One of the main reasons that women are so restricted within the church is that certain Scriptures apparently forbid their taking any role of significance. And all of us, both men and women, want to obey the Bible. But these challenging verses can, with integrity, be understood differently.
Let’s take, for example, this passage from 1 Corinthians 14. At first reading it is quite clear: women are not to speak in church!
Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions to ask, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings (verses 34-35).
The first clue that there might be some other interpretation than the obvious one is the fact that nowhere does the Old Testament talk about women being submissive.
The context of these verses is a letter, a response by Paul to some questions posed to him by the believers in Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:1). Other passages, however, make it clear that women are not expected to keep totally silent. For example, 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that women are to pray and prophesy with their heads covered.
There are actually three sets of people who are told to be silent (Greek sigao) in 1 Corinthians 14. In each of the other two situations, the problem is mentioned, they are told to be silent, and then a solution is given. The first occurs when someone wants to speak in a tongue but there is no one present to interpret (verses 27 and 28). The solution? They are to be silent and to speak to God privately. The second happens when more than one person has a prophecy (verses 29 and 30). Solution? The first person is to be silent and the second deliver what God has given them. However, in the verses about women, Paul doesn’t describe the problem, perhaps because he thought it was obvious from his answer. Presumably some women were causing a disruption by asking questions loudly in the meeting. Solution? Rather than cause a disruption, they were to ask their husbands at home. No one assumes in either of the first two situations that the instruction to be silent was for every situation and for all time, but these verses on women have been used to keep them silent for centuries.
The verses in 1Timothy 2 can be equally interpreted in a different way. Clarity comes in the singular and plural uses of the word “woman.” There are certain instructions given that apply to women (plural), but the challenging verses apply to a woman (singular). A good explanation would be that there was one particular woman who was causing problems with wrong teaching, and a description of some disciplinary action taken to stop her is described in this passage. 1 This would be similar to the discipline prescribed for an unnamed man in 1 Corinthians 5.
Could it be that the attitude of the church in the West towards women is actually preventing the move of God we all long to see? Could a fresh look at the challenging passages with an open mind change this situation?