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                In 1 Corinthians 14:35, Paul exhorts that women are not to speak in the church. Some understand this to mean that a woman is not to utter a syllable, while others think it means she is not to comment or speak in such a way that it might bring confusion to the assembly. What does Paul mean when he uses the word “speak” (NKJV)?

The Greek word that gives us our English word “speak” is used 34 times in Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, 24 of which are found in chapter 14 (Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament, p. 452); to understand what Paul meant is to see how he used the word. The word “speak” is used in such a way that it corresponds to the idea and activity of teaching (see how it is used in 2:6, 7, 13). Thus, Paul meant that women in Corinth were not to speak, that is, teach.

The importance of this is in association with whether or not it is proper for a female to “speak” in some other capacity. Consider the following: first, in the Lord’s church, it is the Lord who sets forth the parameters of leadership. As set forth by the Lord, only faithful, devout Christian men can be leaders within the church (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8-15). No female, even a faithful female Christian is allowed by the Lord to be a particular leader in His church (a particular leader in this context pertains to the work and function of a preacher, elder, and deacon).

Does a female, then, compromise what Paul said in Corinthians when she speaks from her seat responding to a solicitation from the male teacher (or leader) in class to comment on a particular passage of Scripture? The answer is no. The teacher is still the teacher, and a remark (or question) from one not teaching does not make that one a teacher of the class. It is to be admitted, however, that one can teach from the pew (whether male or female), but the role of the teacher in the class setting is still in place.

Moving forward to the worship hour, at the time of announcements, when song selections are being requested (assuming they are), or when a wife asks her husband about what someone just said—do any of these compromise what the Holy Spirit said in Corinthians? Again, the answer is no; there is no compromise of the Holy Spirit’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:34. The context of the passage in Corinthians is a context of teaching, not speaking in some other ordinary way. Thus, to use the passage in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 to prevent women from speaking—when she has nothing to do with teaching—is to misunderstand the passage in its context and application.