Bible)



1 Cor 14:39 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.
1 Cor 14:40 Let all things be done decently and in order.

The section closes with a notable principle. Public worship is very important. Everything in it must be done as fittingly as possible, and with due regard for order.

From the very beginning, God has always brought order to chaos.

Gen 1:2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

An orderly worship meeting that follows the leading of the Holy Spirit to build up the congregation is the point.

This is desirable for at least two reasons.

First, because the congregational assembly is an open forum. Nonbelieving seekers can participate, so any poor witness should be avoided.

Second, Christian worship should accurately point to the character of God, who embodies both peace and order.

The worship in Corinth involved the participation of most, if not all, who were present in the meetings. It was not a performance of a few superstars for the benefit of many, who were reduced to an audience.

Worship and fellowship were acts that required giving by all the participants.

With that Paul brings his treatment of spiritual gifts in worship to a close.

It must be emphasized, though, that Paul does not seek order in church meetings for order’s sake. The order that he envisions allows for great flexibility. It makes room for the diverse and unpredictable spiritual contributions of all the members of the body of Christ.

Order is necessary only to constrain self-indulgent abuses. Order helps create an atmosphere in which all the gifts can work together to build up the church in love.

Series conclusion:

If Paul came to visit most of our churches today, he would likely not need to correct us for disorderly and excessive displays of the spiritual gifts. Most of us reading ch.14 would shrug and say, “Well, at least we don’t have those problems.”

But we must not read 1 Cor. 12-14 in such a shallow, dismissive way. With just a little serious reflection, we can see that Paul raises a number of issues here that remain crucial for our churches.

1. Building community. The overriding concern of this chapter is that the members of the church participate in formal worship in such a collective way that everyone can be built up. Paul insists that worship is not just a time for private spiritual blessing. It is a time for the members of the church to share their spiritual gifts so that all may learn and be encouraged. Few churches can read ch.14 seriously without having their worship styles challenged.
2. Focusing on the message rather than the medium. Understandable speech is valued for its capacity to instruct others, as well as to exhort and console them. One of the major benefits of prophecy is “that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” Even the seeker who is confronted by prophetic words will be moved by the supernatural power of what the prophets say, not by their stage presence or winsome delivery.
3. Order without hierarchy. One of the most remarkable features of 1 Cor 14 is that Paul nowhere seeks to solve the problems in this particular church by telling his readers to follow the established liturgy or just have the pastors/elders handle it. The evidence in the letter suggests that may have been the overarching problem in Corinth anyway – a church in chaos with no recognized leadership. Paul pictures a church in which all the members wait together on the moving of the Spirit, and all take responsibility for discerning what God is saying to them. Could our church learn to listen to the Spirit in this way? If we did, would we stand to gain something that has been lost? Might members of our church discover a new openness to the power of the Spirit working through them? We should at least consider that Paul’s vision for worship as laid out in ch.14, deserves more or a try than the church has historically given it.
4. Welcoming the Spirit. The charismatic renewal of the 20th century has made Paul’s teaching about tongues and prophecy newly relevant in specific ways. There are certainly some Pentecostal/charismatic congregations who should seriously study these chapters to deal with excesses. But for most Baptist-like churches, rather than a warning of the dangers of excess, this chapter might beckon us to a window through which we glimpse a strange new world of spiritual power. The church that takes ch.14 seriously will be led to pray for the gift of prophecy and welcome it when it is given.
5. Evangelism: telling the truth to outsiders. Over the last 20-25 years, the church has pondered the challenges of evangelizing in a post-Christian culture. What works now? We have tried making the church setting feel like the office or the gym or the movie theater. With the best intentions, we have sought to remove unnecessary offenses and archaic traditions. We turned to advertising and amusement. But we eventually learned that we were entertaining goats rather than feeding God’s sheep. Paul’s account in ch.14 offers a stark contrast. The outsider who wanders into the Christian meeting “is convinced by all and convicted by all” and hears the secrets of the heart disclosed through the gift of prophecy. One of two things will happen. Either the seeker will turn and run, or he/she will fall down and declare, “God is truly among you.” If our preaching and prophecy have integrity, they will force such stark choices and radical responses. Preaching that presents the gospel as a reassuring word of self-affirmation does not elicit from unbelievers the admission that God is among us. Such preaching has the same effect of uninterpreted tongues (v.23). It offers a form of Christian experience that looks oddly similar to worldly feel-good experiences. Only when our preaching plumbs the depths of human depravity and narrates the extraordinary story of God’s costly redemptive act in Jesus Christ will outsiders recognize that something different is here, that the truth is being told and God is really present.