When "Silence" means "silence"


Speaking of the role of Sisters in the ecclesia of Christ, the Apostle Paul wrote:

“Let your women keep silence in the ecclesias: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as saith also the low.  And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the ecclesia” (1 Cor. 15:34-35).

And again:

“let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:11-12).

There are those who would disagree with the inspired Apostle, and claim that it is right and proper for women to speak and teach in the ecclesia.  But how can they reconcile this with the command of Paul for women to “keep silence”?  One argument that is sometimes put forward is that the word “silence” does not mean “silence”, but simply to stop chattering.  So Paul was not speaking about teaching, or leading, but only that the sisters should not chatter during the meetings.

However, this will just not do, when we consider the way in which this word used in 1 Timothy is used elsewhere in the New Testament Scriptures.  It also occurs in Acts chapter 22.  In Acts chapter 21, we read that

“… Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people.  And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying …” (Acts 21:40).

Here, we read of the crowds being in a state of “great silence”.  One would expect an appropriateness that the word “silence” here would signify a general hush, with folk having stopped chattering in order to listen to the Apostle.  But it is not so, a different word is used here.  The word selected by Paul to describe a Sister’s place is used a few verses later in chapter 22:

“… and when they heard that he spake to them in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith …” (Acts 22:2)

So then, according to the inspired text, the word signifies more than simply not chattering—it refers to “more silence” than that.  Once they recognised that Paul was speaking in Hebrew, they were even more silent than when they had simply stopped chattering with each other.

This fits in with the context of  1 Timothy: “let the woman learn in silence with all subjection” “I suffer not a woman to teach …”  She is to be quiet and not teach, but to learn.

Sometimes our position is characterised as saying that Sisters cannot “participate fully” in the ecclesial meetings.  A little reflection will reveal such a suggestion to be errant nonsense.  Do we suggest that a brother who does not speak and teach through lack of ability or confidence is not fully participating?  Or when the speaking brother is giving his address—can it be said that all of the hearers are not participating fully because they are not teaching?  Instead of using loaded expressions and specious arguments, the wisest course is to humbly accept the teaching of the Holy Writ.

Christopher Maddocks