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First, Biblical passages do not contradict one another, “The sum of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). 1st Timothy 2:11-12 states that edification for women in the assembly is allowable provided it’s accompanied by a quiet, submissive attitude. Also, women may prophesy as long as their head is covered (1st Cor. 11:5). Therefore, we must interpret the silence of 1st Cor. 14:34 with the former passages in mind.
Moreover, let us remember the ancient Biblical real estate law, “Location, location, location, “Context, context, context.” Biblical passages must be interpreted with the context in mind, and the context of 1st Corinthians 14 is the Corinthian is authority and the abuse of spiritual gifts.
Therefore, let us examine the word silence in its proper context. Silence is the Greek word sigao, and it’s not used to denote absolute, unqualified silence. Therefore, we must look to the context to determine the type of silence in view. Allow me to illustrate. Discussing the physical toll of refusing to confess sin, David wrote, “When I kept silent about my sin …” (Psalm 32:3). The word silent doesn’t mean he never spoke, rather it means he never spoke or confessed his adultery. Let’s look at a New Testament example. Jesus took Peter and the sons of thunder, James and John, with him on the mountain to pray. The blessed trio witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, saw and heard his discussion with Moses and Elijah, and they heard God’s command from heaven to listen to his Son. How did the disciples respond?
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The word sigao is used three times in 1st Corinthians 14, and so let us note the use of the word in the context. First, a person who has the gift of tongues must keep silent if an interpreter is not available (1st Cor. 14:28). The silence in view is not absolute; rather the man must be quiet if an interpreter is not available. The same is true if someone is speaking and another brother receives a current revelation from God. Again, it’s not absolute silence, rather the one speaking must keep silent in lieu of the seated brother (1st Cor. 14:30). Finally, the women are to keep silent in the churches (1st Cor. 14:34). Remember our rule; Scriptures cannot contradict one another, and don’t forget that Paul allows feminine prophecy in chapter 11. Moreover, Joel predicted feminine prophecy (Acts 2:18), and Phillip’s daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9). So, how is the apostolic mandate for feminine silence apply in 1st Corinthians 14?
1st, Paul references the Law in v. 34, meaning that the principle he’s alluding to is universal, i.e. it’s an Old and New Testament principle, and the principle under consideration is authority (vv. 36-37). 2nd, Paul is applying the principle of authority to the abuse of spiritual gifts, primarily speaking in tongues and prophesying. Therefore, Paul gives us the following borders for speaking in tongues and prophesying.
1st, if tongues cannot be interpreted, then the person must be silent (vv. 27-28). 2nd, prophesies must be discerned or explained (Acts 17:11; v. 29). 3rd, the married women are to ask their husbands at home about the discernment of the prophesies. Employing the universal principle of male spiritual leadership (Gen. 2:20-24; 1st Cor. 11:8-9; 1st Tim. 2:13), Paul does not allow the women to teach the men in the public assembly (1st Tim. 2:11), and apparently, women in the Corinthian assembly were discerning prophecy, which brought about Paul’s rebuke and command to be silent. The careful discernment of prophecy falls under the magisterial leadership of the men. Therefore, the command to be silent wasn’t absolute; rather it applied to the use of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian assembly. Simply put, the women were usurping male spiritual leadership.
How would we apply this text to the modern day assembly? It’s very simple. Men and women have specific God appointed roles in life, and in the assembly which must be honored by brethren. For example, men are assigned to lead public prayers, and public teaching (1st Tim. 2:8, 11-12). God is glorified when the body honors the roles he has assigned, and these roles are for the benefit of the body.