by Bill Rudd, CBE International, 9/29/21
For forty-five years I believed women should not be pastors. After changing my position, I wrote a book to describe my journey and to analyze every relevant Bible passage.1 Many of my friends refused to read it because they confidently asserted that “the Bible is unmistakably clear that women cannot be pastors.”
Their “unmistakably clear” evidence invariably included Paul’s stunning prohibition in 1 Corinthians 14:34–35: “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak . . . for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” Obviously, if women must be silent in church where it is disgraceful for them to speak, they cannot be pastors.
While there are multiple challenges in this passage, this article will focus on two: the context of the passage and the meaning of key words.2
Context Matters: Three Parallel Groups
1 Corinthians 14 is part of Paul’s extended teaching about the distribution, use, and abuse of spiritual gifts in the church.
All of the gifts identified in chapter 12 are given by the Spirit to believers regardless of gender. When Paul envisioned a church gathering (14:26) in which “each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation,” he did not exclude women from any of those speaking gifts.
Then, because “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:40), Paul immediately addressed disorderly behavior in churches where a few monopolized the gatherings by their continuous talking.
This involved three groups: tongues-speakers without interpreters, prophets not giving others a turn, and women talking nonstop. By addressing these groups, Paul did not assume that every tongues-speaker, prophet, or woman was part of the problem. It is likely that these three parallel scenarios involved a few people who needed to stop speaking so others could participate.
Paul did not command that no man or woman should ever speak in tongues or prophesy (14:39).3 Rather, tongues-speakers could resume speaking when interpreters were present, and prophets could take another “turn” after others shared their revelation.
Why then, in the third scenario, do many interpreters insist that women must not speak in church at all, rather than, as the parallel structure requires, that women were also to temporarily stop talking until others had opportunity to participate?
This leads to the second consideration.