Surely the prohibition in 1 Cor. 14: 34, 35 is for the wives not to chatter rather than being a prohibition against women in general speaking?

   This is a view held by many, especially those who would allow women to take an individual audible part in Christian gatherings.

   The Greek word for speak in v35 is laleo, a word which is always used of serious speaking in the NT and never, as in classical Greek, of mere chatter or whispering. What is important is not how the Greeks used it some centuries before but how the Holy Spirit uses it in the Scriptures. In chapter 14 laleo is used 24 times and means to speak audibly. It is used of God (1 Cor. 14: 21) and God clearly never chatters! But some may ask why the related word lego is not used. The word lego is more specific than laleo and involves the connected sense of the words and thus their intelligent meaning, whereas laleo may refer only to the words spoken, or the fact that someone is speaking. Many of occasions laleo is used in this passage refer to speaking with tongues where the speakers may not have understood what they were saying, and if there was no interpreter, those who heard them would not have understood them either. Hence laleo is the more appropriate word. When the content and meaning of what is said is important, then lego is used in the passage (as in “sayest” in v16, “saith” in v21, and “says” in v34).

   Again, the word for “be silent” (v34) in relation to the woman is the same as that used in vs 28, 30. In the latter case a man is speaking but another has a revelation made to him and the first is to be silent, that is, to stop speaking—certainly not to stop chattering!

   Many Bible commentaries restrict headship, and thus subjection on the part of the woman, to the marriage relationship. They would say that 1 Cor. 14: 34, 35 is restricted to wives and this appears to be supported by the words “as the law also says” which may be a reference to Gen 3: 16: “and to thy husband shall be thy desire, and he shall rule over thee”. In order to support their view on headship, they would argue that here and in certain other passages (1 Cor. 11: 1–16; 1 Tim. 2: 8–15) the words aner and gune should be translated husband and wife respectively and not man and woman. Now aner can mean either man or husband and gune can mean either woman or wife. The context alone is the deciding factor as to the correct English translation. Let us put this to the test in 1 Cor. 11: 1–16, the great passage on headship.

   If you read the passage, replacing the words man and woman with husband and wife, you will soon see how confusing such a translation becomes. In v8 confusion changes to nonsense. It is absurd to read this verse as ‘For [the] husband is not of [the] wife, but [the] wife of [the] husband’, when the clear reference is to the creation of the woman through being taken out of the man. The reference is “this shall be called Woman, because this was taken out of a man” (Gen. 2: 23). A wife was never taken out of a husband because Adam could not be a husband until Eve existed! 1 Cor. 11: 8 can thus only be translated as “For man is not of woman, but woman of man” and likewise throughout the section the words must be man and woman and not husband and wife. Hence the headship in 1 Cor. 11 is not limited to husbands and wives but applies to men and women as such.

   Let us now limit the prohibition of 1 Cor. 14: 34, 35 to wives and see how this interpretation fares. Unmarried women or widows would thus be allowed to speak without shame or overstepping the boundaries of subjection. If that were the case, then a woman unmarried last week could speak, but married this week is prohibited from doing so! Furthermore, as it is those that are younger that would generally be the unmarried ones, we would have the more experienced married women having to listen to the relatively inexperienced unmarried women! Again, if this prohibition were limited to wives speaking in assembly, it is so severe that even asking a question is considered a shame (see v35). How is it that a wife asking a question of her own husband at home is acceptable but in the assembly is considered to be in insubjection?

   Thus the prohibition of these two verses, while certainly applying to wives, is for all women simply because headship is not restricted to marriage.

   Finally, we should note that the apostle concludes this section of Scripture with the warning that “the things that I write to you, that it is [the] Lord’s commandment” (v37). The singular verb (“is”) showing that what he wrote in its entirety is the Lord’s commandment. We cannot pick and choose in the Word of God.