Really had no idea what I would find when I did this research. I know what people have said, what churches have said, but hadn’t looked deeply into what the Bible said in context as a whole. So here’s what I found.
34women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35If 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. 1 Corinthians 14 (NIV)[i]
The Greek word translated as speak here is: laleō (lal-eh’-o) A prolonged form of an otherwise obsolete verb; to talk, that is, utter words.[ii] If we are to take this just as written literally in 1 Corinthians 14, women are not to utter a word in church. This instruction specifically says, in church. What is church? The word translated at church means: gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly. To take this verse literally, it means that women cannot talk outside their homes in an assembly of people.
In order to understand the complete idea of any verse, we need to study it in context. What is the reason for the writing of 1 Corinthians? At the very beginning of this Epistle starting in verse 10, Paul tells us why he is writing to the Corinthians:
10 But I urge and entreat you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in perfect harmony and full agreement in what you say, and that there be no dissensions or factions or divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in your common understanding and in your opinions and judgments. (AMP)[iii] … 12What I mean is this, that each one of you [either] says, I belong to Paul, or I belong to Apollos, or I belong to Cephas (Peter), or I belong to Christ. (AMP) … 31So then, as it is written, Let him who boasts and proudly rejoices and glories, boast and proudly rejoice and glory in the Lord.(B) (AMP)
He is writing to clear up some confusion and fractions happening atCorinth. The next question is, What is the topic of the text surrounding the verse? This particular text is surrounded by a discussion of spiritual gifts in relation to the body, the church, and Christian ministry, specifically the use of tongues and prophesying. In regards to prophesying, there are prophetess mentioned throughout scripture such as Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron; Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth; Huldah, the wife of Shallum; Anna, at the time of Christ’s birth, and afterwards four daughters of Philip the Evangelist. So women must be allowed to prophesy.
Another thing that is import to understand is the culture of the time in which the text was written. According to Jewish rabbis, women were either incapable or inferior to the process of studying to learn. The Jewish law code known as the Mishnah remarks: “may the words of Torah be burned [first five books of what we know to be the Bible], than that they should be handed over to women” (Sota, 10a), and, “whoever teaches his daughter Torah teaches her obscenity” (Sota, 21).
As we put this all together, we have a church with disagreements and fractions, several people trying to express their gifts all at one time, and women who didn’t know what was going on asking questions. If you read through the Epistle, Paul sets everyone straight by telling them they are all under Christ, they should have an order to their service, and the women should not ask questions in church, they should ask them at home. (Picture a classroom with 10 teachers teaching at once and all the students asking questions trying to figure out what is going on – it would be mass confusion.)
In this very same letter, Paul writes (Chapter 11)
3But I want you to know and realize that Christ is the Head of every man, the head of a woman is her husband, and the Head of Christ is God. 4Any man who prays or prophesies (teaches, refutes, reproves, admonishes, and comforts) with his head covered dishonors his Head (Christ). 5And any woman who [publicly] prays or prophesies (teaches, refutes, reproves, admonishes, or comforts) when she is bareheaded dishonors her head (her husband); it is the same as [if her head were] shaved. (AMP)
Nowhere in the text surrounding this verse does he say that a woman cannot pray or prophesy in public. There is no debate as to whether gifts are bestowed on both genders, as Peter quoted Joel in Acts 2:17.
If we turn over to Romans, we see that in Chapter 16, Paul commends many women servants in the church. Let’s look at one in particular, Phoebe:
1NOW I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, (NIV)
We can see that he refers to her as a deaconess. The original Greek word translated here is also used in 1 Timothy 3 is:
8Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. (1 Timothy AMP)
The actual Greek word is diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os) Probably from διάκω diakō (obsolete, to run on errands; compare G1377); an attendant, that is, (generally) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); specifically a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess): – deacon, minister, servant. (Strongs)
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul refers to himself as “Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.” What makes this particular use of the word interesting is that in Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians, we find him using the very same word of Jesus Christ again translated as servant. “8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews …”
The exact same word is used to describe Phoebe in Romans, deacons in 1 Timothy, and Paul and Jesus Christ in 1 Corinthians.
Ultimately we are supposed to look at Jesus as our example of how to conduct ourselves in every day life. At the beginning of this, we looked at the literal meaning of this verse which meant that women cannot talk outside their homes in an assembly. But what did Jesus think of this? Let’s look at the woman at the well (John 4), what some consider to be the first evangelist. Did she break this rule when taken literally?
28Then the woman left her water jar and went away to the town. And she began telling the people, 29Come, see a Man Who has told me everything that I ever did! Can this be [is not this] the Christ? [Must not this be the Messiah, the Anointed One?] 30So the people left the town and set out to go to Him. … 39Now numerous Samaritans from that town believed in and trusted in Him because of what the woman said when she declared and testified, He told me everything that I ever did. 40So when the Samaritans arrived, they asked Him to remain with them, and He did stay there two days. … 42And they told the woman, Now we no longer believe (trust, have faith) just because of what you said; for we have heard Him ourselves [personally], and we know that He truly is the Savior of the world, the Christ. (AMP)
The woman at the well clearly spoke out in a public assembly of people. She clearly went and spread the message that Jesus had given her. Jesus did not rebuke her for this. Authority has been delegated, under Jesus, into areas of society in order to bring order out of confusion. He has established governmental authority (Romans 13), authority in the home (Ephesians 5), and the work-place (Ephesians 6). This scripture of Paul’s is also meant to bring order out of confusion. Not to keep women from preaching, teaching and speaking. Paul also wrote to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians5:21). And in “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way”. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
We believed strongly that God used women in many roles throughout the Bible and that he continues to use Women in Ministry today. Scripture clearly indicates that women were used as deaconesses, disciples, judges, ministers, prophets, rulers, and teachers. These roles were carried out regardless of the gender being ministered to and women were clearly considered as fellow workers in laboring for the Lord.
