Silence, Scarves, and Other Questions

At first glance, Paul's statement in 1Timothy 2:12 may sound like women aren’t allowed to speak in church at all:

“But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.”

Do you ever read verses like this and feel a little irritated or “cramped” as a woman? I mean, I thought Paul valued women, but what’s up with this idea of “No talking for women in church”?

This is an instance where it helps to have a good commentary and do some research before we draw a definite conclusion. On this particular verse, by digging a little deeper into the Greek language, we find the word translated quiet can mean "silence," but it also can mean "quietness in the sense of peaceableness or calm."

We can safely assume that Paul meant the “peaceable” kind of quiet because in 1 Corinthians 11:5 women are allowed to speak in church publicly in prayer and prophecy (truth-telling):

“But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.”

Oh, no! Now some of you may be wondering whether you need to put on a hat or scarf while praying! I have friends who view the dress code of 1 Corinthians 11:5 as applicable today, and I respect their commitment to honor what they believe God's Word requires, but again–this is one of those verses we need to grapple with and dig out all the info we can to make an informed decision.

In the first century, a woman’s veil covered her head and signified her marital status. Prostitutes wore their hair loose and some would even shave their heads. Midway through the century, it became fashionable to copy the dress and hairstyles of the prostitutes, and married women began throwing off the head covering.

Paul was addressing specific behaviors that were indicative of a heart issue: the rejection of authority. He wasn't advocating an absolute law for dress or hairstyle for all time, but was addressing the rejection of culturally recognized symbols that would publicly display a respect for morality and divinely established male and female roles within that culture.

You may want to check out additional blog posts where I’ve written more on this topic.

It’s good to grapple with difficult passages and ask questions. Prayerfully consider the theological intent, context, and purpose with a teachable heart. And when we disagree on an interpretation, let’s agree to do it in quiet. Um, I mean the “peaceable” kind of quiet.

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About the Author

Kimberly Wagner

Kimberly Wagner

Kimberly Wagner’s passion is Christ, and she desires to ignite women's pursuit of God's glory. She's the author of Fierce Women, and is a frequent guest on the Revive Our Hearts radio program, as well as a regular contributor to the True Woman blog. She enjoys sharing with women and hearing from them about what God is doing in their lives.