Scriptural reasons to doubt the traditional interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12

Let’s start by stipulating that if the apostle Paul wrote that women shouldn’t speak in church meetings, then they shouldn’t speak in church meetings. Paul had revelation direct from Christ. Paul knew what he was talking about. The question is whether we know what he’s talking about.

We should not interpret the bible by our feelings, but by comparing scripture with scripture. An accurate interpretation of one verse will not run afoul of another verse. God is reasonable and his word is reasonable. Therefore we can assume that scripture is coherent and consistent. This means we can double check our interpretations by comparing the necessary implications of our conclusions with the clear record of the bible.

1. Women have speaking roles in the church

We immediately notice that we can not give 1 Cor 14:34 its broadest possible interpretation. Other scriptures forbid us to think that women have no speaking role among the assembled church. The standout example here is prophecy. Prophecy is clearly a role given to both men and women (Acts 2:17) and is meant to be used in the church assembly, as well as elsewhere. (1 Cor 14:4)

The list of prophetesses in scripture is more than enough demonstrate God’s decision to call women to be among his spokesmen. It is also significantly shorter than the list of male prophets, and so there is no scriptural reason to look for equal representation in the church.

2. There is no general authority of all men over all women

The use of authenteo in 1 Tim 2:12 is often taken to forbid women from exercising authority over men. The logic used to support this position is that women are less competent than men and that God’s created order of man first, then woman, means it is unseemly to have women ruling over men. There is an element of truth to each of these supporting claims. Women are weaker than their male counterparts. (1 Pet 3:7) God clearly placed the husband in authority over the wife. (Eph 5:23) The effect of these and other verses is not only that the roles of men and women complement one another, but that the role of the man is in many ways the greater of the two. This is why widows are an object of much compassion throughout scripture, while widowers are not. She needs him more than he needs her. His strength shelters her.

The question to ask is whether this can be generalized to say that no woman should have authority over any man. We can answer that question with a definite “no” by referring to scripture.

  • John 2:25 Mary in authority over servants
  • Judges 4:4 Deborah ruled Israel
  • Micah 6:4 Miriam was one of the leaders of Israel
  • Pro 1:8 sons are to heed the teaching received from their mothers
  • Pro 8:4 Wisdom, personified as a woman, calls for men to learn from her
  • Acts

3. Women have leadership roles in the church

Several women are named in the NT as having leadership roles in the early church.

  • Rom 16:1 Phebe, one of the ministers (deacon) of the Cenchrean church
  • Rom 16:3 Priscilla, a woman named as one of Paul’s co-workers
  • Rom 16:7 Junia, notable Christian, probably an apostle, imprisoned for her faith
  • Phi 4:2 Euodia and Synteche, leaders whose disagreement threatened the effectiveness of the church

Besides these, there are many women mentioned in ways that would suggest they were leaders and active in ministry. It is only by accepting “women can’t be leaders” as a rule of interpretation that these references are called into question. As an example, see Philemon 1:2, where we find Apphia, a female leader, mentioned along with male leaders, Philemon and Archippus.

4. Prophet is a position of great authority

According to 1 Cor 12:28, the position of prophet (or prophetess) is greater than that of teacher, although less than that of an apostle. This calls into question any framework that would attempt to explain how woman were called to prophecy while denying them authority in the church. It is simply not the case that teaching is a role of greater responsibility than prophesying.

5. The traditional view would transform inclusive passages of scripture into exclusive

1 Cor 14:34 is found in the midst of a passage instructing both men and women as to how to operate gifts in a church meeting. There are no markers suggesting that previous instruction concerns only men. Instead, the flow of the passage indicates that it is general and applies to men and women. For instance, verse 31 “you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,”. But if we interpret verse 34 as prohibiting women from speaking in a church meeting, we either have a conflict with verse 31, or else are forced to read such verses as excluding women. This is the most concerning implication arising from the traditional interpretation of these verses on women in the church. It invites, and virtually requires that we begin reinterpreting a variety of passages, without contextual warrant, as excluding women. These reinterpretations will have nothing more concrete to guide them than a vague sense of gender roles.

In summation, their are several strong scriptural reasons to question, and I dare say, to reject the traditional interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12. The traditional view simply doesn’t fit with the rest of scripture.


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