Roles fulfilled by women in the Bible:
Beloved, agapētos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) (Romans 16)
Brethren/brother, adelphos (ad-el-fos’) a brother (literally or figuratively) near or remote (2 Timothy)
Deaconess, Diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os) specifically a Christian teacher and pastor (technically a deacon or deaconess. (Strong’s). Pliny makes mention of them also in his letter to Trajan (A.D. 110) (http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/texts/pliny.html).
Disciple, mathētria (math-ay’-tree-ah) a female pupil
Expositor (a person who explains) ektithēmi (ek-tith’-ay-mee) to expose; figuratively to declare: expound. (Acts 18)
Fellowlabourers, sunergos (soon-er-gos’) a co-laborer (Phil 4)
Fellowsoldier, sustratiōtēs (soos-trat-ee-o’-tace) an associate in Christian toil: – (Philimon).
Judge, shâphaṭ (shaw-fat’) pronounce sentence (for or against); by extension to govern; (Judges 4)
Labour, kopiaō (kop-ee-ah’-o) by implication to work hard. (Romans 16)
Minister, diakoneō (dee-ak-on-eh’-o) to be an attendant; technically to act as a Christian deacon: – (ad-) minister (unto), serve, use the office of a deacon. (Strong’s)
Prophesy, prophēteuō (prof-ate-yoo’-o) to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration, exercise the prophetic office. (Acts 2)
Prophetess: prophētis (prof-ay’-tis); a female foreteller or an inspired woman: – prophetess. (Strong’s)
Queen, mâlak (maw-lak’) to reign; inceptively to ascend the throne; (Esther)
Saint, hagios (hag’-ee-os) sacred (physically pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially consecrated). (Romans 16)
Yokefellow, suzugos (sood’-zoo-gos) a colleague; a Christian. (Phil 4)
Take a look at the women in the bible who fulfilled these roles:
Anna, a prophetess (Luke2:36-37).
Apphia, a female Christian at Colosse (Philemon 1:2). It is thought that she was the wife of Philemon, since she is placed next to him, and before Archippus, a minister of the word; and very prudently is she wrote to, and justly commended, in order to engage her to use her interest with her husband to receive his servant again, who otherwise might have stood against it, and been a very great hindrance to a reconciliation: this clause is wanting in the Ethiopic version:[iv]
Claudia, a female Christian mentioned in 2 Tim. 4:21.
Daughters of Philip the evangelist, prophetesses (Acts 21:8, 9).
Deborah, a judge and prophetess, (Judges 4), “the children ofIsrael came up to her for judgment.”
Elect lady, the person to whom the Second Epistle of John is addressed (2 John 1:1)
Esther, the queen of Ahasuerus, (Esther), She acted on faith and a terrible catastrophe was avoided.
Eunice, the mother of Timothy, a believing Jewess, but married to a Greek (Acts 16:1). She trained her son from his childhood in the knowledge of the Scriptures (2 Tim.).
Euodias (Euodia), a female member of the church at Philippi. She worked with Paul in the gospel. He exhorts her to be of one mind with Syntyche (Phil. 4:2). The position of women in Macedonia was exceptional. Macedonian women were permitted to hold property. In the account of Paul’s labors in Macedonia there are notices of the addition of women of rank to the church in Thessalonica and Beroea.[v]
Huldah, a prophetess. She was consulted regarding the “book of the law” discovered by the high priest Hilkiah (2 Kings22:14-20; 2 Chr. 34:22-28).
Julia, a Christian woman atRome to whom Paul sent his salutations (Rom.16:15).
Lois, the maternal grandmother of Timothy, commended by Paul for her faith (2 Tim. 1).
Miriam, a prophetess (Ex.15:20).
Noadiah, a prophetess (Ne6:14)
Persis, a female Christian atRome whom Paul salutes (Rom.16:12)
Phebe, a “deaconess of the church at Cenchrea,” theport ofCorinth (Rom. 16).
Priscilla, the wife ofAquila (Acts 18:2), who is never mentioned without her
Her name sometimes takes the precedence of his (Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim.4:19). She took part withAquila(q.v.) in instructing Apollos (Acts18:26).
Susanna, with other women, ministered to Jesus (Luke 8:3)
Syntyche, a female member of the church atPhilippi, see also Euodias (Phil. 4:2,3)
Tabitha, a disciple (in Greek called Dorcas). (Acts 9:36-43).
Tryphena and Tryphosa, two female Christians, active workers, whom Paul salutes in his epistle to the (Romans16:12).
[i] Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. http://www.zondervan.com
[ii] Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries – Dictionaries of Hebrew and Greek Words taken from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance by James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., 1890.
[iii] “Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)
[iv] John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Dr. John Gill (1690-1771)
[v] Vincent’s Word Studies, Marvin R. Vincent, D.D., Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary New York.