Silence in the Church
Silence in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:26-40, 1 Timothy 2:11-14, Acts 15:12)
During the assembly of the Church, there is the visible element of silence. It seems that it is most commonly associated with women. In 1 Corinthians 13:34 and 35, the Bible says, “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.” This passage is a part of Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth where the rules for assembling with the saints are described.
In the Apostle’s first letter to Timothy, we see a similar scripture; however, the following passage gives a clear explanation. In 1 Timothy 2:11-14, there the Bible says, “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. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” This reason can be further helped by the explanation of who is under God (see 1 Corinthians 11:3). Please note that the commands for women to keep silent do not exclude women from teaching their children or a man the truth in private or at home. Both Aquila and Priscilla “expounded unto him (Apollos) the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26); Apollos was taught such because he had at the time known about John’s baptism (v. 25). Also, Timothy was taught the Scriptures at home by his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5).
Keeping silence in the assembly is not just exclusive to women; the law of silence is also extended to men in the sense of knowing the dominant tongue of the congregation and/or having an interpreter. 1 Corinthians 14:27 and 28 reads, “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.” Suppose that I were attending a worship at a congregation in Mexico, and I didn’t know a speck of Spanish. Unless I had an interpreter with me (speaking English with the interpreter repeating what I said in Spanish), then I would have to remain silent in the assembly; I would only have to speak to myself and to God (in prayer; he understands all languages). The aforementioned concept of speaking with a translator is common in public settings and assemblies. We can now see from the verses we have read so far that silence in the assembly goes both ways, for both genders, male and female.
We can also see that everyone is to keep silence, in accordance with things being done decently and in order, when the Word of God is being taught. In Acts chapter 15, After Peter had explained the conversion of the Gentiles (v. 3) and reprimanded those of the conversion (v. 10), the audience then kept silence and listened to Barnabas and Paul speak of the miracles and wonders of God (v. 12). In short, those present were paying attention to matters of highest importance. As an act of worship, the preaching is vital to its hearers; they hang on every word that comes out of the preacher’s mouth, from encouragement to warning. To have your mind elsewhere could cause you to miss something, and it could be a distraction to those who are need of salvation. Therefore, when the Bible is being taught in the assembly, we need to “give audience” and render our undivided attention.
Twelve times in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16, James 5:13, 1 Corinthians 14:15, etc.) are we commanded to sing. There is no specific role for a specific gender when it comes to singing, save the fact that a man leads songs and tells which number song from a songbook. If women were to keep completely silent, then we’d see that women not singing at all would be a subtraction from God’s will if only the men sang. Note that “it is not permitted unto them (women) to speak.” Singing does not fall into this category of what women cannot do here.
Women (and men) are not forbidden to pray as the brother leads the main prayer; in fact, I’m sure you notice that when the brother leads the prayer, you often follow along with what he says, or, you can pray your own prayer with no audible words; God knows our hearts. Hannah did the same thing in 1 Samuel 1:13 when she prayed in her heart to the Lord.
In conclusion, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:37, that “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” Whether we like it or not, these are commands from God, and they are to be obeyed. There are many who say that these commands were just for that time only. Sadly, we now see how people have embraced their own traditions that blatantly go against the commands of God, such as having female preachers, when the Bible clearly commands that a woman is not to “usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12). Many people nowadays will contend that their traditions, which are in fact violation to the Word of God, are okay. The Bible hasn’t changed, God hasn’t changed, so what has changed? This is just one of many issues we read about concerning how worship is to be done in the Lord’s Church. Are we willing to take the Bible seriously and study it so that we aren’t ashamed in the long run? We must remember that things are to be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), and that God is the author of peace, not confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33), much like the confusion in churches everywhere.