Two Questions I Was Asked:

Should Women Ask Their Husbands Bible Questions at Home?

ALSO: Should Women Cover Their Heads in Church?

The Actual Question

My understanding is that the Jewish women of Jesus' time could not address their rabbis in the synagogue but, if they had biblical questions, they had to privately speak to their husbands. If the husband had the answer that was fine, if not, it was for the husband to approach the rabbi - never for the woman to do so. Obviously we know that Jesus turned this approach on it's head by frequently speaking directly to women on spiritual matters, including the Samaritan woman in John 4.
Why then did Paul seem to revert to the old approach in 1 Corinthians 14:33-35?

My Reply

There is no doubt that this is a very carefully thought out question. I really appreciate questions like that.
Okay, here is the relevant Scripture:

1Cor. 14:33: For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
1Cor. 14:34: Let your women be silent in the churches; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but to be in subjection, as the Law also says.
1Cor. 14:35: And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for a woman to speak in a church.

Now this is quite a difficult one, but let me attempt to address it. In doing so, I think I would want to make just a few points:

1. Jesus showed that there is absolutely no problem in a man addressing a woman in public. This is very likely one of those things that the Pharisees had added to the law. In His ministry, Jesus effectively overturned it.

2. Paul the Apostle is specifically referring to a Christian worship setting, moreover, he is plainly writing in a context of wishing to avoid confusion (verse 33).

3. He is concerned about observing respect and honour within any particular cultural setting rather than Christians inviting unnecessary persecution upon themselves simply on the grounds of showing cultural naivety. While Corinth was a Gentile city, most of the early leaders of the Church at that stage were still Jews.

4. There are clearly strong indications that his remarks were primarily addressed to Corinth where noisiness, busybodiness or otherwise distractive behaviour might have been a problem among certain strong-minded women. This theory is probably reinforced by the fact that Paul assumes that the said women were married with husbands (1 Cor. 14:35), this could well suggest that he had certain women clearly in mind. He states that his approach applies to all of the Christian congregations (1 Cor. 14:33b), and perhaps that was so, yet even today, as a kind of 'softener,' a corrective minister will often employ the approach of, 'Yes, I am being strongly corrective here, but this is simply the rule in all our congregations.'

5. In this very same epistle (11:5), Paul obviously assumes that women would sometimes pray and prophesy (probably not literally uttering predictive prophecies, but maybe giving short Christian messages), in public. He appears to have no problem with that.

6. Putting all of the above together, it would seem obvious to me that when Paul stated, "Let your women be silent in the churches; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but to be in subjection, as the Law also says" he was not referring to praying or prophesying at all but to the matter of showing proper respect when Christians meet together.

7. This brings me to the conclusion that Paul was most likely referring to certain prolonged chattering between certain women before and after services on spiritual subjects. For Paul, such women should bring those questions or comments to their husbands privately. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that Jesus obviously saw no problem in communicating and discussing spiritual matters with women, and Paul himself stated,

Galatians 3:27: For as many as were baptized into Christ, you put on Christ.
Verse 28: There cannot be Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is no male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Verse29: And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise.

However, the consideration of 1 Corinthians 11:5 means we really need to address a further question about women in the first century Christian congregations:

Should Women Cover Their Heads in Church?

Let us look at this Scripture:

1Cor. 11:3: But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
1Cor. 11:4: Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his Head.
1Cor. 11:5: But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head; for that is even the same as if she were shaved.
1Cor. 11:6: For if the woman is not veiled, let her also be shorn. But if it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be veiled.
1Cor. 11:7: For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man.
1Cor. 11:8: For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.
1Cor. 11:9: Nor was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.
1Cor. 11:10: For this reason the woman ought to have authority on her head because of the angels.
1Cor. 11:11: But neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord.
1Cor. 11:12: For as the woman is of the man, even so the man is also through the woman; but all things of God.
1Cor. 11:13: Judge among yourselves: is it right that a woman pray to God unveiled?
1Cor. 11:14: Does not even nature itself teach you that if man has long hair, it is a shame to him?
1Cor. 11:15: But if a woman should have long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her in place of a veil.
1Cor. 11:16: But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor the churches of God.

The big point here is that women should show respect to their husbands! This was a most vital point to Paul. In the culture of that day, if a woman took off her hair covering in public, thereby exposing her hair, it was considered as a sign of loose morals and probably loose sexual behaviour. Paul said that if she did not wear a veil, she might as well shave off all her hair (verse 6). If her head was entirely shaven, that would indicate either public disgrace because of some shameful act, or willing and open rebellion against her husband!

Again, the big points here are:
1. Christian women should always show appropriate public respect to their husbands - This is clearly God's will!
2. Both Christian men and women should show respect to the cultures within which they operate, never seeking to invite persecution for unnecessary reasons.

Today some Christian women still prefer to wear a hat or a hair-covering in Christian services. They should be respected for that. However, culture has obviously changed from the time of Corinth and many do not; the point is that that practice was about a woman recognising her place within God's Creation, and about her willingness to stand submissively by her husband's side. Modern culture is not offended if a Christian wife does not wear a hat but she should at least ensure that she grows long, feminine hair which appears to be Paul's bottom line on this point (verse 15). In like manner, it is most appropriate for Christian men to cultivate short hair (verse 14).
Robin A. Brace. May 28th 2009.