Question: Please explain I Corinthians 14:34-35.
Answer: We will first insert the full text of I Corinthians 14:34-35. “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
In answering this question it may be necessary to make a negative approach and discuss first what we feel it does not mean. We will insert a text from I Corinthians 11:5 by the same writer. “But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” The fact that Paul here specifies the condition or attire the woman should be in when she prays or prophesies is sufficient evidence that what he said in I Corinthians 14:34-35 was not referring to her participating in the worship of God along with others, both men and women. Again in Acts 21:8-9 we read of Paul and his company going to the house of Philip the evangelist and verse nine says, “And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” Again we read in Acts 2:17, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,…” God said this and we would surely not debate with Him regardless of what tradition we may have come under. Again in Philippians 4:3 we read, “And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel,…” This is Paul again and he mentions that he had women laboring with him in the gospel.
All this sums up to the fact that when Paul wrote I Corinthians 14:34-35 he had no intention of excluding women from participating in public worship in whatever way or capacity the Spirit led and inspired them to do, but he was speaking in this place of something specific.
Before we pass on from this point let us consider one other thing. What is prophesying? In I Corinthians 14:3 we read, “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort.” Surely we could not identify this with any other activity than the preaching of the gospel. And when God said (Acts 2:17) that in the last days (this last age of time or the Holy Ghost dispensation) He would pour out of His Spirit upon all flesh and the daughters would prophesy as well as the sons, we conclude that it was in the mind of God to make use of the women in preaching the gospel as well as the men in this dispensation of time.
I will insert some quotations from the comments of Adam Clarke on I Corinthians 14:34-35 as to what it means and what is under consideration in this instruction.
“It is evident from the context that the apostle refers here to asking questions and to what we call dictating in the assemblies. It was permitted to any man to ask questions, to object, altercate, attempt to refute, etc., in the synagogue; but this liberty was not allowed to any woman. St. Paul confirms this in reference also to the Christian Church; he orders them to keep silence: and, if they wished to learn any thing let them inquire of their husbands at home:… This by no means intimated that when a woman received any particular influence from God to enable her to teach, that she was not to obey that influence; on the contrary she was to obey it, and the apostle lays down directions in Chapter 11 for regulating her personal appearance when thus employed. All that the apostle opposes here is their questioning, finding fault, disputing, etc. in the Christian Church, as the Jewish men were permitted to do in their synagogues; together with the attempts to usurp any authority over the man, by setting up their judgment in opposition to them; for the apostle has in view, especially, acts of disobedience, arrogance, etc., of which no woman would be guilty who was under the influence of the Spirit of God.
“To be under obedience, as also saith the law is a reference to Genesis 3:16. ‘…Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ From this it is evident that it was the disorderly and disobedient that the apostle had in view; and not any of those on whom God had poured out His Spirit.”