1 Corinthians 14:34-40 – Submission to Authority

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 08 Nov. 2009



26. What of it then, brothers? When you happen to come together, each has a psalm; he has a teaching, he has a revelation; he has a language; he has an interpretation – all things must happen toward the purpose of upbuilding.

27. And if someone is making utterance in a language,

            it should be according to two or at most three – he is just one part,

            but one person must be interpreting.

            28. Now, if there does not happen to be an interpreter, he must remain silent in church,

            yet he should keep making utterance to himself and to God.

29. And two prophets – or three – should make utterances,

            and the others should make assessments.

            30. But if it is revealed to another who is still sitting down, the first should be silent.

            31. For you are all able to prophesy one by one,

            in order that all might learn and all might be exhorted.

            32. And prophet’s spirits are put under submission to prophets.

33. For He is not the God of instability but rather of peace;

so it should be in all the churches of the saints.


34. The women should remain silent in the churches,

            for it is not being turned over to them to make utterances,

            but rather they should be kept under submission, just as the Law also says.

            35. But if they are wanting to learn about something,

                        they should be asking their own husbands at home,

            for it is dishonorable for a woman to make utterance in church.


36. Or was it from y’all that the word of God came forth?

Or was it to y’all alone that it came down?

37. If someone seems to be a prophet or spiritual,

            he should keep acknowledging that what I am writing to y’all is a command from the Lord.

38. But if somebody continues to be unmindful, let him be mindless!


39. Therefore, my brothers,

            keep being zealous to prophesy

            and stop forbidding the utterance of languages,

            40. and keep making all things happen according to good form and order.


In the previous sermon, I outlined 3 principles governing corporate worship: Edification, Inclusiveness, & Self-Discipline. Today I want to expound on one aspect of that third principle of self-discipline. One aspect of self-discipline is submitting to authority. Submission to proper authority brings order and peace to the church and glorifies God.


Some order is imposed upon us by authority outside of ourselves and must be submitted to. This limits our inclusiveness regarding who gets to speak and who gets to lead. I see three categories of outside authority mentioned in this passage: 1) The authority of church Leaders, 2) The authority of Husbands, and 3) The authority of Holy Scripture.

1. Submission to the authority of church leaders (vs. 29-33)

a.       In v.29, “Two prophets or three should make utterances, and the others must make assessments/judge/weigh [what is said]”

b.      The grounds on which these prophets can judge authoritatively is that the “spirits of prophets are subject to [the control of]/under the authority of/ prophets”

                                                  i.      Self-discipline aspect: Spiritual utterances are subject to the will, a prophet can make himself stop talking.

                                                ii.      Outside authority aspect: Another prophet is already talking, or they have judged you out of order, so you stop talking.

c.       Judging what is orderly in the church is a role of church elders:

                                                  i.      1 Thessalonians 5:12 “We beseech you, brothers, to keep in mind those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;  13  and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves.  14  And we exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted...  19  Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophecies; test all things; hold fast that which is good;  22  abstain from every form of evil.”

                                                ii.      1 Tim 5:20 “Reprove those who sin in the sight of all, that the rest also may fear.”

                                              iii.      Titus 1:10-14 “For there are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision,  11  whose mouths must be stopped; men who overthrow whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain.  12  One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, idle gluttons.’  13  This testimony is true. For which cause reprove them sharply, that they may become sound in the faith,  14  not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.”

                                              iv.      Titus 2:13-15  “looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;  14  who gave himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good works.  15  Speak and exhort these things, and reprove with all authority. Let no man despise you.”

d.      In our church,

                                                  i.      I have been ordained as a minister of the Gospel, so despite my fear and trembling in the knowledge of my own sinfulness, I must call you to submit to me.

                                                ii.      We also have a steering committee – Chip and Mark – who are worthy of all your respect.

                                              iii.      We also have a temporary government supplied by elders from Heartland Church in Wichita. Even though you may not see much of them, they are also appointed to keep watch over your souls and should be submitted to.

                                              iv.      Likewise, I have an accountability structure with the Heartland Presbytery, which reviews me and the progress of our congregation on a quarterly basis. My impatient, rebellious heart has its own share of struggles to put to death my flesh and submit to the judgment of these men in authority over me.

e.       Application:

                                                  i.      1Pet 5:5 “Younger men, be subject unto the elder...”

                                                ii.      One practical application is to apply for membership in a church congregation so that you have a defined relationship under the authority of the elders of a church.

                                              iii.      Hebrews 13:17a “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account…”

1.      Listen when an older man or woman speaks.

2.      When they say stop running, stop running!

3.      When they give advice, follow it!

                                              iv.      1 Timothy 5:1 “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers”

1.      Be careful not to gripe to your peers about your parents or elders. (“Adults are so stupid” or here’s one I’m guilty of myself, “Can you believe what pastor so-and-so accused me of?!”)

