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Jamie Johnson
Discourses  · Women
Jamie Johnson
Part 4


What the world says:

"The Bible says that women are to be silent in the church. Therefore, I can't believe the Bible."
"Women must have long hair and cover their heads. Therefore, I can't believe the Bible."

What is the truth?

1 Corinthians 14:34 states that "women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says."

The context of 1 Corinthians 14:34 is orderly worship. This important to remember. A second consideration is cultural. Looking at the NIV footnote for this verse helps.

14:34-35 See note on 11:3-16 [I have included it in the box below.]
11:3-16 The subject of this section is propriety in public worship, not male-female relations in general. Paul is concerned, however, that the proper relationship between husbands and wives be reflected in public worship. As in the previous section, he desires that all be done to the glory of God ( 10:31).

Some believe that in light of 11:3 there is a God-ordained order that is to be the basis for administration and authority. Women are to be in submission to their husbands both at home (see Eph 5:22 [My note: Don't forget about the context of Eph 5:21-33.]) and in the church (see v. 34; 1 Ti 2:11-12) regardless of their particular culture. According to this view, a timeless order was established at creation (see note on 11:5-6 below).
For a woman, taking off her head covering in public and exposing her hair was a sign of loose morals and sexual promiscuity. Paul says she might as well have her hair cut or shaved off. The shaved head indicated that the woman either had been publicly disgraced because of some shameful act or was openly flaunting her independence and her refusal to be in submission to her husband. Paul's message to her was: Show your respect for and submission to your husband by covering your head during public worship.

Some do not see in these verses a temporary cultural significance to the covering/uncovering of the head. They insist that, since Paul referred to the order of creation (vv.7-9), his directive is not to be restricted to his time. Thus women of all times should wear a head covering.

Others find a lasting principle in the passage requiring wives, in all ways, to show respect for their husbands by submitting to their authority -- not merely by a particular style of attire, but by godly lives. Man, who was created first is to have authority over his wife (see 1 Ti 2:11-14). The wife was made out of his body (Ge 2:21-24) to be his helper and companion (Ge 2:20). She is to honor her husband by submitting to him as her head (see v. 3).

Still others see these verses, not as a mandate for all marriages, but as reflecting marriage relationships at that time in Corinth and therefore giving a reason why the women there should have covered their heads (v.10). They point to vv. 11-12 as a contrast, emphasizing equality and mutual dependence between men and women who are "in the Lord" (v. 11; see Gal 3:28; 1 Pe 3:7). [I could also note that some could refer to 1 Corinthians 7:4 or Ephesians 5:21 here, although Ephesians 5:21 is clarified further by the full context.]

Others maintain that Paul's concern is that the church be strengthened ( v. 26) by believers showing respect for others (see vv. 30-31) and for God (see v. 33) as they exercise their spiritual gifts. Such respect must necessarily take account of accepted social practices. If within a particular social order, it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church -- and it was in this case ( v. 35) -- then she shows disrespect by doing so and should remain silent. There were occasions, though -- even in this culture -- for women to speak in church. For example, in 11:5 Paul assumes that women pray and prophesy in public worship. Thus his purpose, according to this view, was not to define the role of women but to establish a fitting (vv. 34-35) and orderly (vv. 27-31) way of worship (v. 40).
Still others say that in this context Paul is discussing primarily the disruption of worship by women who become involved in noisy discussions surrounding tongues-speaking and prophecy. Instead of publicly clamoring for explanations, the wives were to discuss matters with their husbands at home (cf. v. 35). Paul does not altogether forbid women to speak in church (see 11:5). What he is forbidding is the disorderly speaking indicated in these verses.

1 Corinthians 11:13-15 states that a woman must have long hair, and must keep her head covered at all times. The footnote offers some insight as well.

11:13-14 proper…the very nature of things. Believers must be conscious of how their actions appear in their culture, in light of what is considered to be honorable behavior.

For this entire discussion, it is worth taking note of the prior verses, 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, especially:

In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Also consider the following additional Scripture for discussion:


In considering what's being said, truth and the Bible, how are we to respond to the world when the world says, "I can't believe the Bible because of what it says about women"?

Possible Responses

What is the cultural context of these verses?
What is the scriptural context of these verses?
How are men and women different (wired differently)?
Typically speaking, where do women excel? Where do men excel? What conclusion can you draw from this?
How did Jesus impact women?
Should a woman submit to Jesus? Should a man?
What is your view of an ideal marriage? Keeping track of 50/50? Each doing 100% to which s/he is called? Something else?
Should a car have one driver or 2 drivers at one time?
What does servant-leadership mean?
What is a help-mate?
If the church is the bride of Jesus Christ, then what does this mean for wives? For husbands? (Ephesians 5:21-33).
What does "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28) mean to you?
How have people misused the Bible when applied to women?
How can the Bible positively impact women (or marriage)?

Which response is the most engaging so that it may bring discourse and productive discussion, perhaps even to presenting the Gospel? What are some other possible responses that promote discourse?