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Issues: Disgraceful for a woman to speak?

This is the first of three additional posts dealing with particular issues raised by 1 Cor 12-14, particularly in the context of a Christian Union. In all, my thoughts from scripture not any form of UCCF policy statement. The next two posts will consider prophecy in CU and unity in CU.

When I approached 1 Corinthians 12-14 I knew it tackled Spiritual Gifts, I'd forgotten that it also raises issues about the role of women in the church. This post does not going to attempt to deal with everything in the area of women's ministry. 1 Corinthians 14 doesn't deal with whether women can teach, but rather with women's role in testing prophecy....

1 Corinthians 14v33a-35

1. Some say remove it from the Bible as non-biblical. This is because it appears not to fit. But it's there in the early manuscripts... and we can't just go editing the Bible just because it jars with us!

2. Some say its about gossiping women. But Paul says that the reason is submission because of law. Probably this means the creation order of male and female in Genesis 2v24 – fitting with God's order... and God being a God of order is the big reason for our orderliness. Submission is a dirty word in the 21st Century but Biblically its not. This is difficult for us to overcome, but as always Christians must take their lead from the Bible not from the culture.

3. Total silence then? No. 1 Cor 11v5 says women can pray and prophecy. Paul is not contradicting himself within a few chapters. The silence required is not total silence

4. What's the difference between teaching and prophecy? Prophecy is described as sponateous revelation. Teaching is explaining the Bible. Prophecy has no authority whereas teaching appears to have some. Doesn't prophecy instruct? Yes, but it is till distinct from teaching. Be aware of the tangent issue of whether women can teach in the church. Its important but its not what this chapter is about. On authority – note that leading a Bible study appears to carry almost no authority since the group tests everything. And particularly a CU group which is a peer group, and unlikely to include married couples.

5. The context here is testing prophecy. If women are not permitted to test prophecy in public then we have an issue of authority in view. The particular case appears to be an issue of a wife testing her husband's prophecy in public... and maintaining divine order in the public meeting of the church.

7. This is the second reference to silence here. The first is v28 - there for the sake of order uninterpreted tongues are to be silent. The tongue speaker then goes to speak to himself and God, rather than to the congregation. Likewise women are instructed to be silent rather than raise questions in testing prophecy. The argument is authority and above all divine order, since God is a God of order.

My conviction is that this is about the testing of prophecy. And whilst men and women can both prophesy. Women are not permitted to test prophecy in public, in the church. This only occurs at all if we've taken 14v1 seriously and are eagerly desiring prophecy. The responsibility is with men to test what it said, in an orderly way for the glory of God and the growth of the church.

But that's church – what about CU?
It's not the local church, but general principles probably still apply in Christian fellowship. We must submit to scripture, keep our focus on the Spirit's word about the gospel – Christ and him Crucified. United in him, seeking to grow and love one another... and work to see Christ proclaimed on campus.

In a public meeting order is important. If there is prophecy it's testing must be careful. In a small group the Bible study is tested by everyone, so too any prophecy would presumably be tested by the whole group.

Women are clearly allowed to enquire in 1 Cor 14, but at home rather than in the church. The issue there seems to be wives testing their husbands prophecy in public. Any CU meeting is peer group community rather than the formality and breadth of the local church so everyone largely stands as equal so probably testing together is fine....

This of course begs the question of whether prophecy is happening in the first place... and how to you stand united when some people think women can test prophecy and others don't even think anyone can prophesy! However you do it, do it in love for the advance of the gospel.

Last year I blogged on: Should our CU have women speakers?

Further Reading:


  1. Great post Dave! See you tomorrow!

  2. These are good questions. We must work out how, in the context of unity, we can allow these gifts to operate - or is it arrogant to expect them to, when many of our friends do not believe the gift of prophecy exists?

    On CU Bible studies, I agree with what you say, but again the problem is in practice. Last year at a CU small group I was asked to lead the Bible study. The passage of scripture related directly to gifts of the Spirit, but I was asked to attend a "briefing" by a non-charismatic. As such, I did not feel I could bring this man's teaching to the group with integrity without mentioning the gifts.

    Having made this change, I was overruled on the evening by the female CU leader, who asserted the cessationist interpretation of the passage and at best played down an encouragement of spiritual gifts.

    This person is a close friend, and so I was not offended by this, and understood, in the circumstances why she felt she should do this. It would not however, fit in with what you say.

    The root problem is that it is hard to come up with a biblical precedent for the use of Spiritual gifts outside the local church. The word "fellowship" is often used, but many churches call themselves fellowships which only confuses the issue. Certainly, I have had confused freshers ask me about this since September.

    Again, I feel I must express my surprise at the difference between what you would promote in UCCF in Reading and what we see here in Sheffield among many others.

  3. Hi Luke,

    Thanks for your reflections.
    I suppose individuals have to teach what they think on conscience a passage says - in the same way I couldn't teach a cessationist interpretation with any conviction... but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try and understand and appreciate where they're coming from.

    In a Bible study I'd put responsibility on my charismatic brethren to be really careful with the Bible, and not use poor arguments and charicature... and then to exercise gifts in love. Aware that people do take time to change, people's consciences are sensitive and all of us find change difficult.

    UCCF Director Richard Cunningham's comment at Forum this year (where Terry Virgo was preaching), was that he'd not met a single cessationist staffworker, too many of us are "open but cautious" however... which is not tenable from scripture... but like I say people take time to change, they hold this out of love, and the British are a cautious breed on the whole.... please show generosity and open the Bible with these people!


  4. Luke Wood... do you go to City Church? I haven't met you, have I?

  5. Not sure if you've met me MickeyC although I do recognise the surname Congreve. I am indeed a part of City Church. Are you?

  6. No, but I used to be before I went to university. And I was there for a while towards the end of last year.

    I need to update my blogger profile.

  7. Luke, it seems in the situation described...
    a) you have to teach what you think it says, having two leaders in a group will make that problematic!
    b) where there is difference within a group there is opportunity - opportunity to examine the text, to query our presuppositions...
    c) any teaching point in a sermon on bible study has to be carefully argued from the text - doing that well should help with prior convictions. And I'd think land you up with a charismatic theology - but then I would say that!


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