Why are women allowed to speak in the church when the Bible says they should be quiet? There are two passages of Scripture that teach this very clearly: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12:
“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”
The word “silent” refers to “The quietness of the disciple who receives instruction.” “To have authority over,” means, “to domineer or usurp/seize authority”.
On closer inspection of the context and culture of these verses, it becomes clear exactly what the apostle Paul was addressing. The Corinthian church was out of control. They were gripped with carnality, lawsuits, immorality and false teaching. People were getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper and their church meetings were a mess with everyone competing for a chance to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s with this in mind that the verses in 1 Corinthians are to be understood: “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home.” It seems that the women of the church were asking their husbands questions during the teaching of the Word and, this too, was disrupting the worship service.
The first letter of Paul to Timothy was written to prevent the spread of heresy in the church. It appears that women were the main culprits of spreading the false teaching and so Paul temporarily prohibits them from teaching until they had been instructed in the Word thus correcting the error that was being taught. Professor David Sholer puts it this way, “These injunctions are directed against women involved in false teaching, who have sought to abuse proper exercise of authority in the church, not denied by Paul elsewhere to women, by usurping and dominating the male leaders and teachers in the church at Ephesus”.
One of my lecturers in Bible College in the 80s, Spencer Gear, said, “1 Timothy 2:11-12 is not a command to prevent all women from teaching in the church at all times. Paul’s intention was not to place a permanent limitation on women in the ministry. Rather, these verses were addressed to a problem situation in Ephesus where women were teaching heresy”.
The culture in which a church finds itself also has a large bearing on the matter. Tony Campolo in his book “20 hot potatoes” says, “If the existence of women preachers created a barrier to non-Christians coming into faith, then it was right for women to refrain from being preachers. In today’s world … keeping women out of pulpits is having a negative effect upon the propagation of the gospel throughout the outside world, and therefore the policy on the matter which was in place in the past should be set aside” (Pg.39).
If we were to take these passages literally today we would disqualify all women from any vocal ministry in the church. That would include Sunday school teaching, youth leadership, speaking at women’s meetings, missionaries, singing in the church in any way, praying in prayer meetings and so on. This would also contradict what Paul wrote a few chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 11:5, “And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head-it is just as though her head were shaved.” So, women ARE allowed to speak in the church then! The “church” being wherever believers are gathered together.
If we were to take these passages literally for all situations we would also contradict the rest of the New Testament, which clearly permits women to minister. Women ministers include: Anna the Prophetess (Luke 2:36), Dorcas (Acts 9:26), the woman of Samaria (John 4:7), the four daughters of Phillip (Acts 21:9), Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26), the older women (Titus 2:3-4), Phoebe (Rom 16:1, 2), Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2,3), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12).
In general, the gifts of the Spirit, many of which are vocal gifts used in the church, are available to all believers regardless of gender (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:8-10; Eph. 4:11; Col. 3:16). Acts 2 also makes it clear that God supports women in ministry: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
John Stott says, “If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which He does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which He does), then the church must recognise God’s gifts and calling, must make appropriate spheres of service available to women, and should ordain (that is, commission and authorise) them to exercise their God-given ministry …”
Finally, if we were to take these passages in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy literally today we would nullify Christ’s work on the cross. The Old Testament Temple was divided into three sections: The Holy of Holies where the High priest entered once a year. The Holy Place – reserved for Jewish men only, and the outer court – for Jewish women and gentiles. This all changed at the crucifixion when the veil that separated the Jewish men from the Jewish women and gentiles was torn from top to bottom (Luke 23:45). The New Testament allows open fellowship of ALL people who come to God through Christ, whether male or female: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28)
I am so grateful to God for the incredible women that He has called into leadership at Bayside Church – not least my amazing wife, Christie. The church community would be so much the poorer if we commanded them to remain silent ~ and I don’t like the chances of that happening anyway.