2.      It is certainly appropriate to fight injustice and error, but we must be careful that it is done personally with the offender and with an attitude of desiring his restoration, not with an attitude of vindicating yourself.

                                                v.      Lev 19:32 “Rise up before the grey head, and honor the face of the elder”

2. Submission to the authority of husbands

2.      In v. 34, we see that there is another outside authority which regulates who gets to speak: “Women are not to make utterances” but should be “silent” and “submitted.”

a.       A couple of notes on the words here: Silent really means “silent/quiet” and indicates a continuous silence.

b.      It is the exact same Greek word used of the tongues speaker who didn’t have an interpreter in v.27 and of the first prophet in v.30 who were also to remain silent in the worship service.

c.       I do not believe that this silence extends to participating in songs and liturgy. Instead the silence of women is regarding the exercise of their tongue or prophecy in the corporate worship service.

                                                  i.      In the earlier case of the tongues-speaker without an interpreter, there was a place for the exercise of that gift, but it was outside the corporate worship service.

                                                ii.      Likewise, as I interpret 1 Cor 11, there may be a place for women to exercise a prophetic gift, but it is not in the corporate worship service. In 1 Cor 11, after Paul wrote of women prophecying, he added, “Now when you assemble…” there are additional guidelines. I conclude that the instructions regarding women prophecying in 1 Cor 11 were not in the context of a worship assembly.

                                              iii.      I believe that 1 Tim 2, however, is more properly a parallel passage to 1 Cor 14 than 1 Cor 11. 1 Tim 2 seems to be giving instruction regarding the different roles of men and women in places of worship: 8 “I desire therefore that the men pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and disputing.  9  In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel...  11  Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection.  12  And I do not permit a woman to teach, or to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness.  13  For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

                                              iv.      In 1 Tim 2:12, Paul uses the same word “permit/allow” as occurs in 1 cor 14:34, prohibiting women teachers in an assembly where men are present.

                                                v.      I also find it interesting that whereas Paul uses the word sigatw=utterly silent/mute in 1 Cor 14, he uses a different word haysuchia=quietness, stillness in v. 1 Tim 2, which, I think, also supports my position that women can whisper an admonition to their children and sing in the hymns while keeping a demeanor of quietness and stillness. The only way in which they should be mute is the public teaching roles.

                                              vi.      In v.35, God’s word says that “it is shameful/improper/disgraceful/dishonorable for a woman to make utterance in church” (cf. 1Cor 11:6) – and this word “make utterance” or “speak” (lalew) is used throughout this chapter and the previous ones specifically regarding tongues and prophecy, not regarding common conversation.

                                            vii.      This, by the way, was not a culturally-bound tradition but a universally-binding law for Christians. (v.37)

d.      v.34 also says that women are to “be submissive”

                                                  i.      This word means literally “arranged under.” It speaks of hierarchy and is used of:

1.      Jesus obeying His parents – Lk 2:51

2.      Jesus’ relationship to His heavenly Father – 1 Cor 15:28

3.      Demons obeying Jesus – Lk 10:17

4.      Submission of the human mind to God’s law – Rom. 8:7 & 10:3

5.      Submission of a citizen to his government – Rom 13

6.      Slaves to maters – Titus 2:9

7.      The relationship of a congregation to elders – 1 Pet 5:5 – this may also be what Paul meant when he exhorted the Corinthians to submit to Stephanus (1Co 16:16)

8.      Church to Christ  - Eph. 5:24

9.      The spirits of prophets to the prophets themselves – v.32

10.  Wives to husbands – Col. 3:18, and here in 1Co 14:34-35

11.  These are all hierarchies that God has established to create order in the world. We didn’t make them and we can’t change them without offending God.

12.  For this reason also, there is no reason to feel ashamed or useless because you have an authority over you such as parents or a husband or church elders or civil governors.

                                                ii.      v.34 also mentions the Law as the basis for this hierarchy that does not permit women to make any special utterances in the assembly of the church.

1.      There is no place in the O.T. which makes such an explicit statement, but it is pretty universally-agreed that Genesis 3:16 is what Paul is referring to: “Unto the woman he said, ‘… your desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over you.’”

e.       In v.35, Paul presents a way for women to interact and learn that upholds the principle of submission of wives to their husbands (and likewise of children to their parents): “Get your husband (or your parents) to teach you at home.”

                                                  i.      Oh ladies and children, your husband and father loves to be looked up to with respect.

                                                ii.      Nothing cuts the nerve of a husband’s spiritual leadership like a wife who thinks she is more spiritual than her husband, who tells him how he’s doing everything wrong, who pits the pastor’s opinion against her husband’s opinions, who does not cooperate when he wants to start family devotions or move in a spiritual direction.

                                              iii.      Ladies and girls, embrace your God-given place of submission to your husband or father. Hang on his words when he tries to lead in spiritual matters in the family. And set him up for success and honor when you respond.

