House Church Talk - A vision of women and silence in the church

Bruce Woodford bwood4d at
Thu May 13 02:50:53 EDT 2004

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your thoughtful questions in your post which I am copying here 
and inserting answers as I understand the issues.[My comments will be in 
brackets.] I, with you, believe that scripture is to be understood for what 
it says. I'm also convinced that scripture never contradicts itself.  So if 
two scriptural statements seem (to me) to be contradictory, my understanding 
has gone wrong at one point or another.

You wrote::As I stated previously, I understand Jesus to say in Mat thew 18 
that were two or three are gathered we have a church." [I agree with you.]

You wrote:"Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 2:12 create a tension that encourages 
older women to instruct younger women in matters of the home (for lack of a 
better description), clearly this must involve speaking." [You are 
absolutely right there!]

You wrote:"The instruction in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 seems to plainly mean 
that women are not to speak. I don't think this can be limited to whole 
church gatherings as the preceding verse points out that these instructions 
are for all the churches of the saints." [I would submit to you that this is 
where you thinkling may be wrong. "As in all churches of the saints" is not 
a phrase that occurs in verse 23 or in verse 37 as if it applied all the 
regulations of 23-40 to "all churches of the saints".  Rather that phrase is 
in verse 33 where it modifies one specific statement..."For God is not the 
author of confusion but of peace."   In like manner, the instruction to 
tongues speaking brothers , "Let him keep silence in the church", is not an 
instruction across the board, as it were, but rather simply applies to the 
immediately preceding phrase...."If there be no interpretter..."]

You wrote:"So when two or three Christian women come together over coffee at 
Starbucks, what do they do? If that is not a church meeting then what makes 
it different? Could two single missionary women in Africa not meet without 
finding a man to do the speaking? This isn't a snide question, I'm just 
having trouble making all the plain readings fit together." [Re, the women 
at Starbucks: the older should teach the younger as you have noted above, 
they all should exhort one another, and stir up one another to love and good 
works, they should love one another, edify one another, minister there gifts 
one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God etc etc.  To do 
so would not in any way violate I Cor.14:34,35 even if men were present with 

You wrote:"Honestly, my wife would prefer not having the pressure to 
contribute beyond materially to our weekly gatherings. However she has 
expressed confusion at how her silent presence could edify and build up the 
body." [Very good thinking on her part!  If she would feel "under pressure 
to contribute" it may be possible that her idea of participation is not 
linked with what her particular spiritual gift(s) is(are)!  An eye never 
feels pressured to see, nor does an ear feel pressured to hear!  Those are 
the things they normally and naturally do!   If she feels pressured to teach 
but her gift is not teaching but rather shewing mercy, or hospitality , or 
exhortation, her job is not to do someone else's ministry, but the unique 
ministry for which God has equipped her!]

You wrote:"Silence is silence, so if scripture really says that, should the 
singing be all male? Especially since Colossians 3:16 would imply that one 
of the primary purposes of singing in the meeting is to teach one another."  
[There ARE church meetings where "one anothering" is the order of the day!  
(Heb.10:24,25)   But the whole church kind of meeting regulated in I Cor 
14:23-40 is NOT such a meeting!!!   If you look at whole church meetings 
recorded in scripture you will never find congregational singing, 
congregational tongues speaking, congregational praying etc!   There must 
only be one person speaking at a time in whole church meetings, and singing 
IS "SPEAKING" (laleo)! BUT, those kinds of activities (along with breaking 

So putting this all together, my vision would be that the decision making 
part of the meeting should be distinguished from the rest. This is drawing 
on the roots of the word ekklesia and stating that women should be silent in 
that process as we see in Acts 15:6-23 but that for the rest of the 
gathering they are encouraged to participate as parts of the body, praying 
and prophesying and instructing the younger women as mentioned above but 
leaving the teaching of doctrine and exercising of church authority to the 
men. I'm curious how others who take the plain reading of 1 Corinthians 
14:34-35 might see this walked out? Please let me know. [Sean, do you see 
any recorded church meetings in scripture divided up as you have suggested? 
i.e. "Decision making part" in which women are silent and non decision 
making part in which women do participate vocally???  Personally, I do not 
see any such example in scripture. Rather in meetings where women 
participated vocally, they could do so from start to finish. But in whole 
church gatherings, they were silent from start to finish and had to wait 
till they got home even to ask their husbands questions!   As I have been 
seeking to communicate on this matter the last few weeks, I am convinced 
that the only way to consistently apply and be obedient to all the relevant 
scriptural instructions is to take note of the context of I Cor.14:23-40  
(when the whole city church is come together into one place) and not attempt 
to force those regulations upon participants in any other kind of church 

Does this help?

Your brother in Christ,

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