SHALL WOMEN KEEP SILENCE?
209. Paul claims that he gives his own ruling, as to the conduct of women in church, on "the commandment of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37)." By this statement he may refer to some special revelation to himself, such as led him, on a previous occasion, to say: "There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor, free, there can be no male and female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28, R. V.). But since he states that if they are spiritual they will perceive this matter, he probably refers either to the whole tenor of Scriptural teaching, with its hundreds of exhortations, given without regard to sex, that the redeemed should proclaim the goodness of the Lord to others, or to the Great Commission, "Go ye into all the world and preach my Gospel to every creature," spoken to women, as well as to men, Luke 24:22; 33-48; Acts 1:8,14; etc., or to the definite commandment set forth in Isaiah 40:9, which, if correctly translated for us into English, would read: "O woman that bringest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; woman, that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God." We will treat of this verse at greater length later on. This preaching by women was prophesied of in Psalm 68:11, and in Joel 2:28,29. The fulfillment of the prophecy began on the day of Pentecost, as we are clearly instructed by Peter's words, Acts 2:16-18. And Paul declares that the spiritual will know this.
210. The words, "If any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant," are, according to Winer, "A renunciation of further effective instruction."
He concludes his instructions with verses 39 and 40: "Wherefore, my brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues." This would seem a peculiar ending for an argument forbidding women to prophesy, but a very appropriate one with which to end a reproof to those who thus forbade women. We must remember that the word "brethren" was much more like "sisters" in Greek than in English. The difference would be equivalent only to that between "sisteroi" and “sisterai," and besides, masculine and feminine nouns and adjectives very generally had the same form in New Testament Greek. It is only by an effort of thought that women take the word "brethren" to themselves; but not so the Greek word "adelphoi" which New Testament women would quite naturally apply to themselves, and instinctively. Imagine Paul saying: "Let the women keep silence . . . wherefore covet to prophesy.” “Let the women keep silence… wherefore forbid not to speak." Why, they represent Paul as concluding a commandment to keep silence with an exhortation to speak out; they represent him as forbidding to speak in one breath, and in the next commanding others: "Forbid not to speak." Is this consistent? But let us imagine he has just reproved men for silencing women: then it naturally follows that he should say to all, both men and women, "covet to prophesy." Imagine him rebuking those who would forbid women speaking: and then we would expect him to say, "forbid not to speak." This view makes of Paul's language a consistent whole.
211. The expression "covet to prophesy" deserves special attention here. It is the positive admonition of that which is negatively put by the Apostle in 1 Thess. 5:19, 20: "Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings." It relates not properly to the individual, but to the whole church. "Covet the to-prophesy," is the literal reading, and it means "covet the prophesying," that is, the gift itself, not simply for oneself but for others also; covet the existence of the gift in the church, by whomsoever exercised. Paul has used this word "covet" before, at 1 Corinthians 12:31, "Covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet I show unto you a more excellent way." No one will dispute that women should heed these words as far as to seek that way of "charity." Then why should they not also heed the beginning of the verse, and "covet the best gifts," among which is prophecy, for Paul teaches that this is the best (14:5)? Again, at 14:1, we are told to "Follow after charity and desire (it is this same word "covet") spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy." Here again, are women to believe hat they are to obey the first half of this commandment and as diligently disobey the second half? The BIBLE does not tell them to treat its commandments thus: and if expositors do, how do they come to know more about the matter than what the Bible teaches? But the Bible warns: "Every word of God is tried . . . add thou not unto His words, lest . . . thou . . . be found a liar" (Proverbs 30:5,6,R. V.).
212. In fact, by using that word "covet" more than once, Paul touches the sore spot in this objection to women prophesying, on the part of Judaizers, namely, Jealousy. This Greek word "to covet" (zelien) means likewise "to envy," "to be jealous," and "to be zealous." By using here the same word that their Greek Bible (for the Corinthian Church would use the Septuagint Greek Version) uses in Numbers 11:29, the Apostle would turn their minds to the lesson taught there. God took the spirit that had before rested upon Moses alone and gave it to his seventy elders. Joshua was "jealous" for Moses’ honor, but could say nothing, because God had done it, and it came about in the regular way, upon those who were in the Tabernacle.
213. But two of the elders were out in the camp, at the time, yet they began to prophesy also. This gave Joshua a pretext for the display of his jealous spirit, for there was something irregular in it, he thought. He ran to Moses saying, “My Lord Moses, forbid them." But Moses read in him the real spirit that prompted the desire to forbid the prophesying, and replied: "Art thou jealous (the same word Paul uses) for me? And who shall make ALL the people of the Lord prophets, when the Lord hath put His Spirit upon them?" Thus (according to the Septuagint) he prophesied, as Joel did, of that general outpouring of the Spirit upon "all flesh" that is God's plan for the Gospel dispensation. But that which God Himself does can never be forbidden as irregular or out of order. In God's own time, says Moses, ALL shall have the privilege of seeking to be prophets, and he only is out of order who attempts to thwart the will of God, through envy or jealousy. Hence, St. Paul says, "all may prophesy," (14:31).
214. The Judaizers at Corinth were really in a rage of envy at the Church, being jealous of its increasing influence under Pentecostal power, and they were eager to bring Christianity back within the confines of Judaism again. Many of these Judaizers were in the church as "false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13) to destroy it. Others were honestly, but mistakenly, working to the same end, but with better motives. But none of them could hope to influence the Christians to return to obedience to the traditions of the Jews, by attacking things that were manifestly regular. Like Joshua, the only opportunity lay in something irregular, and this they readily found, in the public prophesying of women.
215. The Oral Law had said: "It is a shame," and the Judaizers took up the cry that "The women must keep silence . . . they must ask their husbands at home . . . it is a shame for a woman to speak in the assembly; the Oral Law of the Jews says so," etc. All this was written to Paul from Corinth. He copies it out for his text. He shows up its sophistries, exhorts his converts to be jealous of this gift of prophesying in their Church, and not to forbid anyone to speak in tongues. He shows us the motive of the objection to women as "jealousy," and closes with the words, "Let all things be done decently and in order.”Lesson 29 Home