                                              iv.      Brothers, you don’t have to know all the answers to your wife’s and childrens’ questions. There is no shame in saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you.” And looking it up in a reference book or asking other men in the church and relaying the answers back to your family. (It would actually be a healthy demonstration that you also are under authority, the authority of the church leaders, and, as we will see in point #3, also under the authority of the Holy scriptures)

3. Submission to the authority of Holy Scripture (vs. 36-38)

A)    In vs. 36, Paul asks two facetious questions:

1)      “Was it from y’all that the word of God came forth/originated?”

2)      “Was it to ya’ll alone that it came down/reached?”

3)      The answer to both, of course is NO!

4)      In his own way, Paul is chiding the Corinthians for taking upon themselves authority to define how God could be worshipped, when that authority belongs to God alone and was communicated through the apostles and prophets of God and put into writing in the Holy Bible.

B)    Sola scriptura was a rallying cry of the Reformation (and to interpret that utterance in tongues, let me translate!) “scripture alone” contains the words of God to man. While there is benefit in human words, we must ultimately submit to God’s word.

C)    Anyone who claims to be the exclusive mouthpiece of God will go off the deep end. Witness the problems created by Mohammed, many Roman popes, Joseph Smith and the Mormons, Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science, and other modern-day cultists. Each claimed to supercede the Bible and led many away from God in the process.

D)    This is a warning to anyone in spiritual leadership to submit yourself to the word of God v.37 “If someone seems/thinks to be a prophet or spiritual, he should keep acknowledging that what I am writing to you is a command from the Lord.”

1)      Re “spiritual” see 1Cor 2:15, 1Cor 3:1-3, Gal 6:1, 1Cor 14:1 (gifts)

2)      As an apostle called to write sections of the Bible, Paul wrote with an authority that had to be submitted to by the church in Corinth.

3)      The apostle John wrote similarly: “I am writing a new command to you… He who knows God listens to us” (1Jn 2:8 & 4:6)

4)      And Peter also weighs in on this: “…remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles” (2Pe 3:2)

E)     Paul and John and Peter wrote scripture with an authority that was not to be judged like the utterances of the Corinthian prophets.

F)     Now that the apostles are dead, the scriptures that they left behind remain the authoritative word of God for us.

G)    “Those who are truly spiritual will recognize the authority of scripture and bring all their experiences to the touchstone of scripture.” (Jack Arnold)

H)    v.38 “But if somebody continues to be unmindful/ignorant/does not recognize [this] , let him be mindless/ignorant/ignored/not recognized”

1)      If you have a KJV translation, you will have the second phrase as an imperative, “let him be ignorant” and this is because the majority of Greek texts have an imperative there, including a few of the most ancient Greek texts. The more modern English translations, however (ESV, NAS, and NIV), opted to translate from two ancient Greek texts that have the last phrase as a passive indicative (“he will not be recognized/ignored”). I don’t think that is enough evidence to change the imperative into a statement, so I am going to proceed, based on the imperative, “let him continue to be ignorant.”

2)      Paul taught so as to dispel ignorance of spiritual things (He was fond of the phrase, “I would not have you ignorant…” Rom 11:25, 1Co 10:1, 12:1, 1Th 4:13, and he told the Athenians in Act 17:23 “…What you worship in ignorance, this I explain to you.”)

3)      The scriptures teach that ignorance can be due to unbelief (1Tim 1:13 “Beforehand I was a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: however, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”)

4)      Persistence in unbelief will be punished by hell (2 Pet 2:12 “But these… while railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed”)

a.       If they “willfully” reject the message, they must be left to their ignorance. (JFB)

b.      We have a rule in our house: Don’t argue with the two-year-old. You can’t win because they have nothing better to do with their time than win the argument, even though they don’t know enough to be arguing about it.

I)       How do we submit to the authority of the Holy scriptures?

1)      Read it/listen to it/study it

2)      Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand it

3)      Purpose to obey whatever it says rather than explain it away.

4)      Believe it. Do you believe the gospel message?

5)      Don’t assume your understanding of it is the last word on the subject. If you run into disagreeing interpretations, hear the alternatives out, and if they do not strike at the vitals of the Christian faith, let others believe what they may without strife over it.

6)      Hold the words of Scripture above the words of historical men of God and above the words of the creeds and confessions of the church. Bible scholars and church confessions are of course valuable, but they are all subordinate to the Bible itself. Hold your teachers accountable to God’s word!

7)      Promote it. If you submit your life to the Bible, you will want to share that Bible with others through starting a Bible study, mentioning it in conversation, giving away copies, and supporting the process of Bible translation into the remaining 3,000 or so languages of the world that do not yet have it.


So, brothers and sisters, for God’s sake and the sake of the church:

o       Continue to submit yourselves to the authority of scripture.

o       Ladies, continue to submit yourselves to your husbands.

o       And congregation, continue to submit yourselves to the leadership of this church.