“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” 1Corinthians 14:34
Why would Paul, who insisted that we are free from the law in the New Covenant, reference the law as the reason why women should be silent in the church? The motivation of all his ministry is explained to us just a few chapters earlier: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those under the Law, … so that I might win those who are under the Law; … I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1Corinthians 9:19-23)
The church in Corinth is reaching out to Jewish unbelievers. It is already difficult for unbelieving Jews to have women sitting alongside men in the same meeting; but to have them speaking would be so offensive to them they would have no chance to respond to Christ. Because Paul is concerned about reaching these people who are under the law, he puts the churches reaching them under the law, even though they aren’t under the law, so that they might win those under the law.
Acts 2 is about the freedom God has brought to both men and women through the gospel. (Acts 2:17-18) 1Corinthians 14 is a reminder that we live in culture and we need to honor culture so that we can win people to Christ. A few years ago one of my daughters went to Oman on a missions trip. While there, she always wore a dress in public with a head covering. Why? It wouldn’t have been illegal in that country to wear whatever she wanted, but her team was trying to reach unbelievers for Christ. Dishonoring the Muslim culture in Oman would have made it very difficult for the team to share Jesus. Once you offend someone, it’s hard for them to hear anything else you are saying.
Paul goes on to say in 1Corinthians 9 by saying, “to those without the law I become like those who do not have the law… so that I may win some.” Do you think Paul would allow women to speak in church if he lived in 21st century America?