Is the prohibition of oral manifestation by women found in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 absolute for all aspects of church work? Let us see the prohibition transmitted by the apostle Paul in these portions of the Bible:
"Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence."
It is important to remember that the word "church" in the Bible never refers to a physical object like a building or an enclosure, but to a congregation, in this case made up of believers in Christ meeting for prayer, the Lord's Supper, worship and ministry of the Word.
The church is usually composed of men and women, and when it comes together in this way, wherever it may be, the women are not permitted to speak, to teach, to bear authority over man, or to ask questions. They are to be submissive, learning in silence. This is as far as the prohibition we read of here reaches.
The principle according to which woman must not teach or have authority over man is based, as Paul explained, on the fact that "Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (1 Timothy 2:13,14).
It is understood that Adam, having been formed first, was provided with all the discernment necessary for his survival. Eve was given as a companion, having therefore a more malleable and less critical nature. Once the couple was formed, the man was the natural leader, assuming joint responsibility while the woman made him company and added her talents to his.
It was for this reason that the serpent considered, with its sagacity, that Eve was more vulnerable to its arguments, so passed on to her its insinuations against God, and was successful in deceiving her into disobedience.
These characteristics continue in humankind, and it has been verified along the ages that women are more easily persuaded than men. Teachers of false doctrines take advantage of this (2 Timothy 3:6). Some women have also introduced serious heresies which disturb us in our days.
These texts are clear, readily understood by any reader, without need of greater explanation. Nevertheless it is surprising how efforts have been made, on one side to curb the rigour of the prohibition in the meetings of the church, on the other to extend the prohibition to other activities of the church which do not qualify as such.
The Word of God provides clear evidence that women are not condemned in any way to an absolute muteness in all their activities, whether private or of the church, as a result of this doctrine. This would be an extravagance.
Women have a great potential to contribute to the work of God with their talents, and God has used them throughout the ages for His glory. They had a relevant part to play in the ministry of the Lord Jesus.
During the crucifixion and immediately after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the presence of the women among the disciples stands out, so much so that it was they who received the instruction to take the first message of the Lord, after His resurrection, to the other disciples (Mark 16:7, John 20:17).
The same apostle Paul who wrote the above texts also gave us the names of several women who distinguished themselves by their service in the church and in its ministry, for example, Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, Olympas (Romans 16).
A woman who is evidenced by her work of evangelism in the primitive church was Priscila, wife of Aquila, a Jew who had been obliged to leave Rome (Acts 18:2). She is always mentioned with her husband, twice her name comes before his (Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:19), and Paul presents both of them as his co-operators in Christ Jesus. She, with her husband, took Apollos aside, "an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures" and explained to him the way of God more accurately. A church met in their home in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:19) and also in Rome, later on (Romans 16:3-5).
There appears to be no impediment to the prayers and intercessions made by women outside of the general meetings (Acts 1:14, 12:12, 21:5). But some people understand that, by praying in the presence of brethren, a sister is taking upon herself the leadership of the group and in this case will be sinning. Not all agree, but if there is this understanding it will be better to avoid scandal. Many churches have prayer meetings only for the women, to avoid criticism.
Women are not forbidden from teaching in all and every circumstance. Outside of the general meetings of the church, mentioned at the beginning of this article, and so long as they do not take over leadership over men, they are at liberty and are even authorised to teach privately or in groups. Paul, for example, instructed that "the older women… admonish the young women…" (Titus 2:3,4). Paul admitted that Timothy had learned the Holy Scriptures from childhood, probably from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, women of faith (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15).
The systematic teaching in classes, as done in Sunday schools, generally depends a lot on the availability of competent women teachers for the children and younger women. There is a lot of other work and activities of the church where the women can take an active part, with benefit to all. Work in the area of hospitality, service to the saints and relief of the afflicted (1 Timothy 5:10, James 1:27), in the administrative, secretarial and treasury area, in the area of music ministry, in choirs and musical instruments, and others which may exist.
The "silence" concerns speaking, asking questions and teaching. Women are free to sing (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16), provided that in this they are not teaching or assuming authority over men.
Finally, let us remember that women stand out in the Bible, among other things, by:
Remaining by the body of Christ until His burial (Matthew 15:47).
Being the first to show up at the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection (John 20:1).
Being the first to proclaim the resurrection (Matthew 28:8).
A woman was the first person to announce the Gospel in Jerusalem (Luke 2:37,38).
They were present at the first prayer meeting after the Ascension (Acts 1:14).
They were the first Europeans to hear the Gospel from Paul and Silas (Acts 16:13).
A woman was the first person in Europe to be converted to Christ (Acts 16:14).
Let us never underestimate the great value of women in the church of Christ!